French Canadian Soirées ~ Photos with Stories

At the end of January I was hired to call some square dances for a soiree (French Night) in Rochester at the Holy Rosary Church. Robert Choiniere who used to play piano at Marcel’s was the organizer, which is how I came to be hired. The band consisted of Robert, Joe Pomerleau and Erica Brown. On top of that, Gary Pomerleau was there and played with Joe for a while; and he and Erica played together part of the time with Robert and Joe backing them up. If you want first-class traditional French Canadian music played by some of New England’s best French Canadian musicians, it just doesn’t get a whole lot better than that! In addition, the Cote family was there to sing some traditional French Canadian songs, and there was some step dancing, and  of course dinner.

It was a great time. It was great to see the other band members whom we hadn’t seen in a long time, since Marcel’s Wednesday night soiree hasn’t been happening for several years. Then Monica of the Cote family called out to us and invited us to sit at their table. During the course of the evening we saw several other friends from Marcel’s. I called a couple squares, we did some couples dances, there was some step dance. At an event of that sort generally there won’t be a large number of called dances (maybe two or three), and not all that many people will actually get up and dance, but people enjoy them and enjoy the fact that they happen even if they don’t dance.

A week or so later I got a call from the local head of the Association Canado-American who said their organization was putting on a soiree at the Sugar Shack near the Lee Circle, and that while he hadn’t been able to go to the one in Rochester, Robert had referred him to me. They already had a band, but they needed a caller for a couple dances. It meant missing the March Deerfield dance, but it sounded like fun, so I said yes.

This one was also fun, but completely different. The setting is much less formal, of course. We made out better at the dinner as vegetarians, since they had pancakes with maple syrup made at the Sugar Shack! The band was the Johnny Morin band, based out of Manchester. It’s a large band with Zoel fiddling, Jay on drums, Jimmy on lead guitar, his son on back-up guitar, Tommy on electric bass, and maybe more; mostly electric. Zoel used to play drums for Gerry Robichaud, an outstanding fiddler from New Brunswick who later moved to Waltham Massachusetts.

They were loud, but really good. They were happy to let us sit in with the band which was a lot of fun. Needless to say, given the location, they started out by playing Maple Sugar! They played some fiddle tunes, and a lot of country and western songs, with a couple singers in the band. Toward the end of the evening they started playing some 1950’s style rock & roll too.

People were quite enthusiastic about getting up and dancing when they played waltzes, polkas, foxtrots and other such dances; it was great to see that. They were more reluctant to dance squares, but I was able to get a couple sets up and we danced a couple French Canadian quadrilles; everyone seemed to have a great time.

Sadly, Johnny Morin suffered from a rare disease a year or so ago that paralyzed him and caused some brain damage apparently. He’s been recovering gradually, and his spirits are great; he’s determined to be able to play again. The night of the soiree was the first time he came out with his band since the illness hit him quite suddenly, and he was able to sing a few songs. Since the band has played there several years in a row, everyone knows them, and he was received with tremendous enthusiasm, which really made him happy.

It was a great time being a part of both events. Normally I wouldn’t be included in anything like that, not being at all French; but music and dance can get you into all sorts of fun events. It doesn’t hurt that I love the French Canadian music and call a number of French Canadian square dances! I hope I get invited to call for another soiree again soon!

Look below for some photos from each event. As I was participating I only had limited opportunity to take pictures, but I did get a few!

Click on the “Start Slideshow” button to view them as a slideshow or on individual photos to view larger photos. Note: Some of the longer captions may be cut off in the slideshow.

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