Before Daniel Gervais’ concert (Nov. 30) even got started, we had a problem: how to find enough seats for the standing room only crowd! The young fiddling champion’s reputation had obviously expanded since he last performed for the South Okanagan Concert Society. As concert executives and helpful Alliance Church staff hustled to set up the extra chairs, the rest of us wondered if Daniel would be able to live up to the high standards he had set for us back in 2010. We remembered the music, so accessible to a broad audience, the outstanding playing skills of both Daniel and Clint, his fabulous guitar accompanist, Aline’s expert folkloric step-dancing up on our beloved auditorium’s stage, and the charming patter throughout. Could Daniel capture the same level of magic with his fiddle in a repeat performance, in a crowded church hall, with Christmas Light-Up fireworks competing for Oliver’s attention outside?
From the opening number, a medley of the fiddling standards, (“Little Burned Potato”, “Devil’s Dream”, and “Soldier’s Joy”), we had our answer. We were in for a very special evening. Daniel’s accompanist on guitar and fiddle was his mentor, Calvin Vollrath—a many times winner of fiddling championship titles. These two walked on stage, casually attired and as relaxed as if they were about to have some musical fun in their kitchen back home, dropped a scribbled set list on the floor, and proceeded to turn their fiddles (and guitar) inside out for two hours. Their high energy performance of hot-rodded versions of fiddling standards left us all wishing they would play all night. We heard regional styles from Quebec,Western Swing, Old time Waltz, Country, and Ragtime, all with the style, panache and just the right amount of “tossed off” virtuosity that makes this music really come alive.
It was so much fun to watch these two, the old master and the young hotshot, egging each other on in their fiddle duels. Back and forth, they would go, trading tunes back and forth, warning each other “E-flat, G, D” as tunes morphed into each other. Like at a good jazz performance you had the feeling you were watching master musicians on a really good night, creating something special that could never happen exactly the same way again. And that’s what makes this kind of music work.
Also, it should be noted that these musicians did not feel it necessary to use any amplification whatsoever, a rarity in this day and age. Seated near the back, I was able to hear them comfortably. The natural sound of good instruments, well-played in a good hall is almost always preferable to electronically manipulated sound. It takes confidence and skill to perform unamplified these days and Daniel and Calvin are to be commended for it.
Daniel has a charming stage presence, and this certainly came out in a special performance of a piece written by him for his grandfather (who was sitting in the audience). It was titled simply, “Grandpa and Grandma”. Daniel enlisted the help of his mother on the piano accompaniment for this lyrical tune. Aline Dupuis, Daniel’s wife, treated us to several lively step-dancing performances—on a sturdy plywood sheet, no less! We were reminded of how fundamental dance is to all music. And fiddling invites dancing. “People don’t go to dances like they used to”, Daniel remarked at one point. Sad, but true. Fiddling also invites humming along. Many in the audience joined in, spontaneously humming and swaying gently when they recognized beloved Don Messer tunes.
In an evening of many highlights, one at the end of the show stood out for me. Performing the classic “Orange Blossom Special”, Daniel at one point played a totally off the wall lick, and with a broad grin, nodded to Calvin and told us, “I learned that from him!” A concert like this reminds us of how simply structured memorable tunes give lots of scope for improvisation. This was happy music and a joyous mood pervaded the evening.
Judging by the lengthy standing ovation the performers received, I think many in the audience didn’t want the magic to end. They would be quite happy if next season’s concert series could be four performances by Daniel Gervais!