Vishtèn will perform Adadian music at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The small house sits on green Prince Edward Island, sheltered from the great Atlantic Ocean by Nova Scotia's sea-washed shores. A neighbor crosses the threshold at dusk and looses a fiddle's voice, soon joined by a piano. Music of Acadia fills the kitchen, mingling with the scent of summer savory seasoning a steaming pot of chicken stew.
As night wears on, more fiddlers appear, 12, then 15, their music rising like a fever. A girl, perhaps 10 years old, step dances to the rhythms, feet pounding on the hard floor. At daybreak, when the last notes fade away, those remaining consume the comforting "fricot" stew with the rising sun.
These early memories of their father's legendary parties form the heartbeat of Vishtèn, said Emmanuelle LeBlanc by phone. She and her twin sister Pastelle formed the group a dozen years ago. With Pascal Miousse on fiddle, they have toured from North America to Australia, captivating crowds by the thousand with their spirited blend of Acadian and Celtic roots and rhythms. On Saturday, the trio will perform in Great Barrington as part of the intimate Guthrie Center's summer Troubadour Series closing weekend.
"Vishtèn" is the name of a traditional song popular with P.E.I.'s extensive Francophone community, a song that was assembled from little bits of song that were found, collected and then put together.
"For us, it just really means the marriage of cultures," she said --Acadian, Scottish, Irish and native Micmaq.
Along with tin whistle and Bodhrán drum, LeBlanc performs traditional seated foot percussion known as "podorhythmie." Her sister, Pastelle, plays the accordion to accompany the music of descendants of early 17th-century French immigrants from Normandy, Brittany and the Basque country who settled in northeastern Canada's maritime provinces and Maine.
Many of these families suffered forced deportation at the hands of the English in the mid-1700s, yet strong cultural enclaves remain on P.E.I. and nearby Magdalen Island, homes to the LeBlancs and Miousse.
The sisters expand the range of Acadian music by using instruments more typical of Scottish and Celtic traditions, prevailing influences on the region.
"I try to play the tunes from here in my own style," LeBlanc explained.
She can trace her family's ancestry back to an early French settler from Loudun, Daniel LeBlanc, whose nine sons populated the New World from New Brunswick to Olana. Within this otherwise continental blood line, she said, her mother's great grandmother came from Ireland.
"The Irish side has always interested me," she said, "one of the reasons I love Irish music."
In 2012, the band released a well-received album, "Mosaïk."
"We started composing some pieces and finding songs, all influenced by trips we've had and people we've met," she said.
The Guthrie show will include music from their four albums and showcase the recently adopted use of the bass pedal, a foot-operated electronic device akin to an organ pedalboard played simultaneously with other instruments.
While the songs of their region are from France, most of the tunes are originally Scottish and played in the Acadian style, LeBlanc explained. This year, she plans to concentrate on learning more of the traditional songs "just to revive my base of what I play."
Still, she emphasized, adding new compositions to the repertoire "is what's going to make Acadian music shine and bring it a step further."
Guthrie Center director of 10 years George Laye heard about Vishtèn through word of mouth.
"I love Acadian music," he explained. "I take a chance every year on something new that I haven't had before."
"There is no ‘style of music' at the Guthrie Center," he added.
"We've had classical guitarists, Beatles things, everything from Jimmie Web to Tom Rush. Woodie Guthrie was about music, and we try to pass that on. We don't want to be exclusively folk or exclusively anything. We want to be inclusive."
Vishtèn is proving popular in European countries like Austria and Germany.
"People aren't scared to go see music that they don't know," LeBlanc said. "They're curious; they'll take a chance."
Closer to home, she finds there's a real energy that Americans have toward folk music in general.
"We find a connection; there's a quick response," she said. "If they like it, we know it."
If you go ...
Where: Guthrie Center, 2 Van Deusenville Road, Great Barrington
When: Saturday at 8 p.m., Doors open at 6 p.m. for dining
Information: (413) 528-1955
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