Heart of Louisiana: Traditional Music

Students at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette learn traditional music.
Students at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette learn traditional music.(WAFB)
Published: Nov. 27, 2022 at 3:08 PM CST

LAFAYETTE, La. (WAFB) - Students at one Louisiana university are able to study Cajun fiddle, the accordion, and even learn how to sing Cajun French songs, and get a degree in it. It’s called ‘traditional music,’ and you can hear the music as you walk down the hall at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

Chad Huval is a professional musician and music professor. He teaches college courses in traditional music at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

“It is the only one of its kind in the nation where we’re, we’re focused on the, our, the local, the locally created music, and so Cajun and Creole is high in there,” said Huval.

In this university music school, you’ll hear a class of fiddlers learning an old Cajun tune.

“I’m trying to learn, teach them the style as well, and not just the tunes,” said Gina Forsyth, a fiddle instructor.

There’s been a concern over the last few decades about this music fading away.

How does something like this help to extend the life or prolong the life of traditional Cajun Creole music?

“They’re studying from Cajun musicians and from masters who have played in dance halls and restaurants and can show students how to, how to play in the style. That’s, that’s the hope, is that it will continue on,” explained Forsyth.

Megan Brown Constantin grew up hearing Cajun music at her family’s restaurant in Basile.

“But we’re focusing on me and the student are their pronunciation of the words, their understanding of the language, and their ability to continue to learn without me in the future,” she said.

“My grandma was the most recent one to die,” said Kevin Hilbun, a vocal student. “Before she died, I didn’t learn Cajun French from her, and I’m kind of mad at myself about that, so I feel like a good way to learn the language is through the music. And then, you also get to jam some cool tunes, too.”

Julie Babinbeaux is graduating this fall with her degree in traditional music. She hopes to teach and play professionally.

“I often think about these people, these pioneers here before us, and taking the songs that I’m hearing and bringing them back to life, or just humming the melodies and in a way that is, you know, keeping their memory alive,” she said.

Fiddler Renee Reed is also getting her traditional music degree, and she plays professionally. Her father and grandfather were Cajun musicians.

“It has that balance where it’s, it’s living, it’s breathing tradition, but also you can study it in school,” she said.

In this college music program, students are learning much more than the notes of a melody. They’re also learning a style and a unique language, and the joy of playing and preserving traditional music.

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