Emile Benoit was one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s best known and loved fiddlers. Last month, local theatre company Artistic Fraud toured across the province with a show on his life and music, called Emile’s Dream. On a plane on the way to a show in Labrador City, cast members Kelly Russell, Phil Churchill and Daniel Payne brought out their fiddles and played a couple-a tunes.
I asked Daniel Payne (the one in the toque) a few questions about spontaneous performance.
Why did you do it?
It’s just such a part of Emile’s legend, his love of entertaining people anywhere, including on airplanes. In Emile’s Dream, the show we were touring, we actually have a scene where the three of us are in our seats on the plane and we are playing and telling that part of Emile’s story. And now here we are living that scene – in the air with our violins in the overhead compartments an arm’s length away. It would just have been a tragic waste of an opportunity to have not done it.
What was the reaction? It seems like people really warmed up to it…
If you watch the video you get a sense of it, I think. You can certainly see in our faces that the vibe is very good. It took a couple of tunes for people to realize “wow, something’s actually happening here.” By the time we played at the front of the plane, through the PA system, and actually had a chance to say to people what we were doing, people had really taken to it, and you can hear that when we finish playing. It was a very special moment, and I think that everyone on the plane appreciated that and participated in that.
How’d it feel to play Emile’s “Flying Reel” at 30,000 feet?
It was so excellent! Emile actually says in the play (which is all his own words; transcribed from interviews with him) that it was the sound of the wings that inspired the “Flying Reel”. So it was so crazy to be hearing what he would have heard when this tune came into his mind! It was also hilarious because we had so little room to play — while we were playing in the seats, I could basically only move my arm below the elbow, so it was kind of good practice too. I’m proud of the three of us for helping make a little memory that all of us who were on that plane will carry with us for a long time I think.