By Julie Gagnon Prior
“When things get overwhelming, I find listening to music energizes, relaxes and helps me put things back in perspective.” Lynne Carver, South Hero, October, 2019.
Before we get started, take a look at the photo below. It was taken June 2019, within the walls of the South Hero Bicentennial Museum. In it, my Dad is presenting a fiddle to Teresa Robinson.
Years ago, the fiddle belonged to my great, great grampa, Joe LaRose. Joe owned a blacksmith shop just a couple doors up from the museum. After he died, the fiddle was passed down to his daughter Laura’s son, my Grampa Joseph A. Gagnon. The wish that went with the fiddle was that it would continue to be passed through the upcoming generations to the family musician who showed the most interest in playing the instrument. Before my Grampa passed, he handed the fiddle down to my pa, Joseph B. Gagnon. Unfortunately, none of the children or grandchildren in my family play the instrument. Dad thought it right to return the fiddle to the town where it first came from so many years ago.
As a side note, on the same day of the instrument gift, a cousin also donated a fully intact, gorgeous quilt that was made by Joe Larose’s wife, Linda Mae (Savage) LaRose.
On another side note, in case some of you are wondering, “What is the difference between a fiddle and a violin?” Well, the real answer is that you don’t spill beer on a violin, as stated by my Dad).
Music, to me, is the truest form of magic that exists. It has the ability to take one into flight, escaping high above a collapsing darkness shrouding us where we stand. It can also heal us through validation, support and hope, whether it be the journey of the instrumentals or the path of the lyrics.
It may sound like I am very knowledgeable about music. Ironically, out of about four generations, on my Father’s side, I am one of the least talented in any musical skill or intelligence. I am, however, an expert of feeling and enjoying the power and beauty that it conveys.
Since I was born, music has been one of the glues within our family, and I have been and continue to be surrounded by exceptionally talented artists.
My pa started picking and grinning when he was eleven years old. His father heard him plunking on a plastic ukulele and decided to buy him a guitar. Dad took off from there, from swapping skills learned with Bobby Lavigne to playing with Bonnie Raitt at her sound man’s house, which happened to be two houses away from where we lived in Jericho.
Jam sessions were almost every week at our house. One of my favorite memories is going to bed and lying there listening to the magic flowing from the many musicians loving life in the living room.
Coming from a family of eight, the musical talent within our house was amazing! Dad played any stringed instrument; Mom, Kathy and the twins sang, and the twins played piano; Bob followed in Pa’s footprints with the insane guitar picking; Joe learned to play the drums; and I…well, let’s just say that I had much more success with a soccer ball then anything musical.
Holidays and family get-togethers always ended in a jam session. My grampa always played the harmonica. Damn do I miss him and his harmonica.
The talent continues to run through the blood of the next generation of Gagnons! My kids, niece and nephews are all extremely talented – almost weird-like talented. But, let it be known that I am still better than any of them with a soccer ball.
Personally, I believe that there are two major contributors to the quality of musicians within my family. One of course is natural ability, and hard work. The second, I believe is a result of acceptance.
My parents were quite strict and they didn’t have much money. However, music was never restricted due to genre, sound or lyrics. Because of this, our home was filled with sounds from Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, The Commodores, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Joe Wise, CCR, The Beatles, Abba and more. And because of this, all of us kids were exposed to the genres and artists enjoyed by our siblings or parents, ultimately teaching us so much more then we would have learned in a restricted household.
Despite the financial aspect, my folks had three stereos, all with headphones, spread throughout the house. This way, all six kids could take turns listening to our preferred music while working on homework.
Around the same time that I asked Lynn Carver for a quote about music, I also asked another friend, Sue Straight. Her response was a hand-written card and some pages that she pulled out of a Reader’s Digest from June of 2018. Among her personal message about the meaning of music, Sue wrote, “It’s been my therapy for 13 years.”
How powerful is just that one statement?
Now it’s with a heavy, loving sigh that I share my most recent “music” experience with you, which happened just this morning. Staying at my folks’ house for a few days, I’m quite ill and they are my proxies, I was able to sit up on the couch this morning and write. As my Pa sat in the chair next to me and we were drinking coffee, I asked him to verify some of the info that I wanted to include in the piece. While we were talking, the phone rang. It was Dolly. Dolly is my Dad’s friend Forest’s wife. Turns out she was calling him to discuss Pa visiting her husband at a nursing home today. When Dad got off the phone, I asked him if he thought Forest who has Alzheimer’s, would recognize him. Dad replied that Dolly thought he would and with that he got out of his chair to get ready to leave.
I opened my laptop and started to write this piece. Having not read the Reader’s Digest pages yet, I took them in my hand. The title is “13 Incredible Ways Music Benefits You.”
Something in my head made me want to read the 13th way first. Flipping to the last page, I read it and then yelled out to see if my Pa was still here. He was!
I read to him the 13th way…
“Maybe you’ve heard about Alzheimer’s patients coming alive when they hear a song from their past. Studies show that music helps them retrieve memories, communicate more effectively, and remember who they are.”
See, the reason that my Pa and Forest are such good friends is that they have been making music together for well over 50 years…Forest played Fiddle.
Already planning to bring his guitar with him to the nursing home, I am sure that hearing those words touched Dad’s heart.
Music is magic. A magic that started my Dad’s friendship with Forest and a magic that is going to help them both on their journey today.
Julie Gagnon Prior
Julie Gagnon Prior resides in Grand Isle with her partner Carl and their 5 dogs. Prior has been battling Lyme Disease for several years, which she