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2005 02 cul english

The film tells the story of a choir master who changes the life of his special-needs children thanks to song – if you have not seen the film yet, do so, it’s a moving film.

It is the fictional story whose worldwide success has created a second story, a true one at that, every bit as fascinating as the imaginary one in the film: the disruption to the lives of the young choir boys who sang in the film and their choir master. They are the Little Choirboys of Saint-Marc. Their choirmaster, Nicolas Porte, tells us about two years unlike any other:

Well the Little Choirboys of Saint-Marc are a choir of children that I started in 1986 at the middle school of Saint-Marc where we were at that time; when I arrived as music teacher, I wanted to create an original musical group and especially for vocal music with children as personally when I was a child I sang and I wanted to give them an interesting artistic opportunity in the context of their school life; so my thoughts were “there is the school on one hand, but if they want to be little musicians and work with their voices, we can give them a chance, a musical opportunity to discover music thanks to their voices”. I had in mind the English choirs, the German choirs, a bit like what happens in Europe knowing that in France there was not a lot of things like that yet. So now, there’s a choir that’s been around now for nearly twenty years and which has done a lot of things, lots of events, lots of discs, but which has had its own artistic life and has established a big audience thanks to the film.

So, we were contacted by the producer Jacques Perris as the director Christophe Barratier was looking for a children’s choir to record the original sound track for the film. So they had contacted many children’s choirs all over France. We sent them a recoding of what we were doing and then they came to visit us during rehearsals, during concerts and right away they liked the sound of our choir, the emotion which came from the children’s voices. And then there was also Jean Baptiste in the choir who was already a soloist at that time and he was able to play very, very well the principal child’s role in the film of Les Choristes. So they found in one place what they needed for the music, for the film at our place.

Personally I worked on the film as I was the coach of Gerard Jugnot. I also had the children working on the film. I think that the film is as true as the real role of a choirmaster. What I mean is that you are not there really to be choirmaster with the children and provide the value yourself. You are there to please the audience. So you are there to prepare the children for giving their best. So in fact, you are a means, thanks to music, of making the children grow-up. But once the children have learned their repertoire, once they are into performance, the important thing is not the choirmaster; it is the relationship between the choir and the audience. So the choir master is there, really, to enable this relationship, this good relationship and ensure that it goes well, but it is not a role. You are not on centre stage, that’s not our role. So it’s really that we can identify somewhat with Clement Mathieu. There are children who have discovered their talent in the choir. Some children older ones, who were in the choir, have today… they make music professionally in various groups, vocal or with an instrument. That’s very good. We enable them to make a living from music, an artistic profession. That’s our goal and there’s still an educational goal too.

What they are showing in the film is the education system after the war. Today of course education is not like that anymore, but the children have other concerns. There is no social situation in which the children can say that there is only happiness. The families are often mixed. The children live things in the family context, socially, which are not obviously easy from day to day; there are parents with unemployment who are experiencing things which are not fun and we, in the choir, we have a lot of children, I would say ordinary children, with the concerns of all children today. So really, they’ll tell you this themselves, that when they come to the Little Choirboys, when they come, they come to sing, they are all equal. We all love to do the same thing, that is working, making beautiful music, giving ourselves pleasure, and by the pleasure of doing it, of giving pleasure to the people who come to hear us. So it’s certainly the case that there is some reward for singing. There is fun in singing. There is the fact that when we sing we forget everything else. So the children, even in our choir where there are children who could be considered privileged, get a lot from that power of music.

For us, it was simply the opportunity given to the children thanks to their voices to have a rather new experience of working with cinema, but we had not expected the outcome that would emerge today, the success that it would be today. For us, it was simply taking part, vocally, in this film, and well that we would sell ten, fifteen thousand discs and that a million people, one and half million would go to the cinema to see it, that would be a great success. Today in France, there are more than one and a half million discs. There are almost nine million people who have gone to the cinema and then it is right now a very, very big success in Spain, it’s a very, very big success in Taiwan, in Korea, it is a big success in the United States. There are many invitations now from the television channels, of course, but many festivals, many recording houses, who want to do things.

Happier? Yes, we are very happy that choral singing has today this, been given value like that today in France because that was obviously not the case before. So, suddenly, people discover what other children have been doing earlier, the Little Choirboys today, what personally I have been doing for twenty years, what others have been doing for a long time, well, it’s not poker, what’s interesting, it’s beautiful music. Well that’s fine. Now we are in a situation where we have to manage, with the children, I would say the show business, the business situation, where there are other financial stakes, commercial stakes which are not obviously easy to manage, every day. Yeah, that has really changed and if we are not careful about that, if we don’t pay attention to that, that could really change our ways of doing things. We have a lot of requests. We could move towards the banal. The success that we have today, we could do a lot of things that would give us even more success. Well that would be maybe a bit short-lived. That is, do we really want to be a fashion phenomenon only; so do we want to hang onto something deeper saying: what you have discovered today is what we have been doing for twenty years and others have been doing for even longer; you see, that can last a very long time because music, choral singing is really beautiful and that does not go over on television of course.

The choir which is an association is paid for its services. And this payment which is more important now because of its success allows us to develop the structure which used to be a weak structure because there were teachers who had the children working who have the salary of a teacher for several years. And it’s about saying to ourselves, well now we have a greater need to think about next year, or two years because, thanks to this success, in our case, it’s about four, five years, six years, we know where we are going and what we know, what we can develop. We can go from forty children two years ago to sixty five this year, to eighty next year. We will be able to have more teachers, more musical training for the children. It’s the children themselves who get the benefit from this money which will come from the “Little Choirboys”.

A choir for children anyway, after the age of fifteen, they are no longer children’s voices whether they are boys or girls, so there are always new children who come to the choir and older ones who leave the choir when they are no longer children. So we have an awful lot of requests today too, and we have nearly ninety requests, one hundred request per year since the film came out, and simply only twenty five places in the choir. So it’s a bit of a pity but it’s the way we work because we already have sixty five today and we are going to have seventy maybe eighty next year. That’s an awful lot of children and we cannot go above that.

The love of making beautiful music

$Id: 2005_02_cul.txt 25 2010-04-11 19:23:11Z alistair $

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