Sunday, December 15, 2013

French Christmas Carols

    I've been working on learning French for the past year or so.  This is partly to atone for the only D grade I ever received in my life which was in first year French in the eighth grade. The reason for my poor grades in French are pretty obvious to me now. At the time I had little or no understanding of English grammar and I had very poor study habits.  I was smart, a good reader, and was able to get by just fine in most classes without putting in much effort. Foreign languages on the other hand, were not like most other classes. They require diligent study and consistent effort. I'm sure my high school French teacher would have never believed that I would ever learn any foreign language, let alone two. I'm sure she also would never have picked me as a likely candidate to become a professional linguist. So here I am with a moderate fluency in Italian and Russian, along with a smattering of German and French.

     Last week, as part of my continuing efforts to learn French, I decided to learn some Christmas carols in French. Songs can really stick in our brains. I can still remember a children's song from first year French class, "Sul La Pont d'Avignon".  If a "D" student can still remember a French children's song after 40 years that shows what a powerful memory tool music can be.  I picked three carols to learn this month,  "Angels We Have Heard on High "(Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes), "Oh Christmas Tree" (Mon Beau Sapin), and one that we don't appear to sing in English called "Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant".  At least I haven't found an English version of that carol yet.  I found a number of helpful YouTube videos that included the lyrics of each carol.  I just looked up Christmas carols in French and found lots to chose from.

     "Angels We Have Heard on High" is one of my favorite Christmas carols and happens to be of French origin.  I didn't have to look very hard to find the French lyrics as they are available on the website.  I simply looked up the hymn and selected French as the language option. I love the bass line in the Chorus of this song.  The church website didn't give me any help with the French pronunciation, but that was easy enough to find that on YouTube. 

     I remember having heard "Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant" as an instrumental but I don't recall having heard it sung before I started this little project. I don't know what it was titled in English. I think I may even have it on a Celtic Christmas CD.  It is really quite a lovely carol, especially when sung by children.  Maybe I can teach the chorus to some of my grand children who will be visiting us over the Christmas holiday. There is a line in the chorus that translates to "Play the oboe, resonate the bagpipes". The Scots and Irish apparently don't have a monopoly on bagpipes.  Bagpipes were a traditional celtic instrument.  They survive in some form in the folk music of both France and Italy and probably other countries as well.  In parts of northern Italy it was traditional to have shepherds come into town to play music around Christmas. Along with other instruments, they played some kind of bagpipe. A French country bagpipe is called a musette.

     Oh Christmas Tree is an old German carol but I picked it because it seemed pretty easy to learn. The phrase "Mon Beau Sapin" is repeated six times.  Once you have the title of the song down you are almost halfway to having the whole carol memorized.

    I really love Christmas carols in any language. I like to get an early start on singing and listening to Christmas music.  One of the many reasons I enjoy singing in our ward choir is the opportunity to start singing Christmas music in October.  While she doesn't care for my Klezmer Christmas CD, Linda and I both agree on the subject of early Christmas music. My favorite Christmas CDs at present are "Oy to the World" by the Klezmonauts,  "Irish and Celtic Christmas Music", and the Gothard Sisters Christmas CD.

     The Gothard Sisters are from Edmonds, Washington. They combine celtic music with Irish dance. They first started performing as a means to earn the money to travel to an Irish dance competition in Ireland.  They did so well that they forgot about the dance competition. One sister plays the guitar while two of them play fiddle.  Several of them play the Irish drum as well and all three of them do Irish dance. One of the things I like about them is the fact that although their voices are very good, they don't sound professional.  They don't clutter up a beautiful song with all of the "performance" aspects. Its generally about singing the songs and not about showing off their voices. I guess they get the showing off out of their systems when it comes to dancing.  We have tickets to attend one of their Christmas concerts this coming Thursday in Lynden, Washington.  Our schedule didn't work for any of the closer concert locations. We're looking forward to taking some of the Veatch kids with us. It should be fun.  

No comments:

Post a Comment