Music and song have always been an important part of Acadian culture. Music education has existed in Acadia since the 1860s. School and college choirs have enjoyed great success, and classically trained Acadian musicians have distinguished themselves on the world stage. Acadian singers have become very popular, with some even managing to make a career in Europe. Acadian music is very diverse, not only in New Brunswick but also in the other Atlantic provinces, and musical culture throughout Acadia is vibrant.

Musical Legacy of the Acadian People

Music and song have always been an important part of Acadian culture. The Acadians brought hundreds of old French songs, many of which were originally accompanied by dances, to each region of the Maritime provinces in which they settled.

Thanks to data gathered by the French linguist Geneviève Massignon and later by Canadian researchers at Université Laval, Université de Moncton and the National Museums of Canada we know that traditional Acadian music includes over 1,000 different songs (see Acadian Folklore Studies). This musical heritage has provided and continues to provide endless material for musicians and composers.

Role of Educational Institutions

Music education has existed in Acadia since the first classical college was founded in New Brunswick in 1864. At Collège Saint-Joseph in Memramcook and later Collège du Sacré-Cœur in Caraquet (1899) and Bathurst (1916), choirs that performed at religious ceremonies were formed, as well as bands, called “fanfares,” that participated in celebrations and parades. Father André-Thaddée Bourque, a music teacher at Collège Saint-Joseph in the early 20th century, wrote a number of Acadian patriotic songs. His works — “Évangéline,” “Le Pêcheur Acadien” and “La Marseillaise Acadienne”— were included in music education in Maritime schools and colleges for many years. In Nova Scotia, Acadians received music education at Collège Sainte-Anne after it was founded in 1890.

Choral singing became popular in Acadia with the arrival of choirmaster Léandre Brault (a Québec-born Holy Cross priest) in 1946 and with the opening of Collège Notre-Dame-d’Acadie in Moncton three years later (see Chorale de l’Université de Moncton; Music at Notre-Dame-d’Acadie). Male and female Acadian choirs won a number of international awards in the 1950s and 1960s under the leadership of choirmasters Léandre Brault, Neil Michaud, Florine Després, and Lorette Gallant (see Jeunes chanteurs d’Acadie).

Classically Trained Acadian Musicians

Many classically trained Acadian musicians made a name for themselves internationally. Benoît Poirier, born in Prince Edward Island in 1882, composed approximately 50 organ works while he was the organist at the Notre-Dame Church in Montréal. Anna Malenfant, born in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick, in 1902, also made a career in Montréal after completing her studies in Europe. She sang at the Variétés lyriques, played the lead in the opera Carmen, and performed in a number of operas in Montréal. She was a member of the Trio lyrique for 30 years under the leadership of Lionel Daunais.

The violinist Arthur Leblanc, born in New Brunswick in 1906, is perhaps the most famous Acadian musician of the 20th century. After studying music in France, he became first violin in the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris in 1935 and performed on the biggest stages of Europe and North America. However, his career was cut short by health problems that arose in 1953.

In singing, Rosemarie Landry of Caraquet, New Brunswick, distinguished herself in numerous groups and orchestras and was also a voice teacher at the Université de Montréal and the University of Toronto. Gloria Richard of Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, New Brunswick, also enjoyed national acclaim as a singer and teacher. Soprano Suzie LeBlanc of Moncton specializes in early music and is part of ensembles such as the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Today there is a new generation of singers, mostly graduates of Music at Université de Moncton, including the baritone Bruno Cormier, from Chéticamp, Nova Scotia, who made a career as a singer and organist.

Although most Acadian musicians have careers outside the Maritime provinces, harpsichordist Mathieu Duguay founded the Lamèque International Festival of Baroque Music in 1975, which takes place in Lamèque, on the Acadian Peninsula of New Brunswick.

Acadian Song

Acadian songwriters are highly popular in French Canada and some have even become well known in Europe. Donat Lacroix, born in 1937, has written popular songs such as Viens Voir l’Acadie. Calixte Duguay, born in 1939, has developed a poetic style of song that reflects his academic background in literature. He is best known for his song Les Aboiteaux and for his musicals Louis Mailloux and La Lambique.

Édith Butler, born in Paquetville, New Brunswick, in 1942 and Angèle Arsenault (1943–2014), born in Prince Edward Island, had long careers that took them all over Canada and Europe, and they produced albums that were highly successful, especially in Quebec. Edith Butler has popularized a number of traditional Acadian songs.

Edith Butler - Daughter of the Wind and Acadie by Monique LeBlanc, National Film Board of Canada

In 1975, the arrival of the musical group 1755 marked a turning point for Acadian pop music. With lyrics inspired by the Acadian dialect in Moncton, 1755’s songs were a fusion of rock, country and folk. Other Acadian groups such as Beausoleil Broussard and Panou have had short-lived success, but the leading members of 1755 are still active in the musical world: Pierre Robichaud has a solo career and is accompanied by various musicians, and Roland Gauvin formed new groups such as Les Méchants Maquereaux and, more recently, Roland Gauvin et la Grosse Band.

21st Century Musical Diversity

Acadian music is more diverse now than in the past. Several factors have contributed to this trend, such as the development of music education in schools (see School music), scholarships offered by Acadian cultural organizations, the creation of community broadcasting stations and access to electronic distribution networks.

The Université de Moncton’s music department has also become a place for talented young musicians to meet. Isabelle Thériault trained there and became a member of the female group Les Muses (1999–2004) and music director of the Ode à l'Acadie group (2004–2010). The group, formed for a show marking the 400th anniversary of Acadia in 2004, was a phenomenal success and contributed to the revival of Acadian music. The Gala de la Chanson de Caraquet, an annual competition held since 1969, continues to draw young talent. The members of the female trio The Hay Babies met there before forming in 2012.

Today, Acadian minority regions are fully involved in musical life. On Prince Edward Island, the Barachois, Gadelle and Vishten “revival” groups are giving new life to traditional songs through fresh instrumental arrangements, and Lennie Gallant is singing in both French and English. In southwestern Nova Scotia, the band Grand Dérangement is following in the footsteps of 1755 by writing traditional songs, while the Radio Radio rap duo (see Rap) are innovating and adapting Acadian texts to a style of music similar to hip-hop. Songwriter Ronald Bourgeois has long been an important figure in the Chéticamp, Cape Breton Island, music world, and musicians such as guitarist Maxim Cormier, pianist Joël Chiasson and singer Nicole LeBlanc are among the new generation of talented musicians.

Finally, singer and actress Marie-Jo Thério’s success in the last 20 years in both Québec and France has opened the door for a new generation of singer-songwriters. New Brunswick is seeing an explosion of musical talent that includes country singers such as Hert Le Blanc and George Belliveau, songwriters such as Pascal Lejeune, Danny Boudreau and Joseph Edgar, and such singers as Lina Boudreau, Lisa Le Blanc and Sandra Le Couteur. The internationally renowned folk singer Roch Voisine is also from New Brunswick.