Talking music with Circa Tsuica – French musical acrobats

Circa Tsuica, a French band of musical acrobats, are touring the United Kingdom this summer with their star-studded big top and performing Now or Never – a musical and circus extravaganza.

At each town on the tour, the Company will be workshopping and performing with a local brass band. Crying Out Loud’s Music Leader, Suzie Shrubb, who has been setting up the workshops, liaising with the local bands and Circa Tsuica company members, interviewed saxophonist, Baptiste Bouquin, to find out more about the process of working with local musicians.

Suzie Hi Baptiste… Can you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do with Circa Tsuica?

Baptiste I am a musician and saxophonist and I am a friend of Circa Tsuica. I’ve been playing with a band in Paris called the Surnatural Orchestra and Guillaume, the Musical Director of Circa Tsuica, has played with us for a long time. He asked me to lead these workshops.

Suzie What do you do in the workshops?

Baptiste I’m teaching the young people in the bands the music they are going to play with Circa Tsuica during the show, Now or Never.  The point is that they learn these numbers, play them and become a feature at each town on the tour. The life of a circus company, on the road with caravans and in a big top, will be revealed to them, so I think it’s going to be an exciting experience!

Suzie Can you tell me a bit about Surnatural Orchestra?

Baptiste Surnatural Orchestra is a big band. The band has been around for 18 years and there are 18 of us, all based in Paris. The music we play is a mix between a jazz big band and a gypsy brass band and we’re doing music inspired by jazz and popular music from the 60s and 70s.  We mix written music and our compositions with improvisation and we use Soundpainting – a guided improvisational technique.

Suzie Can you tell me a bit about your experience with Guillaume and the Surnatural Orchestra?

Baptiste From the outset, the Surnatural Orchestra has incorporated playing music with movement on stage. We are always searching and researching, trying to expand how we perform. We have worked with Circa Tsuica for a long time and with other artists, creating projects and shows in collaboration with them. We were invited to Circa Tsuica’s festival ‘Pouet’ – which is held in the village in which they all live. It’s a gathering of circus artists and brass bands, and music and dance. We are linked, we are friends. With Surnatural we are a music band doing some circus, and Circa Tsuica is more of a circus doing some music.

Suzie How does this experience shape how you are working with the local bands we’re working with on the tour of Now or Never?

Baptiste I’m trying to prepare them for performing in the show in the big top with Circa Tsuica and with an audience. The focus is on what will be helpful for them because the point is not just about playing the notes and playing good music, but also about being there and fitting in with the character of the show. For example, in Oxford when I was last working with the Oxfordshire Dixieland Jazz Band, they played the music very well, and it was very lively.  However, how they presented it was not in harmony with the mood of the show. I suggested some exercises to them and some ideas about how they could harmonise their playing and their movement. This approach was inspired by the work I’ve being doing with Surnatural. The musicians need to know the music by heart, play it well and be focused on being part of a collective rhythm and sound. It’s not just about playing well. It’s about opening up their range and understanding of both musical interpretation and performance: it’s a wide thing. Music is a wide area- there are a lot of parameters. You can choose to be focused on just playing very fast notes or you can just expand it and see that you’ve got. There are so many points to be aware of!

Suzie What have you enjoyed about your experiences with the Huddersfield, Oxford and Poole Bands?

Baptiste It’s always very inspiring to meet young musicians and to see their transformation. We have two sessions with each group – so it’s not a long time to spend together. But just to see them getting more confident with the music, pushing them to be in their bodies when they play and not to hide behind their instruments is great. It’s lovely when you see the young people realise that ‘Ok- I can do this’ and ‘I can be there and I don’t have to be shy’.  When they treat it like a play, or a game and like a piece of theatre in which they are a character, the transformation is very satisfying. For example last time in Oxford I was really impressed by the band members because they took in all the information I gave them, they were really curious about what I was saying.  I think they are going to make the most of this experience. It’s going to expand the image of what music can be for them, increase their confidence and make them realise that there are a lot of ways of living with music and being a musician.

The bands participating in the tour of Circa Tsuica’s Now or Never are: Musica Kirklees Brass Band (Huddersfield); Oxfordshire Dixieland Jazz Band; Jazz Orchestra at Queen Elizabeth’s School (Poole); MAPAS Jazz Collective (Salford); Derbyshire Music Service Circus Brass; and Jas Band Tryfan Jazz Band (Bangor).

For more information about Now or Never and it’s tour of the United Kingdom. Click here.