By Eddie Edwards
In all kinds of traditional music it is common to tap the foot to keep the beat while playing. Sometimes, of course, the foot tapping adds a bit of percussive emphasis, but it is typically extraneous. In the Quebecoise tradition, however, there is much more to it. They have a distinctive and dynamic style of foot percussion known as “podorythmie” (pode-oh-reet-MEE), a rhythmic dance performed while making music. It’s something indicative of traditional Quebecoise music, in fact. It is done most often by a fiddler, but can be done by a guitar player, accordion player, or other melody player – Alain Lamontagne performs podorythmie while playing harmonica. When done well, it is very similar to step dancing, clogging, or flatfooting in terms of the nuances of the footwork, except that with podorythmie the performer does it most often while sitting in a chair – though some fiddlers will do it while standing! As podorythmie is also done continuously and simultaneously throughout the piece it takes both great coordination and considerable stamina. Unlike clogging, however, podorythmie does not involve stomping. The shoes and foot-boards are designed to carry the sound with little effort, and musicians will alternatively use the entire flat of the foot, the front half of the foot, the toe, and the heel. As one veteran put it, “if it takes more than just a little effort, you’re doing it wrong.”
The origin of the tradition is traced to Quebecoise house dances. Fiddlers would often play solo, and would be placed higher in the room in order to be better heard. The fiddler might sit on a chair on top of a table, or be hoisted up onto a dresser or wardrobe. As a solo performer, the fiddle would provide the melody and the foot tapping would provide the percussive rhythm, the tabletop amplifying the tapping for the dancers. At smaller parties the podorythmie technique involves a board and hard soled shoes (sometimes with taps). In modern performance, it’s not uncommon for the fiddler to wear dance shoes with taps and to use a board with a microphone. Some will sit on a short hollow box with a microphone attached, others will use a small box or board with a microphone in front of them. The tapping itself often makes up the entirety of the rhythm section in a band. Depending on the venue, when the other instruments are amplified the sound of the podorythmie can often still be heard when it’s unamplified.
By Eddie Edwards