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Bastille Day Reception Is Rich in Reminiscences

July 14, 2004 – It is said there is no French household without a musician, and Wednesday night was filled with evidence in support of that idea as French music and those who play it were honored at this year's Government House Bastille Day reception.
The event was part of French Heritage Week celebrations which commenced July 8 with the presentation of France's prestigious Ordre National du Merité to Sen Lorraine Berry for her contributions to the promotion of French culture in the territory. The observances will conclude on Saturday with the inauguration of the Frenchtown Museum, set to begin at 2 p.m.
The Government House ballroom was packed with about 200 celebrants.
Berry, who is chairing the week's festivities, talked about some of the bands that used to play on the North Side and in Frenchtown. "I remember when they would play in the neighborhood and come into our homes," she said, lamenting that the practice no longer exists. "They formed inter-family groups and some eventually formed their own bands," she said, by way of introducing the evening's entertainment.
"This is a 'get-together' band," she said, presenting her husband, Richard Berry, and Ronnie Bryan, Ralph Quetel and Percy Nurse. They played a couple of traditional tunes, setting the tenor for an evening rich in reminiscences.
Nurse was borrowed for the occasion from the popular Ten Sleepless Nights scratch band to play the banjo. Richard Berry played accordion, Bryan was on guitar and Quetel provided percussion with the quero, a small, gourd-like instrument.
Lorraine Berry and Clement "Cain" Magras were mistress and master of ceremonies. Magras gave a rundown of French music. "Francesca Greve [of Berry's staff] asked me two nights ago to do this," he said. "Thank heaven for the Internet!"
Magras briefly traced the musical history of the French as they migrated across the Atlantic to Trinidad, and then up to St. Barths and on to St. Thomas. In the early years, St. Barth's was an inhospitable and harsh place to live, he said, but the French spirit persevered with the making of music out of whatever was handy.
Some of the more creative instruments from that era will be displayed in the Frenchtown Museum, including the tambourine of the late Sebastian Greaux of the Carenage Troubadours.
Sen. Berry introduced two young women, saying they would have been candidates for the 2004 French Queen crown, except that the contest this year was called off for what she called a "lack of interest." "The young ladies just didn't get into the spirit this year," she said.
However, if the spirits of Jamie Steffens and Shenelle Brin were daunted, it didn't show. "We will be in next year's contest," Brin said, "or at least I will; Jamie's too old."
Her remark brought the desired laughter. Both said they plan to compete next year, but Jamie will be returning to do so from Michigan State University, where she begins her freshman year this fall. She was this year's valedictorian at Sts. Peter and Paul High School. Shenelle is an 11th grader at All Saints Cathedral School.
Odile de Lyrot, honorary French consul, traced the Virgin Islands connection to French music — adding that it may be recognized at a French festival next year. Although de Lyrot claims to be a singer and said that singing Beatles songs helped her learn English, she declined to offer a tune.
Gov. Charles W.Turnbull gave the closing remarks, and welcomed the upcoming addition of the Frenchtown Museum to the territory as "an integral part of the Virgin Islands."
The evening was topped off with the presentation of 54 awards to local French musicians, living and deceased. Berry said the list might not be complete. "There are undoubtedly far more music makers who would not even call themselves musicians, because making music was as natural to them as breathing," she said.

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