Because she’ll be totally addicted and never want to come down!
Seriously. There is nothing like the high that comes from singing in front of an audience who want to adore you. I sang a program of mostly French mélodies, plus one aria (“Du gai soleil” from Werther, which still has some undergraduate kinks in it that I need to work out, but it suits me to a tee), at a reception for a professor I worked with last summer who was being honored by the French government. My next door neighbor Nicky accompanied me, and we had an absolute blast. We decided on the train going home that there was just nothing like it.
Here are some highlights:
1. Probably the most fascinating part of the experience was singing for an audience that consisted almost entirely of strangers. Of course I knew the professor and his wife, and my friend from theater class, Claudette, and her husband, who were kind enough to come support me, but otherwise it was an audience of strangers. French strangers, no less, which is terrifying when you’re an American singing an all-French program. But more on that part later. I mentioned this a few posts back, when I wrote about singing “Pirate Jenny,” but a singer needs an audience. I can get so wrapped up in what’s not working that I forget what I do well, and it’s only when I sing for people who have never heard me sing before that I get the feedback I really need. Everybody I talked to afterwards (in French, for what felt like hours) wanted to know how they could find out about my next concerts, and Nicky’s as well; we both left with little collections of business cards and e-mail addresses. And what’s great is, I believe that if I let them know I was singing somewhere in Paris, they would all be there, if they were free. There is a lot of support for young musicians in Paris, which I see now is what makes it such an attractive place to BE a young musician. Everybody wanted to know what I was singing, where I was studying, who my teacher was, how I had learned French (I now have that story down pat!), had I ever sung this song cycle or anything by this composer, et cetera, et cetera, and so forth. It was glorious, but really quite overwhelming too–a couple of times I had to take myself back into the kitchen and have a breather!
2. I noticed while I was singing that I’m feeling much more connected to French music now than I was back in the States, or even over the last couple of months. It’s thrilling to know that when you sing a French song recital in France for a French audience, they will understand every word if your diction is good enough. They can understand subtleties of poetry and language that Americans reading a translation aren’t always able to. It’s pretty exciting. And I felt like because I’ve been speaking so much more French in the last few months than I ever have in my life (obviously), I myself understood the text better, even if I had had to do word-for-word translations for the fiddly poetry like Gautier’s “Coquetterie posthume.” My favorite moment, bar none, of the entire recital, was singing the end of Poulenc’s “La petite servante” and seeing the audience squirm a little bit. The text is this: “Faites que je grandisse vite / et donnez-moi un bon mari / qui ne soit pas trop ivrogne / et qui ne me batte pas tous les soirs.” Make me grow up quickly, and give me a good husband who won’t be too drunk and won’t beat me every night. Eek! Nobody knew it was coming, and I could see a couple of people really react to it. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.
3. Great food. I know this is probably kind of a given, but with cocktail parties/receptions, you really never know. But they really did it right. I was talking so much that I barely got to eat after the concert (beforehand I was starving and afterwards I was too full of performance endorphins that I didn’t even feel like eating!), but there were some exciting things on that table. Little bowls of asparagus soup with some kind of cured meat in them (and you know how I feel about cured meat!), rounds of tangy bread with butter and roast beef and herbs, macarons, magnificent little pastries, mini sandwiches with various unidentifiable-but-delicious fillings, fruit, cheese…mmm. Also, this doesn’t quite deserve its own bullet point, but there were some unreal chic people at this reception. Wow.
And then we came home, changed our clothes and met up with one of our hallmates and his French language exchange buddy at the Canadian bar (eh?) near St. Michel, where we attempted to explain the concept of the awkward turtle (and cow, and palm tree, and giraffe, and turkey–the possibilities are endless!). It’s not too complicated–just a symbol that you can exchange with people who are in the know when a situation is awkward. But curiously enough, the French don’t seem to know the concept of “awkward.” I explained it to a girl in my theater class on Wednesday as well, and the best she could come up with was “gênant,” but to my mind, “ça me gêne” means that something is bothering you, or rubbing you the wrong way. (Although Word Reference lists “gêné” as the way to describe an awkward silence…it also lists “délicat,” “embarrassant,” “mal à l’aise,” “compliqué,” and “maladroit,” none of which quite approach the complex meaning of the word “awkward,” which encompasses all of those things.) Really, it’s just as well that there’s no such thing as awkward in France. It makes my life a lot easier, knowing that no matter how weird or uncomfortable a situation is, and no matter how much I fumble about in social scenarios, I still can’t be awkward. We also discussed the tendency of movie studios, when marketing an American film in France, to translate the English title into another English title that only makes slightly more sense. (See: The Hangover = Very Bad Trip, in a French accent, and Pirate Radio = The Boat That Rocks (England) = Good Morning, England (France)). Ridiculous and fabulous.
Before I go start my day, have a little Jeremy Irons. Singing and playing the guitar. I’m posting him because A. *swoons* and B. there used to be a video of him singing “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington” in an all-Noel Coward concert he did a while back. But this will have to do!