Grand Choral 2013

You know that feeling when the lyrics of a song express exactly what’s in your heart? Joy, heartache, glee or indignation – it doesn’t matter. You could be in a crowded summer festival or alone with your car radio, and you suddenly make that ‘soul connection’ through the silver chord of music. Such is the essence of the Nights of Champagne festival.

Since medieval times, the city of Troyes has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with lyric-based music, as evidenced by the liturgical treasures of La Bibliothèque de l’Abbaye de Clairvaux. Although France boasts many wondrous musical events, it’s quite unique to find one with such a direct link between theme and cultural terroir as this festival.

The inspired convergence of melody and lyrics is even more special when the audience is part of the programme, as in the case of the ‘Grand Choral’ main event. Claire Lextray, spokesperson for the festival, explains the concept: “It’s unique in France. Anybody can sign up, even if their only prior singing experience was in the shower. There’s no audition. They receive a recording to learn the songs and identify the vocal tessiture [range] – soprano, alto, etc.

“People come from all over the world and spend a week rehearsing with hundreds of other participants, culminating in the final shows, when they sing together with the professional headliners. It’s very convivial and an extraordinary memory, not just for the singers – it’s an electrifying show for the audience, with a live broadcast on France Inter. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a heartfelt homage from the people to the songwriter.”

With its maze of crooked, half-timbered houses and convenient location, just 90 minutes south-east of Paris in the heart of the Champagne region, the city of Troyes sits at a busy crossroads of business and pleasure. During the Nuits de Champagne festival, over 30,000 people flock to the week-long event, which mobilises the entire region as it’s organised in partnership with the area’s agricultural cooperative and a collective of 24 local companies.

The 28th edition, Sentimental Pop, celebrates the music of Alain Souchon and Laurent Voulzy, composers who have produced over 20 albums featuring their signature fusion of contemporary French poetry and Anglo-Saxon pop. They’ll revisit their repertoire, accompanied by some 700 students from the Choeur de l’Aube and the 900 participants of the Grand Choral. The festival’s 34 concerts include such names as Izïa, Soprano, Brigitte, Selah Sue, Christophe Willem, Melody Gardot, Yaël Naim, Tri Yann, Oxmo Puccino, Michel Jonasz and The Shoes. There’s also the ‘Off Off Off’ programme, a springboard for new talent.

TIP: To understand the appeal of composers Souchon and Voulzy, listen to their song l’Oiseau Malin (The Clever Bird), which features beautifully intelligent lyrics, and sing along! It’s a fun way to practise your French…

Nuits de Champagne, October 18-24, Various venues, Troyes, Champagne-Ardenne. Prices & times vary. Tel: +33 3 25 40 02 03

From France Today magazine

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