Category Archives: France

Jacques Brel: the easy and the important

When you learn a song by ear, especially when it’s in a foreign language, the ‘easy’ words, the words you know, leap out at you. Words you recognise, like a favourite auntie walking towards you through a crowd of strangers.

Give your aunt a bear hug and a box of chocolates, by all means. She’s special to you. But don’t scream “here’s Aunt Lavinia, everybody,” and expect the world to share your enthusiasm. Your Aunt Lavinia is like an ‘easy’ word in a song. She’s familiar to you, but unremarkable to anyone else in the airport.

In an Aunt Lavinia at Arrivals situation, we know to keep our interest personal and private. We hug her hello, then we take her home. When we sing in a foreign language, it’s easy to get unbalanced by familiar words, to pump undeserved energy into words, just because we recognise them. I’ll tell you a story about Jacques Brel and me …

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

When you sing, you’re telling a story. Like any good actor, you need to believe the words as they 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 and prepare in the video. Watch her pupils get bigger, then smaller, around 14 seconds in, as she prepares to sing Frank Gérald‘s words:

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Scott Walker: Jackie and Inspired Translation

It takes a brave translator to turn Jacques Brel‘s “Même si un jour à Knokke-le-Zoute/Je deviens comme je le redoute” into “And if one day I should become/A singer with a Spanish bum:

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Christine and the Queens: Making English Physical

When you read or imagine a word, you create a physical shape and a ‘feeling’ inside your mind. The form adapts and flows. Heart holds one shape in the mind of a surgeon when she’s at work in the operating theatre and quite another when she’s at home, reading a precious love letter.

Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens brings the music and the words of her song Tilted into such clear physical focus that you would understand the meaning with the volume turned off:

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