Profile by Jane Ledwell
Play us an Acadian tune. This is what audiences from “away” often asked fiddler Anastasia DesRoches. “People in the [Acadian] region were less curious about ‘Acadian tunes,’ or didn’t seem to express an importance on them,” Anastasia says. “But outside the region, it’s a big deal.”
Anastasia wanted Acadian tunes to matter as much to Island Acadians as to people in other parts of PEI and Canada. “As a musician, I have kind of a mission from that point of view,” she smiles. Her mission translated into the book Les faiseux de tounes – Tunesmiths, the first collection of Acadian compositions for fiddle, available from the Fédération culturelle de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard. For the book, Anastasia transcribed musical notation for 300 Acadian compositions, collected biographies of the tunes’ 34 composers, and recorded the stories of their songs.
Anastasia is quick to insist, “Everyone refers to this as ‘my’ book, but it is not my book. There are so many players who let me invade their homes and spaces to record their music… I’m the lucky person to have the passion and the push and to benefit from having the support of the Fédération culturelle to do the work—but I could never say it is mine!
“As a player,” Anastasia recalls, “I was getting to know more and more players who more and more wrote their own tunes, and their tunes were becoming a bigger part of my repertoire… These tunes are part of my heritage,” she grins. “The songs mean something to me. The stories mean something to me. It feels like a store of music that is appropriate for me to play.”
Anastasia grew up in an anglicized Acadian family and began her life in music as a dancer. It was dance that led her to fiddling, which she took up at 15. “I was exposed to lots of fiddle styles through the Prince County Fiddlers and was very interested in the Scottish style—I hadn’t really grabbed my Acadian roots,” she recalls.
“I was very stubborn,” Anastasia says. “I just wanted to learn by ear.” Lessons with Kim Vincent encouraged Anastasia to learn to read music. “He would transcribe tunes from a cassette when they were too fast to follow by ear,” Anastasia says. After a year studying music at university she fell in love—to her surprise—with music theory. She was soon transcribing complex tunes for fun.
After she was “bitten by the bug” to create a book of transcriptions of Acadian tunes, Anastasia “knocked on doors for two to three years.” She visited players, asked them to play their tunes and tell her a bit about their origins. “The transcriptions are from the composers’ own playing,” says Anastasia, and the field recordings and documentation are available at the Acadian Museum in Miscouche. The recordings aren’t for sale because “most of the composers have never played in public.”
Anastasia didn’t play and record the tunes herself. “I didn’t want to play people’s tunes and become the interpreter,” she says. At the same time, when she next records an album, it will feature her own tunes and tunes from the collection.
That might not be soon, since Anastasia is enjoying a day job these days. Project work with the Société St-Thomas d’Aquin evolved into full-time work, including work for Actions Femmes and the Fédération des parents. “Music is more and more keeping a back seat,” she admits. As for her plan for her next recording, Anastasia says, “I’m not letting it go yet—but I’m not setting a year yet, either.”
Anastasia says, “There’s a lot of interest from all corners of the globe” for the Tunesmiths book. “It gave a value to the all this music that it is all there on the page.
“I’m so excited to get to share this, to give space for Acadian music outside PEI and outside Canada, to share those stories and histories,” says Anastasia. Now, when audiences ask for an “Acadian tune,” three hundred are ready to spring from the page to the fiddle and bow.