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Music, Song, and Dance


Traditional singer Ida Roy crocheting in her home in Van Buren in 1993.
French-language folk song continues in the Upper St. John Valley as a living oral tradition. Perhaps the best known Maine Acadian traditional singer is Ida Roy of Van Buren. Her enormous repertoire includes old ballads and lays, locally composed songs and comic music-hall ditties, original commemorative songs, and complaintes. Complaintes are poems from the oral tradition that usually commemorate a tragic event, often sung to the melodies of religious hymns (J. C. Blesso, pers. comm. 1993). Because of her tremendous repertoire and her efforts to keep the song tradition alive, Mrs. Roy was recently nominated for a National Heritage Award by the Maine Arts Commission. Another singer is Constance "Connie" Morin Derosier of St. Agatha, Maine. Illustrating the importance of family in transferring culture, Mrs. Derosier inherited her love of singing and her songs from her father, Eddie Morin, a singer of local reputation. However, of the 16 children in her family, Connie is reportedly the only one to have learned her fatherís songs.

Fiddler Lionel Doucette of St. David, Maine.The fiddling of Alfred Parent of Van Buren was recorded on a cassette entitled Traditional Music of Maine, Vol. 1, produced in 1988 by the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine (Orono). His recorded repertoire, including "Rag Time Annie," seems to be related more to a broader old-time repertoire than to any set of specifically Acadian tunes. Similarly, outstanding young Valley fiddlers like Bobby Kelly, Terri Charrette, and Mark Morris maintain a repertoire that is representative of old-time Anglo-American fiddling. Lionel Doucette is another well-respected local fiddler.

There were several performances by step dancers, some quite spontaneous, at the "Violons díAcadie" program presented during the 1991 Acadian Festival. These performances, along with observations made by folklife fieldworkers at a dance and a house party in Fort Kent, suggest that a localized step-dancing tradition continues in the Valley.

Ray Morin of St. David shows how a barrel is assembled.  American Folklife Center photograph by David Whitman, 1991.

A dance at the Forever Young Club, Madawaska, Maine.Group dancesósquare, round, and line dancesóare performed at the Forever Young Club in Madawaska, as well as at Lí‚ge díor clubs in New Brunswick. In 1991 researchers observed the following dances performed by a crowd of mostly elderly citizens: "Lady of the Lake," several "sets carrÈs," "Le Pinto," "Ton ëti chien Madame," the "Continentale," "Paul Jones," and the "Tucker."

In a 1993 focus group in Frenchville, several Maine Acadians noted the change to more individually oriented entertainment, such as television and recorded music, in the present when compared to community dance and music events in the past:

. . . weddings, automatically "Lady of the Lake" and "John Paul Jones." Every wedding had that; that was tradition. Now, forget it! They donít have that, and itís [become] a conversation piece. This is why I set them apart [music/dance] because now we donít do that. When I was a young girl, a long time ago, well this was part of an evening. There was a lot of music especiallyónot dancing, we [my family] were not dancersóbut music!

The Catholic Church has both encouraged and discouraged music and dance in the Upper St. John Valley. For example, there is evidence that local clergy discouraged traditional music and dance. Residents report that during much of the 20th century, they were taught by members of the Catholic religious orders that dancing was a sin that required the absolution of confession.

Finale of multi-choir concert held at St. Bruno Catholic Church in Van Buren, Maine, to celebrate the centennial of the arrival of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Good Shepherd Sisters), June 21, 1991.Yet music is part of religious-oriented celebrations in the Valley. During the summer of 1991, the town of Van Buren, Maine, celebrated the significant role of the Catholic sisters as local educators and cultural emissaries. In June nine Catholic choirs from both sides of the St. John River commemorated the centennial of the arrival in the Valley of the Good Shepherd Sisters. Songs were sung during a joint concert in three languages: French, English, and Latin. Some of the selections performed had cultural relevance to Maine Acadians. For instance, "Ave Maris Stella," dedicated to the foremost symbol of Acadian nationalism, was sung by the choir from Saint Gerard Church in Grand Isle, Maine; the choir from Saint-Michelís in Drummond, New Brunswick, sang "Au del‡ de toute frontiËre;" and "La riviËre Saint-Jean" was sung as a finale by a combination of all attending choirs. The choir from St. Brunoís in Van Buren has recorded an album entitled Hommage ‡ LíAcadie which includes "Le pÍcheur acadien," "Evangeline," "Les trois cloches," "Partons, la mer est belle," and several other selections that have Acadian references.

Jazz and the Big Band sound were popular in the Valley from the 1930s to the 1950s. Country music has also had an impact upon the musical traditions of Maine Acadians. When Jeannette Cyr Daigle moved from the Valley to Lewiston in the late 1930s, she listened to Hal Lone Pineís live country-and-western music radio show. After her singing talent came to the attention of Lone Pine, she was invited to sing on his show. In 1938ñ39, she adopted the radio name of "Daisey" and made a mark as a singer of American country songs. Today her son, George Daigle, organizes the annual Green River Bluegrass and Country Music Festival in RiviËre-Verte, New Brunswick.

Ray Morin of St. David shows how a barrel is assembled.  American Folklife Center photograph by David Whitman, 1991.
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