La Maison: Into a House of Music
Brookshire Farm welcomes a revolving door of musicians and guests
The imposing cherry wood custom-designed organ was built by Fritz Noack and his team after extensive collaborations with the Blanchets. It took nine months to build and then five weeks to reassemble, install and fine-tune to perfection after it was shipped from Georgetown, Massachusetts. The voicing has very distinct characteristics.
A grove of majestic live oaks surrounds the circa-1840s house centered on Ben and Anne Blanchet’s 360-acre property known as Brookshire Farm. Their cattle graze in pastures acquired by Ben’s ancestors after their arrival from France in 1795.
“When the house was built, buffalo were roaming the prairie,” says Ben. “This was like the wild west.”
A working farm near Abbeville, Brookshire sells “100% grass-fed, pasture-finished beef” at the Farm Store, at numerous farmer’s markets and online (brookshirefarm.com).
An organist, Ben is a businessman and a former New Orleans attorney with a law degree from Harvard. Anne, a singer with a vocal performance degree, runs the farm with their son, Bob. The prevailing musical talent (dating back generations) ranges from the Blanchets’ children and grandchildren to Anne’s brother who plays bagpipes in New Orleans carnival parades and Ben’s brother who plays the ukulele in his band in Hawaii.
When the extended family gets together for annual Thanksgiving feasting, up to 60 members join in for Christmas carols and hymns. The final evening meal is Anne’s turkey-sausage gumbo with Ben’s homemade bread, enjoyed on the large “Thanksgiving porch” flanking a grand music room.
“Since the porch looks west, you get wonderful sunsets across the pond and through the trees,” says Ben.
Brookshire Farm’s original 1840s main room, still insulated with bousillage, remains intact as the current living room. The house expanded in size from the 1940s until 2011.
The latest addition includes the vaulted-ceiling music room created for a 13-foot-tall, custom-designed Noack organ built in Massachusetts. The organ’s pipe shades were artfully carved to resemble the graceful branches of the 250-year-old live oaks.
The music room has become a new public venue, thanks to the vision of Abbeville artist/photographer Megan Bertrand, president of the Vermilion Arts Council.
In August, she debuted a benefit concert series, “Live at Brookshire Farm,” starting with an internationally acclaimed concert organist imported from Paris.
The concerts benefit the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming premiere in Abbeville’s historic St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church on Feb. 15, 2019. The Dec. 1 Madrigal Dinner brings elaborate Christmas decorations, wassail, roasted boar’s head on the king’s table, a royal court presentation, humorous skits and carolers. (Tickets are available at vermilionartscouncil.org).
While newcomers are discovering this storied house, the sound of music prevails on the prairie.
An acoustical engineer from Chicago put the finishing touches in the music room, enhanced with a vaulted ceiling designed with five planes. Large windows and a porch provide grand views of the oaks. Guests gravitate to an expansive gourmet kitchen with a La Cornue built-in rotisserie after concerts. The music room extends from the main house, next to a master suite/nursery building. Designed with a respect for the great German organ-builders whose instruments were admired by Johann Sebastian Bach, Noack organs appear in cathedrals and prestigious universities worldwide.
Segments of the house were built in stages around the original 1840s living room, a bousillage structure with cypress flooring. Upstairs bedrooms are entered via separate stairways.
Anne teaches their twin grandchildren piano.