Let the music play

Under normal circumstances, the Fete de la Musique would be taking place all over France this weekend.  With the current Covid-19 crisis, the events have been cancelled pretty much everywhere.  So here is a virtual Fete de la Musique, by means of an article I wrote in 2014 – I hope you’ll enjoy it!


On June 21st, the whole of France celebrates the Fete de la Musique, with parties and concerts everywhere – and who am I to miss out on a party!!?? 😀

So I rounded up a  few friends and together we went to Beziers to see what we could listen to!  We left fairly early, and as we walked from the underground car park up the Allees Paul Riquet, it became clear that we had arrived a little too early.  But still, it was good to be able to have a look around without missing anything!  The food stalls looked colourful and the smells were tantalising!!

We headed for Place de la Revolution, where the Sardanistes would be dancing later in the evening.  The plan was to have dinner at Brasserie du Palais, and be able to listen to the music and watch the dancers from the comfort of our table.  On the way to Place de la Revolution I came across some interesting details.

The atmosphere in Beziers was very summery and festive – lots of people out in the streets, all getting ready to party in one way or another!

Our meal at Brasserie du Palais was delicious!  A large plate of tapas to share, followed by great main courses, and nice desserts.

The restaurant takes its name from the former archbishop’s palace, which is just across the square, and today houses the local courts of justice.  Next to it is the cathedral, and we had a fine view of that from our table.

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We were just about finishing our desserts, when the musicians started to gather on the stage, and it wasn’t long before they struck up their first tune.

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And as soon as they started to play, the dancers appeared – at first only a few of them joined hands to form a small circle.

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Now a word about the music and dancing – the Sardana is a Catalan tradition, played on instruments of which a few are not found elsewhere in France or Europe.  The band is called “Cobla” and the dancers are called “Sardanistes”.  For the full explanation please have a look at the Wikipedia entry, which I think explains it all very well.

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I was watching in blissful ignorance, enjoying the uplifting sound of the music and watching the dancers with fascination.  It seemed as though anyone could join in, and the circle grew larger and larger, until it was all around the fountain and the square.  The steps seemed to be very simple – it was only later, when talking to a couple of the dancers, that I found out that there was a lot more to it! 🙂 .

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The band, as well as the dancers I spoke with, had come from Perpignan, where they had already performed earlier that day.  They explained that the Sardana is a traditional dance, as opposed to a folkloric dance, so nobody wears any special costumes.  Both the dancers were wearing the traditional espardenya shoes though – you’ll be able to see these shoes in the video below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the webpage to view the video).

 

Did you notice how the flute player also plays the tiny drum, which is strapped to his arm?  The double bass has only three strings, and its player is really going for it!  We sat and listened and watched, and enjoyed every minute of it!!

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It was getting dark and the lights came on, and with the whole square alive with music and dance, it was just magical.

When we had had our fill of the Sardana, we wandered over to the cathedral, where another concert was just coming to the end:  Nicolas Celero at the piano, playing music by Franz Liszt, and Michael Lonsdale reading in between the musical performances.

On our way back we walked down Rue Viennet and passed Place du Forum, across the road from the town hall, which had all been transformed with strings of lights into the most magical of places.

The Eglise de la Madeleine looked very majestic, lit up against the black sky.

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And then we reached the Allees Paul Riquet once more, and wandered amongst the many people who were either watching the act on the main stage in front of the theatre, or just enjoying the start of summer.

Mark your calendar for next year, and plan to be in Herault around June 21st – I promise you’ll enjoy the festivities!

Let’s dance

On June 21st, the whole of France celebrates the Fete de la Musique, with parties and concerts everywhere – and who am I to miss out on a party!!?? 😀

So I rounded up a  few friends and together we went to Beziers to see what we could listen to!  We left fairly early, and as we walked from the underground car park up the Allees Paul Riquet, it became clear that we had arrived a little too early.  But still, it was good to be able to have a look around without missing anything!  The food stalls looked colourful and the smells were tantalising!!

We headed for Place de la Revolution, where the Sardanistes would be dancing later in the evening.  The plan was to have dinner at Brasserie du Palais, and be able to listen to the music and watch the dancers from the comfort of our table.  On the way to Place de la Revolution I came across some interesting details.

The atmosphere in Beziers was very summery and festive – lots of people out in the streets, all getting ready to party in one way or another!

Our meal at Brasserie du Palais was delicious!  A large plate of tapas to share, followed by great main courses, and nice desserts.

The restaurant takes its name from the former archbishop’s palace, which is just across the square, and today houses the local courts of justice.  Next to it is the cathedral, and we had a fine view of that from our table.

P1110247

We were just about finishing our desserts, when the musicians started to gather on the stage, and it wasn’t long before they struck up their first tune.

P1110245

And as soon as they started to play, the dancers appeared – at first only a few of them joined hands to form a small circle.

P1110243

Now a word about the music and dancing – the Sardana is a Catalan tradition, played on instruments of which a few are not found elsewhere in France or Europe.  The band is called “Cobla” and the dancers are called “Sardanistes”.  For the full explanation please have a look at the Wikipedia entry, which I think explains it all very well.

P1110237

I was watching in blissful ignorance, enjoying the uplifting sound of the music and watching the dancers with fascination.  It seemed as though anyone could join in, and the circle grew larger and larger, until it was all around the fountain and the square.  The steps seemed to be very simple – it was only later, when talking to a couple of the dancers, that I found out that there was a lot more to it! 🙂 .

P1110257

The band, as well as the dancers I spoke with, had come from Perpignan, where they had already performed earlier that day.  They explained that the Sardana is a traditional dance, as opposed to a folkloric dance, so nobody wears any special costumes.  Both the dancers were wearing the traditional espardenya shoes though – you’ll be able to see these shoes in the video below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the webpage to view the video).

 

Did you notice how the flute player also plays the tiny drum, which is strapped to his arm?  The double bass has only three strings, and its player is really going for it!  We sat and listened and watched, and enjoyed every minute of it!!

P1110267

It was getting dark and the lights came on, and with the whole square alive with music and dance, it was just magical.

When we had had our fill of the Sardana, we wandered over to the cathedral, where another concert was just coming to the end:  Nicolas Celero at the piano, playing music by Franz Liszt, and Michael Lonsdale reading in between the musical performances.

On our way back we walked down Rue Viennet and passed Place du Forum, across the road from the town hall, which had all been transformed with strings of lights into the most magical of places.

The Eglise de la Madeleine looked very majestic, lit up against the black sky.

P1110277

And then we reached the Allees Paul Riquet once more, and wandered amongst the many people who were either watching the act on the main stage in front of the theatre, or just enjoying the start of summer.

Mark your calendar for next year, and plan to be in Herault around June 21st – I promise you’ll enjoy the festivities!

Music, music, music…

In 1982 the first Fete de la Musique took place in France, and it quickly turned into an institution which is still going strong 31 years later!  It takes place each year on June 21 –  the shortest night of the year is ideal for partying!  All over France there is music and more music, and people getting together to enjoy.  Pretty much every village or smaller town has at least one event to mark the Fete de la Musique;  I decided to visit Beziers with a few friends and together we enjoyed a totally musical evening.

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We started off at the Eglise St Jacques, just a few steps away from the Musee du Bitterois.  The church was hosting a number of events and we got there in time to listen to the guitar ensemble from the Beziers conservatoire.  They played very well and the music chosen was a delight.  The interior of the church was fascinating, and a little reading of the information panels at the back of the church gave some clues.  The Romanesque church had been much changed over the centuries to the point where it was hardly recognisable as Romanesque.  In 1960 a fire which started in a confessional (don’t ask!) meant that the interior of the church was totally destroyed.   During the work to safeguard and restore the building most of the later additions were stripped away, leaving a very stark but serene interior, which has nice acoustics.  The stained glass windows have just been installed, made by master craftsmen from Chartres.  Walk around the back of the church and you’ll find the small park which was closed on my last visit.  Definitely worth a walk – the views are amazing!

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From the St Jacques neighbourhood we went on a little walk via the remains of the amphitheatre (my friends had not seen that), and back into the centre of Beziers.  At the Hotel du Lac we came across the Symphony Orchestra of the Beziers Conservatoire, and then we went on to the Allees Paul Riquet, where we stopped for a bite to eat, just by the Theatre.  The couscous looked very good and it tasted delicious!

Just behind the theatre at the top end of the Allees Paul Riquet the drummers La Bande de Beziers gave it their all.  I taped the entire piece – be warned it’s 16 minutes long, so you may just want to listen to some of it.

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On we went to Place de la Madeleine to listen to the Jersey Julie Band.  They played a great mix of bluegrass, country, and folk music, heavily influenced by blues.  Julie is an amazing bundle of energy, who just draws the crowd along!

When Julie and her band finally took their leave, another group, Awek, started up right across from the stage, in the Blues Caravan.

After a bit of blues we went on to the Cathedrale Saint Nazaire and on the way came across a scene almost out of a Van Gogh painting, down the winding back streets with the twinkling lights overhead.  All the restaurants were busy and there was of course music here too.  On Place de la Révolution we listened to Cobla Tues Vents playing traditional Catalan music and watched a sardane being danced.

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On to the cathedral, where we were hoping to see someone jump across the Feu de St Jean (it’s a local tradition to jump across the fire).  Alas when we got there we were pretty much on our own, even though the fire was still burning in the cloisters.  It did look absolutely beautiful, and the atmosphere was gorgeous and serene.  

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We wended our way back to the Allees Paul Riquet and towards the car, and on the way caught some more music on the main stage in front of the theatre.  The whole square was buzzing and animated, and it was just wonderful to be immersed in that happy feeling.

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So mark your diary for next year – June 21 is definitely a great day to be in France – you’ll be bound to find some music to listen to!

A note to all of you who are subscribed to the blog by e-mail:  The youtube videos embedded in the post will unfortunately not show up in the e-mail version.  To watch and listen please go to the post at http://www.midihideaways.wordpress.com