Caribbean Quadrilles in Vermont


This was filmed on August 10, 2012, in Brookfield, Vermont, USA, by ethnographer Nathan Paine.

edited from PETER MANUEL: “Contradance and Quadrille Culture in the Caribbean”:

Today as before, quadrilles are played by a variety of characteristic ensembles, many of them assembling in an ad hoc, informal manner where precise instrumentation depends on availability of performers. Quadrille groups might include fiddle, clarinet, flute, concertina, and various percussion instruments, such as tambourine, triangle, and scraped jawbone of a horse.

Quadrille melodies, like those of Caribbean contradances, are predominantly European in character, although they may be enlivened by conventional improvised embellishments and syncopations, as when St. Lucian fiddlers alternate phrases (and often renditions of a given tune fragment) in binary and ternary meter. The structure of individual movements in a suite is often informal; Jocelyne Guilbault notes how a fiddler may construct a section by freely repeating or alternating two or three short tunes.

In some cases, the fiddler may seem to be playing melodic fragments rather than full-blown, eight-bar melodies. Quadrille tunes in Guadeloupe and Martinique often consist of arpeggiated ostinatos rather than song-like melodies or sectional passages.

The quadrille (kwadril)  is still performed by groups in Martinique and Guadeloupe, who alternate hosting balls incor-
porating enthusiasts of different generations and social backgrounds. Guilbault notes that the relatively old age of quadrille participants in St.Lucia does not necessarily indicate stagnation but rather reflects that many people take an interest in the genre only as they age.

Perhaps at an informal soirée in 1790 in Port-au-Prince one might encounter some local whites dancing a French-style contredanse to English jigs and reels provided by a fiddler and flautist serving on a visiting British merchant vessel; a local
Franco-Haitian fiddler then joins the musicians and later teaches the tunes to his own friends.

Outside the city, on a plantation in the nearby countryside, three musically inclined slaves from Dahomey, Yorubaland, and the Congo are playing together on some drums the local Dahomeyans have built; while their own traditional rhythms are all somewhat distinct from each other, they soon settle on one based around a pattern that is at least implicitly extant in the traditions of all three. Meanwhile, the trio, with their master’s encouragement, has also learned to approximate a few contredanses on the two fiddles and a tambourine available in the “big house.”

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