Exploring Creole Culture in Hanover
Grammy Award-winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien sings with children from the Revels Kids Program at Black Family Cultural Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., on February 8, 2014. "You have to have a foot in the present, but don't forget about the past," Simien said, while immersing the children in Cajun and Creole music and tradition. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Orion Bee, right, 4, of Quechee, Vt., and
Bradly McCabe, 7, of Norwich, Vt., wait to be served king cake with the Revels Kids Program at Black Family Cultural Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., on February 8, 2014. Revels Kids tasted traditional Louisiana foods like gumbo and jambalaya. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Children in the Revels Kids Program dance and play handmade paper rubboards along with Grammy Award-winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien at Black Family Cultural Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., on February 8, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hazel Fleming, 7, holds a paper rubboard she made while watching Grammy Award-winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien talk to a group of children from the Revels Kids Program at Black Family Cultural Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., on February 8, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Grammy Award-winning Zydeco artist Terrance Simien accepts a Mardi Gras mask presented to him from the Revels Kids Program at Black Family Cultural Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., on February 8, 2014. The program also gave Simien a handmade paper rubboard they all signed. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — The laughter and shrieks of children filled the room on Saturday, accompanying the playful bounce of an accordion, the gentle accent of a couple of fiddles and an acoustic guitar, and the metallic scratch of rubboards.
Three youngsters danced in circles as Zydeco music filled the air during Revels Kids Immersion Day at the Richard Black Community Center. At the center of it all, wearing a purple shirt, a backward cap and a grin from ear to ear, was two-time Grammy Award-winner Terrance Simien.
Simien was a guest artist in the eight-week program, in which children and parents from all over New Hampshire and Vermont learn about Creole and Cajun cultures. An eighth-generation Louisiana Creole, whose family has been Louisiana since 1758, Simien introduced youngsters from kindergarten through fifth grade to Creole’s 300-year history, which includes influences from France, Africa, Spain and Germany.
He talked about how Creole culture gave birth to Zydeco music, a melting pot of musical genres, its deep roots in southern Louisiana, and its two major instruments — the accordion and the rubboard, or “frottoir.”
Simien, accompanied by a number children strumming rubboards, then played samples of Zydeco music dating back to the earliest recordings from the 1920s by musicians such as Amede Ardoin and the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier. He then played a variety of Zydeco tunes with the help of three local musicians, Mary Jo Slattery on acoustic guitar and Andy Stewart and Nicolas Anzalone, both on fiddle.
Eight-year-old Yofta LaRocque, of Barnet, Vt., enjoyed the jam session. “It was awesome with the guitar, the two fiddles, the accordion and those armor chest plates (rubboards),” he said.
Yofta has been a member of Revels Kids for four years, and both he and his mother enjoy all he learns about different cultures. “It’s great to have diverse experiences,” Yofta’s mother, Casey Doerner, said.
Simien also discussed his own 33-year career in music, and the barriers he has overcome. He pulled out his first Grammy award, won back in 2007 for best Zydeco or Cajun music album — the first time an award was presented to a musician in that category. He won his second this year for best regional roots album of the year. Simien also discussed how he has seen Zydeco become more mainstream, with the music featured in the 2009 Disney film The Princess and the Frog, in which Simien appeared as a guest artist on a song from the movie’s soundtrack.
“He’s just so easy to talk to,” said 10-year-old Lily Barth from Concord, Vt., a first-year Revels participant. “I’m really just happy to be here and meet a musician who has won a Grammy,” she said.
The day included a variety of workshops. In one, children crafted Mardi Gras masks and decorated rubboards they created.
In another, they adapted a traditional Cajun folktale using acting, movement and song.
For lunch, there was jambalaya, gumbo and kings cake.
Revels Kids Production Director Katie Kitchel said the event allows children to learn about cultures they might not otherwise experience. It also acts as a way to break down prejudices. “It’s to show how people are connected through song,” she said.
Simien said it’s important to teach children about traditional music and to introduce them to new cultures.
“The kids are the future of everything,” he said.