By Marcelle Paulin for the Cocagne Rural Community website

October 3rd 2015


Julien LeBlanc was born in Cocagne. I had the chance to meet Julien while he was vacationing in the area for a couple of days, visiting his family. He also has professional engagements in Halifax, Moncton and Prince Edward Island. Even though he lives in Montreal, Julien frequently spends time in our part of the country.

MP: “What were you like as a child?”

 JL: “I was very drawn to music and I knew I didn’t want to be like everyone else, I wanted to stand out from the crowd. Very young, before I was even 4 years old, I had heard Vivaldi’s 4 seasons and it really made an impression on me. My parents are not musicians but my two aunts on my father’s side played and still play classical piano. My grandfather had a piano. One of my aunts learned by ear, the other had taken piano lessons. ”

MP: “In general, to become a pianist, one has to take piano lessons at a very early age?”

 JL: “It wasn’t the case for me. When I was around 9 years old I saw a play called Harold and Maude with Viola Léger and Roy Dupuis. It made me want to be on stage. Shortly after, I saw Amadeus, a film about the life of Mozart, it made a deep impression on me. It was at that moment I decided to take piano lessons. The following September, I was almost 9 and a half, and started taking lessons with Mrs. Léontine LeBlanc. I was a little late in starting but I was passionate and motivated and therefore quickly caught up. I took lessons for a year in Cocagne with Mrs. Léontine LeBlanc and then another eight years with the sisters of Notre-Dame. I also had a good music teacher in school, her name was Mrs. Christine Richard.

I didn’t really like high school, maybe because my artistic aspirations made me feel different from others my age. I did, however have good grades and by Christmas time in the twelfth grade, had enough credits to graduate. I then went to the Université de Moncton for a semester to prepare my entrance audition to l’Université de Montréal. ”

Very early on, Julien’s talent was undeniable. He won the Emerging Artist of the Year prize in 2002 awarded by the New Brunswick Foundation for the Arts. He gave his first

Recital at the age of 16. Since then, he has debuted at the National Centre for the Arts in 2003, then toured with Jeunesses Musicales Canada and the Debut Atlantic series.

Julien has acquired a solid background in music. He studied at l’Université de Montréal, the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Glenn Gould School in Toronto. Very popular with the public there is a unanimity among critics and people in the arts.

MP: “You have a career in classical music. What do you value most in this lifestyle? ”

 JL: “Because of the music, I travel a lot and meet interesting people. I have the chance to work with other musicians and it’s very inspiring.”

MP: “Are there some unpleasant aspects?”

JL: “Living out of a suitcase, being away from home and eating in restaurants day after day, is not that enjoyable. When I get home from a tour I love having my coffee at home in the morning. Sometimes I can be gone for 4 to 5 weeks at a time.”

MP: “Do you have a story for us? I suppose everything does not always happen as expected before or during a concert.”

 JL: “Often, there are glitches. When you perform in a concert hall you have to play the piano that is there. I had to play on a very old piano that was not in very good condition. The ivory on the notes kept breaking under my fingers and pieces were flying off as I played and some parts even flew into the audience and on the other notes of the piano. Fortunately, the violinist playing next to me had the idea to remove the broken key pieces laying on the keyboard with the tip of his bow so that I could continue until the end of the piece. That was a very memorable moment!”

MP: “You must practice the piano every day? Are there exercises that you need to do to avoid injury and stay in shape?”

 JL: “Ideally, I play every day for 4 hours, but sometimes I play for 10 hours or in rare cases, just an hour, depending on my schedule. I have to stretch, but above all, I learned to breathe in order for me to relax. There is less risk of injury if I am relaxed. I also run and go to the gym. It is not always easy to integrate the gym into my schedule, especially when I’m on tour. ”

MP: “Are you interested in other musical instruments? Do you compose?”

JL: “I played a bit of violin when I was younger but it wasn’t for me. I sing for fun. Composing doesn’t appeal to me. I have improvised on occasion when accompanying a vocalist, but really prefer interpreting the music of great musicians. ”

MP: “Do you attend concerts of other musicians?”

 JL: Yes, especially when I am on vacation. I love going to concerts in Europe because the market is bigger, so there are more performances to see. Inspiration necessitates watching others perform, someone better than oneself in order to improve.  ”

MP: “Is there an artist closer to home that you like?”

 JL: There are many. Marie-Jo Thério, for example. Marie-Jo has so much talent, she draws you into her world. She really inspired me in the way she communicated with the audience. I also like jazz and singer-songwriters. In the car I listen to different styles of music other than classical or nothing at all, I truly enjoy silence sometimes. ”

MP: “Let’s talk a bit about Barachois Summer Music, you are the artistic director?”

JL: Pierre-André Doucet and I have been co-artistic directors since 2012, Barachois Summer Music celebrates its 35th anniversary this summer. I had already attended as a concert musician. Pierre-André and I took over after Normand Robichaud, who did an extraordinary job, decided to retire. We take on these roles as volunteers. It is an enormous amount of work but it gives us a sense of pride having allowed this activity to continue. ”

MP: “What are the main challenges encountered when organizing an event of this magnitude in a rural area of New Brunswick?”

 JL: As with anything else, finding the funds to operate is always a challenge. We have private donors and organizations that help us. We must also make sure we have an audience. We need to educate the audience because classical music has been long perceived as reserved for a certain class of people. You have to have studied this kind of music in order to appreciate it, which is false. Fortunately, this image is beginning to disappear, the opera and concerts with a symphony are becoming cool! We do pre-concert conferences with different themes. We present young musicians in the forst segment. ”

MP: “Back to Julien LeBlanc. You give solo piano concerts, but also have other ways to practice your art. You do Chamber music. You also accompany classical singers, are a professor and will soon launch an album.”

JL: As part of the Festival du Monde Arabe de Montréal in November, I will accompany the soprano Miriam Khalil. It is very interesting because it is quite different from the music I usually do. I really enjoy accompanying singers like the soprano Nathalie Paulin with whom I have worked with several times and who has now become a good friend. It’s also nice to share the stage with other musicians. I particularly enjoy playing with string instruments, there are many magnificent repertories for the violin and piano for example.

Teaching, for me is very rewarding because it always requires a return to the basics. There is real potential in the young people I work with, but also a lot of impatience. They must learn that it is with practice and hard work that they will progress.

This winter, I will release a French solo album. I interpret pieces from Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) and César Frank (1822-1890.)”

MP: “In your life as a musician, there is music and talent, but also a lot of hard work.”

 JL: “It is a very competitive environment and in order to live from your art you have to know how to create opportunities. If it is really what a person wants to do with one’s life then 5% is talent 75% is work and 20% is the ability to sell one’s self. ”

MP: “You have already accomplished so much. Is there a dream, bigger than the others that you have left to realise?”

 JL: “It is a dream of all pianists to perform with a renowned symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York, or London or Vienna. To perform in a hall where the greats have played. ”

Thank you so much Julien LeBlanc for having spent a part of your Saturday afternoon with me. I really enjoyed our meeting. I hope one day to hear you playing in Cocagne, perhaps in 2017, as part of the 250th anniversary of our community… A seed has been planted! Thank you!

Note: Julien LeBlanc’s new solo disc is now available on iTunes, Google Play and CD Baby. You can see a promotional video at