Margaret and Dick   


June '11: Fête de la Musique

Toréador, en garde!  Toréador, toréador!        
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant,
Qu'un oeil noir te regard!
Et que l'amour t'attend,
Toréador, l'amour, l'amour t'attend!
      Toreador, on guard!  Toreador, toreador!
And think carefully, yes, think as you fight,
That dark eyes are watching you!
And that love awaits you,
Toreador, love, love awaits you!

Eager as I am to write this Limoux story, I cannot drag myself away from the TV.  It’s the evening before Fête de la Musique, and we’re in Act II of Carmen, transmitting live from the Roman amphitheater Teatre Antique d’Orange.  Suddenly we switch to Le galop infernal of Offenbach – you know, the can-can.  Next up, a torch song as only French men can do it.  Now Mozart’s 40th Symphony performed as jazz.  May the Fête begin!

Every year at the summer solstice, France explodes with music.  Every city features a major open-air concert; all towns and many villages follow suit to provide free open-air performances to les citoyens.  All day (on a Tuesday!) and especially all night, people pour into the streets to celebrate music.  In our little town of 10,000, we are able to choose among a half-dozen venues.

Quick, no fair Googling – who’s the American Secretary of Culture?  Sorry, it’s a trick question.  The US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is buried deep within the State Department – and you can be sure that culture is not currently high on Hillary Clinton’s to-do list.

Thirty years ago, France was enjoying a remarkable period that saw the Socialists rise to power, winning both the presidency and the national assembly for the first time in history.  During this heady can-do period, Jack Lang was fortuitously named Minister of Culture.  The Fête de la Musique (FDLM), now in its 30th year, remains his enduring legacy.  A new two-euro coin was just minted to mark the anniversary.  Such a great idea can only spread, and most of Europe now celebrates FDLM.  Don’t hold your breath for it to catch on throughout the US, however:  these are government funds that make it possible. 

One thing you most notice about the summer solstice in France (besides the music) is the light.  Paris, at 48 degrees north latitude, is at about the level as Vancouver and well north of Montreal.  Heck, even Limoux, in the sunny south of France, is at the same latitude as Milwaukee.  So we may have relatively little light year-round, but at the time of the solstice, we’ve got lots.  With the energy that goes with it. 

The populace is trained to appreciate a broad range of music, and they are willing to pay for the privilege of hearing it.  Music festivals – and drama, dance, photography – abound throughout France during the summer.  And more than a few of these musicians are American.

We Americans are known for our music, particularly the blues, jazz, and hip-hop forms that have evolved since the turn of the 20th century.  But in today’s climate of piracy, musicians’ ability to earn a living is in peril in the States.  The national support of music in France is encouraging.  Might we ever hope to see an approach like FDLM, where music is celebrated as an international treasure and found deserving of government funds, in the States? 

And to the strains of American musicals – Good morning,good morning from Singing in the Rain, Ain’t necessarily so from Porgy and Bess, and Julia Migenes singing There’s a place for us from West Side Story – I think, if only!

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