Group Therapy at the Joie de Vivre Café
Joie de Vivre Café
107 N Main Street
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
August 4, 2018
Happens every Saturday morning at the Joie de Vivre Café in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. No need to lie down on a therapist’s couch, just pull up a chair, and breathe easy. The pharmacology here is music.
A big circle of music makers is sitting on a small dais. A Cajun jam is in full swing. By tradition, all are welcome to join. By all, I mean men or women who’ve been playing for a few weeks, accomplished players who know the lyrics and chords of the songs, and pros like Gina Forsyth or Christine Balfa who live nearby and show up once in a while. No one bows or curtsies to the pros, who just sit down with everyone else and play.
By custom, the jam is led by a fiddler or an accordion player who sings the ballads and two steps as everyone else plays along ensemble style. It’s a bundle of egalitarian energy.
Whether you understand French or not, you grasp that the high-pitched mournful keening voice has got to be a response to hardship, dislocation and gritty survival after "The Grand Derangement" forced the Acadians to flee British ruled Canada in the mid 1700s. The frisky two-step tunes show that they knew how to let loose and let joy seep into their lives before they headed home to tend to the uncertainties of weather and life.
There's a mountain of research that listening to music makes us feel better.
That’s what’s happening at a table where Elaine and Jim are sitting. Elaine takes turns strumming her guitar with the group on the dais. Her husband Jim, in a wheel chair, isn’t moving a muscle. “He was diagnosed with ALS five years ago,” Elaine says, “recently he’s had trouble speaking.”
Jim, who has the lean frame of a man who has run 43 marathons, is having no trouble taking in the music. Jim is dancing with his bright blue eyes.
“Jim looks for the gifts in life, “ Elaine says, “coming to this café and listening to the music is one of them.”
The joyous sound echoing through the Joie de Vivre is a gift to all of us. For Jim, it’s a therapy to stay in the moment, moments that get more precious each day.
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a neuromuscular disease. Muscles waste away. Total immobility ensues. There is, as yet, no cure. Ability to speak goes. When the diaphragm can’t keep up, breathing stops. All of our days are numbered. Jim’s number is smaller than ours.
The music, camaraderie, and cozy confines of the Joie de Vivre Café are an uplifting mood enhancer, nourishment for soul and body. The world and its cares will be there when we walk out the door. We’ll walk into them with a lighter step.
John Armstrong, a Scotish inventor (1709-1779), wrote, ‘Music exalts each joy, allays each grief, expels diseases, softens every pain, subdues the rage of poison, and the plague.’
Today’s Cajun jam will not expel Jim’s ALS. But nothing will keep him from looking for the gifts in life, a soaring example of the will to endure. Jim is living life in C major…C for courage.
PHOTOS and VIDEOS
Fiddles and guitars make up the majority of the instruments played in the Cajun jam.
Today's jam led by Joel Breaux (fiddle), Ryan Simon (accordion, also drummer for Pine Leaf Boys and plays with T’Monde), Lester Gautier (washtub bass)...leading ballads and waltzes. If you close your eyes, you can imagine neighbors trekking to a friend's home on a Saturday for a night of music of bygone days in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Every skill level is welcome...
Glen Fields (drummer for The Revelers and T'Monde) and Russell Ducote, both play the "T-fer", the Louisiana French name for a triangle, originally made from tines of a hay fork and used to provide rhythm in a Cajun band. "He's one of the best," says Russell,who is pretty darn good himself.
Conversations between songs...
an institution all by himself on the dance floor...leaves the building.
Cheerful decor, cheerful atmosphere...
The music is good medicine for all of us, the smiles say it all...
Jim and Elaine...Jim looks for the gifts in life. This is a big one for him. So is his presence for the rest of us.
Cajun jam video 1
Cajun jam video 2
"The Bosco Stomp"
By custom. only one T'fer is played at a time in a Cajun jam.
Alan Crochet interview
No better example of the range and depth of the pervasiveness of music in the lives of a chunk of people in southwest Louisiana...Alan Crochet. Alan Crochet has been playing harmonica "off and on" for most of his 80 years. "I was born and raised in Loreauville, about 30 miles from Breaux Bridge." He’s been coming to the jam for ten years. " i drive here by myself," he says with quiet dignity.
He explains how to use the tongue to block some holes while blowing through others in the harmonica. To give an example, a moment before, he played "Begin the Beguine." In this video he plays what sounds like "It's The Loveliest Time of the Year" but Alan says its title is "Over the Waves." He shows me his German made Hohner Big River Harp. "Most players use the key of C harmonica; it has ten holes. This harmonica cost $35, my first one cost about 35 cents!," he says.
Today’s fiddle player and one of the jam leaders Joel Breaux is his cousin. "Joel’s grandfather and I are first cousins, my mother was a Breaux.”
"Who's your Mama?” or “Who are your people?” are the ways people connect the dots around here. The concept Six Degrees of Separation operates robustly in southwest Louisiana. When it comes to musicians, it’s more like Three Degrees of Separation.
Fellow musician Russel Ducote says that Alan spoke no English for a long time. "Do you speak French?" Alan asks as we part. "Oui," says I and we have a brief conversation. "I can understand you," says he, encouraging me, then, as he walks to his car, "Au revoir"and in case i didn't get it, adds "It means I’ll see you again." I look forward to that.
Music, mood, well-being
Photos and videos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.