Proof that Josée Allard is not your run-of-the-mill pianist can be found on the homepage of her website. About halfway down it is a quote by jazz legend Miles Davis. Even though the words are in Canadian French (Allard’s native language), their meaning is universal: “The real music is the silence, and all the notes are only framing this silence.”
A fitting mantra for someone who, despite her classical pedigree, has staked much of her career on Music for People (MfP)’s silence-is-your-friend philosophy.
“I start every improvisation with one quality sound that is simple and authentic,” says Allard, a 2008 graduate of MfP’s Musicianship and Leadership Program (MLP). “It’s important to be gentle with yourself, to steer clear of your inner critic.”
Allard burst on the scene in 1987, winning first prize at the prestigious Montréal Symphony Orchestra Competition. She immediately became a darling of the festival circuit, while earning a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Montréal. In time, she added classical singing to her repertoire.
Today, Allard serves on the music faculty of Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf and is a sought-after performer and recording artist. We recently caught up with the Montréal native to talk about MfP and her latest solo album, “Reflets,” available on bandcamp.com.
What do you mean by “Reflets”?
The album is a compilation of 11 piano improvisations that I have recorded over the past six years. The tracks were inspired by my involvement with Qi Gong [an ancient Chinese mind-body-spirit practice] and the music of David Darling, whose recordings are often played at my school.
The pieces are designed to be expressive soundscapes, intimate and minimalistic. They invite us to be quiet and introspective.
How did you keep the music fresh during the years-long recording process?
I recorded everything on a Yamaha P85 digital piano, using Logic Pro software. The sound engineer, Simon Éthier, added piano plug-ins for richness and then mixed and mastered everything. I’m happy with the results, which sound spontaneous.
You mentioned David Darling, who co-founded MfP in the Eighties. What was it like training under him?
I got to know David at “Art of Improvisation” in 2004 and over the next four years in MLP. He “dared” me to improvise more, to become more confident in my music making. I had been composing since I was a kid, but he helped me get serious about it.
David also inspired me to incorporate MfP concepts into my teaching—call and response, soloing over a drone, soloing over an ostinato, singing, playing, drumming. These concepts have helped my students feel the music better. They also have made teaching a lot of fun.
How has MfP made you a more well-rounded musician?
It’s freed me from the perfectionism that often comes with classical playing. Music for People has helped me rediscover my inner creativity and musicianship—qualities that I had lost sight of, over the years, performing other people’s music.
MfP also has opened me to sounds from other cultures. As a result, I’m a much deeper listener. I’m also more rhythmic and have a greater connection to my body, emotions and soul.
Why should we support organizations like Music for People, which serve the public good?
MfP doesn’t just liberate us; it allows us to connect with others in ways that are unique and powerful. Now, more than ever, we need joy and peace in the world. Music is the key.
Author: Rob Enslin