Saturday, July 09, 2005

Let the people sing

Is filling our concert halls with performers rather than listeners the answer to falling concert attendances?

When we were in Bedoin (see photos) in France in June we saw a poster for a Chant Choral in the Chapelle Notre Dame de Nazarene with three local choirs singing. I wrote about the excellent film The Chorus in an earlier post, and we had heard stories of how the film had rejuvenated amateur choirs throughout France. So we went along to the Chapelle to see what it was all about.

We arrived ten minutes before the free concert, and just managed to bag the last two pew seats. The church kept filling until the whole space was filled using extra chairs, and then it was standing room only at the back. We hadn't seen a music venue so packed since Jacques Loussier played St Peter Mancroft in Norwich - an interesting French connection.

The first choir to sing came from the neighbouring village of Villes sur Auzon. Despite being technically the least secure they stole the show with a wonderful arrangement of Renaud's La Ballade Nord-Irlandaise (Ballad of Northern Ireland) which was encored. Next on was the home choir from Bedoin augmented by singers from the village of caromb. Finally all the choirs combined for a finale which concluded with the Ode to Joy from Beethoven 9.

The singing was more than acceptable. The church was packed to the rafters with an audience of more than 150, and the combined choirs added more than 70 voices with ages ranging from 12 to 70. All this in a rural village with a population of 2657. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, and the music making was of good quality. They weren't singing Arvo Part or Per Norgard, but does that really matter? Forget about persuading people to come into a concert hall to listen to 'difficult' programmes, or even worse dumbing-down the programmes to make them acceptable. The French have found a way to expose an awful lot of people to catching the music making bug, and that is what really matters.

Here is the programme from the concert (with apologies to French readers for the absence of accents on my version of Blogger) -

A la Claire Fontaine (traditional), Les Marches de provence (G.Becaud), Mistral Gagnant (Renaud), La chanson de Prevert (Gainsboug), Le jazz et la java (Nougaro), La Ballade Nord-Irlandaise (Renaud), Aragon et Castille (B.Lapointe), Lascia ch'io pianga (Haendel), La mazurka souto li pin (Aubanel), Verte campagne (Gilkyson), Ballade en Novembre (Anne Vanderlove), Les Corons (Lang & Bachelet), Slava - Liturgie Orthidoxe Russe, A ti - Habanera (R.H Cano & I.Torregrosa Villen), Milles colombes (E.Marnay & N.Ott), Fraternite (9th Symphony Beethoven)

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to The Chorus sings Tallis and Tippett
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