Music and language brings educator full circle

Music and francophone culture have come full circle in Juliane Breton’s life.

Breton says that her connection to her language always seemed like less of a priority when she was younger, but as she grew and as she experienced more of the francophone culture, its importance became clear.

“It wasn't cool,” she says. "Everyone at home and all my teachers were speaking French but most of my friends were speaking English."

Now, her work with high school music students at École secondaire catholique Thériault gives her a chance to impart that connection to another generation of music lovers through songs and language.

Breton grew up in a francophone home with dance classes. She played guitar in her youth and was a student in the Theriault music program during high school.

Her path toward the tech side of performances started with the work of her father, who was well-known in the community for his technical work in sound and light.

“He was extremely busy on the weekends, and he was very dedicated to his work, and I was always really curious as to what that entailed,” she says. “I started seeing him at my dance recitals and I would ask ‘what are you doing?’ and he would say ‘I’m playing your music and I’m making you look good on stage with the lights.'”

She started learning more about how to make these performances sound and look good.

“With the music comes the tech stuff, and that was what really influenced my decision to follow my path to post secondary,” she says. “The goal was always to take my dad’s position, because this was his job prior to my filling it, so it’s a family affair.”

Her curiosity about his work and her own love of music blended together and she pursued an education at Collège Boréal Sudbury in sound and lighting engineering.

“I love the environment of the arts, and music and theatre and all that stuff, it just speaks to me,” she says. “I love making it sound and look good.”

During her time there, while working in customer service, the need for francophone connections shone brightly for her.

“Right when I graduated, I had to get a job and pay the rent, and I realized my French language is important to me,” she says. “I was working in Canadian Tire in Sudbury and there were a couple of customers that would come in and ask for French service, and they would come to me because I was the only one who knew how to fluently speak French.”

Eventually, she found work with Radio Canada, and it opened a new perspective on the French language throughout Ontario and the rest of the country for her.

“As soon as I got that mindset, that we have to fight for our language, one of my teachers had my name in his back pocket, and he got me the opportunity to work at Radio Canada as a radio tech,” she said. “You hear about it all over Canada, and that job deepened the passion I had to keep my language alive in me, and to see its value.”

She said there is some apprehension among the francophone community about accents and it can stop people from embracing it.

“In high school, I was really insecure in my language because I thought I had an accent compared to people from other places,” she says. “If you understand me speaking French, I will keep speaking French to you.”

This passion translates to her love of music as well.

“There’s this idea that the music is old French or European french,” she says. “But we have franco-Ontarian artists who are absolutely exceptional and they don’t have the resources available to them as easily as English music does.”

Now, she’s helping the program that gave her her start reach new heights. She’s always amazed by the students at Theriault and their ability to adapt and bring new life to Franco-Ontarian music.

Breton says that connection and access to music in French is something she’s passionate about, as, while these students have easier access to music than ever before, finding francophone songs and artists can be challenging.

“You really have to dig for French successes and French artists,” she says. “I want them to have access to these artists, and be able to look them up and find them, and expose them to the beauty of it.”

Events like the provincial festival Quand ça nous chante give students and the wider community a chance to dive into the franco-Ontario music scene.

“Some of the students are even brave enough to reach out on social media for chords or lyrics to these artists,” she says. “Nine times out of 10 they get an answer!”

Breton says that language and music are similar in many ways, but the need to keep up with both is a big factor.

“It’s extremely important that they don’t lose that,” she said. “It’s so easy to lose it, you just have to keep going and practice makes perfect.”

These days, she’ll still pick up the guitar to help the students figure out chords and fill in when they need her, and she says that her love of it that she had as a student herself comes back in the classroom.

“I did play with them, but it’s very hard because I can’t be in two places at once,” she says. “Last weekend, I took out my electric guitar, and I’m taking in my 12-string guitar for the students to learn on too.”

She says that she’s met the goals she’s set for herself and that her current position is where she wants to be.

“This was the end goal, now I just take it a day at a time,” she says. “It’s good to know it’s all worth it.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,