Pascal Gemme

Boxwood Conversations
Boxwood Conversations
Pascal Gemme


CHRIS NORMAN:  Hi, I’m Chris Norman and you’re listening to Boxwood’s Artist Huddle – Conversations.   In our July 12th 2020 Artist Huddle, we featured the irrepressible Québécois fiddler, singer, composer, and podorythmie purveyor Pascal Gemme.  We enjoyed a chat exploring some of the history and regional styles and the traditional music of Québec and French Canada.

CHRIS NORMAN:  This Is our twenty-fifth year, Pascal, running this festival and I’m looking forward to chatting with you a bit about a festival you’re involved with as well.  Are you still involved with the Sutton Fiddle Festival as well?

PASCAL GEMME:  I wasn’t for a few years but now I’m getting involved again ‘cause my whole family moved to the eastern townships in Québec so to uproot my family and replant the roots again I kind of called it quits for a few years.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yeah, I know that feeling, I haven’t done that quite yet though.  So, in case you don’t know Pascal, he’s one of the leading figures in Québécois music.  And he’s toured the world and taught worldwide [with] Yann Falquet and with his trio Gentecorum.  And Pascal tell us a little bit about how you got started, I know you have some background in composition and guitar playing as well.

PASCAL GEMME: Yeah, yeah, I studied arrangement, big band arrangements at school.  But before that traditional music was in my family.  And uh, my grandfather was a fiddler, my father sang, was singing songs, and uh my mother was always singing in the house.  So, when I was, I think I was, I don’t know, I was 4 or 5, I started asking for a fiddle and they were like “No, no, no.  No no, No no, we’ll let him ask a little bit for a few years and see if he forgets about it.”  But I did not and here I am 46 years later.

CHRIS NORMAN:  So, you had a long relationship with the guitar as well, is that still part of your musical life?

PASCAL GEMME: It was not for a long, long time, for 20 years I almost didn’t touch it, but for the last 18 months I’ve been playing more guitar than fiddle, so it’s coming back with a vengeance.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Oh fantastic!  I look forward to hearing some of that.  Now with your arranging and composition, particularly with the big band stuff did you have anything to do with the arrangements for La Bottine?

PASCAL GEMME:  Ah no no, but I found out about La Bottine when I was, uh, studying big band arrangements. Like, I knew I liked that music … I don’t know if uh … if some people who, if you remember MuchMusic.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yea, yea. 

PASCAL GEMME:   So, they had a few videos on MuchMusic and uh, I didn’t know it was La Bottine Souriante. It was just, “Oh, I really like that music,” and eventually when, while I was studying big band arrangements one of the, actually the arranger for La Bottine Souriante was in the big band that I was writing for. 

CHRIS NORMAN:  Is that right? 

PASCAL GEMME:   Every two weeks they were playing an arrangement by us, so uh, so I realized “OK, that’s the music that I like, it’s called traditional music,” I didn’t know the name.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yea, that’s fantastic.  Now you are a great proponent of foot percussion with your playing and I love this term that Michel Bordeleau has applied to the tradition of foot percussion in Québécois music it is podorythmie? It that, am I saying that right?

PASCAL GEMME:   Podorythmie, yea, yeah.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Now is that, has that, with your own playing, has that always been a central part, has that always gone along with your fiddle playing?  Or is that, or did you start playing the fiddle and then you added the podorythmie later on?

PASCAL GEMME:   I started with the fiddle and once I learned maybe twelve tunes then I, I started to try to put the foot tapping together with the fiddling and it was, oh boy, I still remember it, it was quite a process it was like, “OK, down here [plays single note on the fiddle] and then I’m going here [taps foot, plays another note] All right, like this [taps foot plays another note] Oh boy.”   But I did that for uh, for a few tunes, maybe three, four tunes, and then it’s like your whole body gets into the groove and it actually helps you with the fiddling once you really lock the bow with the foot tapping.  And, and then I play those three tunes out on the porch at my Mom’s house for hours and hours with all the corn heads – there was a corn field in front – until the very late hours of the night and um, and then I learned a fourth tune, with every tune it became a little easier to get it going.  Eventually I was just jumping straight into “OK, I’ll try it with this tune and see what happens” and that’s how… Maybe um, in three months, it took me three months of intense practicing. 

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yeah, and it’s just part of your fiddle playing now.  Do you, are you called upon to play fiddle tunes without feet from time to time?


CHRIS NORMAN:  And it that confusing for you?

PASCAL GEMME:   It was confusing, it really was, the first ten years maybe I was playing the fiddle, if I wasn’t allowed to foot tap for the, for the arrangement, I wanted to come in half way, it was like “Oh, this is so uncomfortable.” 


PASCAL GEMME:   I don’t have the groove machine [taps feet in rhythm]

CHRIS NORMAN:  Pascal, now I wanted to ask you a little bit about regional styles within Québécois music, you know, being way out on the remote corner of the east coast of course, people talk about Québécois music as if it’s a monolithic idea, but I’m sure, like most musical traditions there are a lot of regional styles and little pockets and so forth.  In my mind, just basically my experience from my parents and grandparents record collections, uh, I have an idea of the Gaspé tradition which seems to match quite a bit with your own style of playing.  I’m thinking about Hermous Regal, Édouard Richard, the likes of those quys, and then I’m thinking of maybe more of the Montreal style of playing, Jean Carignan and Allard and…


CHRIS NORMAN:  and maybe, yeah, so can you talk to us a little bit about that and how you tend to organize the various styles of Québécois music

PASCAL GEMME:   It’s true there’s definitely in the eastern part of Canada and of Québec there’s the Acadian kind of syncopated bow that happens a lot, you know, so that Acadian style, that kind of – I associate it with New Brunswick also, uh, and Gaspé like you said.  It’s a lot of syncopation in the bow, of going [demonstrates on fiddle].  Roaring Mary for example – they take 25 percent of the notes out and add attitude instead of the actual melody.  So, there’s that eastern part, there’s the Québec region which is um, a lot more accordion, kind of uh, inclined, and all the quadrilles, the old marches [demonstrates on the fiddle].  So, a lot of big vibrato that was brought on by Jos Bouchard’s style and he influenced people everywhere in Québec but a lot in that region like Québec City and the South Shore, Lissee? and there’s …

CHRIS NORMAN:  Would you put Jean Carignan and Allard in that sort of central Québécois style as well?

PASCAL GEMME:   Carignan and Allard I would put them more in the Montreal crowd.


PASCAL GEMME:   Like the international fiddlers ‘cause they were at lot, they were influenced a lot by Irish music.  For Allard for example, he just basically, he lived in Chicago I think when he was young then came back to uh, the suburbs of near Montreal.  So, he learned all those Irish tunes, he just gave them French names.


PASCAL GEMME:   So, this is from Joe Allard, this is the Reel des Oublies? [plays tune on fiddle] 

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yeah, we had 78 recordings, uh, in my family.


CHRIS NORMAN:  So, and that’s how I was first introduced to the music.

PASCAL GEMME:   Wow, do you have the whole collection of the 78?

CHRIS NORMAN:  Well, I’m thinking of Bouchard, Allard, those were on the playlist. Buried in the back of the record bin, you know, covered with dust, and I remember pulling them out and just like you “I love this music!  But damn!  I’m a flute player.” And then of course after quite a while I thought “Wait a minute [laughs] give it a go and see what happens.”  Fantastic.  You were talking about an eastern style, a Gaspé, and more of a central style, Montreal and Québec City, would you lump those together? 

PASCAL GEMME:   Montreal and Québec City, there’s one thing that’s particular to the Québec City region is the quadrille, that’s not associated that much with the Montreal style.  Montreal is more like Scottish, Irish tunes with French names.

CHRIS NORMAN:  And how about a Métis style, would that fall under the tent of Québécois fiddling?

PASCAL GEMME:   Yeah, yeah, well not Métis, but to me Métis is like, I hear French Canadian music because of the foot tapping that there’s a lot of free meter tunes, like crooked tunes.  So tunes that aren’t formatted for square dance, a regular square dance, they’re more for, uh, like Québécois squares which are a lot freer than the southern squares. 

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yeah, and how do you see, am I correct in maybe pegging you a little more in a Gaspé style or do you see yourself as more of a polyglot?

PASCAL GEMME:  [Laughs] Uh, I think, I love, I met Eduard Bouchard? and I played with Eduard Bouchard at many festivals for a few years he was there at the festivals and I picked up the tunes very quickly so he thought I just knew all his tunes, so he wanted me with him everywhere he went because I would just augment his sound.  So, I picked up a lot of tunes from him and Yvon Mimeault, I uh, just, he’s a great guy, a lot of fun to be around.  Lots of stories, like he talks, he talks, he talks, he talks, he has ten different stories for each of his tunes.  A lot of interesting repertoire, you know he was a radio host for a while so he needed to have many, many tunes.  And uh, so I learned a lot of his tunes too, I learned from his CDs and I learned a lot of his tunes just by being with him.  So, I think those two like were maybe the biggest influences for the eastern kind of syncopation.  Claude Methé you know, Claude Methé, I love him, he’s my hero, what a great composer.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Well and you’re a hero to so many musicians nowadays as well. I just love your commitment to the music and I just love the buoyancy and the love that you pour into it is palpable. It’s just great.

PASCAL GEMME:   Thank you.  [fiddle tune playing]

CHRIS NORMAN:  To hear the complete Artist Huddle with Pascal Gemme, among many others, and to receive my regular Tune of the Month videos, subscribe to us on Patreon at We’re grateful to you for your support and to Canadian Heritage, the Provence of Nova Scotia, and Culture Ireland.  Thanks for listening.

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