Making music with CAMMAC’s Guylaine Lemaire

Guylaine Lemaire

Guylaine Lemaire just might be the epitome of the multi-tasker. She is the executive director of the Thirteen Strings chamber orchestra, the artistic director of CAMMAC, the mother of four boys and the partner of Julian Armour, the man behind the Music & Beyond festival.

It’s a pretty packed life.

But she used have another entry on her resume … that of professional musician, playing with the NAC Orchestra, Thirteen Strings and the Chamber Players of Canada.

That work has been on hiatus for the past four years because of an injury to her right arm that has prevented her from performing.

“I never thought this would happen to me. Being a musician is not like in professional sports or in ballet where you are followed by team doctors who keep you healthy. In music you are a performer and you use your body often in a punishing way.”

She has been reluctant to talk publicly about her injury but “if it can help other people” she is willing to do it.

“It’s not a happy event. It is very difficult when you have a passion to play. For a long time I could barely bring myself to talk about it. That said I feel very grateful that I have been able to do other things connected to music. This is the positive side of things.”

In fact she has filled her passion for music in administrative roles with Thirteen Strings and with CAMMAC.

Both roles have come along at the right time for Lemaire.

With CAMMAC there is the added advantage of being able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings at Lake MacDonald, halfway between Lachute and St-Jovite in Highway 327  in the summer where she is busy organizing the programming at the centre and also building up a summer series of Sunday concerts about 90 minutes from Ottawa.

The CAMMAC mission is a good fit with Lemaire. It encourages participation in music and is very family oriented.

That’s where her heart truly is … with her family.

Her life in music began at home with her parents and her three sisters in Sorel, Quebec.

“My mom was a pianist and a teacher.” Madeleine Lemaire taught in school and privately at home.

“My earliest memories are of sitting in my baby chair on top of the piano while she was teaching.” He father was an art teacher and a school principal.

“I remember going to see the Montreal Symphony Orchestra when I was five.”

Guylaine remembers taking piano lessons from her mother. She picked up a recorder too and by age 10 she was asking for a violin.

The sisters would all go to the a summer music camp at the Lanaudiere festival. That connection of summer and music is a very happy memory.

“We never felt any pressure to play. Music was just something you did; it was just normal. You eat, you play music.”

Lemaire did not aspire to a career as a soloist. She liked being part of a group and that led to youth orchestras. “That feeling (of belonging to a group) is very important to me. I remember joy of making music together.”

The road took her to Pierre Laporte High School in Montreal which had an emphasis on music and art at the time. Then it was on to McGill. That’s where she met the viola.

Safe to say Lemaire fell in love with the instrument.

“I loved it. It takes more strength to play the viola. I preferred the tone of viola.”

The viola can shine in a solo but it also has a supportive role, she said.

To further her studies, Lemaire moved here to study at the University of Ottawa.

“I didn’t like it. It was a shock and I was ready to leave. Then Igot a call from Thirteen Strings to play with them and I said yes.”

A young cellist named Julian Armour just happened to be performing with the chamber orchestra. More about him in a bit.

She started to get work with other outfits about this time including with NACO. As the jobs piled up, she decided to stick around the city.

One day she was asked to put together a string quartet for a Christmas concert in 1991. She was given Julian Armour’s number.

“I called Julian and I hired him to play in a string quartet,” she said with a laugh. Armour had a quartet of his own and it was missing violist. So they started performing and practicing together. Eventually it became much more than that and now 25 years later they have four children together.

One of the courses she had taken at uOttawa was arts administration. She had always had an interest in that kind of work. Good thing she did.

“These things never come suddenly. Like most people I sort of ignored the signs of pain in my arm. For the longest time I could do these crazy work  weeks and I always felt fine. I’m a strong person. But time took its toll. There were warning signs, but I kept going. You always worry that if they call and you say no you may never get called again.”

The pain radiated from her neck and down her right side.

“I remember not being able to sleep at night because it was so painful.” By 2014 she stopped performing professionally.

That fall Thirteen Strings was looking for an executive director and she got the job.

“I’m very grateful that it came along at that moment in my life.”

Not that it’s easy listening to concerts she would normally play in.

“But I’m grateful to be able to use the skills and knowledge of the business to continue working.” The same applies to her job with CAMMAC.

She has dreams for CAMMAC including raising its profile and its membership numbers from its current 1,300 or so.

“It’s a little bit of a secret which is an issue for most arts organizations with limited financial resources.”

CAMMAC is 67 years old. It was started by two brothers from New Brunswick who wanted to provide an opportunity for people who loved music to have a place to make it together.

“The mandate remains the same,” Lemaire says. “It is for amateur musicians to benefit from making music together.”

Her first summer by the lake was in 2017. And she was back at the CAMMAC music centre mingling with people interested in one thing: making music.

“This was very welcome. At CAMMAC, one of the things that is very appealing, beyond the quality of instruction the patrons get and the music, there is the feeling of being together in a place with like-minded people. It is a very beautiful place. The sense of community very strong and it’s a very safe place too.”  CAMMAC has a special “magic”, she says that is felt by participants of all ages. For a mother of four that’s important.

A lot of energy at CAMMAC goes into the running of the property. Lemaire understands that’s important but she would like to continue to expand its programming potential. That means summer concerts in a hall that can seat 250. Last summer the cello star Stephane Tetreault performed along with the Vienna Piano Trio. This summer you’ll find the Alliage Quintet, the Utrecht Quartet, Julie Nesrallah and Caroline Leonardelli, and Marc Djokic and Beverley Johnston performing. Along with the concerts the centre offers a diverse and rich seven week summer program for people of all ages as well programs during the rest of the year on the Thanksgiving weekend, a Bach and Chamber Music Weekend in May and a March Break program. Lemaire said more programs are in the planning stages.

“To me the best thing I can do is to get the word out in a big way. There is only really one organization like as CAMMAC. Everywhere I go I meet people who have played something in their life.”

CAMMAC also spends considerable time on the quality of its cuisine. Maybe that’s why the strong corps of teachers keeps coming back each summer.

Her time at Lake MacDonald helps Lemaire cope with not playing. She is still being treated and she is feeling better.

“The pain has mostly gone. It can sometimes resurface but it doesn’t last.”

She has started going to concerts again especially at CAMMAC where she hired the musicians.

“It is a long road and it has not always been easy but I have a dream that CAMMAC will be the place where I will start playing again.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.