LEWISTON — Ida Vaillancourt began playing the organ at St. Mary’s Church in Little Canada in 1935 when she was just 14.

In 1961, when her great-niece Diane Biron turned 14, she began subtly grooming her young student to take over. Vaillancourt had breast cancer and she was dying. Biron didn’t know she’d secretly made arrangements with the church to replace her, and didn’t find out until a pastor called after her great-aunt’s death.

“I was stunned but very happy and proud to follow in her (footsteps),” said Biron, 67.

Five decades and thousands of performances later, Biron is now the regular organist at three area churches. It’s still a role she loves.

Biron once accidentally slammed — and locked — her right middle finger in a car door. She calmly unlocked it and got a ride to the emergency room to get stitches.

“I told the doctor, ‘You have to do your best here, I have a wedding Saturday and I have to play.'”

She played the wedding — and Mass that weekend, too.

Biron grew up in Lewiston, an only child. She began taking piano lessons from her great-aunt at age 5. She smiles widely and says it was a mix of her wanting to and her parents’ urging.

“She taught me strictly classical music,” Biron said.

She didn’t question it when her great-aunt added organ lessons to the mix.

“I was just thrilled she was teaching me,” she said.

At age 16, she took over at St. Mary’s, playing four or five masses every Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon.

“My back was facing the altar,” she said. “I had a mirror I would look at to see the priest during Mass.”

She left in 1969, a few months before getting married, and took a five-year break from playing.

When she started back up in 1974 at Holy Family Church, her young family got used to her being gone for stretches of the weekend. Her husband, a truck driver, would often take their two children up to camp.

Biron plays at Sacred Heart Church at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Our Lady of the Rosary in Sabattus at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday and St. Philips Church at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, plus weddings and funerals by request.

“I love it; it’s a joy,” Biron said. “Very meditative at times.” 

Having sat through thousands of masses, she said she’s never come to a hymn and thought, “Not again.”

“There are times I play and I think, ‘I am so happy my parents helped me with this,'” Biron said.

Thirty years ago, she added piano lessons to her weekdays. She has about 15 students at a time, and she’s been told she’s very strict, much like her great-aunt. That makes her smile, too.

Her oldest student is 72.

“The surprise that they give me, ‘Oh yes, I can do this,’ it’s worthwhile, taking the time and sitting with them,” Biron said. “If only I could get them all to practice; everyone is so busy.”

Biron, who lives in Leeds, also enjoys the feedback from her church work.

“People tell me, ‘You made me cry.’ I said, ‘Good.’ They looked at me, ‘What?’ I feel that I’ve done my job.”

She does have one request — that people would sing a little more, if they feel it.

“When you think I’m starting 51 years — phew, it’s big,” she said.

Know someone who knows everyone? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

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