by Hugh Gilmore
Previously: While walking in Montreal’s Parc Lafontaine one night for the first time, I came under the spell of a trio of musicians – a guitarist, a drummer and a red-haired woman who played a Celtic harp. I sat enchanted. In the following ten years I must have visited the park 50 times hoping to see them again. I never did. It was just luck that I had seen them playing together that night.
But I didn’t know that then, so I sought them. It became impossible to pass the bench they’d sat on without thinking of them. The woman, especially, had become almost mythic to me. Beautiful, radiant, peaceful, an excellent musician who sang in a gently inspiring manner. I had snapped a photo of them and showed it to park and neighborhood people through the years, asking if anyone knew them. No.
In the meanwhile, my wife, Janet, had made met and now corresponded with another musical resident of Montreal, a young woman named Andrée-Anne Roy who performed for an art-circus group called Compagnia Finzi Pasca. In May of 2016 their troupe would be performing in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater. Could we come? she wrote. Of course, we said.
Andrée-Anne came to Philadelphia a day before the show opened, and she and her boyfriend, Mario, an Argentine who performs graceful acrobatics in the show, met us at the 19th floor restaurant of the Hyatt at the Bellevue. We began lunch and stayed till dinner. They were fascinating people: educated and intelligent, but also gifted with physical strength and grace, and, on Andrée-Anne’s part, musical talent and versatility (violin, piano, accordion and pitched water glasses: see their YouTube videos for “La Verità”). I was quietly awe-stricken.
But not so much so that I didn’t forget to pull the picture of the red-haired harpist from my jacket pocket. “Do you know this woman?” I asked her.
“Oui, that’s Marie-Eve. I have not seen her since that day in the park.”
I said, “Do you think I could somehow get in touch with her to give her this photo as a token of my admiration?”
“Oh, I don’t know where she lives anymore … but maybe I could find out for you.”
We saw their fascinating show the following day, got a backstage after-show tour of the scenery and costumes, and said goodbye. From there we glided into summer, another visit to Montreal, and another hot July in Philadelphia. Though the Marie-Eve mystery remained, fate had just begun turning the wheel. I would not know that, however, until the year 2016 ended.
On Jan. 1 of this year, Janet received an email. “Bonjour, Janet.” The letter was from Marie-Eve Clermont! She said that Andrée-Anne had tracked her down recently to tell her that Janet and I were appreciators of her music. Thank you, both, she said, here is a gift of some MP3 files of her playing.
Janet wrote back. Marie-Eve replied. She had been away for a few years, traveling and learning. She had been studying music and movement in Brazil and just returned last summer. She had fallen in love with a Brazilian man, but it did not work out. She returned to Montreal, this time with her three-year-old son, Luan.
The email exchanges continued through this winter and spring. She now had a job teaching physical education. (In Montreal, that translates, in her case at least, to teaching taiji (Tai Chi), yoga, dance movement and some other things.) Her supportive family lives nearby. She has a small house in what we Americans might call a low-key suburb. She has a boyfriend. Her son and her family and work are her priorities now. She does not go down to the Parc Lafontaine anymore to jam with other musicians. In fact, she hardly has time for playing music at all (but Google “Marie-Eve Clermont Harp Montreal” and you’ll find some YouTubes).
Marie-Eve invited us to come visit her and meet her son next time we came to Montreal. We accepted and went to meet her last month. We drove down a tree-shaded street to her address and there she was, looking almost exactly as she did that first night when I’d walked in the park and had listened to her voice and her harp. Same smile, same peaceful demeanor, same kind attentiveness.
But this time, she was not interacting with two grown male musicians, but bent over adjusting a child’s stroller. After our greetings, she asked if we’d like to take a walk to a nearby park and talk. Ten minutes later we arrived at a shady bend on the Prairie River. Janet and Marie-Eve sat and talked while I and the beautiful young Luan laughed ourselves silly throwing stones and sticks and leaves into the still waters. Every once in a while I looked up from the river before skimming a stone and saw Janet and Marie-Eve sitting and exchanging stories and laughs on the bench.
Would any of you mind if I just let this story have a happy ending?