We lost Ben Guillemette, his having preceded everyone reading this to the heavenly dance band at age 95.
I first met Ben when he showed up with “Toots” Bouthot (our Joanne’s father!) in 1975 to compete at the East Benton Fiddlers’ Convention. We young upshot fiddlers knew we were listening to fiddling and piano accompaniment gravitas, a major cut above anyone else who took the stage (a flatbed trailer in front of the Littlefield farm blacksmith shop) that day. I remember his playing as having that indescribable dynamic of a technique that comes from a special dedication, and feeling that comes from a deep engagement with his own being and inheritance, both cultural and universal.
He was, in fact, too good for the judges that day, and asI remember, “lost” to Dave Livingston’s soulful jiggery–soulfulness of a different sort, for sure. Ben’s gracefulness was not slow to shine after that, and we all soon learned of the generosity he had along with his intensity, a dynamic we learned to savor in his company as a mentor and friend. He was the real deal, as a human being and carrier of traditional French music, which he in turn enriched with his truly catholic interests in any violin music played with heart.
Ben loved working with wood, and over time moved from house carpentry to cabinetry to violin-making–from structures that shelter people to what holds their food and goods to that which houses their hearts, which fiddlers know only opens fully when someone pulls the bow over the string, to pry into and celebrate the mysteries of existence and the love that gives life and sustains us all.
There is a lot in Maine Fiddle Camp that is of Ben Guillemette, having touched my life and the lives of our founding staff in profound ways, guiding us all toward the savoring of every participant at every stage of their lives, musical or otherwise.
— Greg Boardman
I met Ben in 1975 when Uncle Lucien and I visited with him at his home in Sanford. Within minutes we had the fiddles out with Ben was giving me pointers, sharing tunes and telling really great stories. Ben and Lucien began joyfully needling each other about whatever subject offered the opportunity to do so. The fun lasted for the duration of the visit. This scenario was repeated every time I visited Ben and we soon became good friends and he became a mentor. On Saturdays as a young, newly married man, I would visit Ben at his cabinet shop in Alfred. He had a piano in a spare room and we would go in there to play music for a couple hours. He always took time to teach me some technical aspects of playing the fiddle. I like to think that Uncle Lucien taught me the tunes but Ben taught me how to play them.
Ben was quite the player. He was self taught. In the service he bunked with a classical violinist with whom he credited much of his knowledge about playing the violin. He played in a Bluegrass band for 13 years touring across Canada; he played on the Grand Old Opry in Nashville a few times, won many prestigious fiddle contest and the list goes on and on. He was very humble and rarely talked about his credentials.
Throughout the years Ben, Uncle Lucien and I along with our spouses and friends journeyed all over the North East playing concerts, attending fiddle contests and parties. Ben and his grandson Daniel were part of the first Maine French Fiddlers group who played Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and many other venues. The trips to these events are as memorable as the events themselves, or more so. Ben and Lucien once started a conversation during a van trip to Aroostook County about the difference between onions and scallions that lasted for hours! BTW it was unresolved! It was always fun!
No one loved the violin and violin music more than Ben. Right up to his passing he would call me with news about some player or tune he just heard, just as excited as he was in 1975. Ben lost his index finger on his left hand when he was in his eighties and taught himself to play with the other 3 fingers left. He was still making violins at age 95. When he wasn’t playing or making fiddles he was watching music on TV. He was a lifelong student of the music and was always eager to share his knowledge.
Ben was a devout Catholic with tremendous faith. He had a beautiful love for his family and taught his grandsons to play fiddle. He was married to Harriet for 69 years. She passed away 364 days before Ben and he told me last year “she was just as beautiful as she was when I met her”. His life was full of joy that was very contagious. I was truly blessed to have met Ben and he will be missed.
— Don Roy
Mother Marc’s Waltz, a favorite of Ben Guillemette