A conversation with DUO BEIJA-FLOR
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
ON theIR CHOSEN INSTRUMENTS:
I have a lot of energy, and [playing flute] really taught me how to channel that energy and to be calmer. I really connect so much now with the wind instruments, because it comes from inside you. I find it really connects with the soul of people playing those instruments. Every piece I play brings me an image, something beautiful in my head that nourishes my mind.
The guitar itself is such a versatile instrument that can be played in pretty much any style you want. I like that. It’s hard to be the master of every style that exists in the world. However, I like that if one day I’m not feeling like playing my etudes, I can take my electric guitar and still play something and just have fun.
ON THE NAME BEIJA-FLOR:
When I learned Portuguese, I learned that hummingbirds are called Beija-Flor. It means “the bird that kisses flowers” …. We had the idea of [playing] world-inspired classical music, and thought that the hummingbird idea was really interesting, because the bird goes from flower to flower and we go from culture to culture.
ON CREATING ETHNO-CLASSICAL MUSIC:
We’ve defined it as any piece of music that has been composed by someone who has been inspired by a culture. Whether it be a dance, a poem, it could be a famous mountain or a landscape of some sort …. The guitar repertoire is already basically that style of music. We just wanted to take it one step further and branch out to other cultures.
We want it to be inspired.
WHAT THEY ENJOY abouT THEIR PARTNERSHIP
[Charles] is never afraid of something too hard or weird …. He has a percussion background so he can really do amazing things on the guitar, making it like a one-man show – playing chords, playing the bass, a bit of drumming on the guitar. It makes it really fun to play, those super-solid, rhythmic and interesting chords. We really share the same tastes in music, so it’s easy to pick pieces, If I like it, I’m pretty sure he will too.
Marie-Noelle has a lot of contemporary music experience. I have a lot of background in pop styles and percussion, so I think that makes us better because we complete each other, basically.
ON HOW THEY MET
We were in the same chamber music class and she was looking for a guitarist to play some crazy contemporary music piece. Apparently she got shot down by a few other guitarists. I was the only one crazy enough to do it. We really clicked. We had a lot of fun practicing – I think we laughed 75 percent of the time and practiced 25 percent of the time.
ON THEIR VERSION OF PIAZZOLA’S OBLIVION:
Some of our favourite pieces are certainly ones that we’ve worked to arrange on our own …. One example would be Piazzolla’s Oblivion. We went to Buenos Aires to study with tango masters to arrange this piece. It has been arranged in a trillion different ways, but there wasn’t a flute and guitar duo version that existed. We actually premiered it down there in Piazzolla’s home town. As soon as we got done and they applauded – it was such a relief, and a beautiful reward.
In French we have a word, l’oublie [which means forgotten] …. Anyone can be lost in their memories, all the beautiful moments you lived, and you wish to live on forever or that you know you won’t live again, people you love that are gone. I think it brings back all those really intense emotions,
It’s really emotional, it’s really – it touches anyone. It’s probably one of the most famous pieces of Astor Piazzolla. The melody is really beautiful. I think that the dimension we bring by playing it [on] flute and guitar makes it a bit different.
ABOUT THEIR PROCESS:
I start by listening to different interpretations just to know where it goes, to have a global idea of the piece. then I identify the technical little parts that certainly will demand more time. And I practice slow, sometimes backwards! I have different techniques for different challenges.
As guitarists we’re like pianists. We have multiple things going on at the same time. I do a little bit of theory and background research. I work with a metronome, small segments, half-speed usually, sometimes slower, just to make sure the mechanics in my hand are working like I want them.
The performance is never mature until we’ve performed the piece in front of people a few times. We’re extra-aware of our surroundings when performing. You’re nervous and you can see the audience and their reaction to what you’re doing. You can take a lot from that, and learn and continue to grow.
ADVICE FOR YOUNG MUSICIANS:
My guitar teacher Daniel Bolshoy – who is a Prairie Debut alumn – he told me to never compare myself to other musicians, to other people’s careers or their playing ability …. I know for us, I know I’m not putting up my Day 1 practice video up on You-Tube. I’m putting up my Day 360 that I’ve worked for a billion hours. It’s easy to get down and think, wow, I’m playing that same piece but I just can’t play it that way …. You don’t know what that person’s been through to get to that level. [Don’t] get locked into that comparison. It can be very negative, and you have to keep a positive attitude in music.
Never forget to play music. Because sometimes we’re stuck inside technique. We want to be perfect – which is great – but [our purpose] is to perform and to enjoy playing. It’s to play. That’s why it’s the best job on earth, because we are actually playing all our lives.
ON BEING A MUSICIAN IN 2020:
We don’t know when things will go back to “normal.” All of my students have gone to online learning, which has been a learning curve. I didn’t know so many programs existed for video chatting!
As musicians, we’re all working from project to project, and so we’re always a bit in the future … It’s a bit nerve-wracking but I think it’s one of the moments where I’ve had the most time to practice. I really enjoy having all of the free time. It gives me ideas for new projects, for new pieces to work on …. Always, emptiness brings a lot of potential for new things to come.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT DUO BEIJA-FLOR:
Marie-Noëlle is from Quebec, and Charles from the States. They met while pursuing graduate studies at Concordia University in Montreal, and now live in a small arts community in Quebec.
Both come from musical families. Charles became hooked when his father brought home an electric guitar, while Marie-Noëlle considered piano and violin before settling on the flute.
When not performing or teaching, they travel and camp, create art and clothing, and care for Marie-Noëlle’s 60+ plant collection.
“… Duo Beija-Flor – with guitarist Charles Hobson and Marie-Noëlle ChoquEtte – is quite a rarity …. This Montréal duo [is] a must to listen to for the aficionado of great music.”
– World Music Report