'You want them to have fun'

Barachois brings audiences French songs with a Celtic twist

Barachois brings audiences French songs with a Celtic twist

March 20, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Growing up in a large musical family, taking up an instrument was more than a hobby for Hlne Arsenault-Bergeron. It was a way of life.

Her father, a fisherman, came home after long days and broke out his fiddle, filling the house with Acadian music to the gills. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, all living on the same street, played various instruments, too.

She took dance lessons as a girl, but Arsenault-Bergeron says music tutoring was, while not verboten, not exactly necessary, either.

"If you had an aptitude you just kind of absorbed the music by osmosis from being around it," says the 48-year-old pianist-guitarist-pump organist. "I think, if you have an aptitude for music and you're around an instrument, you know you can play."


There's little doubt she can play. And dance. And sing. For 10 years, she has joined with her fellow members of Barachois to spread a joyful blend of French songs with a Celtic twist to audiences worldwide.

Barachois (the name is Acadian for a shallow pond of water separated from the sea by sand dunes) comes to Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater for a Mountain Green concert at 8 p.m. Friday, March 22. The performance is part of a spring tour of the United States and Canada, before the quartet hops the pond for England.

At each stop, the band's multitalented members with the same last name - Arsenault-Bergeron, brother Albert Arsenault, Louise Arsenault and Chuck Arsenault - will jazz crowds with a mix of old-school comedy and music.

So broad is their appeal, Arsenault-Bergeron says, the band is equally at home at gigs billed as bluegrass, dance, comedy, folk or kids fare.

"We don't see it ourselves because we're in it, but to other people it falls into all those cracks and categories," she admits. "It applies to anyone who watches the show from their perspective."

Hailing from Canada's Prince Edward Island, Bergeron-Arsenault attributes Barachois' blend of styles to the smorgasbord of cultures on the tiny island. With citizens of French, English, Irish and Scottish descent rubbing elbows over time, it's no wonder, she says, that French song and Celtic influences came together.

The same can be said of her bandmates, who first collaborated on a summer dinner theater musical comedy a decade ago. Buoyed by their chemistry, the group thought it might be interesting to see what they could do as a band.

"It's not something you can explain," Bergeron-Arsenault says of the group's chemistry. "It's either in there or not. If it is there, you have to grab the opportunity, run with it. Or not."

"For whatever reason - we're all fairly different people, we think differently - but when you get those four energies on stage it works well," her brother adds. "I'd rather have that than four people who really get along and don't click on stage."

Tossing comedy into the mix seemed natural, Albert (the 't' is silent) Arsenault says, and not just because of the group's affinity for it. Throughout its career, the band has found itself in the position of performing French songs for predominantly English audiences.

In Eastern Canada, their music grew to be called Acadian. Traveling a divergent path, its Louisiana counterpart is Cajun.

"You want them to have fun," he says of audiences. "And one way to do that is to add the visual part."

So, a typical Barachois performance will contain music and dance, topped with a generous dollop of humor.

Critics have taken notice, rewarding the quartet with East Coast Music Awards nominations and praise of their live show. With three critically acclaimed albums and a steady concert schedule under its belt, Barachois has managed to maintain momentum while spreading their Acadian sound to diverse audiences. The band enjoys hitting the road to meet new people, whether performing with orchestras or spending a week with a theater company.

Playing with symphonic accompaniment is always a treat, Arsenault says, as the music's brilliance is on full display, lush melodies fully drawn in a dizzying combination of sounds beautiful and haunting.

Regardless of the band's career path, Bergeron-Arsenault says the mission remains true, and she doesn't dare become drunk with success.

"You could plan and make goals and say 'in a year or two years we will have wanted to make a CD and open up a European market or play in such and such a country,'" she says. "If they do happen, it's a bonus, because people have to like you for those things to happen."

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