Valley Lives - Marc Desormeaux

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the October 17, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Nationally known figure was musical role model for kids

by Lucy Scholey

Once a happy jingle, the phone answering machine message signaling Marc Desormeaux and Trish Barclay is now sadly sweet.

A plucky mandolin tune chimes in the background, as Barclay cheerfully begins: "Hi, you've reached Trish and Marc..."

It's how the couple worked together. Barclay would lead and Desormeaux would back her up. Often with a stringed instrument

Valley Lives
Burnett resident Marc Desormeaux was known for composing music for theatres across Canada. But in the Gatineau Hills, he is best remembered for strumming and singing with kids onstage. David Cooper Photography.

Desormeaux died suddenly Oct. 2 of a massive stroke. He had turned 50 years of age just last February.

Desormeaux was known across Canada for writing and producing musical scores for theatres in nearly every western province, the Stratford Festival and the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa. Outside the country, he composed music for the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, LA Theatre Works as well as others in Europe.

But to most in the Gatineau Hills community, Desormeaux was a musical role model for kids and an important player in the Chelsea/Wakefield Fiddleheads musical theatre group.

In the Burnett neighbourhood, he was known as a handyman. Someone who always wore a tool belt and was willing to help a neighbour out. Having recently taken an interest in home building, he just finished expanding the couple's one bedroom cottage into which they moved two years ago come this November. He finally had a proper music studio in the old shed outside, instead of a small, makeshift space.

Sitting on the couch in the new pine and spruce kitchen, Barclay and Desormeaux's older brother, Mike, are still in a state of shock over Marc's sudden death. It's quieter now without Desormeaux's singing, whistling or instrument playing.

"This was going to be a place that everyone was going to play music in," said Barclay, recalling Desormeaux's vision of "instruments scattered about" the new space.

While Barclay usually led the Chelsea/Wakefield Fiddleheads group, Desormeaux was also a big mentor for young, aspiring fiddle players in the area. Quietly in the background, he played the role of Bert, a goofy sidekick to Barclay, in the group's "Gatineau River Reel" performances.

They would also conduct musical flash mobs, taking groups of kids numbering up to 16 to La Cigale or the Chelsea Freshmart to entertain.

"He was such a key person to the kids in this community," said Anne Winship, the mother of 13-year-old Angus, who plays in the children's theatre group.

Winship said the kids likely didn't realize Desormeaux's national musical experience.

"He was just kind of there for them," she said. "He was definitely there as an example of how you have to put your heart and soul into it."

Uwe Foehring lives next door to Barclay. His 10-year-old daughter, Allysann, plays with Fiddleheads.

"It's mind-boggling all the stuff that he did," he said, remembering the "quiet, but not shy" Desormeaux. "He never let that hang out."

Desormeaux was born in Sudbury, Ont., but grew up in Timmins, where he developed a love for drumming in high school. From there, he picked up guitar and learned a piano song to score admission to Ottawa University for a musical degree with a focus on trumpet.

But a few months shy of his university graduation, he quit his studies to compose music. One of his first gigs was at the NAC.

He met Barclay in the Eastern Townships during a show in 2001. They moved to Wakefield for about a four-month stay before Dawson City, Yukon, started calling Barclay, who was then 50, back home to her roots. She had started a Fiddleheads group there and wanted to continue it. The couple moved back north together until two years ago when they came back to the Gatineau Hills. Desormeaux was happy to return and be closer to his family in Ottawa, the Gatineau Hills and Merrickville, Ont.

Barclay and Desormeaux never had children of their own, but were close with Mike Desormeaux's daughters, Katya and Jaime.

"He was Santa for the family," said Desormeaux. "He'd put the gifts under the tree, we'd wake the kids up and he'd run away."

Marc Desormeaux was also a community activist. He spoke up protesting Chelsea's plans to barricade the end of Burnett Road, a popular Gatineau River access point. He and Barclay provided solemn music for a protest mock funeral for the Wakefield Spring when Couillard Construction started illegally excavating a nearby sandpit.

Recently, Desormeaux did the sound design for the Great Canadian Theatre Company's production, The Secret Mask - coincidentally about a stroke victim. He was also working on dramatizing "Up to Low," by Chelsea writer Brian Doyle.

With the Chelsea/Wakefield chapter of Fiddleheads growing in popularity, a new house addition and plans to travel to Machu Picchu in December, the couple's ideas appeared boundless.

Now, Barclay said she will continue Fiddleheads, but it won't be the same without 'Bert.'

"I'm just feeling a little bit lost now actually," she said tearfully. "Bertie, he was my song mate."

There will be a celebration of Desormeaux's life Nov. 19 at the NAC. In lieu of flowers, the family is considering donations for a scholarship for young musicians in Desormeaux's name.

Desormeaux leaves behind his sister Fran, mother Lise, brother Mike and nieces Katya and Jaime.

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