Franco-Americans who grew up, particularly in the 1940s or 1950s, fondly remember the family soirées . Les Chanteurs Acadiens are a trio of performers who are helping to keep this tradition going in the St. John Valley, in Maine and New Brunswick. They just released a new CD, where we can hear them perform their Acadian music, with original lyrics.
It’s always delightful to receive information from the wonderful people of Acadian heritage, who live in the St. John Valley. Moreover, it’s especially nice when the mail includes a special music CD from “ami” Don Levesque and the performing trio, Les Chanteurs Acadiens. Don Levesque and his colleagues Roger Damboise and Charles Stewart have created a cultural contribution to the Acadian music tradition with their performances and creative lyrics.
After nearly 30 years of playing a mixture of traditional and original folk music, en français et anglais, Les Chanteurs Acadiens just released their new album of 15 original songs, en francais. Music and lyrics performed on the CD provides a historic review of the St. Jean Valley and the local culture. Each song is reminiscent of the times when local musicians put their personal stories to music.
Les Chanteurs Acadiens are also entertaining soirée performers.
Franco-American and Acadian musicians often played their hearts out at Saturday soirées, sometimes called “kitchen parties”. Often, on Levesque’s social media page, he’ll post pictures of Les Chanteurs Acadians recreating the performing atmosphere when musicians played in homes or kitchens. The trio plays in small in large venues.
Soirées are described in a historic essay titled “Kitchen Music: Franco-American Music Traditions”, by James Bau Graves, published by Madeleine Giguere in a cultural anthology titled “Franco-American Music Traditions” (printed by the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College). Moreover, I recall speaking with a Lewiston Franco-American, Rachael Desgrosseilliers, about this subject. She explained how Franco-American and Acadian music is an essential attribute that must be included in the culture’s history. Music is rooted in the French-Canadian, Franco-American and Acadian cultures. Les Chanteurs Acadiens created their original lyrics and music as tributes to this important tradition.
In the years prior to the introduction of radio, which wasn’t widespread throughout Maine until the middle 1920s, most entertainment was homemade. Families gathered in the kitchen, where they pushed the furniture back against the walls to allow room for performing and dancing. Typically, everyone participated in the soirées by sharing songs, stories, dances and passing them along from one generation to the next.
A musician named Lucien Mathieu, better knowm as “Fiddlin’Lou”, was quoted in the Traditions essay. He described soirées as a “real French party” and cites the kitchen as the root of Franco-American music traditions.
“I heard my father playing (the fiddle), and then my uncle who played in the Silver Bar Band. I didn’t start to play until I was 16 years old. I learned a few tunes and was going pretty good at it when I went into the military, during the Second World War. When I was in England, I bought a fiddle and, you know what? You’d play in these pubs and never have to buy a drink! I knew all these jigs and reels. So, when I cam back home, there was this old guy who was going to play the fiddle at a church fair, and he asked me to play with him. I didn’t want to do it, but then thought, ‘why not?’ And that’s how I got started playing.”
Lucien Mathieu played on the radio in Bangor for several years, His band was also the first to be television in Bangor.
“Chansons de par icitte” (Songs From Around Here) are composed by Don Levesque and arranged by the trio, with the exception of the musical “Bach-adie”, which was composed and arranged by Roger Damboise (a delightfully performed arrangement of a well known classic, created by J.S. Bach). Songs performed on the CD are not all soirée dance music, but they are a tribute to the St. Jean Valley (Vallée Saint-Jean) and communities, including Grand Isle, and Fort Kent and some lyrics mention landmarks.
Another feature provided as extra value by Les Chanteurs Acadiens is a website link to lyrics in the music they composed, in the past, including a short narrative about the story told in each of the songs. https://leschanteursacadiens.org/song-lyrics/.
Aussi, les paroles des les chansons sont a: leschanteursacadiens.org
“Chansons de par icitte” is a musical gift for the Acadian people and for all who enjoy Franco-American and Acadian history. I look forward to writing more about the lyrics in future blogs. Merci Don Levesque et Les Chanteurs Acadiens!
Look for many “encores!”.