Va-et-vient honors its Franco-American roots

Music has been used as a way to communicate and connect for a long time ? a way to come and go freely across cultures, borders and languages. The best part is that you don’t have to have a fancy degree or know all your scales; all you need to make music is the passion (a sense of rhythm helps, too).
The local trio Va-et-vient ? appropriately translated from French as “go-and-come” ? is inspired by the members’ Franco-American roots. With backgrounds rich in French culture and language, Carol Reed, Suzanne Germain and Lausanne Allen create beautiful harmonies, while teaching and engaging audiences on both sides of the Quebec border with their French, Québecois, Cajun and Créole music.
Much of their inspiration stems from Martha Pellerin ? whose life’s work was keeping traditional Québecois music alive in Vermont. Pellerin organized the Rassemblement des Artistes Franco-Americain, which helped reconnect Reed, Germain and Allen to their interest in French heritage. Pellerin died at the age of 39. Reed and Germain connected at her memorial service in 1998 (Allen was there too) and have been making music together since.
A few years later, in 2001, Reed, Germain and George Dunne of Lincoln, founded Va-et-Vient. Dunne left his spot as the group’s accordion player after 14 years in 2015.
“Some of our members go and come,” said Reed. Allen joined in when Dunne stepped out.
Three women is a different mix for this group, but after a year, all is well. “We’re loving it,” said Reed, who plays guitar and sings. “Three part harmonies with three female voices is an exceptional experience.”
“Lausanne is the professional,” Reed assured. “We’ve learned our music education through her.”
Sure, that’s true; Allen studied music at Reed College from 1970-73then went on to study North Indian Classical music at the Ali Akbar College of Music in Marin County, California. But there’s no doubt about any of their musical professionalism; it is honestly the last thing you think about when they begin to play. Their joyous music is filled with deep history and an unrestrained, soulful rhythm ? it’s impossible not to smile, let alone keep your toes from tapping.
Allen comes from a musical family. Her maternal grandfather, Guillaume Henri LaBombarde, had roots in Quebec; he played and called for dances in the Etna, N.H., area before she was born. Her uncle Clarence, a.k.a. “Woody,” played with “Woody and the Ramblers” (a local band). He’s the one who got Allen started; one night he put his4-year-old niece up on a barstool and had her sing “Bimbo.”
“That’s when I knew I had the ‘performance gene’ and I couldn’t deny it,” said Allen. “I was always making up melodies and playing them on imaginary instruments,humming and singing when I could.”
Allen didn’t get the fiddle she asked for in fifth grade, so she played trombone in the marching band at Hartford High School instead.
She then turned to an intense study of oral traditions in North Indian Classical musicthrough her college years, but she gave it up after attending her first contra dance in New Hampshire in 1975. “Here were musicians playing the traditional music of my culture ? and without sheet music and music stands ? improvising within the framework of the demands of the dance,” Allen explained. “I was hooked and left Indian music and California behind to settle back in my home state and take up the fiddle in earnest.”
Allen’s been calling dances since the late ‘80s , traveling around the country calling coast to coast and north to south, as well as touring with nationally recognized bands for several years. She recently called a dance for the Spice on Snow Festival in Montpelier ? and soon will call another for the annual Governor’s Institute at Goddard College in Plainfield.
“I love the role of the caller at a dance,” she said. “My role is to welcome people in and help them find their ease on the dance floor, to choose dances that bring out the best in the dancers and make the hall hum with the best music possible.”
Allen is also a private music teacher. She houses too many instruments to count at her South Starksboro home, where she lives with her husband, Brian Anderson, (an accomplished and impressive blacksmith), their long-haired Chihuahua, Lailee, and a flock of foul.
Germain plays all the fun and funky instruments, like the spoons and the washboard, oh, and her feet. Her parents are from Quebec and she grew up in a French-speaking household. They moved to South Burlington when she was 11.
“There were no musicians on either side of my family,” said Germain. “My father couldn’t sing but he adored music.”
Germain, on the other hand, has a natural gift for music. It’s not forced or over-practiced; her low, almost raspy voice brings a depth you wouldn’t expect from such a petit person. And her clatter-crack-cracks on the washboard drive the songs in a comfortable and easy rhythm.
But Germain didn’t pursue music professionally. She earned her nursing degree from the University of Vermont first in 1976, then got her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in ‘85, her Women’s Health Nurse practitioner license in ‘92 and most recently her Master’s in 2013.
She and her husband, Dr. Ed Clark ? they’ve been married for 31 years and raised two daughters ? started Mountain Health Center in Bristol in 1986. Since then, she’s worked there part-time as a nurse Practitioner. For 24 years she also worked part-time at Planned Parenthood. Dr. Clark retired in 2010, but Germain still works at the Bristol health center part-time; she also volunteers at Open Door Clinic in Middlebury.
Germain has no formal music training. She learns as she travels. The Lincoln resident worked as a nurse in Mexico for three years, in Nicaragua for one year, in Switzerland for nine months and has volunteered in Peru, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia and Honduras. While working as a nurse she was also collecting music. “I know tons of songs,” she said. That’s an understatement. It also helps that she is fluent in French, Enligh and Spanish.
“My passion is music,” Germain said. She also sings with WomenSing, an a cappella group that focuses on world music. But Va-et-vient’s music is in her history. “This group focuses on French music,” she said. “I grew up with Quebec traditional music ? it’s in me.”
Reed grew up in Stamford, Conn., but she spent her sixth-grade year living in Lausanne, Switzerland ? yup, it’s a strange coincidence that Reed plays with Lausanne Allen ? and that’s where she learned how to speak French.
She came to Middlebury College and continued her study of French, spending her junior spring in Paris, studying and playing the guitar in the Métro. Before she left, she had met her first husband, a French-Moroccan street musician; together they had a son before Reed graduated college in ‘79.
“Following graduation, we traveled in Europe and Morocco performing street music,” said Reed. “But the marriage was short-lived.”
In 1982, Reed returned to Vermont and two years later bought her home in Leicester, where she raised her son Louis and daughter Sonia Kulhowvick, (the music teacher at Mary Hogan Elementary in Middlebury).
Through the ‘80s, Reed was a weaver. But after loosing her weaving fabrics, loom and woven peices in a tragic house fire in ‘88, she switched gears, went back to school for four years and received her Master’s in Education in French from Castleton. Oh, and she married Richard Reed in ‘91.
“I discovered that I could teach French more easily, especially to young students, through music and dance,” said Reed, which works out well for her theatrical personality. French is only one of Reed’s languages; the list includes Spanish, German and a bit of Italian and Arabic.
Reed taught French at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne for 20 years. Now she travels to teach French at Williamstown Middle and High School, where her students (grades 8-12) are learning to sing and dance for Mardi Gras.
Through it all, Reed has always been involved with music. She was in the rock band “Lazyboy and the Recliners” in the ‘80s, did some folk music at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and has been performing French music with Germain since 1998.
“Suzanne and I travel to several traditional music festivals north of the border each year,” Reed said. “I love to flirt with the 80-year-old friends in Québec who are renowned keepers of traditional songs.We’ve received an incredible reception from Québecois musicians, who always teach us new songs.”
Just this past fall, Reed and Germain took two weeks to travel to Paris and Brittany. “We stayed with musicians,” Reed said. “Performed in a pub and in the Paris Métro, and participated in Breton singing and dancing circles.”
“For me the most important part is a huge sense of empowerment,” said Reed. “I can sing things that are important to me.”
Wherever they travel, whatever their experiences, Reed, Germain and Allen are sure to soak up a little something and add it to their repertoire of Franco-American music. Catch Va-et-vient live in their occasional gigs in Addison County (look for them in our calendar) as well as at Contois Auditorium in Burlington at 4 p.m. on March 20 ? it’s International Francophonie Day! Want to plan a trip north across the border? Go see Va-et-vient performing in Quebec on March 4 and again on April 8. Learn more at www.vaetvient.net/shows.

Share this story:

More News

Bernard D. Kimball, 76, of Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)

News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Share this story: