About the Choir
Sing With Us
Tournon le Soleil
If it’s Friday, it must be France
Voyages Jeremy Jackman present their deluxe European musical tour...
Day 1: at road of iron
Your saga of discovery, declamation and degustation begins in the modern, glittering, united-Europe encounter-space which is Waterloo International station. Recall the thrill and din of the 1815 battle as you release the safety-catch of your passport, and tamp your ticket into the barrel of the electronic reader. Pile your luggage up into ramparts and defend your territory!
You are trundled in stately grandeur through the Garden of England, recalling the early railway pioneers such as George Stevenson and his, er, less successful rivals. Plenty of time to learn music but air conditioning not functioning so this is difficult.
Comme vous entendez, nous commençons notre tournée rapide de quatre siècles de la musique Anglaise avec des pièces de William Byrd. Après ce madrigal-là du printemps «This sweet and merry month of May», nous chantons un motet dont la texte vient des psaumes: Chantez avex joie au Dieu notre puissance «Sing joyfully».
Then you are plunged into the stygian blackness which is the Chunnel, or as our French neighbours so precisely describe it, Le Tunnel Sous La Manche. How can something shaped like a tunnel possibly be masculine? But then, look at the way they take their pharmaceuticals!
But then again, look at the way they build their railways. Your train will now speed up dramatically and hurtle in a straight line through northern France.
Change at Lille.
Traveller’s tip: your next train will have two halves, only one of which is present initially. This is not yours. The best way to make the other half arrive is to go to the toilet in (not “on”) the station concourse upstairs.
Another tip: Do not forget to compost your tickets. This is an offence under European recycling law, and the iron in those magnetic stripes will do wonders for your vegetables.
Yet another tip: do not leave any personal belongings on the Eurostar train, else they will be taken onwards to Brussels and have some regulations written about them. In the event that this should occur, remain calm and use your initiative. You may choose to smash the windows with a fire-axe and jump out, but the less adventurous will be content with travelling to Brussels and back.
You are now on a TGV, which is French for Train At Big Speed. Unfortunately the French for buffet car is BLV (Bar à Lent Vitesse). Also, the gastronomie roulant is less than grand. But the air conditioning works, which is a big improvement on the Eurostar. Conditions are more conducive to learning music.
Du 17ième siècle nous presentons deux pièces de Henry Purcell. La première est une charmante chanson-d’amour «If love’s a sweet passion» de l’opéra The Fairy Queen; la seconde un motet écrit pour Westminster Abbey où le compositeur était “maître de choeur” - Ne vous souvenez pas, Seigneur, de nos péchés” «Remember not, Lord, our offences».
Pass through Lyon and admire the extensive, some might say continuous for many kilometres, work of the famous local graffiti artists.
On peut détecter certains éléments les plus
passionants de ce motet-là dans la pièce prochaine, écrite une centaine d’années
plus tard par Jonathan Battishill. Seigneur, regardez des cieux. «O Lord,
look down from heaven». Où est votre zèle et votre puissance? Est-ce qu’ils
se sont retirés? Puis, nous sommes témoins d’une discussion vive parmi les
choristes au sujet de la meilleure journée de la semaine pour chanter. «Which is the properest day to
Arrive Valance. It is hot. Transfer to bus which makes no pretence at having airconditioning. Stop whingeing, English bourgeois. Make your toilet in your respective accommodations.
Night: free to sleep, “relax” with your fellow (and female) singers, or learn your music.
Vous venez d’entendre un beau chant funèbre du 19ième siècle de Robert Pearsall. «Lay a garland». Ensuite, nous présentons un grand motet écrit au début du 20ème siècle de Edward Naylor. «Vox dicentis» Le texte en Latin décrit l’humanité qui se fane et qui périt. Une fugue mouvementée annonce l’arrivée du Seigneur, suivi par une tranche qui célèbre sa puissance. La fin est plus calme: Le Seigneur nourrira son troupeau comme un berger.
Find church. Clean chairs. Still time to learn music...
Et pour finir cette partie du concert nous chantons «The ballad of green broom» de Benjamin Britten. Un jeune homme paresseux est prié par son pède quitter son lit, et d’aller dehors pur ramasser du petit bois. La grande dame du château l’aperçoit, ad admire ses jeunes formes athlétiques. Enfin, parmi des grandes fêtes, ils se sont mariés.
Lunch: only a few pieces to learn...
Notre petite tournée Européenne commence et finit naturellement en France. Là, on a entendu deux chansons charmantes de Camille Saint-Saens «Calme des nuits» et «Les fleurs et les arbres», et nous voyageons maintenant en Italie pour le «Pater noster» de Verdi. Une des trois pièces seulement que Verdi a écrite pour choeur a cappella, on ne peut pas doubter qu’elle est était écrite par le grand maître lui-même.
D’Allemagne vient la chanson prochaine «Abschied vom Walde». Un jeune homme regarde avec l’oeil triste, et peut-être pour la dernière fois, les prés, les bois et les vallées de chez lui, avant de partir.
The excitement of the day mounts as you deliberately leave mastery of Le Chant des Oiseaux (by Jannequin) until the last few hours before the concert. In singing as in athletics (and indeed in other physical activities) it is important not to peak too early. But this Jannequin arrangement appears a little more complex than the English version (The Birdie Song), and the elbow movements are considerably faster. And desultory whistling will not get you through.
Tournon-sur-Rhône is summer home to large flocks of swifts which continuously swoop around the rooftops. Surprisingly, this species is not among those featured in Le Chant des Oiseaux. Your conductor declines the offer to perform an additional verse based on “screech shree whirrgh zzreee”.
Memory tip: If you’re one of those people who struggle to remember the words of songs, why not persuade the chorister in front to print key phrases on the back of his T-shirt? It worked for the person behind Keith. And indeed they were mostly not restrain’d, though some certainly should have been.
And another thing. Conductors. If your choir cannot or will not keep correct tempo, shout at them rhythmically in no-nonsense terms such as tick, tick, or zee zee. But when abroad, beware local translations of these sounds.
Remainder of afternoon at leisure. Or learning music.
C’est une particularité de la musique de l’espagnol Mateo Flecha - presque certainement le compositeur de «Riu, riu chiu» - qu’elle contienne des éléments folkloriques. Ce rondeau exubérant est typique. C’est la prière des bergers pour la sécurité de l’agneau (la Sainte-Vièrge) du loup affamé (le diable).
Mid evening: basses rehearse dodgy bits.
Pour finir, vous vous trouvez maintenant dans une grande volière. Il y a deux dangers associés avec cette «Chanson des oiseaux» de Clément Jannequin. Il y a le danger évident pour vous de rester assis au-dessous de mille oiseaux variés. Et il y a le danger pour nous dans cette musique de nous trancher la langue, les lèvres et les dents!
Birdie song now secure. Time for a quick breather, and to apply ointment to sliced tongue and lips.
Late evening: perform concert. Impressive timing from thunder outside when choir inquires of the Lord “where is thy zeal and thy strength?”. But Birdie Song inexplicably several chirrups short of a twittering. Where is thy “frian” and thy “qui la-ra”?
Very late evening: attend wine cellar (which you will find in attic of chateau, rather than underground). Degustation thanks to hospitality of local hosts. This is first of many opportunities to learn about local wines, and there are many interesting facts to bear in mind while guzzling. First, do not guzzle Chateau-Grillet because it is produced from only a single site of 3½ hectares and only 10,000 bottles are made per year. Second, give thanks for the 1956 Mistral wind which froze the olive trees and prompted vine-growing instead. Third, wines grown on argillaceous limestone are to be laid down and not guzzled immediately. And finally, do not go to the Maison des Vins expecting to buy wines, because it is an office.
Very very late evening: still high on adrenaline and insufficiently “chilled”, as the young people say nowadays. It’s a choice between two bars on opposite sides of the street: one catering to young sporting types, with pool tables and organised shouting, and the other attracting a more cool, hip-hop clientele. You choose the latter, smiling cautiously at the baffled but polite stares of the local youths.
Extremely late evening: on way back to hotel, hear familiar sounds (though horribly garbled) emanating from bar which looks as though it ought to be closed. On closer inspection turns out to be English Baroque Choir members in “encores for booze” scandal.
Ethical and aesthetic tip: do not do this. You know it is wrong.
Very extremely late evening: instead of continuing to sing in bar, sing as walk down street. Some people do not know when to stop. Thoughtfully diminuendo to ppp to avoid waking guests at own hotel, but this is still loud enough to wake proprietor. Perhaps you were really singing “m” as usual. Rather disappointingly, le patron informs ensemble that terrace bar is now closed and that you ought to allez aux chambres sans faire aucun encore bruit (this is a local dialect expression meaning “the champagne in the minibars is free”.
Sleeping tip: if you are sharing a bed with someone who is not your usual sleeping partner, take care not to “marginalise” your bed-mate with inconsiderate deployment of body parts. This can cause bad feelings.
Very early morning: facilities are available for you to continue to sleep in your bed. Alternatively, you may get up and run around the town. Victim support groups are available.
Morning free for shopping. Wander the quaint, narrow streets, where you may be accosted by men dressed as apricots. These could be mistaken for fat Dutch football supporters, except they offer you free apricots to eat, and speak French, so that is two coincidences too many. There is a market, highlight of which is chickens roasting and dripping their juices onto co-roasting potatoes below. Yum!
Hygiene tip: whether running, walking or eating chicken, look carefully at your feet to ensure that you do not put them in dog turds.
You will probably notice that the hillside opposite is terraced with large walls, adorned in large neat capital letters with the “tags” of the locals: Chapoutier, Jaboulet etc. This is a better class of grafitti than Lyon, and despite being foreign is much more legible than the ugly squiggles you see in London.
Afternoon free for finding a vineyard and degusting it. This is not so simple as it first appears, since to qualify for the degustation and tour you need to look a more serious wine-purchaser than you obviously do. And to qualify for buying wine, you need to attend a shop when it is open. And the vineyards are generally surrounded by “private, keep out” signs, apparently prompted by vandalism. What kind of person would vandalise vines?
To get the most out of the wine-drinking experience, we recommend that you proceed afterwards to the dining room of the most elegant hotel in town, and look for your English chums (who will be studying their cutlery with their hat brims pulled well down). Tell them loudly how many bottles of the grandest cru you have drunk. French diners will be impressed that you can still talk, though they may mistake your slurred rantings for an English regional accent. You will impress the local gourmets even more if you have selected a wine which must be laid down for at least five years. How they will laugh at your mischievous iconoclasm!
Alternative trip: Sentier des Tours. This is on the opposite side of the valley and therefore features less sun, less vines, more trees and indeed considerably more towers. Your circular tour (why did they not call it “tour des tours?”) starts at the Centre Culturel de Tourette, which may be named after a little tower, or, more interestingly, after that fellow who had a syndrome. What’s the f***ing point of having a f***ing cultural centre when the streets are full of dogsh** and English w***ers are staggering around guzzling our f***ing vintage f***ing wines? [That’s enough Tourette: Ed.]
Marvel at the antics of the ants as they carry breadcrumbs many times their own size back to their nest. Try feeding them cheese, and watch them turn up their little noses.
For the energetic, or inattentive sign-readers, it is possible to follow a path right to the top of the hill, where there is a fine view and a table d’orientation. This will not automatically orient you if you lie on it, but will help you find the way down again (or to various distant locations: see trip Options C and D).
Hotel tip: do not ask the staff what is the funny short washbasin thing. And on no account tell them that the spare toilet does not seem to flush very well.
Evening free for eating and drinking.
Restaurant tip: some find French menus intimidating. This is sound judgement, since if you ask for the menu you will be given five courses without any choice. You must instead ask for “the card”. There are then three rules: 1. carry a specialised food dictionary at all times, and be prepared to use it; 2. under no circumstances ever eat andouillettes; and 3. look out for stolen food. Most “cards” will make it clear that the fish, meat etc belong to the patron (ses viandes etc), and that the ingredients in turn are swimming in their own juices or recumbent on their own bed of some pureed vegetable. If your dinner is served with someone else’s juices / vegetables or indeed belongs to another restaurant entirely, you may fall foul of the local gendarmes!
Wine tip: you can impress your fellow diners by relating the flavours of tobacco, almond, apricot, leather etc to the particular stratum of pliocene clay, cobalt marl or lacustrine gravel on which the grapes were grown, and the patterns of cyclonic and anticyclonic weather that year. When tasting the wine, it is a mistake to joke with the sommelier that you were hoping for something a little grapier. And do not ask for Blue Nun. Just don’t.
Excursion on steam railway. The station is conveniently situated for your hotel, and this is well worth the minor inconvenience of heavy and very long freight trains thundering past every half-hour or so.
The train transports you back into a halcyon idyll of yesteryear, when children played barefoot in the street without fear of infected syringes, and parents spent their money on food rather than over-designed “training” shoes. When rosy-cheeked peasants would rush out to meet the train, offering for sale bucolic jams, rustic wines and agricultural confectionery. Actually they still do this bit.
The journey is a spectacular cavalcade of gorges, bridges, forests and pastoral vistas, as the track follows the foam-flecked fleuve far from the madding crowd. The wheels go clickety-clack in a very close approximation of a well-known Glitter Band hit.
You have 4 hours at leisure at Lamastre. This is not quite enough for lunch, but if you rush the dessert and try not to make too much of a palaver over paying the bill, you may just catch the return train.
Time-saving tip: try to avoid changing your mind after ordering. Remember, animals can not be unkilled.
In typically cavalier Continental fashion, passengers are allowed to ride on the open platforms at the end of the carriages, separated from hundreds of metres of precipice by only a delicate chain at knee height. But the guard assures us that only zero people plummet to their deaths in a typical year.
Clothes tip: steam engines emit black smudgy particles. You are advised against wearing white clothes on this excursion.
Tip tip: when warning readers about what to wear, place your warning before the day’s events, not after.
Evening not free for eating and drinking. As a gesture of thanks for last night’s exertions, you are invited to another concert in a village only a few miles down-river.
For those still not tired of singing, the chapel in the chateau beckons, with its famous tryptych and its special acoustic properties.
Option A: go home.
Option B: continue to relax, tour, eat and drink.
Option A brings you back into contact with the British railway system, almost certainly a miserable end to your holiday, sorry, triumphant concert tour. But before this, you have a chance to test Tournon’s renowned “no pay, no bags” policy. Your journey will be all the more exciting as your coach trip to Valance TGV station is delayed by attempts to find out who has not settled his / her hotel bill. Is it the person whose bags have been confiscated? Is it someone else? A mercy dash by Gerard your host produces some sort of result.
Train tip: there are two stations at Valence, and if your ticket says one and your itinerary says the other, you need help. You may be advised that the ticket is usually right (in this case, it is not; the problem is that the TGV station has been opened since the ticket was printed). You may think the tourist office would know, but Valence is in another departement so they advise walking across the river and asking at the station in the next town. A bridge has been thoughtfully provided.
Option B: If the afternoon heat gets too much, why not lie on your bed and watch television? EastEnders does not feature in the schedules, but there is something called Sous Le Soleil; this appears to be set in St Tropez, which is considerably easier on the eye than Walford. The characters are easier on the eyes and ears also.
An even better idea is to visit the local swimming pool. If you are a meticulous planner you will notice that the pool at Tain over the river is probably closer than Tournon’s, but if you are not, then you will duly walk the long and dusty road to the edge of town. If you are a particularly poor planner you will have arrived with “boxer” style swimming trunks, which tend to be banned in France for some unknown reason. Remember: slip oui, caleçon non.
So why not go for a walk instead? You can visit the statue of Marc Seguin, a local hero who invented a particularly successful type of steam boiler, then had to invent railways and steamships in which to use it. For good measure he built a suspension bridge to facilitate access to the station.
Evening free for yet another session in the bars and restaurants of “Tournon sur Road”. For entertainment there is always lorry-spotting, or for the bold you could try making a few citizen’s arrests of youths with excessively loud motor scooters and no crash helmets. If you haven’t got the balls for that, then you might like to watch the pétanque, where they have plenty of balls. Or you could dine with Mike, who has a huge repertoire of amusing aviation anecdotes.
Option C: go to mountains.
Option D: go to more vineyards.
For the road user on foot, it is possible to combine elements of options C and D by climbing up to the chapel on top of the hill opposite. There are signposted walks, though the signposting requires some interpretation. Anticlockwise is better (as viewed from above ground), because you can start with gentle climbs and finish with the steep part going down. For the clockwise variant, you may need crampons. For the Peter Dean “route directe”, you will need crampons going up and futons at the top.
As there are now few of the party remaining in Tournon, you may be invited to a “simple salad” at the home of Michelle & Alain. This is a beautiful combination of good food, good wine, good company and magnificent views, with skylarks giving way to bats (to look at, not to eat) as the dusk falls and the lights twinkle in the far distance. A memorable conclusion to your stay.
Buy local newspaper. Read review of concert, which is very complimentary. Rejoice!
Afternoon: go home.
Evening: get home.
Writing tip: try not to peak too early. If you do, then anticlimax with dignity. And do not forget to thank your hosts for a most enjoyable visit and making us so welcome. And to thank all who helped organise the whole event.Back to top