10 July, 2010

I'm gonna chow down my vegetables

Summer has finally arrived in Paris and of course we are all complaining that it is too hot. Remember my fresh produce basket from early spring? Here's the summer version. Much more colourful, isn't it?

France has just enacted a new law requiring all fresh produce to be labelled with the origin of the produce along with the name and price/kg or piece. So that makes it easier to buy local. The only problem I have is that when I arrive bright and early around 9am to buy my produce from my friendly organic retailer Yannick Hamon on the Saturday market on Place Brancusi, he is still drinking his coffee after having set out the produce. None of the labels are out yet so I have to trust him on origin and price.

Vega- Tables
Smile, Brian Wilson, Nonesuch Variete

Je chante sur mon chemin

I have started singing in choirs as an adult in 1994 and have not stopped since. Having moved from Bordeaux to Paris to Wye (UK), to Ho Chi Minh City back to Paris and on to Bangkok, I have been lucky always to find a choir to sing in.

As soon as I had come back to Paris last February, I joined my former choir again: the Choeur Varenne. It is a relatively large group of 60 to 80 people, depending on the production. The bass section has a particularly beautiful round sound and with some work, the sopranos can sound really fine. The main reason why I went back to this group was that the group of singers is made of exceptionally friendly people. Every season, we have one or two week end-long rehearsals where we work hard on the pieces for the concert. But we all also bring food and drink to share pot luck. With 70 people bringing food and drink, we end up with an aperitif, salads as starters, a whole selection of quiches, a complete cheese platter and a choice of scrumptious cakes to sample. We have had two of these pot-luck meals already, each time I planned to take a photo for this blog, but each time I completely forgot because once all the food was set, we all went into aperitif mode, started drinking, nibbling and talking. So you get a blurred photo of the latest concert instead.

With all this, the conductor Caroline de Beaudrap is also great. I particularly appreciate the fact that she will stop us immediately when she is not satisfied by something. This allows us to try to improve the sound immediately after having done the mistake, and hear and feel the difference: greater learning efficiency, I believe. Caroline is skilled at getting the best out of this group of mainly amateur singers.

The last concert sounded great: Mendelssohn motets with organ accompaniment at the church of La Trinité in Paris with very good resounding acoustics. One disappointment though: I could not sing with the choir at this concert because I had just come back from duty travel. Having missed the dress rehearsal and the first concert in the church, I fully understood that Caroline asked me not to sing this production. So I checked tickets at the gate instead…

I do look forward to our next season: the complete Haendel Messiah with orchestra, to be sung end of March 2011. By the way, we are recruiting. To learn more on how you could join us, contact our conductor Caroline at cdebeaudrap@free.fr.

Je chante
Charles Trenet, 20 chansons d'or, EMI France

09 July, 2010

Give us once a drink!

I was in Boston, Massachussets, the other week to attend the 20th Symposium and Forum of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association. It was a very interesting conference with some thought-provoking ideas to ponder the future of agro-industries.

I tasted the famous local lobster and clam chowder but I really want to share my musical experience of the Boston Pops. I was looking for a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of the great American orchestras. Unfortunately, they were not playing during my stay in town. On the other hand, the very popular Boston Pops Orchestra was giving a concert at Symphony Hall so I turned up at the concert hall and bought a ticket.

The objective of the Boston Pops is to allow the audience to enjoy popular classics, famous film musical excerpts and other popular music artists. That evening, I enjoyed two pieces from ballets by the American composer Aaron Copland; there was also the Boston première of a piece specially written for an electrifying string trio. In the second half, the Boston Pops accompanied folk legend Arlo Guthrie who looked very much alive and well despite rumours of his demise. I had never heard of Arlo Guthrie but my older American friends told me I was extremely lucky to hear him. I must admit that I found it a bit odd to listen to folk music with a symphonic accompaniment.

The Boston Pops uses the same Symphony Hall as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but the hall was custom-built at the end of the 18th century to allow the room to be modified for the more popular works. All the orchestra seats are removed and replaced by tables and chairs, which creates a very fitting setting for a café-concert. The more expensive seats allow one to enjoy the concert at a table while enjoying drinks and snacks to order from the menu. Ushers are quickly replaced by waiters and the drinks flows.

It must be most pleasant to enjoy a moment of popular music while sipping one’s favourite drink. I did not know about this before so I had purchased the cheapest seat at $20 (right at the top and back of the hall, which was still very good with an unencumbered view of the orchestra). The one downside: from the upper balcony, I could hear the shuffling of the waiters on the wooden floor of the hall, the clinks of the wine glasses and the rustling of cracker packages being opened, which made the musical experience slightly less enjoyable. But I guess I’m snotty classical purist.

Give us once a drink, Thomas Ravenscroft
Pro Cantione Antiqua, Purcell in the ale house, Apex

08 July, 2010

You can get it if you really want

I’ve started taking singing lessons in earnest. I had always been rather complacent about my singing ability as I had been lucky to be in places where good singers were few. In Paris, the concentration of professional and semi-professional singers is probably greater than in any other place I’ve lived in. Because of this – and the fact that French conservatoires are geared to train soloists – French choir conductors can be very demanding of their singers.

I’ve been looking for a small and good vocal ensemble in order to keep expanding my choral repertoire of early and contemporary music. I have found such a group, which is still in need of a tenor. However, the conductor was not entirely satisfied by my audition. He asked me to work on my vocal technique during the Summer and audition again after the holidays.

So I’ve taken my first professional singing lesson on Wednesday with Mary Saint Palais, a former student of William Christie at the Paris Conservatoire. She’s already given me two tips that have opened up my voice, and on which I have to work for next time. It is hard physical work to sustain all that air pressure in the abdomen and produce a proper sound.

So I will try, try and try, try and try.

You can get it if you really want
Jimmy Cliff, The essential Jimmy Cliff, Union Square Musique

Photo credits