Music and food are two of the greatest tools of hospitality. The composer attempts to create music that both excites the performer and speaks to the audience. The performer brings that music alive and welcomes the audience into their world of beauty and emotion. The cook in the kitchen attempts to create a meal that both feeds the body and fuels the conversation that binds the guest together. I have found hospitality in both music and food at the early stages of this project in Quebec. First all, Louise and Richard have been excellent hosts and translators, and they have become good friends. Secondly, Tiphaine and the choir members welcomed me immediately and are anxious to see the ideas for the new piece. Lastly, our growing list of contacts in the Haitian community have greeted the project with enthusiasm and have any help that we need to bring it to fruition. Even in a place where the French language is at the center of their cultural identity, my poor French has been mitigated by open embrace of these wonderful people.
That being said, I have learned a great deal about the food of French Canada. The influence of French food culture permeates the grocery stores, restaurants and home kitchens. An appreciation for high quality cheese and wine, fresh vegetables and other elements of French cuisine is omnipresent. In contrast to the American habit of eating in the car on your way to the next item on a busy schedule, my hosts here understand that eating is about enjoying good food, talking with friends and recharging both your body and soul from a day of work. The wonderful rhythm of appetizers, main course, followed by salad and a cheese course just seems to put the challenges of the day in perspective.
However, there are reminders that this is not just a recreation of French culture, but a unique blend of many cultures. While the French crepe can be found in restaurants and homes, the North American pancake also makes its presence known. While France may have it’s fine Chardonnays and Merlots, Quebec has it’s own special regional product-maple syrup. Here syrup is not just for pancakes but is used in a wide variety of dishes ranging from roasted meats to desserts. Louise introduced me to an old recipe that her mother used to make that made me think of syrup in whole new way. She boiled maple syrup in a small pot on the stove to gradually thicken it. Once it arrived to the right consistency, she dropped several raw eggs into the hot syrup and stirred. This created a maple syrup pudding that was amazing!
I only hope that the music I write in the residency can stand up to artistry and hospitality of my hosts and new friends in Quebec. The pressure is on!