Travel Blog

15 Jun

McCord Museum turns up the music from Charlebois to Arcade Fire


The sound of Quebec-made music, from the late-1950s to today, can be heard loud and clear at Music – Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire, a new multimedia exhibition at Montreal’s McCord Museum, May 30 to October 13, highlighting not only significant moments in Montreal and Quebec history, but Quebec’s place in a global pop-culture zeitgeist…

Hundreds of Quebec musicians – from folk to rock to hip hop – make appearances in sound and on screen in the colourful exhibition. Known for weaving Montreal and Quebec history into a broader international timeline, the McCord Museum once again presents an extensive and engaging take on a topic that turns out to be more complex than it might first appear. The past 60 years of music in Quebec is not only tied to personal memories – as so much music tends to be – but to social and political movements that shaped Quebec culture. The exhibition travels from the nascent days of rock ‘n’ roll to ‘60s yé-yé and hippie-folk, ‘70s disco and rock, ‘80s glam rock and punk, ‘90s hip hop and world music, 2000s indie-rock and much in between.

McCord Pink Room

With each step through Music – Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire comes a song or three, delivered crystal clear through Sony headphones. Far from reducing each decade to a stereotype, the exhibition presents a social context that grounds each song in history, adding that much more meaning to it, whether created by the infamous Leonard Cohen, Quebecois icon of psychedelic folk-rock Robert Charlebois, “Gens du pays” songwriter Gilles Vigneault, pop superstar Céline Dion, anti-establishment political group Les Colocs, Innu folk-rock duo Kashtin, rock-metal masters Voivod, or recent international stars Arcade Fire. If there’s a fun way to take a crash-course in recent Quebec history, especially its more rebellious side, this is it.

Guitar Kids

A variety of musical instruments, artifacts and costumes brings the music further to life: see album cover art that reflects everything from pastoral folk to prog-rock excess; some of the guitars wielded in the name of freedom of expression, revolution and sovereignty; and extravagant costumes that could be just as at home in a Cirque du Soleil show as on a rock-music stage. Through video footage and storytelling, the Music exhibition also highlights several major “milestone” concerts in Quebec that had a social impact in the past 50 years, from the beginning of the Montreal International Jazz Festival to the Céline Dion and Ginette Reno duet on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City to Arcade Fire’s major free outdoor show at Place des Spectacles in 2011.

McCord Urban Forest

Referencing music’s power to change our everyday lives, a variety of cultural activities add to the exhibition’s significance, including several family-friendly events. Tour the exhibition with museum experts, attend a Sunday workshop to make maracas and album covers, see documentary films on some of the artists featured in the exhibition, attend cocktail-hour concerts and discussions, and visit the outdoor Urban Forest all summer to hear live music every day at noon-hour and on Wednesday evenings, while keeping our appetite sated with the help of the city’s food trucks.



Music – Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire, May 30 to October 13, 2014

Photo Credits by John Taylor, Frederique Menard-Aubin, Marilyn Aitken, Delpine Delar, all courtesy of the McCord Museum

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