Poulin has been working as a music festival programmer for both
International Jazz Festival and Les
FrancoFolies (the largest francophone music festival on
the planet) for the past two years. In particular, he is responsible
for programming the guitar events for the Montreal
Guitar Show and Guitarissimo concert series. We spoke
about his work.
& OPINION: Do you ever get sick of music?
& OPINION: How many hours of music do you listen to per/day
POULIN: Over the course of a year, a minimum of 4 hours/day. Most
of it from December to June.
& OPINION: How many CDs do you listen to per/year?
POULIN: I would say about 3000.
& OPINION: Do you listen to them from beginning to end?
POULIN: That’s impossible. But I give them a good listening
before making a decision. Applicants don’t have to worry
that I’ll (or anyone on our programming team) will listen
to a couple of cuts for 30 seconds and then make a decision on
it. We take our work seriously and I think it shows in our programming.
It’s not an accident that the Montreal Jazz Festival is
regarded by many as the best in the world. One of the most difficult
aspects of my work is having to reject good music because it doesn’t
fit into a particular theme.
& OPINION: I know you play guitar, that your father is a musician,
that music is in your blood. Are you living the dream?
POULIN: Absolutely. Vocation and avocation are one and the same,
on top of which I’m now playing in a band for the first
time in many years.
& OPINION: What is most satisfying about your work?
POULIN: On a personal basis, getting to know and work with André
Menard (co-founder of Montreal Jazz Festival = MJF) and Laurent
Saulnier (Program Director of MJF). Both of these gentlemen have
between 40 and 30 years of music listening experience under their
belts, and I consider myself very lucky to have access to their
incredible knowledge. Both of their brains should be digitalized
and uploaded onto the Internet under the music encyclopedia category.
& OPINION: What most impresses you about their knowledge?
POULIN: Besides their many recommendations which are of course
invaluable, what they have mostly taught me has been by example.
They are both totally open to all genres of music, which is really
quite rare. As we know, when people become more comfortable with
complex music, such as jazz or classical, they sometimes become
snobbish about music they ‘used to love and listen to.’
It’s like a rich guy who wants to forget he was once poor.
But good music is good music and our team doesn’t care where
it comes from or what genre it belongs to.
& OPINION: What is the most difficult challenge facing a festival
POULIN: For myself, it was learning to recognize and appreciate
music that I don’t personally like. As you know, it’s
impossible to be equally inclined towards all genres of music.
Which obliged me to find a way into music that perhaps has nothing
to do with my personal experience. So for example, let’s
pretend I don’t like Rap music, but since millions of people
do, I had to find out what it is about this music that attracts
so many listeners from all around the world, which means I have
to not only listen to the music but find the feelings and reasons
which cause this music to be created. If the music is angry, there
must be a situation in life that corresponds to that anger and
I want to know about it. Cuban music is not only just music but
it’s the story of a people who live on the island of Cuba
who aren’t as free as we are, which is maybe why their music
feels so free. They create their freedom through their music.
prepared for this kind of discipline when I first joined the team,
but it has forced me to become a much better listener; and when
you finally learn to appreciate a new genre of music it’s
like learning a new language. During the past couple of years
I have become familiar with many musical languages and I’m
only at the beginning of my career.
& OPINION: As the person solely responsible for the guitar
programming, were you under more pressure than usual?
POULIN: I could always consult with Jacques-André Dupont,
the director of all the guitar shows who also recommends. Like
myself, he plays guitar and is familiar with many styles of guitar
playing. But yes, there’s lot’s of pressure especially
when you’re working within a tight budget. It’s one
thing to find a good guitarist, it’s another to get him
to sign the contract. We have to pay for transportation and hotel
and if the musician or group turn us down we have to find someone
else. It can be very frustrating at times.
& OPINION: How did you decide on the programming of the 9-concert
POULIN: The Montreal Guitar Show now features both acoustic and
electric salons, and Jacques-André and myself wanted the
concerts to reflect the many voices of the guitar as a means of
expression, so we invited not only guitarists like Russell Malone
and Stanley Jordon but classical guitarists as well as the sonic
heavy electric guitarist Oliver Langevin, who to my pleasant surprise
drew a huge crowd.
& OPINION: Do the guitarists find you or do you find them?
POULIN: Now that our jazz festival is known everywhere in the
world, I receive lots of unsolicited CDs and DVDs, but for the
more known guitarists, I have to go and find them, but it’s
a lot easier now since all of them have websites with contact
addresses. But all of us programmers are open to unsolicited music
and musical suggestions.
& OPINION: If there’s one thing I’m going to take
home with me from this conversation, Frédéric, it’s
the reminder that before we decide negatively on a certain kind
of music, we should put in the effort to find out why so many
people like it. I thank you for sharing your time and insights
with Arts & Opinion.
POULIN: I thank you for the opportunity of explaining my work.
I love talking music almost as much as listening and playing it.