La chorale

I’ve always loved to sing.

When I was a kid I gave some memorable performances in the school choir. My rendition of Eliza Doolittle singing ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly?’ in junior high school is fondly remembered by a few people who are still kind enough to be my friends. Later, I got a guitar and crashed out chords while attempting to sing like my heros Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Carole King.

Then, life happened. I stopped singing, except to my kids, in the car and in the shower. Sometimes I’ll belt out a few bars along with Adele as I exercise. It is cathartic, if nothing else.

With the French hit film, ‘Les Choristes’, in 2004, I made a surprising discovery: France has a huge number of choirs. Virtually every tiny town has one or more chorales. Who knew? I decided to join the local choir in our village for fun.

Soucieu-en-Jarrest is famous among a few thousand people for a couple of things. One is ‘la pèche-de-vigne’, the vine peach with its distinctive red flesh whose picking is fêted in the village on the first Sunday of September each year. Another is its organ. The choir was closely associated with the church and at Christmas and Easter we sang hymns and religious dirges accompanied by the powerful strains of that organ.

It was a long way from Eliza Doolittle and Carole King to church organ music. But I didn’t care – the choir was a chance to raise my voice, too long silent, in harmony with others.

I loved the fact that the choir brought together young and old, paysans and professionals, in a shared love of music. And although I was an outsider, who spoke sometimes fractured French, I was quickly taken into its fold. They were a wonderful group of people who were friendly and welcoming.

Life intervened again and I had to quit the choir. We moved away from the Lyonnais to the Haute Savoie, and finally last year I began looking for a choir to join here. This time, I vowed, not a church choir but something a bit more modern. I found one in a neighbourhing town, but its rehearsals were too late in the evening for early-bird me. So I found another, an English-speaking choral group in Geneva. We’ve just started practicing for the Christmas concert to be held in Nyon. The program is a mix of French hymns and English carols and I am quite excited to be part of it.

The best thing about being in an English-speaking choir for me is that they refer to the notes in a way I can understand. Regretfully I never learned the French ‘solfège’ – sight-singing – and can never think of the notes as anything but C or F-sharp rather than ‘Do’ or ‘Fa dièse’. What’s worse, our ‘do-re-mi’ is slightly different, with the French singing ‘si’ instead of ‘ti’. The part of my brain that learned to sing must be closely associated with the part that is responsible for numbers. No matter how long I have spoken French, these functions are hard wired to English.

Et vous? Ever belonged to a choir? Do you sing in the shower?

33 thoughts on “La chorale

  1. France is the only country, I think, to refer to notes as do, re, mi, etc., rather than as C, D, E, etc. To me, do/re/mi are like directions, and where you are and where you end up depend on where you start. So the first note of the scale is do, but you can start that at A or C or F (in the key of A, key of C, key of F). The French have fixed do/re/mi to the key of C. My kid was taking guitar lessons and had to learn the letters after having learned do/re/mi on piano. Very hard.
    Our village choir mostly sings French songs like Brassens, Trenet, Brel.
    When I was in NY, I participated in a singalong–this is a thing in NYC. It cost $10 per person to cover the rental of the music and to pay the accompanist (the director was a volunteer). Hundreds of people showed up to sing Fauré’s Requiem. I had sung it before–it’s pretty difficult, with lots of accidentals. But there were many professionals and extremely talented amateurs who sight-read the music impressively. Hearing the singing, and being part of it, gave me chills.

    1. Good on your kid for taking on the music in two languages! First I’ve heard of the singalong phenomenon, but it sure sounds like fun. Being exposed to people who really know what they’re doing is inspiring, but the ‘being part of it’ and getting the chills is what really sounds amazing. Sounds like a difficult but rewarding piece!

  2. I am a horrible singer… I tried to join a choir once (it was a large one and allowed anyone to join)… after we sang a part the director stated something wasn’t quite right… we started over and I sang quieter… the director stated it is a bit better but still “off”… The third time I just mouthed the words… and of course he exclaimed “PERFECT”… I knew then I was not a singer.

    By the way I love the film Les Choristes

    1. Ha, ha….guess inclusive has its limits! 😉 But how lovely that you appreciate the music even if you’re voice is a little off. Glad you enjoyed Les Choristes; thought it was beautiful and transcended cultures.

  3. Well…this has me thinking… I always knew your first niece had many traits in common with you, but now I realize Talia does too! It’s funny how genetics work.
    Singer, song writer, self taught guitar player… Talia loves it all! And she has also done the high school performance. I love singing but have never had the nerve to perform. I wish I could be there to enjoy your show this Christmas! 🎄

    1. Thanks, Liz! Don’t sell yourself short, you did play in the band all those years! I think performing took a lot out of me which is partly why I gave it up. Talia seems to be a much more natural artist to me, one who has a natural calm inner sense that keeps her balanced. Maybe she owes that to Ken? 😉

  4. I am very fond of singing voices but unfortunately I am tone-deaf and can’t hold a note even if my depended on it…so I concentrate on listening to good voices and be jealous that I can’t sing. I think you may be right that music notation and numbers are related when it come to language. I have been told that one can’t really count in a second language even if they are fully fluent. I certainly always revert back to counting in French after 10…(Suzanne)

    1. That’s interesting, Suzanne. Definitely true about the numbers which I just can’t do in French after about 100. As for the voice, I often find that people who are highly visual are more likely to be good dancers than singers – although there are exceptions and would not want to generalize. I definitely have two left feet!

  5. My late and always lamented mother-in-law always declared that singing was good for the soul, the spirit and the mind – in her opinion it was to do with the way we breath when we sing which increases the oxygen flow and allows the endorphins to flourish. I like to believe her! When she died her Bach Choral Society sang from the gallery of the crematorium in South west London and I could feel her delight and vowed that I would join a choir. I must do this. I simply must – that was 20 years ago in December. By the way, I was once arm-candy for an aged millionaire who lives in Nyon … just saying 😉

    1. Miss Osyth, you never cease to amaze me with your stories – millionaire? Arm candy? Really? There must be more to this story, and I want to read all about it in a future blog post! As for the oxygenating benefits of singing, I am with your late mother-in-law. It is very physical, and I have actually invented something I call ‘Yoga Sing’, where I sing some of my favorite songs at full voice while doing yoga. Except I just googled it and discovered it’s a thing. So I haven’t invented anything, but do highly recommend. That Bach choral group moment must have been magical. You really MUST join a choir!

      1. Yes ma’am – and actually I said to old Two Brains that Grenoble will surely give me the opportunity and once bitten I am confident I will seek out choirs like a truffle hound wheresoever I am. Yoga Singing, whether or not your copyrighted invention sounds absolutely amazing – it must energise by a factor of squillions given the oxygenating of the singing AND the yoga. As for the arm candy … plenty of tales to tell there – I promise they will be told 😉

  6. What a lovely post – good for you – singing certainly fills the soul…My last choir was in Junior High but I still remember how much I loved it…now I sing in the car while driving…Broadway and Disney Show Tunes are my favorites…Frozen Let It Go…my daughters and I can hit All the Notes! So Fun! 🙂

  7. Indeed, math and music are linked, in a lot of ways. There are a surprising number of music majors who double-major in math, and back in the day there used to be a surprising number of people with math degrees going to grad school in linguistics; consequently, there are many linguists who are quite good musicians.

  8. Glad you have found somewhere to warble away. I used to sing in a rock band (in another century) and have also been missing singing lately. Would love to find a small casual folk band or such, just for a bit of musical fun. Enjoy!

    1. Now that would be a dream come true! A group of like-minded music-lovers to improvise harmonies with. Somehow your rock-singer past doesn’t surprise me, Mrs. Cheer. I always knew you had more than recipes in your repertoire! Glad to read you again. Hope all is well down under. 🙂

  9. I love the songs from “My Fair Lady” and sang “Wouldn’t it be loverly” to my kids at bedtime, along with lots of other show tunes like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Edelweiss” and “Getting to know you” but I’ve never sung in a choir. It sound like you’ve found a nice niche that suits you to a “ti”.

  10. Just a little thing about what “francetaste” wrote in the first comment : ” France is the only country, I think, to refer to notes as do, re, mi, etc.,” . Pardon me but … this is an example of what always puzzles me in Anglo-Saxon fundamental beliefs and mental operation . Even the English wikipedia says that in the page called “Musical Note” : “In traditional music theory, most countries in the world use the naming convention Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si, including for instance Italy, Spain, France, Romania, most Latin American countries, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, and all the Arabic-speaking or Persian-speaking countries” .
    For those who’d like to know about the origin of “do-ré-mi”, the French wikipedia page called “Note de Musique” says a bit about Guido d’Arezzo the Italian culprit . Note that the “A-B-C” fashion comes from ancient Greece naming .

    1. As a fellow ‘anglo-centric’, I can sympathize with the mistake. We stand corrected, and I thank you, Phil, for as usual raising the intellectual level of this blog! Still, I wonder what versions of sheet music international choirs and orchestras use to bridge the gap?

  11. Raising the level ? Pardon me if this is the result . About international choirs I have no idea how they do . I’d guess the do-re-mi system could be safer given that some letters such as A and E can have very different pronunciations in various languages .

  12. LOVELY!!! ❤ je n'ai aucun talent artistique ou musical, remember?… 🙂 but I do hum… I loved the movie, devenu presqu'un "classique"… 🙂 btw, I've recently seen the young actor-singer J-B Maunier, il a bien grandi et chante pas mal: 🙂

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