The thought of having a musical group dealing with French Canadian music came to me at the occasion of the 100th anniversary of St. Jean-de-Baptiste Church of Lowell, MA in 1968, with a week of celebration. My dad, Arthur E. Paquin, a member of the church choir, organized a “Soirée Canadienne” for the jubilee and approached me if I would help him. I agreed and really had a ball.
A few months after the soirée, I got the idea of forming a more permanent group that dealt in the preservation of the old French songs and traditions of our ancestors. Coming from a musical family, it was easy for me to organize such a group of individuals who were ready and able to dedicate themselves to the culture of the Franco-Americans of Greater Lowell. After thinking for a while for a title of this new association, I came out with “L’Equipe du Bon Vieux Temps” meaning the troupe of the good old days. The assembly unanimously approved it. “Prenez le temps d’aimer, de rire et de chanter” (take time to love, laugh and sing) was our theme song. We had no criteria for joining, if you couldn’t sing, you might play an instrument like the violin, piano, accordion, drums, musical spoons, tell jokes, dance the quadrilles or jig. We had some in their 80’s but could they make us laugh. We were dressed in vintage-style clothing of the 19th century as our French-Canadian ancestors.
After weekly rehearsals, we made our first public appearance at the foundation of the “Semaine Franco-Américaine” in 1971 and we were wildly acclaimed. Bravo, we finally made a name for ourselves. We were the highlight of their celebrations for the next ten years. Shortly after, bookings started to come in; we were in demand all over the place for Bicentennials and Soirées Canadiennes. We traveled throughout Massachusetts and to the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Our fee was minimum but for us we were spreading the “esprit de corps de la francophonie”. “Le Réveillon” and “Les Noces de Lise” were our best productions.
With this money, we entertained ourselves with our musical talents at Christmas and summer parties like our ancestors did in our homes in the good old days before television. We took good care of ourselves with wine, cheese and crackers at our regular rehearsals. It was a joy to get together on a weekly basis, a party in itself, but I’m sure that sweet Portuguese wine had something to do with it. We were not professionals but we loved to entertain.
We were in existence for 13 years but like every club or organization, the old timers would die. When my father died, I had to look outside the group to find a violinist. When I look back at the picture of the original group, I believe there are only a few of us left. It is sad, but as the song goes; “Thanks for the memories”.
Raymond A. Paquin, Director
Written, March 2014