Thursday, August 2, 2007

French Principal Finds Calliope Cover "...ambiguous and scornful (even racist)..."

French Jr. High Principal On Cover Art of Calliope 9373

Dear Mr. Zick,

I have regularly visited AfriClassical with interest and admiration. I am myself passionately interested in the Chevalier de Saint-Georges and therefore the questions raised by the cover of the Calliope CD retained my attention. That’s why I feel a need to express my point of view.

As the Principal of a junior high school near Vichy, France, I staged a theatre show on the life and music of Saint-Georges this year with the collaboration of several primary and secondary schools, music schools and a fencing school. This show was exclusively interpreted by 14 year old students. The progam included a theatre performance, music, singing, dancing and fencing.

Saint-Georges was first introduced to our children through Saint-Georges raconté aux enfants (Saint-Georges told to children), J.C. Halley’s book, and then we adapted Le Divin Saint-Georges, Daniel Marciano’s play. Most of our students, not particularly inclined to 18th century music, often due to an unfavorable family environment for symphonic music, worked on the show during the whole academic year. It was a hard job and they were at times discouraged.

However, when they started rehearsing with costumes - perfect replicas of the period - things changed. A surprising phenomenon of identification took place: the children became Saint-Georges, Nanon, Georges de Bologne, Texier La Boëssière, d’Eon etc. The fencers tried extra hard to cross blades with style and even their attitudes were those of another century; the singers interpreted Saint-Georges’s Romances with greater conviction and the actresses and actors became different people when playing their roles.

When they were not rehearsing, we happened to hear lines of the play or see attempts at fencing bouts in the school yard !

It was simply due to the magic of costumes, authentic gestures and attitudes, the tone and the language of the period.

We are aware of teenagers’ reactions. It is part of our job. They did appreciate performing in the historical context.

On stage, they managed wonderfully to share with the audience all the emotions they felt when discovering the thrilling life of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges: in turn affection, indignation, anger, humor, love, laughter and in fine the dramatic impact of the subject. Through Saint-Georges, the ultimate objective was to speak of the human drama of slavery.

The final scene of the show was a moment of anthology. A beautiful voice off stage summed up the life of Saint-Georges to the strains of the sublime Adagio of Saint-Georges, so dear to Dominique-René de Lerma.

We often hear that Saint-Georges’ music is reserved for informed musicians and in that respect, Les Archets de Paris serve the cause of music. However, their praiseworthy contribution should not prevent others from being genuinely interested in Saint-Georges’ music. (I personally discovered this music almost 40 years ago.) Our show presented the Vichy audience all the aspects of Joseph Bologne’s works: the magnificent overture of L’Amant Anonyme which kept coming back as a leitmotiv, excerpts of concertos, quartets and a selection of Saint-Georges’ Romances sung by two children’s choirs. Interpreting this great musician was a challenge and a source of enjoyment for these youngsters.

However the highlight of the show was the participation of a group of children who came to Vichy with the Mayor of the birthplace of Saint-Georges in Guadeloupe. The encounter of these two worlds was a great event for both the children of Saint-Yorre and Baillif. In this instance, we may talk about the shock of cultures but also about a spontaneous current of sympathy which was established between the children in the presence of the parents who all wanted to take home one of the Baillif children.

Before ending this comment - I hope to have shown my respect for Saint-Georges - I would like to express my deep indignation on hearing unfair accusations against L’Association des Amis de Joseph Bologne. During this hard and ambitious academic year they were constantly by our side to advise us, to bring support and encouragement. We could not have achieved our goal without their generosity and their friendship. I am much indebted to Jean-Claude Halley and Daniel Marciano. The values they defend are just the opposite of the venal conceptions of others who have the pretension of being the ones who discovered Saint-Georges but make blatant mistakes on purpose in order that Saint-Georges may fit into the mold of their conceptions.

I find the cover of the CD utterly distasteful. It is, on the one hand, ambiguous and scornful (even racist), and on the other hand, vulgarity is not likely to attract the curiosity of children. They are far more discriminating than one may think!

To add a few more words about our show which was a success – at a secondary school level of course – we are proud of the participation of 150 children, 30 musicians, 20 fencers and 70 young choristers.

Over 1000 spectators of the region of Vichy attended the show and I think I can say that it was an opportunity to introduce Saint-Georges’ music to the whole region.

RFO was present to cover the event. Their comment may be found on Guadeloupe Attitude, Gens de la Caraïbe, You Tube etc.

We were obviously too modest. We did not perform on the premises of The Senate but hundreds of children and spectators in a little corner of France, far from Paris, discovered an exceptional character, a sensitive and virtuoso musician, a talented fencer, and above all a man whose life remains an example for our youth.

With all my admiration for your work and beautiful website.

Catherine Pizon
Principale du collège Victor Hugo


G. Y. F. said...

I am just reading your excellent letter. With teachers like you there is hope for the children and the futue.

Unknown said...

Bonjour chers Amis de l'Association des Amis de Saint-George. Je vous assure de mon très grand plaisir de travailler avec vous.