Does bilingualism help promote musical creativity? Gabriel Dubreuil’s blossoming career suggests that it almost certainly does.
Born to francophone parents in that most English of cities, Victoria, the 24-year-old violinist is fluent not only in both of Canada’s official languages, but in several distinct musical dialects: Celtic, classical, jazz, and folk.
“My family is totally bilingual,” Dubreuil reveals in a telephone conversation from Parksville, where he’s performing with Spirit of the West spinoff band Early Spirit. “Family conversations switch languages at will, and for me that’s very freeing—and kind of representative of what it is to be francophone in Western Canada, where you live in English but you have French to express yourself with when you maybe don’t have the words in English.”
As for how that’s played out in his musical development, Dubreuil admits that he hasn’t really considered it—but he’s intrigued by the notion. “That’s a funny question to think about,” he muses. “Learning new languages and having to study multiple languages is just something I kind of grew up with. I never realized that it was an unusual thing in Western Canada until more recently. And kind of in the same way, musically, I just tried to explore as many different styles as I could on my instrument. I just thought it was so exciting that you could do all these different things on the violin that hadn’t necessarily been done yet. And, for sure, the ability to switch from one language to another definitely translates to music, as well. I’ve always considered music to be just another language, and if that’s the case then the ability to switch between styles would be helped by the bilingualism.”
Helped, too, by early training in classical music, followed by a degree from Boston’s jazz-oriented Berklee College of Music. While Early Spirit splits its focus between Spirit of the West founding member Jay Knutson’s singer-songwriter contributions and Dubreuil’s fiddle tunes, the violinist’s own band incorporates all of his influences. And so, too, will his upcoming appearance at the Coup de Coeur festival of francophone music, in which he’ll present a solo set followed by a collaboration with Nova Scotia’s folk-rock–inflected P’tit Belliveau.
“We’ll have two days of rehearsal beforehand, and we’re just sending each other some charts and stuff,” Dubreuil says, noting that he’s inviting his friend and occasional collaborator Finn Manniche, known for his work with the Roma-swing band Van Django as well as the Yaletown String Quartet, to join in on cello. “But we’re basically just going to see what happens. It’s tough to really know exactly what it will look like until we’re all playing together in the same room, but I’m hoping that we’ll have something really magical that kind of draws on the Cape Breton francophone style and fiddle language.
“I think it’ll be really fun,” he adds. “We’ll be able to get some super-fiddle-sounding moments, and also do some classical moments that maybe are a little more arranged. I’m hoping to have some things come out that are really magical and memorable and original—and that are not something that any of us would have expected.”
Gabriel Dubreuil and P’tit Belliveau play Studio 16 on November 16, as part of the Coup de Coeur festival. For a full Coup de Coeur schedule, visit coupdecoeur.ca/.