Janelle Nadeau might have performed on stage with big names like Kanye West, but that’s not what she loves best about her career as a harpist.
“To me, all those things are fun and make good stories, but my favourite thing is connecting (with audiences),” Nadeau said.
That connection is particularly strong during the holiday season, she added. Nadeau is set to embark on a tour with The Nadeau Ensemble called “A Prairie Christmas,” which will make a stop in Whistler on Saturday (Dec. 2). The Vancouver-based group will also hit various venues in the Lower Mainland, on the Sunshine Coast and in Manitoba.
This is the second year the trio — made up of Nadeau on pedal harp, Kim Robertson on Celtic harp and Joaquin Ayala on a variety of instruments, some dating as far back as the 9th century — has gotten together to mark the holidays.
“We have different backgrounds, but we feel similar about (the holidays),” she said. “Because of that we created this name — A Prairie Christmas — which represents the warmth of Christmas and everything that comes along with Christmas,” Nadeau said. “My background is French Canadian, so we have French tunes. Joaquin has a Spanish background, so we do some Spanish Christmas carols and Kim is American, so we do a couple of American tunes — forgotten ones.”
That ranges from “Auld Lang Syne” to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” she added.
The name also pays homage to her home province of Manitoba, located on one end of the country’s prairies. “For me, the prairies are a warm place — even though it’s so cold,” she said. “It’s a place that enjoys tradition.”
While Nadeau performs at venues big and small throughout the year, the Christmas shows have a particularly special place in her heart.
“I’m lucky to be extremely busy,” she said. “But this (show) has a sense of honesty and intimacy. Everybody has something they get excited about at Christmas. It’s not just my job, but it’s my moral duty to make this as honest as possible for people. Definitely it’s a bit more involved because of that.”
There’s also something compelling about the harp as an instrument. Nadeau, who has been playing since she was a child, said she’s seen its popularity spike in recent years. “Twenty years ago you could barely find a harpist,” she said. “There were small pockets of people who would play, but it’s amazing how popular it’s become… It’s one of those instruments that it’s easy to make a sound on it. I like to compare it to skiing — which is appropriate for Whistler. You can strap on skis and get down the mountain once. It may not be enjoyable, but you can get down. It doesn’t mean you’re good at skiing. It’s the same for harp. To be an expert, it takes a lot of work, but it’s an enjoyable instrument because you can do a lot with it.”
Catch The Nadeau Ensemble’s “A Prairie Christmas,” which is running as part of the Whistler Chamber Music Society’s concert series, on Saturday (Dec. 2) at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
Tickets are $25 for an adult or $20 for youth (age 34 years and younger). They’re available online at whistlerchambermusic.ca, brownpapertickets.com/event/3173944, at the Whistler Museum or at the door.