Robert Arsenault | Bowing Down Home

Robert Arsenault, 1992

Biography

Robert Arsenault has become an important stage performer and music instructor on the Island scene. He plays and teaches both fiddle and fretted instruments: notably guitar and mandolin. He studied music at the Université de Moncton and classical guitar at St. Jacques in Montreal, and is highly articulate in two languages.

Robert is the grandson of noted Evangeline Coast fiddler Joe Bibienne Arsenault. Joe à Bibienne and several of his offspring were important dance fiddlers in their home region for decades. In fact, some of his daughters – including Zélie Anne Arsenault Poirier – were some of the very few female fiddlers to play regularly at local dances on PEI prior to the modern era. Thinking back on this heritage, Robert reflects on the emotional qualities that give rise to great dance players, and on how their music reflects the experience and aspirations of their communities.

In the late 1990s, Arsenault quit his government job and started playing professionally and teaching music lessons full time. He now represents one of the first of a new breed: a musician who makes a living on PEI playing traditional music. He notes that the big change in traditional fiddle music in recent years is that it has moved out of the kitchen and onto the stage. He notes that the next generation of fiddlers will have learned to play via lessons, rather than by absorbing the music intergenerationally; he is concerned that although youngsters are playing more precisely and with more technique, they may never acquire the feeling and dance rhythms that make the music come alive. An occasional composer, his original tunes include the Crossroads, the Purple Parrot, and Queen of the Priming Machine.

Of special note to Fiddlers: Robert Arsenault discusses the mechanics of Acadian-style sawstroke syncopation.

Tune Selections

Arsenault, Robert - Bedou's Reel Accompanied by: unacc
Evangeline Coast / East Prince
info
Arsenault, Robert - Bruno's Reel Accompanied by: Ken Perlman, bjo
Evangeline Coast / East Prince
info
Arsenault, Robert - Crossroads, The Accompanied by: unacc
Evangeline Coast / East Prince
info
Arsenault, Robert - Purple Parrot, The (mand) Accompanied by: unacc
Evangeline Coast / East Prince
info
Arsenault, Robert - Queen of the Priming Machine Accompanied by: unacc
Evangeline Coast / East Prince
info

Oral Histories

Arsenault, Robert - From dance fiddling to stage performance Where’s the music going, professionalization; out of the kitchen and on to the stage info and transcript
Arsenault, Robert - Individual Attention Difficult in Large Families Individual encouragement not available in families of 14 info and transcript
Arsenault, Robert - Professionalization of fiddling professionalization of fiddling in modern era info and transcript
Arsenault, Robert - Syncopation demonstration Discussion of Acadian syncopation: St Anne's Reel as an example info and transcript
Fiddling & the human condition Physical nature of human condition transmitted to listeners; Fiddling is a reflection of cultural experience of a fiddler; fiddlers who get the most out of their guts are closest to roots of mother nature info and transcript
Joe Arsenault fiddling family Fiddling families were the entertainers at house parties; the devilish feeling: high energy atmosphere at house parties info and transcript
New generation of fiddlers development of commercial "kitchen parties"; development of younger players; passing from the scene of those who learn in a generational way; people now pick it up from lessons a lot of great young players coming info and transcript

Video Clips