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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 5

Les Petits Violons All Grown Up

by Michèle-Andrée Lanoue / February 1, 2015

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Les Petits Violons 2014-2015

“There can be no high civilization without music,” asserted violinist and composer Jean Cousineau, founder of Les Petits Violons. The year 2015 coincides with the 50th anniversary of this exceptional school.

Les Petits Violons is a school, a method of teaching, and an orchestra. Closely associated with Quebec’s music history, the school’s success began in 1965, the period when Quebec was immersed in the Quiet Revolution. Cousineau observed a remarkable lack of schools with structured string instrument teaching. Greatly inspired by Japanese educator Shinichi Suzuki, who Cousineau met in the summer of 1965, he developed an original teaching method. Mr. Suzuki stated that Cousineau was the most significant violin professor in North America.

The Cousineau method introduces children to the violin from the age of five. The method is based on training and on the correlation between sight, touch, and hearing. Cousineau created a method ensuring that the violin is naturally supported by the body as effortlessly as possible.

“He had a precise way of teaching. Our musicians don’t suffer from tendonitis,” says Marie-Claire Cousineau, the educator’s daughter and a violinist. Now the school’s director, Marie-Claire mentions mental mapping of performance, another central aspect of Cousineau’s method.

“The brain commands each gesture,” Marie-Claire adds. “The wrong gesture isn’t easier than the right gesture. We teach students not to make mistakes.”

The distinguished educator’s life was driven by a desire to transmit his passion for the bow, musicality, and rhythm. The student finds motivation by playing the instrument. “Accuracy does not exclude pleasure; on the contrary, it reinvigorates it,” Mr. Cousineau liked to say. Marie-Claire points out that the method uses neither scales nor arpeggios. “We incorporate specific exercises within some of the pieces. This type of technique is less arid.”

At the start of 1974 Jean Cousineau founded the Ensemble Les Petits Violons, bringing together some of the school’s leading recruits; these young violinists were accompanied by an orchestra during the year-end concert. Age and performance level disappeared behind a common passion for music.

“Seeing their eyes light up is wonderful, and the quality of the music is extraordinary,” Ms. Cousineau continued. The Ensemble Les Petits Violons has produced many CDs and toured France, Canada, and the United States.

In 2009, Jean Cousineau founded his namesake group of professional musicians. Violist Xavier Lepage-Brault was one of them. At age seven, he joined the Petits Violons. Today, he teaches at the school and performs with the Ensemble Jean Cousineau. Lepage-Brault believes that the method’s main strength lies in the left hand. “We recommend having an effective and agile hand to avoid unnecessary effort when playing exercises like thirds, articulations, or shifts,” he says.

Mr. Lepage-Brault particularly enjoys breathing life into an ensemble’s playing during the early stages of learning. “It is essential to have these reflexes from the start,” he adds.

“We develop musical appreciation for everyone, even those who will not go on to pursue musical studies,” Ms. Cousineau emphasizes. Many have chosen a professional musical career. Some have become members of well-known orchestras; others are renowned soloists in Montreal, in other regions of Quebec, and overseas. These musicians have become wonderful ambassadors for Quebec’s artistic community.

Despite his death on April 3, 2013, Jean Cousineau’s musical legacy lives on,

“My father had such passion, such devotion, such talent!” Ms. Cousineau exclaims. “Above all, he had great respect for the violin. He practised until the day he died. And he always had new ideas: for example, he tried to determine the best fingerings possible. He performed a work in such a way that we all wanted to play it.”

Jean Cousineau had deep respect for the violin, and also an unquestionable respect for children. “Jean believed children have integrity and intelligence, and quickly became friends with them,” she said. Jean Cousineau was—and remains—an exceptional person through his great social and pedagogical talent.

Former Members of the Petits Violons
· Angèle Dubeau (La Pietà)
· Martin Chalifour (Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic)
· Chantal Juillet
· Alexandre Da Costa
· Marc Béliveau, Myriam Pellerin (OSM)
· Alain Giguère, Brigitte Lefebvre, Lucie Ménard, Johanne Morin, Marcelle Mallette, Florence Mallette (OM)
· Yukari Cousineau (Concertmaster of the Orchestre Métropolitain)
· Christian Prévost, Anne Beaudry, Françoise Morin-Lyons et Denis Béliveau (I Musici)

Translation: Dwain Richardson

The 50th anniversary concert takes place in the Centre Pierre-Péladeau’s Salle Pierre-Mercure on May 3, 2015. All former students are welcome to the celebration to perform “Le Petit Poulet,” the ensemble’s “anthem.” www.lespetitsviolons.com

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