An elementary school choir cultural exchange between Newfoundland and Labrador and Louisiana has spurred the arrangement of new French language choral music.
Next week, students from Les Étoiles de Louisiane in Lafayette, La., will billet and sing with students at L’École des Grands-Vents in St. John’s.
The two choirs will sing three songs newly arranged by Duane Andrews in free concerts at the D.F. Cook Recital Hall and Rocket Bakery: “La ballade d’Émile Benoit,” a song about Newfoundland and its celebrated fiddler Emile Benoit by Louisiana singer-songwriter Zachary Richard; “Fais Do-Do,” a Louisiana Cajun song by Al Berard; and “Nous irons jouer dans l’île,” a francophone Newfoundland folk song.
“Newfoundland has lots of folk songs arranged in English, but there’s not as much repertoire for choirs of French folk songs, so that was part of the project … to expand the repertoire available for choirs to sing in French.”
-Allison El Koubi, a choral director for Les Étoiles de Louisiane
Andrews said arranging this music for the young choirs to sing was important and the result invaluable.
“Everyone kind of listens to the same thing, so you lose some of this great music that really is unique, and it has almost a precious quality. There is something about this music that you don’t hear anywhere else, so the more that we do this, especially because it’s with youth, it makes it all the more meaningful and important to get them connected with that music early on.”
Andrews spent a lot of time in the Memorial University archives listening to recordings collected by ethnomusicologists when he arranged “Nous irons jouer dans l’île.”
“The traditional music from here, and the Francophone culture … it’s a very rich part of the culture here on the island … so it’s great to see it continuing to live through the youth,” he said.
The arrangements were made possible by a grant from the Bruneau Centre for Excellence in Choral Music.
The arrangements and cultural exchange were initiated by Allison El Koubi, one of the choral directors for Les Étoiles de Louisiane. She is originally from St. John’s but has been teaching in the United States since she graduated from university.
“Newfoundland has lots of folk songs arranged in English, but there’s not as much repertoire for choirs of French folk songs, so that was part of the project … to expand the repertoire available for choirs to sing in French,” she said.
Heather Carrier is the music teacher at L’École des Grands-Vents in St. John’s, and helped to arrange the exchange on this end.
Carrier said she hopes the experience will make students proud to be francophone.
“I think music is foundational to a culture and a way of maintaining a culture’s language, and language is the way that a culture expresses itself. So, I think that by being able to do these activities together — being able to share not just the music but the experience of performing together — I think that’s huge.”
The choral directors also hope students come away from the exchange with a greater appreciation for cultural diversity.
“There’s a lot of division in the United States right now,” said El Koubi. “We believe that children need to learn early on that differences are to be celebrated, and that often we have more in common than we have different, but our differences — that’s something to be appreciated and celebrated. So, if we can get kids to learn that early on, I think that will pave the way for a better society when they become adults.”
Everyone is invited to hear the two elementary choirs sing, along with the St. John’s adult francophone choir, La Rose des Vents, at “Chantons ensemble!” — a free concert at D.F. Cook Recital Hall on June 27 at 7 p.m.
The choirs will also perform at Rocket Bakery on July 1 at 10 a.m.
The concert is timed in conjunction with the Podium Festival taking place in St. John's June 29 to July 3.