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  • French-Canadian Folk Music


    French Canadian Folk Music

    Annabelle Brault

    University of Windsor


    Annabelle Brault is a second year music therapy student at the University of Windsor.

    Born and raised in Quebec, she attended high school and Cégep in French educational

    institutions where multicultural and community involvement were predominant.

    Accordingly, she participated in a cultural immersion program in West Africa for a three-

    month period as part of the social sciences program of the Cégep Marie-Victorin. At the

    completion of her DEC, Annabelle returned to West Africa and conducted her own

    humanitarian project in a center for disabled children. Her work as a French monitor and

    promotion agent of bilingual Canadian culture in a small community in the Canadian

    Northwest Territories motivated her to begin training in music therapy.


    The French-Canadian Lullabies Project would have not been possible without the

    support and help of the following individuals and groups: Dr. Bloom for the provision of

    voice lessons and precious insight about the interpretation of folk repertoire; Dr. Lee for

    his knowledge in arranging and composing; The World Federation of Music Therapy

    (WFMT), who promote the wonderful and essential profession of music therapy and for

    whom this project was conducted, and Dr. Clements-Cortes for her trust and support in

    all of my education and personal development, and for her complete devotion to our

    music therapy program at the University of Windsor and Music Therapy domain around

    the world. Finally, I want to say thank you to my parents who transmitted me the pride

    and love of my culture, especially my mom who rocked me with those songs filled with

    the history of my country and its people.

  • French-Canadian Folk Songs



    This essay provides an overview of French-Canadian lullabies and folk music,

    including information about major influential cultural groups, folk song collections, and

    an analysis of selected lullabies and folk songs.

    Folk songs are the product of unknown creators that performed alone or in a

    group, in order to share in a very intimate way of everyday life. They are transmitted

    orally from generation to generation. The three major groups of influence on French-

    Canadian folk music are French, English and Gaelic. Those cultures influenced the

    genres, the accompaniment instruments, the structure and even the lyrics of the French-

    Canadian folk music. This complex world inspired many collectors of folk songs, such as

    Marius Barbeau, a Canadian icon on the anthropology and folkloric international scene.

    French-Canadian folk lullabies are a tradition of love and peace, and they lulled

    thousands of infants and mothers. Other folk songs also have been used as lullabies,

    telling the story of our ancestors’ everyday life challenges. The way settlers and their

    descendants have made those songs truly Canadian and representative of our own special

    reality is remarkable.

    “An old song is a song ever young…” Poston & Arma, 1972.

  • French-Canadian Folk Songs



    About the author 1

    Acknowledgement 1

    Abstract 2

    Introduction 6


    Definition and categorization of folk music 8

    Folk music vs. Modern music 9


    Canada: A multicultural country since the very beginning 14

    French Canadian Folk Music and its influences 14

    The collectors of French folk songs in Canada 17


    Lullabies: The most personal of all folk songs… 22

    Examples of French-Canadian lullabies 23

    Other folk songs that can be used as lullabies 25

    Conclusion 30

    List of appendices

    Appendix A 32

    Appendix B 33

    Appendix C 34

    Appendix D 36

    Appendix E 37

    Appendix F 38

    Appendix G 39

    Appendix H 40

    Appendix I 41

    Appendix J 42

    Appendix K 43

    Appendix L 44

    References 45

  • French-Canadian Folk Songs



    Most people remember lullabies their mother sang to them as babies, or even later

    in their lives in moments of distress. Lullabies are powerful, and it is not a coincidence:

    Because we are exposed to them in the early month of life and even before birth, lullabies

    are engraved in our subconscious memory. Their “rocking meter and slower tempi […]

    are conducive to relaxation, and the lyrics usually convey words of peace, comfort and

    love” (WFMT, 2012). Lullabies are found in all cultures because they are part of the

    intimate relation between a caregiver and an infant and they vary substantially throughout

    the world.

    In Canada, the most popular lullabies are from European countries to the

    exception of some lullabies coming from the diverse aboriginal nations (Fowke & Green,

    2012). It is important to mention that only a few of the native lullabies are well known

    among the average Canadian, such as Ani Couni Chaouani, an Iroquois lullaby

    ( The great cultural

    diversity in Canada can be observed in its folkloric history. Songs, tales and rituals

    demonstrate the interactions between the diverse cultural groups present since the very

    beginning (Klymasz, 2012). This essay will discuss French-Canadian folk music, its

    influences, the collection of folk songs and some of the most known and appreciated

    lullabies and other folk songs. There are three sections to this paper: First, the world of

    folk music; second, French-Canadian folkloric cultural influences and the collectors of

    folk songs; and finally, the analyses of a selection of French-Canadian lullabies and other

    folk songs.

    Part I: Folk Music – Definition and Specifications

    Definition and Categorization of Folk Music

    In his work, A folk song history of America, Forcucci (1984) describes folk songs

    as “the songs of the people” (p.16). Those songs are creations of one or more individuals,

    and the creative process can be collective, individual, or a mixture of both. It is the use

    of human expression in order to describe one’s way of life (Forcucci, 1984). Because the

    purpose of folk song is to describe human experiences, it is not surprising that a variety

    of folk songs exist. Perhaps there is no consensus in how folk song should be categorized

    among cultures, but here are some examples of the different types of folk songs: work

    songs; love songs; drinking songs; cradle songs; play songs; songs of mourning, etcetera.

    Respectively, Poston & Arma (1972) in The Faber book of French folk songs organized

    the folk repertoire according to the categories shown in the following table: Categories of folk songs

    Marching songs

    Love songs (such as À la Claire Fontaine)

    Songs of Marriage

    Lullabies (such as Fais dodo)

    Children’s song

    Action songs (such as Nous n’irons plus au bois)

    Work songs

  • French-Canadian Folk Songs


    Sailors songs

    Songs of season and occasion

    Christmas songs

    Drinking songs

    Songs of history

    Funny songs.

    The way folk songs are created or categorized varies, but the way they are

    transmitted is almost always the same: It is “passed on from person to person, group to

    group, generation to generation” (Forcucci, 1984, p.16). How folk songs are transmitted

    directly impacts the songs themselves: Because folk songs are orally transmitted, they are

    easy to modify and to adapt to one’s personal taste and/or to a particular situation.

    Moreover, when the songs are sung, some words or part of the tune can be misheard or

    forgotten. Therefore, folk songs are not fixed in time; they evolve and change through

    transmission. In the same way, folk songs “are ordinarily the product of an unknown

    person or group of persons” (Forcucci, 1984, p.18). Altogether, folk songs are a way in

    which people recount their everyday experiences and worries through their most intimate

    instrument; their own voice.

    Folk music vs. Modern Music

    Above was a short simple definition of what folk songs are, but defining folk

    music is more complex than that. In fact, people still use music as a way to express

    themselves. But why is their music not considered folk music? In order to understand

    this, the differences between modern music and folk music will be explored.

    Purpose of the Compositions

    Folk songs are very personal and are particular to


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