By ERIC X. VICCARO
La Guignolee won’t be the same this year, and you can thank the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic for that.
French creole fiddle player Dennis Stroughmatt will perform “La Guignolee” at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31.
Stroughmatt’s performance will take place in the Church of Ste. Genevieve, giving him ample space to be heard.
He will play the La Guignolee beggar’s song — along with a handful of other French selections.
“It’s a lot of pressure, to be honest,” Stroughmatt said regarding his upcoming show. “The traditional performance will not happen. But, the tradition is still extremely important.”
Stroughmatt said he learned how to perform these tunes watching and listening to Charlie Pashia, who played at dances in the Old Mines area near Potosi.
Pashia also appeared at folk festivals, and he was a national recording artist in the mid-1970s.
The beggar’s song serves as a cultural identity in southeast Missouri, with the upcoming stretch of days often seen as the “hardest time of year,” Stroughmatt said.
Because of the pandemic, Stroughmatt is strongly encouraging people to wear masks while he performs.
In addition to La Guignolee, Stroughmatt will perform other ballads, pieces designed to be played on a fiddle and some Christmastime selections.
According to custom dating back to the medieval era, La Guignolee (which can be pronounced a pair of ways) is performed by a troupe of male singers – who go door to door entertaining – and help to ring in a new year.
The tradition dates back to the 18th century here in Ste. Genevieve, with the likes of Pete Papin, wearing period clothing straight from colonial times, singing. Select men also play violin and mandolin.
Tour stops typically include the Valle School Gymnasium, the Old Brick, the Anvil, Louis Bolduc House, Knights of Columbus Hall and American Legion Post No. 150 — with performances commonly lasting until midnight.
Papin said a customary performance would have been impossible to pull off this year.
“With the virus, we didn’t want to take the chance of gathering a bunch of people together,” Papin said. “That’s the main thing.”
Papin added that it also has been common for the singing group to play at New Year’s Eve weddings.
Local singers have been recorded onto compact disc, and La Guignolee has been featured in regional publications such as Missouri Life (November/December 2019 edition).
There’s only one other American community where La Guignolee is performed, and that’s Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, which is 25 minutes by ferry and car from Ste. Genevieve.
Even though La Guignolee won’t take place to ring in 2021 – in the traditional sense – don’t be surprised if some folks in Ste. Genevieve break into song and keep the vibe going.