The hills are alive with Pontiac Enchanté’s music

EMILY HSUEH
Carson and Tait Becke are brothers by blood, music, and business. They grew up together, performed together, and lived together on the other side of the world. Now, the brothers’ spotlight is on Pontiac Enchanté, a year-round classical concert series hosted at their Luskville farm, Venturing Hills.

The Beckes were born on the other side of the Eardley Escarpment in Old Chelsea and spent much of their childhood between there and Ottawa. Music was a constant in their lives, with Carson taking up the piano and Tait playing the violin at young ages.
“It was a family thing, basically. We got into music because there was a family tradition of music, especially coming from our great-grandmother,” Carson said. “Music lessons were really nice for me, because I would just get to spend time with my great- grandmother. I would go on a Friday afternoon after school, stay for a few hours, learn the piano ... Our sister played the cello as well. So there was a real kind of family focus on making music. 
“It was just kind of always there as part of our upbringing.”

Music played such a significant part in their lives that it took them out of the Pontiac and over to London, England, where they each studied at the Royal Academy of Music, the oldest conservatory in the UK. 
Carson was the first to cross the pond at the age of 15. Before his time at the Royal Academy, he attended the Purcell School for Young Musicians to get a jump on his musical career.
“They do essentially very high-end musical education at the pre-university level, which is a system that we don’t really have in a formalized sense in Canada,” said Carson. “So I went for that, not necessarily with the intention of staying over there for a longer period of time.
“When I got there, I was like, completely bowled over by the cultural scene in London. The fact that you could go and see essentially any orchestra in the world at almost any time, every night of the week in London, there’s at least four concerts happening.” 
Tait eventually joined his brother in London to do his undergraduate at the Royal Academy.
“He had a place and I moved in. It was funny, for a couple years we shared a room, but [with] like a wall of bookshelves in the middle and it was crazy,” Tait said.
After their time at the academy, they branched off into very different paths. Carson went on to doing a masters and doctorate degree at Oxford University, wanting to explore the academic side of music. He played concerts across Europe, toured Australia and New Zealand and played all over Britain as a soloist and with different chamber groups. 
On the other hand, while Tait enjoyed his time performing, he realized that this was not the career he wanted to pursue.
“It was an eye-opening experience. Until you see what else is out there and how awesome people are … you can think you’re pretty sweet. But then you go over there to a much bigger pool of musicians and players and there’s a lot of people who are really good, and you’re not really at that level. I was there. [But] I had a great time with music, school and everything.” 
From that point on, he worked in music marketing for two years after finishing his degree. Returning to Canada in 2016, he decided to make another career switch.
“I coach tennis now. I made a lot of friends in the tennis world, they helped me out a lot and helped me make that switch,” Tait said. “I’m lucky with this concert series, it keeps me in the music world and I still love it … It’s fun for me to still be around in it a little bit with this.”
Pontiac Enchanté began in 2009, while the brothers were still in London. It was their time in the European music scene that ignited their idea for the concert series; to bring a new style of performance to their home country.

Venturing Hills Farm is located at the base of the Eardley Escarpment in Luskville. The location is a big draw for audiences who are constantly amazed at the scenery outside the concert hall.

“I’d say that the whole way that the music world works in Europe, this was kind of my inspiration for wanting to build this into something more,” Carson said. “Every single small town in Britain and across Europe has some kind of concert series and they’re usually run in a public space. It’s actually not much bigger than what we have here.”
It began as a two-weekend six-concert series in the loft of a horse barn on Venturing Hills Farm, which the Becke family purchased in 2006 as a result of their love for Gatineau hills. The venue was used as hay storage before it was transformed into a recording studio by the brothers’ father Peter and uncle Tom. The walls are covered in burlap and rough wood to prevent reverb, and it can seat about 115 people.

Pontiac Enchanté concerts are held in the upper part of the smaller barn on the right. The Becke brothers hope to one day expand their venue to the second floor of the larger barn to host bigger events.

The concert venue at Venturing Hills farm is situated over the stables, which house 25 horses.

“In hindsight it was hugely ambitious, it was great. And also in hindsight, just hilarious how little we knew about doing  that stuff,” Tait recalled with a laugh.
Carson and Tait would travel home to the Pontiac every summer to continue Pontiac Enchanté as a summer festival. With Tait having moved to the farm, he made sure things ran smoothly in person while Carson operated behind the scenes booking artists, fundraising and managing their website. To avoid stepping on other festivals’ toes, they made the shift to a year-round concert in 2017. 
Carson — now a freelance pianist — moved with his wife and rejoined Tait in Luskville in 2019, and now the brothers’ main focus is the concert series they created over a decade ago. 
“I think they’re the most interesting musical experiences because it allows audiences to be right up close with musicians... You can notice the interactions between members in a chamber group, all those things that kind of make live concert concerts really interesting are much more obvious in the small hall,” Carson explained. “Upon returning to Canada, I just thought, ‘It’s really worth building this project because this is adding something of value that is still in its kind of fledgling stage in this country.’ And if we can do this here, that can hopefully then inspire others.”
They pride themselves on giving a unique experience to concertgoers, providing an intimate setting and hospitable environment where guests can enjoy the music and have a good time.
“Most of our audience, they’re not like unique for one concert. They come and then they keep on coming back. And that makes it really fun for us to because I’d say we know about 90% of the audience, say hello, have a talk or have a glass of wine with them at the end. And that’s a really fun, like social thing.”
In light of the global pandemic, they have had to make a few changes to their concerts, but the festival is still going as strong as ever. Though in-person concerts can’t happen, they have combined Tait’s knowledge of computers and marketing with Carson’s performance and communications skills to put on free, virtual concerts which have been viewed by people as far away as Great Britain and Germany.

Tait Becke doesn’t play his violin as much these days, but he is still instrumental in the concert stream process. He makes sure the audio and visuals are running smoothly from the booth in the back of the venue.

Their next concert will be on Dec. 12 and 13 at 7:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. respectively. It will feature young duo Meagan Milatz & Amy Hillis on piano and violin and will be streamed on their website at www.pontiacenchante.ca/virtual-concert-hall
In the long run, the Becke brothers hope that their project both grows and stays the same so to share their welcoming small-town concert series with people from around the world. 
“What I don’t want to see happen here is I don’t want it to grow to a point where we lose the sense of identity that we have with the brand now,” said Carson. “My goal is to just sustain what we have and keep it going.”
“There are a lot of things about going to a concert that are appealing and we want to make sure that everybody that comes to a concert here gets something out of it,” said Carson. “If you haven’t been to a classical concert before, come and see one of ours. This is the place to start.”

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