University of Louisiana at Lafayette student John Guidry. (Nichole Osinski / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, March 04, 2013 9:24 AM
Lake Charles native John Guidry is the sole student enrolled in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s new traditional music bachelor’s degree program.
The traditional music degree was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents last year. Along with traditional music, a music business program was also created — something Guidry said more students gravitated toward. However, Guidry said he has noticed a mounting interest in Cajun music and culture overall.
“Traditional music down here is pretty prevalent and students are excited about it,” Guidry said.
Guidry’s interest in Louisiana-style music started while growing up in Southwest Louisiana. His family owned a Cajun-influenced restaurant in Lake Charles and at an early age he started playing the guitar and harmonica. Along with the influence of Cajun music and culture, he also was introduced to the blues.
At age 18, Guidry traveled around the country and immersed himself in various forms of traditional music. In Colorado he was influenced by the bluegrass scene. When it came time for college studies, Guidry took his growing love for Cajun music and culture back to Louisiana.
“When you move away or leave something, you don’t know you love it until you leave it,” he said. “Along the way I fell in love with Cajun music.”
Guidry started out his freshman year at ULL planning to major in French. But when ethnomusicologist Mark DeWitt told Guidry about the new music program opening in the 2012 fall semester, he quickly switched majors.
DeWitt — who helped start the program — is the inaugural holder of the Dr. Tommy Comeaux Endowed Chair in Traditional Music. The late Comeaux, a musician and pathologist, is the reason the program was initiated. After Comeaux’s death in 1997 his friends set out to form a $1 million endowed chair in traditional music within ULL. In 2008, after numerous campaign events and a matching program through the state, the goal was met and the School of Music began preparing for the new installment.
Guidry’s classes focus on Cajun and Creole French dance music where songs are learned by ear. The program also encompasses traditional music history, theory and literacy among others. To assist in his studies Guidry plans to minor in French and/or an area related to traditional studies.
He has private instruction with area musicians and is part of the university’s traditional ensemble where he plays harmonica. He is also taking accordion lessons.
Guidry said he wants to use his degree to either teach or promote Cajun music in Lake Charles. He hopes to eventually provide young people who have an interest in Cajun culture an outlet for their creativity — just like the university’s music concentration has provided him.
“It’s different from what you usually see in a university music program,” said DeWitt. “The purpose of this program is to help nurture the music so it keeps going.”