Celtic Tunes and Cartoons

Photo: Danielle Burns

Musicians Todd Picard, Fred Lebrasseur, Andrée Bilodeau and Mathieu Girard (back ) pose for a photo prior to the Cartoon Concert where they portrayed the story of an Irish immigrant with music, helping to inspire cartoonists who were drawing the story live for all to see.

The 7th annual Celtic Festival kicked off on a high note on Thursday, August 30, with a Cartoon Concert at St. Andrew’s Church (next to the Morrin Centre) bringing musicians and cartoon artists together in a visually and acoustically pleasing performance that was very different from your average night out at the movies. The audience watched as the cartoonists’ drawings transformed, with a camera capturing every stroke and projected live on a huge screen above the accompanying musicians. The artists were all inspired by a fictitious story about Irishman Samuel O’Dow who left his country in 1845 for Quebec, like so many other immigrants who suffered during the Irish Potato Famine. Samuel’s story was told using a huge variety of musical genres, from traditional Celtic to heavy metal. Instruments galore helped to create quirky sound effects to narrate the tale including a seashell blown like a trumpet to imitate a fog horn on a ship, a guimbarde (an instrument held firmly against the musician’s parted front teeth), even spoons used as musical utensils working over a metal necktie resembling a washboard! In the divine location of the church, the atmosphere amongst the pews was mostly joyous, despite some somber moments depicting Samuel’s struggle in Ireland and the consequential transatlantic voyage and arrival at the nearby island called Grosse Île.

Philippe Girard, a Quebec City native, was the resident cartoonist in this collaborative production. The award-winning author has written 11 graphic novels including the autobiographical tale Killing Velazquez (2011), which can be found in the Morrin Centre LHSQ library collection, which sketches a difficult time in his youth and bravely discusses dealings with a pedophile priest.

Joe Ollmann worked alongside Girard for the event as the duo worked furiously, often drawing at the same time on the same page, as the concert progressed. Ollmann is a well-known cartoonist in the English community, having won the prestigious Doug Wright Award (named after his Cartoonist hero) in 2007. Originally from Ontario, he has lived in Montreal for the past 10 years. His blog discusses topics such as whether or not his son is a better drawer than he is, with cool pictures by his boy. Visit wagpress.blogspot.ca to see his blog.

The four musicians — Andrée Bilodeau (violin), Mathieu Girard (guitar), Fred Lebrasseur (percussion), and Todd Picard (banjo) — accompanied the story while at times switching instruments at a dizzying pace. Picard animated the story with a few words in both French and English, lots of expression from the quartet and the help of pre-recorded sounds on a laptop such as seagulls crying. Ocean waves carrying a vessel were drawn during the third scene, representing the journey from Ireland. The cacophonic music peaked when the storm hit the ship and the cartoonists briskly added pelting rain to the scene. Luckily, the storm subsided and Samuel made it to solid ground after weeks at sea as the melody turned energetic and hopeful.

In his new country, Samuel built himself a home and a life with a wife and many, many children. Generations of O’Dows were seen linearly evolving over the decades, with old-fashioned dressed figures at first, then a hairy hippy sporting bell-bottom trousers and finally a punk rocker complete with orange mohawk and tattoo. Philippe Girard explained that the “carré rouge” or red square worn by a young, modern O’Dow was added so the audience would realize that the story had moved into “present day.”

Although Todd Picard would have liked to have seen the church a bit fuller, the guests who did have the opportunity to attend were delighted by the experimental experience that was so professionally delivered. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this was never more the case than at the Cartoon Concert. Illustrations from the concert will be on display for anyone who missed the show at the Morrin Centre the final weekend of the Celtic Festival, September 15 and 16. For more information about the ongoing program of events, please visit the festival website at festivalceltique.com/en/.