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McCord Museum puts soundtrack to Quebec history with look at musical past

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MONTREAL - The McCord Museum is putting a soundtrack to Quebec history.

"Music — Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire" is perfectly timed, arriving just as the city warms up for the Montreal International Jazz Festival running from June 26 to July 6.

The museum exhibit lasts until Oct. 13 and offers not only some of the greatest music to emerge from Quebec but the stories behind the songs as well.

"The McCord Museum is a social history museum and music in Quebec has played an extremely important role in the history of Quebec," said Suzanne Sauvage, the downtown museum's president.

Quebec music has not only been a collection of toe-tapping tunes but also the anthems for social and political causes, she pointed out in an interview.

"So we thought it would be appropriate to do something about that."

Before the 1960s, the best-known Quebec musicians included such singers as Mary Rose-Anna Bolduc — better known as La Bolduc — and Felix Leclerc, who also gained fame as a poet.

But in the 1960s, where the exhibit kicks off, Quebec experienced its real musical explosion. That was amplified by the so-called Quiet Revolution, which brought the province into the modern era.

More than 800 bands formed and disbanded in Quebec in the space of five years during the 1960s.

St-Hyacinthe, now known for its veterinary school and chocolate factory, was dubbed the "Liverpool of Quebec," a comparison to the British city that spawned the Beatles.

In present day, where the exhibit winds up, Quebec is known for producing some of the world's biggest acts, including Celine Dion, Arcade Fire and Leonard Cohen.

"It's the soundtrack to the history of Quebec, but it's also the soundtrack of the baby boomers in Quebec," said Sauvage. "Every baby boomer who visited this exhibition is almost in tears because they review their own life from the '60s to today."

Sauvage said the exhibit was challenging to put together because music is part of an "immaterial heritage." She said the museum was lucky because many artists were willing to lend artifacts such as documents and instruments.

The exhibit has been set up in a way that visitors can immerse themselves as much as they want, particularly in the music.

Pick up a pair of headphones at the entrance and you'll have the choice of listening to full versions of more than 100 songs from the 1960s to now in either clips or full versions. Many of the songs are accompanied by videos.

There are also 200 objects, including costumes, photos, posters, documents, album covers, manuscripts and instruments such as a selection of iconic guitars.

Among the most eye-popping parts of the show is a selection of costumes from several big-name Quebec singers.

The outfits range from Joe Bocan's elegant white gown for the "Apocalypso" video in 1991, to elaborate costumes including Diane Dufresne's "theatre dress" for her "Top Secret" show in 1986.

Martha Wainwright's simple peasant-style costume from a 2013 tribute show for her mother stands in contrast to her brother Rufus' flowing and feathered outfit worn in his 2010 "All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu" show.

And to top it off, Andre (Dede) Fortin's simple jacket and pants show how far things have gone for Quebec artists since 1965 when placed beside Patrick Watson's 2009 megaphone suit. Composed of a portable amplifier and five megaphones, it looks like something out of science fiction.

The costume section, dubbed "Flights of Fancy," is one of six that flow through the exhibit.

"The Insolence of Youth" begins the show. In it, the so-called "ye-ye" era, which is a Quebecois offshoot of the Beatlemania fad, is chronicled as is the rise of the province's star system.

"Dreaming of Other Worlds" looks at the relationship between music and social change while "Songs of the Brave" looks at the quests for identity and struggles of First Nations.

"Flights of Fancy" leads into "Musical Milestones," where visitors can get a taste of some of the major concerts and musical events in Quebec over the years.

Those include a 2008 duet by Celine Dion and Ginette Reno in Quebec City as well the 2004 Montreal jazz festival where legends Oliver Jones and Oscar Peterson played together.

The circuit ends with an audio area called "Anthems" where people will sit in a comfortable darkened lounge as they listen to three significant songs of love and hope, including Cohen's "Hallelujah" as sung by Rufus Wainwright.

———

If You Go...

Where: McCord Museum, 690 Sherbrooke St. W., near McGill University in downtown Montreal

Phone: 514-398-7100

Hours: The museum is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Hours are extended on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tickets: Regular adult price for the "Music" exhibition is $19 while the museum's regular adult fee is $14. There are also special rates for students, family, children and seniors. Regular admission to the museum is free on Wednesday evening and $9.50 for the "Music" show.

Online: www.mccord-museum.qc.ca

Follow @nelsonwyatt on Twitter.

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