Maine Fiddle Camp
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
It is our sad duty and honor to announce the passing of a long time Maine Fiddle Camp teacher and inspiration David Surette, whose family, music, and spirit were perfect examples of the kind of leadership that has made MFC the “nurturing while learning” community it is. There will be tributes to him occurring throughout the vast legion of friends, musicians, dancers, listeners, and family, so look for some offerings from us in the near future as we reflect on his influence. We will miss him greatly. All our loving best to Susie, Isa, Julianna, all veterans of MFC, as his spirit lives on through his music.
“Huey explores the changing relationship of two top folk musicians and captures a joyous facet of Maine life. From start to finish the film is a unique, sensitive and satisfying contribution to understanding our time and place.”
(William D. Barry, Maine historian and writer).
“Bonsoir Mes Amis” features cameo appearances by MFC’ers MFC Ellen and John Gawler, Greg, Doug, Smokey, Don and Cindy, plus others from Maine’s Franco community. The film is a wonderful look at how traditional music and dance helps build and maintain community!
Come to the Maine Tent Zoom Room at 6:00 pm EST the filmmaker to put the film in context (and some live music). Watch the film premiere live on YouTube 6:30 – 7:30. Then rejoin the Zoom gathering for questions, dialog, music and rememberances.
A note from Greg Boardman: We would just like to tell you about the upcoming Maine Country Dance Fiddle Workshop this February 13, 2021. We are still negotiating for a hall in which to invite the first five registrants of each group, advanced, intermediate and beginner, to do the live portion of the workshop (wearing masks and keeping our distance, of course). Simultaneously, the entire workshop will go out on Zoom and thus involve as many folks as care to participate. (more…)
An online traditional music camp for all ages and abilities!!!
“Twice the program at half the price”. We laugh but it’s really not a joke.
What is MFC? Why is it different?
I am often asked “why is Maine Fiddle Camp different?” I don’t normally answer that question here on the MFC newsletter because I’m pretty much preaching to the choir, BUT with the advent of “Virtual” MFC this past June, things have changed a bit. With an enlarged audience that doesn’t have to travel to Maine to go to camp, many of you out there reading this might not know much about MFC, so I thought I’d start out with a short description. The following (PRE-COVID) blurb is from a piece I wrote in 2018. Here we go:
Most Fiddle Campers know who Sylvia Miskoe is. She has been teaching piano accordion at Camp for a couple decades, a petite woman with blonde/grey/white hair walking through Camp with an accordion slung over her back. Sylvia loves traditional Scottish dance music and also New England traditional dance music and old time country dancing. (more…)
Jeremiah, Annemieke, and Luke McLane’s house in Strafford, VT burned to the ground on Tuesday night. Luckily, they were not home and no one was hurt. However, they lost all their possessions—including their treasured instruments. Jeremiah is the second MFC staff member (after Kaity) to lose a house to fire this summer.(more…)
Most of you know from FaceBook that long time MFC staff member, Kaity Newell’s, home in Damariscotta burned to the ground last week. Kaity is fine as are her dogs, cats, chickens, car and fiddle. Everything else is pretty much gone. There is a go fund me campaign started to help Kaity recover from this devastating loss, and you can find that here: www.gofundme.com/f/kaity-newell-fire-recovery I can’t say enough about how big a part Kaity has been in the traditional music scene in Maine for the last 40 years or so. Please help as much as you can!
Those of you who registered for V-MFC all received a survey form to fill out. If you haven’t done that yet, please do, so we know what we did right and what we could improve on. We will definitely have more Maestro Bistros throughout the summer and there is talk about a “virtual winter MFC”, but no definite plans at this point. There are still “Camper Concert” Virtual Ensemble videos being processed and you can stay informed by watching the website and all news will be carried on the newsletter right here!! And of course, we are still hoping to get back to REAL “in person” live Maine Fiddle Camp in 2021. We will keep you informed right here!!
Well… we ALL did it!! Virtual Maine Fiddle Camp is over and it was an unqualified success. There were close to 500 registered campers and well over 1000 who “stopped by.” (Many stayed!) I’d like to let you know about the “crew” who put this all together. This was unchartered territory, and starting approximately one month before the virtual camp, we pretty much made it up as we went. Some of the MFC staff had familiarity with Zoom meetings and other interactive online platforms. Others had knowledge of YouTube, and others yet were familiar with website design, etc. None had EVER done anything approaching the scope of Virtual Maine Fiddle Camp 2020, but we wanted to give it a try. Read on if you want to know who made this happen… (more…)