Here at Grand Portage I have been able to give programs on a regular basis. All the rangers have at least one program that they write and give. Tom’s program is “Stone vs Steel: The Irony of Progress.” He also does a program where he demonstrates three historic ways of making a fire (no matches). My program is called “Music that Moves You: Songs of the Voyageurs.”
In “Music that Moves You” I talk about how we (and the voyageurs) use music to move us from place to place and to move us emotionally. I talk about listening to music in our cars as we drive, hearing songs that transport us to another place and time, and connecting with people through music. Then I demonstrate how the voyageurs used music in the same ways when they were paddling the canoes on their two month (each way) journeys.
The voyageurs were mostly French-Canadian farm boys who signed up to be voyageurs for a few seasons of adventure. They would have song leaders, called chanteurs, in each brigade of canoes. The chanteur would sing a line and the voyageurs would respond with an answering line or an enthusiastic chorus. The songs were repetitive and long – many of them had up to 20 verses!
I sing several songs in my program demonstrating different aspects of the songs of the voyageurs. I describe the songs in English, and then sing a verse in French. I learned six songs – all of the verses – in French, but I only use parts of them in my program. I demonstrate how one chorus sounds like water flowing or how much fun it is to sing the response in another song. I also have one love song that the voyageurs would sing around the campfire late at night as they remembered the family and girlfriends they left behind.
I close my program by telling the guests that I will teach them a voyageur song. Then we learn “Alouette.” “Alouette” is a song that is familiar to most people but they don’t know what it means. So I teach them the chorus first. The words (translated to English) are: “Lark, nice lark, I will pluck your feathers.” Most people laugh when they find out the translation. We always think it is a nice children’s song! Then we sing the song verse by verse, while we paddle our imaginary canoes. We start out slow and get faster as we go. I have cheat sheets that I hold up for each of the verses and we usually laugh a lot as we try to sing this simple song while we paddle.
I have presented “Music that Moves You” in the Voyageur Encampment, in the Canoe Warehouse, and on the porch of the Great Hall. We always have a lot of fun with it and the other rangers tell me they can hear people singing all over the historic site. Leading “Music that Moves You” has been one of the many things I have enjoyed about my summer at Grand Portage.