Most large cities have a chapter of L’Alliance Française. In fact, there are over 800 centers throughout the world with the sole mission of promoting French language and Francophone culture through education and cultural programs. (See The French Alliance)
When I was young my dad gave me a small book with a black cover and rainbow-colored lettering called, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else.
I’m sure that I still have that book somewhere, within one of the many cardboard boxes of books that I refuse to throw way as I’ve moved from my childhood home to dorm to apartment after apartment to house, etc.
The title really says it all. In order to take ambition to the next level it’s important to set clear goals. It’s the same idea that Stephen Covey touted in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: beginning with the end in mind. The same holds true for language learning and I’ve found some fabulous blogs by fellow language learners that address the topic in various ways. (Check out www.thepolyglotdream.com) After goals are defined, a person should set out to establish consistent daily and weekly habits in order to learn content and practice his language of choice. (See Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before for ideas on what works for you.)
I’ve established some language goals for myself which include taking a DELF exam this spring – more about that in a later blog post – and finding ways to get out of my comfort zone so that I’m immersing myself in situations where I can converse and get feedback. And of course, singing French art song.
I’ve learned that speed of learning depends on an individual’s previous language learning experience, environment, time spent learning, and how close the new language is to my own.
French is straightforward in syntax, yes, but it’s a frontal, highly placed language which incorporates sounds not used in the English language, i.e. mixed vowels, nasal vowels, and the uvular r. It’s also a legato language in which all syllables are equally unaccented until the last syllable of a word or phrase. Consonants are unaspirated and smooth word connection is created with the help of liaison and elision. As a classical singer, I’ve already mastered the phonetic aspect of French, but these are with prepared texts. Speaking off the cuff is a different ballgame altogether.
Of all the French art song composers whom I could have based this project upon, why Gabriel Fauré? The first reason that comes to mind is a 1989 compilation of Fauré songs recorded by soprano Barbara Hendricks and Michael Dalberto on the Warner Classics label. I discovered it as a young singer and found both the melodies and the texts immediately engaging. I especially loved Hendrick’s interpretation of the song, “Chanson d’amour.” The parallel structure of the poet Silvestre’s statements and his enumeration of everything that he loved about his beloved (“J’aime tes yeux, j’aime ton front…”) the gentleness of the accompaniment, the clarity of the song’s structure – it captured me.
Fauré’s early songs are accessible to young singers who are ready to delve into a French-language song. The form is typically either strophic or ABA and the melodies are beautiful and restrained, never dramatic. As a voice teacher, I’ve sung, assigned, and taught many of the songs from the first collection of songs which were composed from 1863-1887. Songs such as “Au bord de l’eau” and “Lydia” were ideal class songs when I taught French diction to undergraduates in a university setting.
And yet, Fauré wrote at least 100 songs. (So much music to sing, so little time!) I’ve not had the opportunity to venture much into his third collection written between 1908 and 1922. They’re regarded for their introspective nature and sparseness of texture, Fauré’s output during the time in his life when he was director of the Paris Conservatory and a music critic for Le Figaro. The cycle, “La Chanson d’Eve” (Opus 95) is something that I’ll likely explore… So here I go, posed to focus on Fauré!
Twenty-six years ago this Nebraska girl landed in Tulsa, Oklahoma on a full scholarship to study music. With my violin and little else I was introduced to cowboy boots, fried okra, and my college roommate Nancy. Nancy was from Ada, Oklahoma and it took a while to catch on to her Southern lingo. She didn’t just intend to do something, she was fixin’ to do it. Soon I was fixin’ to do things too. After my first voice lesson at TU I became infatuated with art song and opera and hoped to make a career singing.
When I moved to Dallas, Texas to study opera I encountered a wholly different variety of Southern charm. Yes, some people wore cowboy boots, but Dallas was wealthy and cosmopolitan and full of big personalities. Classical music and opera were produced with flair. It was Dallas that taught me showmanship.
Years later, life circumstances and good fortune led me to Atlanta, a city that I have loved from the start and will never ever tire: magnolia trees, Civil War lore, and just as many transplants as there are natives. It’s a hub for business and the arts, an international city diverse and lovely. In Atlanta my musical obsession with opera and art song summited. I’ve had the opportunity to gig around the city and to work with the local opera as an educator and lecturer. I’ve taught at Emory University and Kennesaw State University. And I launched my career as a freelance writer, contributing to the most prestigious music publications.
But it’s easy to get into a rut. Work obligations, family responsibilities, and traffic made it impossible for me to pursue something I’ve also longed for…fluency in French. My music career has allowed me to study Italian, French, German, and Russian diction at length. I know loads of vocabulary in these languages, but never got beyond “Bonjour” and a few rudimentary phrases.
Now I’m fixin’ to embrace the French language. This blog will chronicle my French immersion while living in Atlanta, Georgia: my quest to speak French fluently while making my way through Gabriel Fauré’s songs, translating them, learning them, and investing in them musically and poetically. I’ll also chronicle my adventures in French grammar and vocabulary, gastronomie, and culture. All this from Atlanta. Allons y!