Why is it that many French songs, especially pop songs, have very little melody but compensate for this lack of tune by trying to cram as many words into a phrase as possible?
I was made glaringly aware of this last Friday when I attended a concert given jointly by my youngest's year at his primary school and the choir of the collège. I didn't even know there was a choir at the collège, or maybe I had heard about it but my eldest son never went further than laughing incredulously at the idea of joining it.
I'm not a great fan of French school end of year entertainments. I have spent many a bum-numbing evening lasting several interminable hours watching politically correct sketches of unbelievable tedium or listening to a school's worth of classes perform their version of whatever the theme was for that year in 'dance'.
Unfortunately, this concert did not represent the end of year spectacle - there is another to come. I can hardly wait... Luckily though, it didn't last long but did of course start late.The kids seemed to enjoy themselves for the most part, except my son who had a pained expression on his face throughout which had nothing to do with his foot being in plaster. He doesn't like performing at all, but did insist that I come and watch.
I arrived early as I had to drop him off in good time, which meant I got a parking space but also meant I had to hang around. My Kindle was in my bag so, having said a number of cheery hellos, I was soon engrossed in my boxed set of 'Fifth Avenue' thrillers.
Once we were allowed into the sports hall, I bagged some seats near the back as I was expecting some friends - parents of another child in the class - to turn up. Good thing I did as the place soon became packed and I had to fight off parents who wanted to nick my spare seats. My friends arrived and the green-eyed hoards fell back.
There was a theme to the evening. Unfortunately it wasn't 'songs with nice tunes you can really get your teeth into' but 'Diversity, One World and We are all the same', all nice and totally pc (yawn).Stuff a nice melody, let's just make sure we ram how wonderfully tolerant and difference-embracing we are with a bunch of gabbled pop songs. They didn't sing 'We are the world' or anything jolly like that, no, all the songs were in a minor key and were totally incomprehensible. As there were no tunes either it was rather a tiring job sitting through the evening worrying about how difficult the songs were for these kids. There was hardly any singing 'à coeur joie' - just the first song by Louis Armstrong (which was pitched too low) and the last one which they enjoyed because they could practically shout it.
When I was at school, I remember we sang songs (such as traditional English) that had tunes and few words which meant we could enjoy the singing, not get bogged down by gabbling. We did jolly musicals such as 'Jonah' by Andrew Lloyd Webber. We didn't sing pop songs which are notoriously difficult and don't always adapt to choral singing anyway. I think our teachers had a better idea of what was suitable and enjoyable, but maybe they had more material to work with.
The most impressive part of the evening was the fact that the kids had learnt all the songs off by heart. That was a lot of learning! Two girls did sign-language in one song - it's an option at the collège that they can do because they have a number of deaf kids. There was also a duo by a couple of girls from troisième, and a musical interlude from a pianist, plus accompanists on the electric guitar, flute and drums.
The evening ended with my friends and I gathered on my terrace with rosé and crisps to help us recover from the melancholic ambiance of the songs in minor keys. We managed it successfully and a merry time was had by all.