Army Reserve musicians play a part in massive spider and dragon spectacular

The spectacular final battle of the Canada 150 event “Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, with Wings” at the Canadian War Museum on July 30, 2017. The musicians and choir, managed by Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson, can be seen on raised platforms. Photo: Courtesy Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson.

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By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — Skills learned in the Canadian Army Reserve can lead to some pretty wild civilian employment opportunities, as was recently proven when a giant spider and dragon-horse roamed and battled on the streets of Ottawa.

The event, created by French street theatre company La Machine, entertained upwards of 750,000 people in the capital from July 27 to 30, 2017.

Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson said his 10 years as a Reservist with the Governor General’s Foot Guards (GGFG) came in very handy in his role as the musical coordinator for the event.

“Having such a big project to put together in a one or two-week timeframe, I had to be able to pay attention to organization and prioritization of tasks. I think that ability came straight from my military background,” he said. “You have to get to know and trust one another very quickly, so having this kind of team-building background was something that I tried to bring along to this project.”

“I think that having done leadership training and having been a section commander helped when I had to manage multiple balls in the air at the same time,” he said. “I did use a whole lot of contacts that I made throughout the years I was in the military to find musicians or other things that I needed.”

MCpl (Retd) Brisson joined the Army Reserve at 16 and retired about a year ago to focus on a full-time career as a music teacher. He currently teaches at De la Salle High School in the prestigious Ontario Artistic Excellence Centre.

While about half of the musicians for La Machine travelled from France to perform, a Canadian touch was needed, and that is where MCpl (Retd) Brisson was put to the task of finding the right mix of musicians and vocalists.

One of those hires was Corporal Gabriel Bouchard, a still-serving 10-year member of the GGFG Band, who played the bass clarinet. “He is a very competent musician and a joyful person to work with – just the sort La Machine was looking for,” said MCpl (Retd) Brisson. “He is the life of any party.”

Cpl Bouchard, who is currently on sabbatical from teaching music at De la Salle, said, “When I found out I had been picked to play as part of the orchestra, I was over the moon. I knew it was going to be something huge.”

He described how his military training helped him rise to the challenges presented by this highly unusual job, including mental stamina and enduring the elements to deliver world-class entertainment while keeping safety a priority, as they were working on and around large machinery.

He continued, “The music is very fun to play, extremely varied in style and leaves a lot of room for improvisation. We had to constantly be on our guard for changes during performances, and be able to play on a moving platform perched atop a modified forklift.”

The two stars of the show, Long Ma the dragon-horse and Kumo the spider, were each piloted by teams of 12 to 17. An 11-piece orchestra, a harpist and a double bass player, an Indigenous group of dancers and singers, and a 40-person choir provided the background music that accompanied the action.

During the battle scenes, held on the lawn of the Supreme Court on July 29 and at the Canadian War Museum on the final day, the full orchestra played, assembled on covered platforms about five metres above the ground, with the harp and double bass each perched on smaller platforms.

For the astounding finale, a 40-person choir from Ottawa’s Cantata Singers, who often lend their considerable vocal talents to events at the National Arts Centre, added depth to the performance.

“The flexibility of the musicians and the choir was paramount and they did an excellent job,” said MCpl (Retd) Brisson. “It was not your usual amphitheatre experience. You are not sitting down comfortably doing your part, it is very far removed from that! I have not had any other gigs in this sort of spirit. In jazz there is improvisation but nothing like the spirit of this project.”

Amazed at the impact the show had on the city, Cpl Bouchard recalled, “I remember going onto By Ward Market Square and seeing a three-storey parking garage. Every opening in the wall had people waving and cheering, some half hanging out of the openings. The looks on people’s faces were pure enjoyment.”

Both men agreed that one of the best part of the job was working with the extremely talented international crew.

Cpl Bouchard said, “Over the course of two weeks, we got to know pretty much everyone, from the crew managing logistics and road closures to the dragon handlers. It really felt like everyone was part of one big family. During some of the rehearsals, I would look up from my music stand and almost stop playing in awe, witnessing wonderful and dreamlike scenes.”

MCpl (Retd) Brisson said it felt like a sort of giant circus. “Speaking and working with the artists that came over with La Machine was just tremendous – people from the UK, from Sweden, from France. It was absolutely wonderful to work with all those people.  The people from Ottawa 2017 and La Machine made sure that every person in that project had a very positive experience.”

“I think what really sticks in my mind is not being afraid of when you have this crazy idea, whatever level of crazy it is. If you really feel it is possible to do it, you’ll find those who will follow you, which I’ve seen proof of this week.”

“I am extremely happy to have been a part of one of the major events for Canada 150 in Ottawa. I always loved being part of national festivities when I was in the military, with the Ceremonial Guard – for example on Canada Day– that has, for me, always been very important.”

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Related Links

La Machine Ottawa 2017
Governor General’s Foot Guards
Band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards (Facebook)

Image gallery

  • The members of the orchestra, managed by Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson (sixth from right) with Kumo the spider, at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario during the Canada 150 event “Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, with Wings” from July 27 to 30, 2017. Corporal Gabriel Bouchard, wearing blue sunglasses, is a Reservist with the Governor General’s Foot Guards. Photo: Courtesy Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson.
  • Long Ma the dragon-horse passes in front of the Cartier Square Drill Hall, the home of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, two of whom were involved in the musical aspects of “Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, with Wings” in Ottawa, Canada on July 29, 2017. Photo: Courtesy Maja Graham.
  • The spectacular final battle of the Canada 150 event “Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, with Wings” at the Canadian War Museum on July 30, 2017. The musicians and choir, managed by Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson, can be seen on raised platforms. Photo: Courtesy Master Corporal (Retired) Maxime Brisson.

Article / August 10, 2017 / Project number: 17-0227

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