In the documentary Félix dans la mémoire longtemps, another Québec great Jean-Pierre Ferland states,
Dans c’temps là, on était pas connu ici tant qu’on était pas connu ailleurs.
“Back then, we weren’t well known here until we were well known abroad.”
He was speaking about how Félix Leclerc’s fame really only started growing after he returned from a successful stay in France in the early 1950s. I have heard this stated from other great Montreal artists over the years and find myself wondering... why? Why do the residents of a city, a province, a country seem to pay little attention to local artists unless they have experienced success elsewhere? Could it be that we as Montrealers, Quebecers, Canadians are art snobs? Or is it something more profound, more psychological, suggesting that we do not believe that our own place of residence could house someone with talent worth the price of a concert ticket? I am reminded of a particular artist friend of mine, known worldwide as an act well worth paying for, filling concert venues with a capacity for thousands of spectators. Last summer, after being asked if she was still performing (she had recently returned from a European tour!) she was asked to perform to fill in for a canceled act. This was the second time she was to perform at this festival in 25 years.
I think of my mother explaining to me that when she was growing up, it was common for adults of that generation to ignore children and their efforts. High standards were expected, but not praised. It seems that this may be one of the sources of the above issue. Don’t get me wrong, as a passionnate working musician, I am willing to travel anywhere in the world to share my passion (yes, anywhere!). However, as a husband and father of young children, I would like to be able to work close (-ish) to home and make a decent living. To make a decent living playing original music, one must have fans who are willing to pay to see you play in quality venues. In order to gain fans, seemingly, one must be recognized as having been accepted by a wider global audience. Of course talent and skill are very important, but travel seems to be an important aspect of being able to meet financial obligations. That seems a little strange to me. I often here that conditions for artists are better overseas than right here at home!
To offer a counter point, I will reflect now on a different era. In our very own city, right here in Montreal, during the early 1900s, Mary Travers Bolduc (knows as La Bolduc) became a huge local celebrity after releasing 2 original songs written in her kitchen (Monast, La Bolduc: Le violon de mon père). Her neighbourhood loved her, not only for her musical talent and comical timely songs but also because she gave back to the community, helping to feed those in need. She was already well known in her neighbourhood due to her playing at local parish dances. Once the church decided these dances were no longer appropriate, she continued hosting musical social events in her Montreal apartment. She has been credited as being Quebec’s first working musician.
So, does this snobbery or psychological disbelief in local talent stem from globalization? Is the global neighbourhood threatening the neighbourhood artist? Certainly, La Bolduc would not have had many opportunities to travel so early in the 1900s and music was not as widely shared as it is now. But is there more to it? I will not get on the high horse of pessimism at this point, but I will say that perhaps there is room in the local market for consumers of art to pay attention to what is going on right outside their windows, sometimes even right next door. Perhaps there is room for us to embrace and learn from the past while we welcome the future, all the while encouraging local, talented creative types to spread their art in a viable manner. For without art, we become consumers of replication. There has to be more to life than that; life is beautiful!
Watch the Félix Leclerc documentary here: https://www.lafabriqueculturelle.tv/dossiers/298/felix-leclerc-dhier-a-aujourdhui/
To learn more about La Bolduc: http://labolduc.qc.ca/
Photo of Mary Travers Bolduc credit in header: http://www.www.dutempsdescerisesauxfeuillesmortes.net/fiches_bio/bolduc_la/photos/bolduc_la_02.jpg