IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN, the Christmas market season, and yesterday, on a very chilly Saturday, the Christmas market at the bottom of my little street opened for business.
Twenty-eight wooden chalets bedecked with local and regional artisanal products stretch from the parvis of the Hôtel de Ville to the local church. Small it may be but it’s an intimate and friendly local Christmas market.
Amidst its wooden chalets, and the ever-present Père Noël, the market also boasts a variety of street entertainers, always a great attraction to both children and adults alike.
Yesterday, the street entertainment included a swing jazz band, Le Quartet Swing Connection, along with Lombardi, a concertina-playing clown on stilts.
I went along to the market yesterday to look at the stalls but also to record the street entertainers to add to my collection of Parisian Christmas Market sounds. As well as capturing the sounds of the jazz quartet I was also lucky enough to capture Lombardi the clown singing to the children.
Swing jazz and a fluttering bird:
Lombardi’s song was À la volette, a traditional French children’s song that first appeared in the mid-seventeenth century.
The song is about a little bird that takes flight and flutters its way to an orange tree (referring to a bird, À la volette means to flutter, or to flap). The bird lands on a branch in the orange tree, which breaks and the bird falls to the ground breaking its wing and injuring its foot. When asked if he can look after himself the bird says that he just wants to heal himself and flutter back to the orange tree and get married.
There are various versions of the song and yesterday Lombardi gave a slightly truncated version although the story is quite clear.
After the song, Lombardi teases out from the children the name of the instrument he’s playing: a con – cer – ti – na!
And, of course, let’s not forget Le Swing Connection and their afternoon playing swing jazz.
MY LAST THREE POSTS on this blog have had a connection to the attacks in Paris on 13th November. Although I will never forget watching the terrible events unfold on that Friday evening or the anguish of the aftermath, it’s now time to move on – at least as far as this blog is concerned.
My local Christmas market opened last Saturday. Although small, it’s my favourite Christmas market because as well as the displays of artisanal products, a nineteenth-century carousel and children’s entertainers, it also features excellent street musicians.
Last Sunday this Dixieland jazz quartet took centre stage.
Dixieland Jazz Quartet
Dixieland Jazz for Christmas:
Dixieland Jazz Quartet – Plus One!
IT’S BEEN A WHILE since I last featured any street music on this blog but I now have the opportunity to put that right.
Changing trains at the Métro station Charles de Gaulle Étoile the other day I came upon a street musician who is often to be found playing his xylophone on the platform of Métro Line 6, the line that follows a semi-circular route around the southern half of the city from Étoile to Nation.
Getting a seat on a train on Line 6 at Étoile can sometimes be a challenge. A large crowd often assembles on the platform and I usually find myself forsaking the pleasure of listening to the music in favour of elbowing my way through the crowd in the hope of securing a seat on the arriving train. Which is a shame really because most of the musicians playing in the Métro stations are very good.
It’s not generally known, but musicians who play in the Métro – at least those who play there legally – have actually been selected to play there following a formal audition process.
The auditions were introduced because the Métro was becoming infested with itinerant so-called musicians who could barely scrape out a note from their battered violins or accordions.
Now, some 2,000 musicians attend the auditions and the artistic director of the Musiciens du Métro programme and representatives of RATP, the Paris mass-transit authority, judge their performances. Only 300 of them will be awarded the coveted badge that lets them play legally in the Métro and so, with a potential audience of some four million passengers a day, that’s a gig worth having.
When I was changing trains at Étoile the other day I had time on my side so I stopped to listen to the xylophone player, one of the successful badge holders, playing his music. And what a delight it was!
Music on the Métro:
WE’VE HAD SOME beautiful sunshine in Paris over the last week or so – and when the sun shines people head to the parks.
Returning from a recording assignment the other day, I walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg to catch my bus home. The sun was shining and this most popular of Parisian parks was simply awash with people – perhaps more people I think than I’ve seen there before.
All these people were doing what people do in parks – walking, jogging, reading, having picnics, meeting friends or simply sitting and doing nothing in particular.
Since I had time on my hands I decided to stop and record some of the sounds in the park, something I’ve done many times before, but this time I wanted to capture the very particular sounds that I always associate with Parisian parks, the sounds of footsteps over the gravel paths.
I’ve recorded the sounds of footsteps in Parisian parks before but this time I wanted to do it slightly differently, to capture these distinctive sounds from a different perspective. I placed two small microphones (like the ones TV newsreaders wear) about six inches above the ground in the middle of a path and waited for people to walk or run past them.
The Sounds of Spring in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
People usually associate the arrival of Spring with the natural world bursting into life, the leaves on the tress, flowers coming into bloom and the sound of birdsong. But, as a city dweller and someone who is passionately interested in our sonic environment, it is these natural sounds of the human species that signal to me that the Parisian Spring has arrived.
The sounds of pétanque being played and the occasional birdsong in the background add a sense of ‘place’ and perspective but these sounds are secondary to the sounds of the footsteps over the gravel, which for me at any rate are the dominating sounds of Parisian parks in the springtime.
Of course, footsteps are not the only sounds to be heard in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Other sounds often become the centre of attention …
Music in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
WHATEVER THE TIME of year, street musicians can be found all over Paris plying their trade and bringing sunshine to the passers by.
Last Saturday afternoon I came across this gentleman occupying his usual pitch at the corner of the Quai de l’Archevêché and the Pont Saint-Louis. He is a big man who makes a big sound from a very small piano.
A Small Piano – A Big Sound:
AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR the Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets, spring up all over Paris and I have three of them within easy reach of me. To the west is the very large one at La Défense with its 350 châlets standing in the shadow of la Grande Arche, to the east is the most visited Christmas market in Paris stretching along the Champs Elysées and then, at the bottom of my little street, is the one closest to home.
The Christmas markets at La Défense and along the Champs Elysées are very big, mostly swamped with visitors and quite impersonal whereas my local Christmas market is tiny in comparison but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in congeniality.
My local Christmas market is now open for business so I’ve been to have a look, to savour the atmosphere and to capture the sights and sounds.
Contrary to what you might think, the sounds in the big Christmas markets can often be quite bland but in my local Christmas market I enjoyed a sonic treat – two different bands, a street organ and singer, electronic music accompanying butterfly elves on stilts, a balloon sculptress with enormous boots and, of course, the sounds of lots of excited small children.
My local Christmas market in sound:
Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie
(The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ)
Les Elfes-papillons des pôles
(Butterfly elves on stilts)
Sculpture sur ballons avec Bibindum
Swing Connection – New Orleans Jazz
AT THIS TIME OF YEAR the air in Paris is filled with music – the music of the streets. I’ve said before that the standard of the street music here is exceptionally high and it’s always a pleasure to listen to. I have an extensive archive of the Parisian street music I’ve recorded but I’m always on the look out for something unusual.
Recently, I stumbled upon this group of musicians in the Rue de Francs-Bourgeois in the Marais district. It was a Sunday, the day when all the shops are open in this neck of the woods and when the street seems to be at its busiest.
Street Music in the Rue de Francs-Bourgeois:
In the midst of the crush of Sunday tourists these musicians were performing. There were five of them, one on bass, one on banjo, two sax players, one of whom also played clarinet, and the leader who sang and played the cornet.
Two things made this ensemble stand out as being slightly unusual for me. The first was the lady who danced endlessly to the music. I don’t know if she was connected with the musicians or just a ‘fan’ but she was certainly very enthusiastic and a joy to watch. The second was the choice of music. “The White Cliffs of Dover” is not quite what one expects to hear on the streets of Paris but I’m sure Vera Lynn would approve.