Franco-Americans all around Maine may have different tastes in music, but certain melodies connect friends and families. The past and present come together through Franco-American and French-Canadian folk music and dance.
Folkmusic and folkdance originating from the medieval era were brought to New France with the early settlers. These were intermingled with newer songs and dances and were considered to be more bourgeois in much of Europe. They featured activities such as contredanse and the quadrille. These tunes and dances brought members of different social strata together; people from every walk of life could enjoy the same festivities.
There were many popular dances at the time, one of them being La Bastringue (the honkey-tonkey, hoedown). This dance involved getting those in attendance into a large circle. They would then spin around and separate with a partner for an individual dance.
Instruments were played in a style that was inspired by the Celtic Jig, working with melodies heard from the Celtic regions of Europe. They used various instruments, including the fiddle, accordion, guitar, and sometimes the hurdy gurdy. One of the most important instruments to the Franco-Americans was podorythmie—this is where a person taps their feet as a form of percussion. These musical styles and delightful tunes migrated with the French-Canadians into the United States.
There are many today who have a passion for traditional music and try to keep the culture alive and well, such as Don and Cindy Roy. Don is a second generation Franco-American, his grandfather had been recruited from Quebec to work for a Maine paper company. His grandfather had been a talented fiddle player, but sadly an accident cost him a finger which made it so he couldn’t play. However, his love and passion for the fiddle was passed down to his grandson Don. Don has been promoting his ancestral heritage by keeping the music alive.
“[Music is] very important to anyone who cherishes the heritage. It brings people together. What could start out as a few people playing, has the ability to create a large gathering. It relieves stress from work, and from our lives. A lot of Franco-Americans couldn’t afford records or audio tapes when they migrated to the States, so they relied on live music performances.”
Don has received three Fellowship Awards from the Maine Arts Commission for his music, the maximum allowed by the State of Maine. He has also received a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2018, the highest honor given to traditional musicians from the United States.
Don hopes that younger generations will take an interest in traditional music and dances. He believes that French-Canadian folk music is not modern concert music, but community music. For those who want to learn and play these heritage melodies, he gives this advice:
“Listen to the older players first to get an idea of the rhythm and the melodies. The ‘call and response’ of the music is very important and plays a role in connecting people to the song.”
Don’s partner, Cindy Roy, is well known for her step dancing, which is among the best in New England. With her skills in podorythmie, she adds life to the music.
“The most important instrument is your feet, always keep the rhythm with them.”
Cindy got her start observing and participating during parties at her grandfather’s house. Although she was young and had not been formally trained, she learned through this experience the importance of keeping the rhythm with your feet and how it can make a song come alive.
In her thirties, Cindy took some lessons with Canadian Dance Master, Benoit Bourque. Here she learned of the waltz clog, a dance she found she loved. It was a bit faster than a regular waltz, and it took keeping up with the song’s speed to keep from falling down.
Cindy and Roy always have loved performing together. They would create a connection with the audience and revive memories and stories through song and dance and leave the audience smiling.
When Cindy begins to tap her feet in dance to the music, a smile lights up her face. “This shows the audience that I’m happy with what I do,” she says. “And the smile spreads around the room.” The joy travels around the room like wildfire and soon everyone is laughing and dancing along as well.
French-Canadian styled folk music remains today an essential part of Franco-American culture. It can be viewed as a unique tool to bring together family, friends, community, and to even educate the world of the Franco-American identity.
Every year in Madawaska, Maine, is an annual Acadian Festival. The festival is a great place to experience first hand the folkmusic and folkdance as well as many other other fun attractions. This year  it takes place from the 12th through the 15th August.
For more information on the Acadian Festival in Madawaska visit their website. http://www.acadianfestival.com/
Thanks for Reading!
This post was written by Dylan Smart-Pelletier. It was produced by Rhumb Line Maps and the University of Maine’s Franco-American Program in August 2021. We would like to give a special thanks to Don and Cindy Roy for their time and knowledge and the Bicentennial Grant that made this possible.
Writer — Dylan Smart-Pelletier
Editors — Emily Meader and Ben Meader
Media Sources — Library of Congress, Library and Archives Canada
Further Reading— on music and dance
Civilization.ca – The Making of Musical Instruments in Canada – Making Instruments – Baroque, www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/arts/opus/opus234e.html.
Myladybeithe, director. La Bastringue. YouTube, YouTube, 19 Feb. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0QKMEiq-tQ.
Houston, Ron. The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH) – La Bastringue, www.sfdh.us/encyclopedia/bastringue.html.
Folk Song and Music in Quebec: a Brief Introduction, by Stephen D. Winick, Ph.D.: Expanded Liner Notes (Le Temps Des Fetes, Washington Revels, Revelsdc.org/Canadiancd), revelsdc.org/canadiancd/article.html.
“Don Roy Ensemble: Traditional Fiddle & Contradance Music: Maine.” Don Roy, 7 Feb. 2017, donroyonline.com/don-roy-ensemble/.
Lueders-Booth, J., Denatale, D., Norkunas, M. K. & Rankin, T. (1987) Franco-American Day School, Lowell, Massachusetts. United States Lowell Massachusetts, 1987. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1987042_tr_b189b/.
Roy, Don & Cindy, et al. “Franco-American Folk Music.” 23 June 2021.