The Sunday Magazine

'The fiddle is laughing': How this teen and 83-year-old keep Ti-Jean Carignan's music alive

Maxim Bergeron is a teen violin virtuoso from Berlin. Gilles Losier is an 83-year-old Acadian pianist from New Brunswick. The bond between them was forged by the music of legendary Quebec musician Ti-Jean Carignan.

Gilles Losier didn't expect Carignan's heir apparent to be a high school student in Germany

Gilles Losier and Maxim Bergeron hold an album of Losier's former musical partner and Bergeron's musical idol Ti-Jean Carignan. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Originally published on September 13, 2019.

For decades, Gilles Losier has been on a mission to make sure that legendary Québécois fiddler Ti-Jean Carignan and his music are never forgotten.

But he didn't expect Carignan's heir apparent to be a high school student in Germany.

Losier, who was Carignan's piano accompanist for more than 20 years, first met Maxim Bergeron in 2017.

A friend told him that Bergeron, who was in Montreal visiting his grandmother, was an extraordinary violin player who had taught himself how to play some of Carignan's most complicated tunes.

They met for the first time in a stuffy practice room at McGill University, and a remarkable musical relationship was born.

Gilles Losier and Maxim Bergeron show off their instruments. (David Gutnick/CBC)

They make an odd pair. Bergeron is a reserved and wispy-thin teenager, with long, sunblond hair. Losier, an exuberant octogenarian from northern New Brunswick, has thin white hair and coke-bottle lenses that double the size of his eyes.

During that first meeting, the teenager from Berlin and the old Acadian played Ti-Jean Carignan tunes till they were panting.

"The more we go, the better it gets. He's playing hard music. Music that other fiddlers will spend a lifetime, and never, never be able to play. The more we go, I realize that it's Ti-Jean Carignan," Losier told The Sunday Edition's documentary producer David Gutnick.

'The best fiddler that ever lived'

Losier still remembers the first time he heard Carignan, who he describes as "absolutely the best fiddler that ever lived." It was at Expo 67 in Montreal.

"When I heard Carignan — oh, my goodness. I knew there were some people that could play like that, but not on that level," he said.

"So afterwards I said to Ti-Jean, 'I'm from down home.' 'Oh, great. I love the Acadians', he said. [I said] 'I play the piano. Let's try a tune.'"

The rest is history.

Carignan died in 1988, and Losier has been trying to get fiddlers to play his music ever since.

'I got pretty obsessed with Ti-Jean'

Bergeron was born in Berlin in 2004, to a Russian mother and a Québécois father. He began classical violin lessons when he was three-and-a-half years old.

"I got pretty obsessed with Ti-Jean. First I got to know some of his recordings, then I learned some of his tunes," he said.

He spent hours trying to emulate his manner of playing. At one point, he even wanted to cut his hair like Carignan.

"After school I'd get out my violin, turn on the computer, and I'd use a special program to slow down the records of Ti-Jean. Then I'd listen to them carefully for all the details, all the ornamentation ... then I'd raise the speed gradually until I got to 100 per cent," he said.

"Maxim has learnt the sound of Ti-Jean Carignan," said Losier. "It sounds like the fiddle is laughing."

'The music won't die'

After their first meeting at McGill, Losier and Bergeron weren't sure they would ever see each other again.

But they've stayed in touch. Bergeron calls Losier from Germany, because it's cheaper that way, and they talk about songs, great recordings, and some of the musicians Carignan used to play with.

Gilles Losier plays piano with Maxim Bergeron on fiddle. (David Gutnick/CBC)

"I tell Maxim about ways to play the music and how to understand it, and how to not play it so fast, because sometimes when he practices — holy smoke, I think the smoke is gonna come out of the fiddle," Losier said. 

"I can't imagine a life without Gilles, because first of all, he's a good pianist but not only that ... he's a transmitter between myself and my idol," said Bergeron.

"I guess you could say I have three parents. My mom and my dad, who help me in normal life, and Gilles, who you can say is a musical parent, who lives it with me and who tells me about it."

Losier said the chance to collaborate with Bergeron spurs him on and gives him something to live for.

"I'm 83 and I'll keep playing until I can't play anymore ... It gives me great joy to be able to play with a guy like that. I don't know how long, but it doesn't matter," he said.

"I'm gonna die, but the music won't die, because Maxim will be there."

Click 'listen' above to hear David Gutnick's documentary "It Sounds Like the Fiddle is Laughing."

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