Darke County Center for the Arts’ mission states that the organization exists to encourage cultural enrichment. While I agree wholeheartedly with that lofty statement, I can also agree that the sentiment sounds somewhat stuffy and boring. However, seventh-generation Creole and master musician Terrance Simien and his band totally disproved that theory with their amazing performances in Darke County this past week. When Terrance and his crew presented “The History of Zydeco” to fourth through sixth grade students in all local public schools as part of DCCA’s Arts In Education series, that culturally enriching experience just seemed like a whole lot of fun, described by one young lad as “the best I ever seen!”
Terrance is a force of nature, energetically generating good will. He opened the show by proudly declaring that zydeco is the music of his people, the Creoles, who are largely responsible for the rich culture of Louisiana that includes zydeco music as well as gumbo and jambalaya. After explaining that the two lead instruments in a traditional zydeco band are the accordion and the frottoir or rubboard, Terrance stated that he had brought with him another Louisiana tradition, and would be throwing beads to the crowd just as is done at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He went on to say that, “if you don’t want to see a boring show,” the band would need energy generated by the audience, then urged the students to respond by “screaming as loud as you can.” And when given a signal, the crowd appropriately went wild.
While kids were grinning, waving their arms, and dancing in their seats, they were also learning history and geography as well as how music communicates across barriers such as language, transcending boundaries and time to create bonds between disparate demographics. Terrance introduced the songs of Zydeco pioneer Amede Ardoin. which were sung in French, with the following remark: “You won’t understand it, but you’re gonna feel it.” Although a few French words and phrases were learned during the show, Terrance’s prediction pretty much sums up what took place doing this remarkable Arts In Education encounter,
The youngsters learned about Clifton Chenier, the “King of Zydeco” who invented the frottoir to replace the original inclusion of a washboard as a musical instrument, and was the first zydeco artist to earn a Grammy Award, the highest honor given recording artists. Terrance and The Zydeco Experience Band have themselves won two Grammy Awards, one of which travels with the group as they proudly proclaim the significance of their indigenous music to audiences of all ages.
A few lucky students were asked become a part of the band as they strapped on frottoirs and rhythmically contributed to the festive mix. Terrance distributed Mardi Gras beads, throwing the colorful strands into the crowd who seemed to prize their catches just as much as New Orleans revelers celebrating Fat Tuesday. Terrance told his audience that he was not from the city where Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades and big parties, but from the country where the traditional festivities are somewhat like Halloween Trick or Treating. Costumed celebrants move from house to house, collecting live chickens, live ducks, and money, all of which is used for a community celebration on Mardi Gras night featuring music and gumbo and good times.
The Creole flag uses the French fleur de lis, the flag of Mali, the star of Senegal, and the Spanish Colonial Tower of Castille to represent the mix of cultures contributing to Creole ethnicity and heritage, providing a visual depiction of the cultural diversity contributing to the ethos of Louisiana revered around the globe. Terrance announced that he is part French, part Spanish, part native American, part African, and part German, and proud to own jambalaya DNA having inherited a gumbo of cultures. Terrance Simien’s lush representation of his people and their music also displays the depth of diversity that contributes so richly to our country and the world, a lesson that students will remember long ofter the bead-throwing, rockin’ “best I ever seen” assembly is a distant memory.
Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.