Thursday evening. Choir. Arrive early in time for a quick chat and a gossip, and then settle down to work.
The mood’s established from the first note. Our voices chase up and down the scales in a series of jolly rounds, verses and tongue-twisters as we warm up our voices and then it’s down to work on the repertoire. Vanessa, who squeezes pretty good music out of a very mixed bunch of singers, keeps us busy, committed and enthusiastic. We love her.
It’s all so different from the choral society I belonged to in England. There, the repertoire was the attraction. Haydn’s ‘Creation’, Charpentier’s ‘Te Deum and all those stirring sacred Masses. I liked my fellow choristers too. Really though, I felt like Groucho Marx. I didn’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member. I was never quite confident in what I was singing. I was always running from behind and rarely had the confidence to sing my heart out.
But the repertoire held me in thrall, and so when I arrived in France, I looked for more of the same. And didn’t find it. I guessed the Departmental Choir was beyond my reach. I took me ages to realise that most villages and small towns, even Laroque, do indeed have a choir, and even longer not to feel sniffy at what I then considered an irredeemably low-brow programme.
More fool me. Since I gave in and joined in I’ve had the best fun. Thursday nights when we have our rehearsals are simply unmissable. We sing a bit of everything: Henry VIII’s ‘Pastime with good company’ (en français naturallement); ‘Amezzing Gress’ (en American, off coss), some sacred stand-bys; Breton or Auvergnat folk songs: the odd sortie to Russia – but the general feel is vairy Frainch, often with songs to which everybody but me already knows the words. I soon catch up though. I have to.
We’ll have concerts in the communities nearby. And every now and then, as last week, there‘ll be a ‘Rencontre de Chorales’, when a number of choirs from a wide area gather together for the afternoon and invite the general public in for a feast of singing. Each choir sings about 6 numbers from their repertoire, catering to every possible musical taste. And we all sit together in our concert get-up, sympathising with mistakes, applauding great performances until our own turn comes. At the end, every chorister from every choir will somehow squeeze onto the stage to join in the ‘chanson en commun’. The audience enjoy it, but it’s even more fun for we singers to join together, united by our love of singing. As we all suggested last week at the tops of our voices, ‘C’est magnifique’
* William James