I never cease to be amazed at the high standard of musicians and music to be found in la France profonde. In the summer, of course, you can’t move for concerts and recitals. But even out of season there is a surprising amount going on. It’s a pity that some of it isn’t better supported.
Singing is a particularly popular pastime in France. Everyone can do it – well, there are some exceptions – it’s a good way of meeting people and it creates a feeling of well-being and goodwill. According to l’Institut de l’art choral , in 2009 there were 10,000 choirs in France, excluding liturgical groups and choirs associated with schools of music.
Choeur Départemental de l’Aveyron
Last night, I went to a lovely choral concert in Parisot church, given by the Choeur Départemental de l’Aveyron. Up till now, this choir has been a well-kept secret. Or maybe it’s simply that it is based in a different département and therefore a different country. It is a fact, though, that events in France are not usually well publicised. You hear about them either by bouche à oreille (word of mouth) or after the event.
This time, you couldn’t fault the publicity. I must have received at least 15 emails about it from different sources although, that, I suppose is a form of bouche à oreille. Posters advertising the event also went up locally about 10 days ago. Despite all this, the church was only about one third full. Nonetheless, the audience greatly appreciated the varied and well-chosen programme, which included Allegri’s Miserere, Spanish songs and eastern European sacred music.
The soloists included a young soprano with a clear, pure voice and a mezzo soprano with a melodious but incredibly powerful voice that made my eardrums vibrate. Our soprano friend Pauline also had a solo part. The audience called the choir back for two encores. They are singing the same programme at venues throughout Aveyron during the summer.
From the sublime to the, well, not quite so sublime but making progress towards it. Maestro Peter Nowfel, our choir master at the Parisot Choir, is disappointed that I haven’t said more about it recently. (You can see the back of his head above.) So here’s an update on how we’re doing. Not that I’m trying to curry favour or anything.
The choir brought together for the Carol Service in Parisot Church last Christmas was felt to be so successful that it should become permanent. The SF was already in it but I decided to join, too, despite the fact that the last time I sang in a choir was nearly 35 years ago at university. Although a little rusty on the high notes, I am showing signs of improvement. Heureusement, some might say.
We’ve got off to a good start with 30+ members and a nice ambience. Some of them even know how to sing. Peter conducts the rehearsals in break-neck speed French. In addition to concerts in June (Saturday 30th at Parisot church) and October and the Carol Service at Christmas, we’re also taking bookings. Someone wants us to sing at her wedding in August.
A few weeks ago Peter had to go to England. The SF offered to take over that session. Among his many other attributes, the SF was a choir master in Sweden some years ago. He spent much of the previous week brushing up his rusty conducting skills and boning up on our set pieces. He also had to do it all in French. But all went well on the night and it was good that we didn’t have to miss a rehearsal altogether.
Peter’s dedication is such that he even took a rehearsal on his birthday. We sang along as usual until 8.30 p.m. Peter wanted to move onto a new chanson. He raised his hands and began conducting to complete silence. Thinking we were just being dim – a not unreasonable assumption – he did it again. Same result. Then we all burst into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ and rummaged about for the various bottles and eats that Françoise had instructed us to bring.
So a lot of fun is had by all. We even do some singing sometimes.
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