Luke Mercier & Rolling River

Biography


Introduction

My name is Luke Mercier and I am a maker and restorer of high quality stringed instruments, trained formally as a violin restorer. I grew up in a noisy house in Scarborough, a suberb of Toronto, Ontario, Canada with three younger siblings. My introduction to art and music was through my mother Leslie, an accomplished artist and pianist / paralegal and eventually a school teacher. My introduction to handling tools was through my father Lucien, a construction worker, rough-in carpenter, builder and drywaller who grew up in Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario. Way North!

By the time I was eighteen years old, I'd become set on being a concert pianist after many years of showdowns between myself at the piano vs. my brother and two sisters at the television set. I was preparing for my Grade 10 Exam at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto with my new instructor / mentor Antonin Kubalek as a pre-requisite to studying at the University of Toronto and still had one more simester to complete my high school diploma at Winston Churchill Collegiate.

Well, the school environment was especially nasty at this time so I'd decided to try for a co-op work placement to make up the final credits. My objective was to think of a work environment that I would enjoy being at that could potentially lead to further employment should I not choose the academic path. Besides, it was time to get out of that crazy school.

With a keyboard background, I also had a facination for harpsichords having spent time with my good friend Andreas trying to invent a harpsichord conversion kit for an upright piano (no parents or teachers present) but didn't get very far. This might have been due to the lack of financial backing at the time combined with the fear of parents catching wind of our piano tamperings.

My first choice for a co-op placement was to seek out a harpsichord builder. To my dismay, I quickly learned that Toronto was not very prolific with harpsichord builders. One day, while walking home from school with Andreas, expressing my frustration he turned to me and said "What about violins?"

Well, I just happened to be carrying one that I'd signed out from school moments before. I'd never tried to play one but was very curious to try. He suggested I look inside it for a clue pertaining to origin. I immediately opened the case and peeked in through the f-hole for a label and as chance would have it, below the words 'Made in Germany' was a second small label that read 'Distributed by Geo. Heinl & Co; Ltd. Toronto'. I never could have imagined that looking inside that violin for clues that day was going to become a daily persuit for the rest of my working life. Amazingly, it did for Andreas also.

My work and music history

In late 1991 I began my apprenticeship in the restoration room of George Heinl & Co; Ltd. in Toronto where I remained for 15 years focusing on the art of violin restoration, adjustment and instrument identification. This was an incredible learning evironment to be part of. I was engaged with not only some of the best makers and restorers in the profession but also had access to and was fortunate to have had opportunity to restore many incredible instruments. Among them works by Antonio Stradivari, Francesco Stradivari, Nicolo Amati, J.B. Guadagnini to name a few.

From 1991 - 1994 I continued to study piano with Kubalek while becoming more serious about composition. My first solo piano compositions, 5 Meditations for Piano 1992 and 5 Waltzes for Piano 1994 were composed for Kubalek and both works were performed publicly to critical acclaim.

5 Meditations for Piano - 1992

Composer: Luke Mercier

Pianist: Antonin Kubalek

 

Kubalek later stated in a letter of recommendation dated Sept. 9 1994

(..I feel this young composer is unusually gifted. My experiece as a frequent performer of contemporary Canadian compositions leaves me with the wholehearted opinion that Luke Mercier is one of the most promising musicians I have ever encountered)

Sometime during the summer of 1997 after The Waltzes had received several public performances, Anton told me of his plans to record them. He was on the Faculty at York University at the time where a good piano, hall and recording engineer were available to make this possible. Of course, I was ecstatic. The recording date was set and I made my way there to be present. How could I not have been pleased?

In 1998 while walking along Bloor St. in Toronto one brisk, dull windy day, he handed me a mastered copy on CD and said "Here! Now it is yours to do with whatever you please!" I was floored!!

The recording was produced by Michael Coghlan of Welspringe Productions in 1998 and was never officially released.

I've decided to make them available for streaming here in mp3 format for now.

5 Waltzes for Piano - 1994

Composer: Luke Mercier

Pianist: Antonin Kubalek

 

 

This was the old Heinl Workshop in 1994 at the back of 199 Church Street, more or less as it had been since the 30's. This was to be our last year at this location as we were all about to get a significant raise. The new shop was being renovated on the bright upper level of 201 Church Street. My shop mates at this time were from left to right: Steve Martinko, Troy Milleker, Tim Bergen, myself and John Sirdevan.

Thrilled to bits about our new idyllic work environment. Left to right: Steve Martinko, myself, Tim Bergen, John Sirdevan and Troy Milleker. Photograph taken by Daniels & Glionna Photography 1995.

My new corner in the universe, happily doing varnish retouching with ample natural indirect light.

Inspired to continue, I went on to compose works for such artists as: The Gryphon Trio pianist Jamie Parker and Tokyo String Quartet's 1st violinist Martin Beaver
He has had works published by the Frederick Harris Music Co. Ltd and his music has been featured on both CBC National Radio and Prime Time Television.

"...Luke Mercier's composition for piano trio was impressive as an unapologetically traditional prentice work.."

Tamera Bernstein ~ Toronto Globe & Mail

The following is a list of works composed between 1992 - 1997

5 Meditations for piano solo

Triptych for solo piano

5 Waltzes for piano solo

24 Preludes for piano solo

Trio for piano, violin and cello

Ballade Toxique for piano, strings, winds and percussion

Fantasy for violin and piano

Prelude, Passacaglia and Fugue for contrabass and piano

Piece for Guitar in Two Movements

Prelude, Passacaglia and Fugue for solo guitar

Interlude for solo guitar - Published - Frederick Harris Music Co. Ltd.

 

Collaborations:

- 4 Pieces for brass quartet and percussion (1996- three of which were co-composed with Andy Creeggan)
(brass quartet=trumpet, horn, trombone and tuba)

- In a Field for violin, cello and double bass (1996-co-composed with Andy Creeggan)

These works appeared on Andiwork I

 

In 1997, I ventured into the Toronto bar scene with my funk/rock super group 'Magnificent Octopus' -a name inspired by the Black Adder series which is Boldrick's play on the words "Magnum Opus"

After a hundred or so appearances in the Toronto Club circuit and numerous recording projects we disbanded three years later. Among the highlights of this project were the release of our album CD 'boy on a lobster' featuring the percussion stylings of Andy Creeggan and a later recording entitled 'Lungfish'

Most of this music can be streamed for free from Bandcamp.

http://magnificentoctopus.bandcamp.com

 

In 1998, my musical focus began to shift toward Traditional Folk drawing inspiration from early Appalachian fiddle~banjo music, African American Stringband and pre-blues banjo, Irish and French Canadian fiddle music and so on...

This is when the fiddling, banjo and violin making and playing really started to get cooking.


"Music is not an escape;

it presents a way to make it possible for life to go on."

-John Cohen

The oral tradition continues...

 

(Jake Mercier age 9 mos. practicing his drop-thumb technique)

On the eve of November 12th, 2004 Luke and Janet welcomed their son Jake Calum Mercier into the world.

Over the years I have worked with artists such as: Stompin Tom Connors, Andy Creeggan, David Leask, John Borra, Jack Lenz, Douglas John Cameron, Sean O'Connor, Ben Grossman, Terry Wilkins, Wendel Ferguson, Brian Barlow, Al Briscoe, Joey Wright, Dan Whiteley, Teilhard Frost, Sam Allison, Jenny Whiteley, Chris Whitely, Travis Good,