Remi Bouchard: Composer, Author & Artist
Neepawa's Remi Bouchard is an internationally renowned composer of both classical and children's music, and has also published two books; Distant Voices: Memoirs of My Youth and the sequel Afterthoughts: A Career in Music Recollected. Lately, however, he has been expressing himself with pencil and paint, with an upcoming exhibit to be held at the Manawaka Gallery in the Viscount Cultural Centre, Feb. 1-26 of next year.
But it is as a piano teacher that Bouchard is best known.
Born in Laurier, Man., on March 15, 1936, Remi's parents owned the general store, and while "all the Bouchards played by ear, just chorded," Remi's mother, who sang ("they told stories in the Quebecois tradition"), encouraged him to study music formally. Initially taught by the nuns at the convent beginning at age nine, Remi's Grade 9 teacher told his mother that Remi should go through the formal music examination process.
This required Remi to travel to Neepawa each week by the bread delivery truck, an overnight stay with Mr. & Mrs. Bill Adams during which he received lessons from Gerald Death, a man who tempered his good humour with the strictness of an RCAF veteran. Remi would then return by bus, having acquired 20 students of his own in Laurier, starting with his cousin Vicki. He was also the local church organist.
Remi's stay with the Adams family, originally to have been for a single year, would be extended to 10 when after four years of study with Death, his last instruction was to take over the 50 Neepawa students, bringing Remi's weekly pupils to a total of 70.
Remi would take the bus from Neepawa to Winnipeg to attend the Western Board, part of the University of Manitoba, studying piano and pedagogy with Phyllis Holtby and theory from Alfred Zimmerman, almost completely by correspondence. "I don't know how I did it," says Remi, "but I guess I was stubborn, and said 'I'm gonna do it, even if it kills me.'"
Remi graduated in 1960 with an A.M.M. diploma, although having never truly attended the university.
In a career that has included the publishing of at least 369 of nearly 600 musical compositions, beginning with a piano duet simply titled "Ode" in 1976 and later pieces occasionally written for or even with his students, Remi's favourite stories are the lucky ones.
"In 1980-81, when I was more established, a teacher from Brandon chose a 'jazzy' piece written in 7/8 time, 'On Your Feet', for a Grade 6 piano test piece for the Associated Manitoba Festivals. But first it had to be published," which was done in cooperation with the Neepawa Press, with cover art by Geordie Vincent.
After having self-published, Remi says, "I was in debt for 10 years." Having routinely sent material to Clavier Magazine to be reviewed, the music publication chose to commission Remi to write a piece, again only if published. Unable to secure publishing in Canada, Remi chose to send 21 compositions to Boston Music Publishing, in hopes that it might find one piece worthy of approval. They did and more, agreeing to publish all 21. Later, Remi would be published by Hal Leonard for five years, before being required to buy back the rights to his own works for the sum of $200 and then securing the publishing services of Mayfair in Toronto.
"I think the biggest moment for me was when the Canadian Federation of Registered Music Teachers Associations asked me to speak for an hour at a conference in Montreal in July, 1997. I think that was the ultimate," said Bouchrd.
Remi is a member of the Manitoba provincial association (MRMTA), the oldest in the country, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. It was founded by famed pianist and teacher Eva Claire, daughter of one of the founders of the Town of Neepawa.
With regards to his two autobiographies, he says, "Thank goodness I kept diaries."
When not painting, Bouchard continues to teach piano to a small number of students, teaches music appreciation to approximately 20 classical music lovers, and reads to and plays piano for the residents of Country Meadows Personal Care Home in Neepawa.