Stepping into a song: “Le Premier Bonheur du Jour”

When you sing, you’re telling a story. Like a good actor, you need to believe the words that come out of your mouth; to choose them. No matter who wrote them.

Watch Françoise Hardy switch from ‘young female guest on Sacha Distel‘s TV show’ to ‘woman in love’.  We believe her as she starts to sing. Why? Because she believes herself. You can see her refocus. Watch her pupils get bigger, then smaller, around 14 seconds in: 

Le Premier Bonheur du Jour is a beautifully crafted song. You don’t need to speak French to understand it. Indeed, plenty of the words were chosen with a worldwide English audience in mind, to sound similar to their English counterparts: ruban/ribbon, caresse/caress, silence/silence, figuer/fig tree. Most of the lyrics are words you learn in French class as a child: premier/first, soleil/sun, oiseau/bird, voiture/car, jour/day, plage/beach etc, etc. There’s a joy to ‘knowing’ the words to a foreign song. And a grown-up joy to hear them being used in a love song.

There are enough unknowns to intrigue. Le dernier bonheur du jour
C’est la lampe qui s’éteint 
is far too ‘adult’ to have come up in our French class. Beautiful, but far outside the classroom imagination.

Which isn’t to say that the song was written for English speaking listeners. The simple, everyday words add to the relaxed, seductive atmosphere of the song for French listeners, of course. Just as Adele uses everyday English words for Someone Like You:

The song comes to life in the mouth of the singer. The words can be simple or unexpected. Your audience will even believe nonsense language, if you believe it as you sing it:

Human language is sound in the service of communication. Your job, as a singer, is to breathe life into sound. Just as the best violinists coax a world of human life and emotion out of sheep gut:

Le Premier Bonheur du Jour leads you through a day infused with love, from the first happiness of waking up together to the moment the light is turned out at night. There’s a certainty in Françoise Hardy’s voice every time she sings c’est, and its shadow et. That certainty feels comforting. The repetition sounds a little like a lullaby.

The song moves into memory and into yearning but the c’est/et repetition keeps it moving forwards through one day. A day which seems to represent many days.

Françoise Hardy‘s voice gives the song a mesmerising quality. Her belief in herself makes us believe, for the duration of the song, that this is the story of her day. There’s a magic to seeing the moment a singer ‘steps into role’, as in the video of Françoise Hardy and Sacha Distel. Normally, when you see a singer, they are already ‘inside’ their stage persona, especially in live studio videos, regular YouTube videos or once they’ve stepped on stage.

Watch Françoise Hardy’s pupils grow bigger and smaller as she imagines herself into Le Premier Bonheur du Jour. How do you prepare yourself to sing another person’s words? Does it feel like a conscious decision?

Why put a French song in a blog about singing in English? Because the emotion in the vowel sounds of Le Premier Bonheur du Jour are an international lesson in songwriting and in singing. The sounds are well chosen and Françoise Hardy puts her heart and soul into them.

© Sing Better English, 2016


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