Students at the University of Louisiana Lafayette are able to learn to play and sing Cajun and Creole songs and earn a degree in Traditional Music. It’s a one-of-a-kind program in Louisiana that is helping to preserve a style of music that was passed down from one generation to the next.
Fiddle instructor Gina Forsyth says she is not only teaching her students how to play traditional Cajun songs, but she is also teaching them the style and feeling that goes along with the tune. “They’re learning from masters who have played in dance halls and restaurants,” Forsyth says. And she hopes they will carry on that style and musical tradition.
Learning the language of Louisiana’s traditional music
Across the hall from the ULL fiddle class, Megan Brown Constantin is explaining the meaning of a Cajun French song. Her student, Kevin Hilbun, sings along in French. Hilbun says he regrets not learning how to speak Cajun French from his grandmother . “I’m kind of mad at myself about that,” Hilbun tells me. “I feel like a good way to learn the language is through the music.”
Professional musicians teach their craft
Many of the instructors in ULL’s traditional music program play professionally. One of them is Chad Huval, who plays accordion in the band Beausoliel avec Michael Doucet. Huval claims that the ULL program is one-of-a-kind. “We’re focused on the locally created music,” Huval says, adding, “so Cajun and Creole is high here”.
Traditional music major plans career in performance
Julie Babineaux is one of the Traditional Music majors who is graduating this semester. She also works in the university’s Cajun Archives and on the campus radio station. “I often think about these pioneers here before us,” she tells me, “and taking the songs and bringing them back to life”. Babineaux says she plans to teach and play music professionally.