We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

River Music

An Atchafalaya Story

Ann McCutchan; With CD, Atchafalaya Soundscapes, by Earl Robicheaux

Publication Year: 2011

Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin, the heart and soul of Acadiana, or Cajun country, is the focus of this compelling narrative by Ann McCutchan. A masterful weaving of cultural and environmental history, River Music also tells the life story of Louisiana musician, naturalist, and sound documentarian Earl Robicheaux. With Robicheaux as her guide, McCutchan embarks on a musical, visual, literary, and historical tour of the Atchafalaya, where bayous, swamps, marshes, and river delta country have long sustained nature and culture, even as industry has changed both the landscape and the people. Along the way, she and Robicheaux pay homage to distinctive voices of the region’s singular soundscape, including Acadian and Native American elders, birds, frogs, alligators, wind, water, and weather, which Robicheaux chronicles in archival recordings and musical compositions for museum exhibits, radio programs, and repositories such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A CD of Robicheaux's soundscapes is included with the book. In counterpoint, McCutchan recounts Robicheaux’s remarkable struggles as a jazz and classical artist, Katrina victim, cancer survivor, and steadfast son of the Basin devoted to remembering, preserving, and sounding out the ecological and cultural riches of his home. An original blend of nature writing, music history, biography, journalism, and memoir, River Music: An Atchafalaya Story eloquently celebrates the one-and-half-million watery acres that have shaped the lives of the people there—and been transformed by them in return. An epilogue written in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the disastrous oil spill that followed provides a fitting and poignant coda to this memorable book.  

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Gulf Coast Books Series


pdf iconDownload PDF (193.7 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (228.1 KB)
pp. ix-xi

The Atchafalaya River Basin has fascinated me since the 1970s, when I lived as a marginally employed musician in New Orleans and, during my many off-hours, explored south Louisiana’s rich natural environment and diverse culture. When I left the state for better work, I merely crossed over into Texas, and though I’ve lived in other places since, I’ve...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (262.3 KB)
pp. xiii-xv

Besides Earl, I have plenty of people to thank, chief among them the individuals I interviewed for this book. Though I did not quote them all, every one contributed invaluably to the whole. They include Fr

read more

Chapter 1: Calls

pdf iconDownload PDF (556.2 KB)
pp. 1-16

Earl Robicheaux and I are driving east on I-10 in his little red pickup truck, slurping Community Coffee from to-go cups, chinning the irregular downbeats in The Rite of Spring. We don’t know which Louisiana Public Radio station is broadcasting Le Sacre midday—Lafayette...

read more

Chapter 2: Roots

pdf iconDownload PDF (519.5 KB)
pp. 17-33

For Earl, growing up in the Atchafalaya was more than the daily business of childhood. It encompassed resonances originating more than 250 years ago and still thrumming today. When, on the outing in Sherburne, I asked him for an example, he responded simply, “I carry it all with...

read more

Chapter 3: Wildlife

pdf iconDownload PDF (510.2 KB)
pp. 34-48

Before Earl and his parents moved to Robicheaux Street, they lived behind Adam’s barbershop on the Atchafalaya’s west bank in Berwick. The shop, on Front Street, was one block from the river, near the railroad bridge, so close you could hear the dusky foghorns and smell the fi shy water...

read more

Chapter 4: Basin Education

pdf iconDownload PDF (537.5 KB)
pp. 49-69

If frontier justice was alive in Earl’s lifetime, so was frontier education. Though the school boat days were long gone, Berwick High was sometimes short of teachers, and in 1969, when Earl enrolled there, hoping for instruction in biology, he signed up ...

read more

Chapter 5: Outsider Artist

pdf iconDownload PDF (460.0 KB)
pp. 70-84

Faced with a choice between becoming a mud engineer and anything else, Earl Robicheaux embarked on a twenty-year odyssey that took him away from home and back, twice. Like his biology teacher Randy Dooley’s two sojourns, one of Earl’s trips to “the outside” was short, the other long, and..

read more

Chapter 6: Austin

pdf iconDownload PDF (460.8 KB)
pp. 85-103

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1989, Earl and Vickie pulled into an apartment complex at Ben White and First Street, a busy corner in south Austin. Earl had rented a unit there, sight unseen, on the promise of trees, but the next morning he realized...

read more

Chapter 7: Return to the Basin

pdf iconDownload PDF (528.7 KB)
pp. 104-118

A few months after Earl moved to Houston, Eula, now eighty, fell and broke her shoulder. Earl quit his engineering assistant’s job at Stone & Webster, closed up his apartment, and went back to Berwick for two months to care for her. As soon as she...

read more

Chapter 8: Field Notes

pdf iconDownload PDF (496.0 KB)
pp. 119-137

When Earl created his soundscape for the Houma Arts Triptych, he joined a movement that had been around officially since 1993, when the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology originated. Describing itself as “an international association of affiliated organizations and individuals, who...

read more

Chapter 9: Cancer and Katrina

pdf iconDownload PDF (502.5 KB)
pp. 138-150

After he completed Atchafalaya Soundscapes in 2004, Earl made a few attempts to sell it in St. Mary Parish—in a Cuban restaurant, a framing shop, and the Yellow Bowl. But he had no instinct for marketing nor the wish to develop one. “I decided it was pointless to drive around, picking...

read more

Chapter 10: State of the Basin

pdf iconDownload PDF (453.1 KB)
pp. 151-165

One week in June, two years later, I left the same cabin at Lake Fausse Point and drove around the basin searching for unsentimental portrayals of the swamps. I needed to do it, I thought, or risk any credibility as an objective observer. I needed to remove...

read more

Chapter 11: Turning Tides

pdf iconDownload PDF (448.1 KB)
pp. 166-180

In February 2007, Voices of the Atchafalaya, the exhibit containing John Amrhein’s fifty-nine black-andwhite photographs and Earl’s sixty minute soundscape, opened in the Patterson museum. Friends, relatives, and St. Mary Parish residents thronged...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (480.7 KB)
pp. 181-186

Fewer than three months after the trip to the Atchafalaya Delta, I was back on Robicheaux Street with Earl and Eula, indulging in what Earl dubbed the Last Suppers. One evening we slurped enormous bowls of Gulf shrimp gumbo, prepared by a new health-care assistant, the first to...


pdf iconDownload PDF (511.9 KB)
pp. 187-201

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443227
E-ISBN-10: 1603443223
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442893
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442898

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 37 b&w photos. CD. Index.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Gulf Coast Books Series