Welcome to the Maine Folque Co-Op website. Our mission at the Maine Folque Co-op is to honor Maine's cultural heritage by bringing the generations together through traditional music and dance.
We've undertaken a variety of projects toward this end over the past several years. The photo above is from a 2012 community residency by Quebecois folk artists which served to spotlight and celebrate Lewiston's French-Canadian roots. More recently, we hosted a group of gifted teen fiddlers from NY in a series of performances for local schoolchildren and senior citizens. And in the interim, we have established our own music program which provides an opportunity for fledgling Maine folk fiddlers to develop and share their talents within the nurturing context of a crew of veteran folk musicians from the area. We look forward to exploring many other ethnic music and dance traditions in the coming months and years, while continuing to support and encourage Maine's own “indigenous” folk dancing - New England contra dancing - and the music that inspires it. Please feel free to explore our website, including our sample Video Clips and Links to media coverage to see some of what we've been up to, and drop us a line if you have questions, would like to offer feedback or have ideas for future activities.
St. Jean Baptiste Celebrated in Style!
The Maine Folque Co-op provided a merry band of minstrels to play a program of traditional French music as part of a festive St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration which took place recently in the Twin Cities of Lewiston & Auburn.
June 24 is Saint Jean Baptiste Day, the feast day/birthday of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Quebec, and as such it is celebrated as a major holiday in that province and also holds significance among Maine's Franco-Americans.
To commemorate the occasion, eight Folque Co-op musicians (age 14 to “ageless,” and most of them of Franco heritage) gathered that afternoon on the front steps of "Place St. Louis," a beautiful former church located in NewAuburn, to perform for an enthusiastic crowd of more than150 local residents who gathered on the lawn and sidewalks below.
The repertoire included a variety of jigs, reels, waltzes and polkas, many of which were brought down to Maine by fiddle-playing farmers who emigrated from Quebec many generations ago. Also on the program was music which has sprung more recently from their Franco-American descendants in this area, including the late Maurice Gagnon -- who was, in fact, born on St. Jean Baptiste Day in 1927. A gifted harmonica player, Maurice was also a prolific tune-smith who recorded several of his tunes on an album, and two of these – Carnival Reel and Joan's Polka – were performed in his honor on this occasion. Making the event even more meaningful was the fact that the Folque Co-op musicians were led in this performance by Maurice's granddaughter, fiddler Jessica Estabrook. She never knew her grandfather because he passed away, sadly, before she was born, but she felt that he was smiling down on her as she stood there fiddling away on his birthday, in front of the very church where he married his wife Joan, playing the polka that he named after her, Jessica's grandmother, who – now in her 8o's – still lives in the neighborhood.
Comprising the Folque orchestra were fiddlers Josh White, Victor So, Mona Theriault and Abbie Collette; bass player Abram Collette (Abbie's twin brother); guitarist John Cote; mandolin/banjo player Don Cunningham; and Cindy Larock on guitar & spoons. And when Quebec-born accordion player Normand Gagnon appeared unexpectedly in the audience, he was eagerly invited to sit in with the group, lending an extra touch of authenticity to the event.
The audience was also treated to a semi-spontaneous performance of an old-time Quebecois contra dance by a troupe of dancers recruited on the spot from the band and the audience.
The predecessor to “Place St. Louis,” St. Louis Church was attended by legions of French Catholics in the New Auburn neighborhood before being closed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine in 2013. To save it from being torn down, the structure was purchased recently by a group of concerned citizens dedicated to seeing the 100-year-old structure brought back to life as a cultural center. The Maine Folque Co-op was pleased to play a central role in presenting this, the facility's premiere public event, and looks forward to many more such inspiring collaborations in the future!
The Folque Co-op's Music Program
In early 2013, the Folque Co-op established a community folk orchestra based in Lewiston-Auburn. This affable multi-generational ensemble – which numbered over a dozen musicians ranging in age from pre-teens to, shall we say, ageless – was spawned under the enthusiastic direction of Doug Protsik, a seasoned musician equally adept on fiddle, piano and accordion. He worked with the members of the folk orchestra to build a repertoire of music which reflects Maine's cultural heritage in particular, from jigs-&-reels to two-steps to waltzes and more. You'll find some examples of this music here on our website, starting with our homepage “theme” music (the reel “Maple Sugar,” one of Maine fiddler Simon St. Pierre's favorites, as recorded “raw” at an early orchestra practice session). For more, click on the yellow button on the audio files bar at the top right. The membership of the orchestra continues to evolve, with spin-offs and subsets of the original group (such as the "Sizzling Shamrocks" - click here) charming audiences of all ages at a variety of venues throughout the local community and beyond.
Here's an audio-visual glimpse of some of our Folque Co-op minstrels in action at a recent rehearsal.(click on image below to start video):
An ensemble of more than two dozen young string players from the state of New York descended on Lewiston-Auburn recently to perform a public concert as well as share their talents with local school children and retirement community residents.
Hailing from the the Poughkeepsie area, the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers and their slightly younger “JV” team, the Raspberry Fiddlers, are known for their ability to wow audiences with their stellar fiddling techniques representing a variety of genres. Their repertoire includes everything from lively Celtic jigs and lilting English country dance tunes to sassy ragtime numbers and old-time Appalachian melodies, with songs and dance routines adding further pizazz to their shows.
On Sunday, March 29, the ensemble of 25 fiddlers, cellists and bass players appeared in concert at the Temple Shalom synagogue in Auburn. Designed for a family audience, the program included such selections as the elegant “Bare Necessities” waltz, the saucy “Acorn Stomp,” the spicy Cajun two step “Jig Francais,” and the rousing “North Carolina Breakdown,” during which the young musicians gleefully abandoned their fiddles and transformed into clog dancers.
Temple Shalom rabbi Sruil Dresdner, who is himself a musician, said “The members of our temple were delighted to be able to provide a performance venue for these extremely gifted young folk musicians.” Dresdner's wife, Lisa Mayer, is a highly accomplished klezmer fiddler who added to the spirit of hospitality by offering the youngsters a free workshop in klezmer fiddle techniques after their concert. During this fun but intense session, they learned an entire piece of klezmer music which they added to their performance repertoire the next day.
The young musicians remained in the community for a two-day residency during which they performed for students and staff at three Lewiston elementary schools – Martel, Geiger and Montello – as well as at East Auburn School. They also entertained residents at Schooner Estates Retirement Community in Auburn, all at no charge. In appreciation for sharing their talents so generously in the community, Bates College treated the entire group to free lunch at the college's dining commons on Monday, followed by a tour of the campus.
The “Strawberries & Raspberries,” as they are known collectively, comprise students from 15 different middle and high schools in New York's Hudson Valley. The folk bands are sponsored by Stringendo, a community music school through which the youngsters also study classical music. The fiddlers' visit to Maine was the latest in a series of semi-annual concert tours during which they have ventured as far west and south as Minnesota and Louisiana, and even across the Atlantic to Scotland and England. And four years ago, the Strawberries were selected as contestants for the popular television show “America's Got Talent,” which brought them to “show biz alley” in the heart of New York City.
When the co-director of Stringendo's fiddle program, Carole Schaad, caught wind of a performance opportunity at this year's DownEast Country Dance Festival, happening in Topsham on March 28, she quickly signed up both groups to perform in a Young Fiddlers Extravaganza, where they shared the stage with musicians from the Maine's Folque Co-op's youth music program. While at the festival, they also participated in workshops in French-Canadian Fiddle Styles and Quebecois Step Dancing.
As a native Maine Franco-American who was born and raised in Winslow, Schaad was pleased to be able to bring her young music proteges to her home state, where, she says, they were able to “meet and make music with Maine fiddlers, learn some indigenous Maine-Franco tunes, and entertain area residents young and old.”
We at the Maine Folque Co-op are pleased to have been able to bring the Strawberries & Raspberries ensemble to Lewiston-Auburn where their music enriched the lives of so many. We are also thankful that they directed the proceeds from their concert at Temple Shalom towards the support of our own fledgling youth music program.
More information about the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers & Raspberry Fiddlers is available on the Stringendo Music School's website at www.stringendoweb.org.
While in Maine, the Strawberries & Raspberries also performed at the DownEast Country Dance Festival in Topsham. For a peek of them in action with some of our own young (and not so young) Folque Co-op musicians, click HERE.