DeKALB — It's rare to see high school students volunteer for anything, but several jumped up when Le Vent du Nord asked for volunteers to learn foot tapping on stage.
The Quebec folk ensemble is in DeKalb County this week to present workshops at DeKalb High School, DeKalb middle schools, Sycamore High School and Northern Illinois University. Part of the Arts Midwest tour, the week of teaching and interacting with students will culminate with a public concert Saturday at DeKalb High School, 501 W. Dresser Road.
Le Vent du Nord is the second of four groups visiting DeKalb County as part of a two-year program to entertain and educate residents about various types of world music, Arts Midwest program director Ken Carlson said.
"Some communities have fewer opportunities for this type of programming," Carlson said. "With NIU in the community, we want to augment what is already happening here."
The first group that visited, Baladino, was from Israel, Carlson said. This fall, Shangri-la will visit from China, followed by Paulo Padilha and Group from Brazil in spring 2015.
Arts Midwest gives preference to communities where 3M has a presence, because the company is a major sponsor, Carlson said. He said he reached out to Rich Holly, dean of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts, and District 428 superintendent Jim Briscoe.
Holly said the cooperative effort has been a blessing. Local funds have been provided by the DeKalb County Community Foundation, Castle Bank, NB&T, the DeKalb Music Boosters and Michael Embry's FunMe.
"So far, we're doing OK financially," Holly said. "The cooperative effort has been strong."
The program strives to "take the music to the people," Carlson said.
"And we hope, over the course of the week to show the cool stuff that musicians do and that we have stuff in common with people all over the world," Carlson said.
Holly said the musicians bring a great energy and a high level of professionalism.
"The professionalism extends beyond the music; it's how they talk to people," Holly said. "They understand their teaching role."
Considered a driving force in progressive Quebecois folk music, Le Vent du Nord captures the fun and energy of a Saturday night kitchen party, taking traditional Quebec music and infusing it with a fresh air.
Ensemble member Olivier Demers said each band has its own take on traditional music.
"It's the melody with words," Demers said. "The way you dress it up is up to each band. You can give the same tune to each band and it will sound very different."
Some of the instruments they play – like the hurdy-gurdy or the bouzouki – are self-taught.
"I was already a trained musician when I taught myself to play the hurdy-gurdy," said Nicolas Boulerice, who also plays traditional keyboards.
Demers plays the violin and provides the foot tapping, the traditional percussion. Rejean Brunet plays the bass guitar and the accordion. The fourth member, Simon Beaudry, plays the guitar and bouzouki. All four play more instruments than the ones they play during the workshops.
"There was no one to teach me the bouzouki, but because it's a stringed instrument, I was able to pick it up pretty easily," Beaudry said.
DeKalb High School juniors Jake McArtor and Katie Arndt enjoyed the Tuesday morning workshop.
"It's refreshing to hear different kinds of music live," McArtor said.
"This program allows us to see things we never would have been able to see," Arndt said.
If you go
WHAT: Le Vent du Nord public concert
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18
WHERE: DeKalb High School Performing Arts Center, 501 W. Dresser Road
TICKETS: $10 for adults, $5 for students. Tickets are available in advance at the high school office, by calling Angel Smith at 815-754-2120 or at the door.
Unusual instruments explained
• What's a hurdy-gurdy?
The hurdy-gurdy, played by Nicolas Boulerice, is a stringed instrument in which sound is produced by the friction of a rosined wheel turned by a crank against the strings. Pitches are varied by keys.
• What's a bouzouki?
The bouzouki, played by Simon Beaudry, is a stringed instrument of Greek origin, that resembles a mandolin.