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France : Traditional Calendar Songs

Music of the world

The endless return of seasons and seasonal works keeps on nurturing our lives. From New Year's Day to the fogs of Christmas, times flows in a perpetual cycle. For the present album, we have marked out this thread —whose unwinding we can never stop— with a series of celebrations, customs and rituals: as many stops in the uncoiling of time, as many landmarks in the current that sweeps us and maybe as many temptations to escape from it for a while. These stops dotted along the year weave our link with the course of nature. Christmas and Midsummer coincide with the solstices. For a long time, special customs —such as begging and ritual songs, bonfires, calendar songs, work songs etc— were associated with chosen moments in the passing year. Implicitly, many of them bore witness to very old beliefs. These ancient customs have hardly perdured until now —apart from a handful of altered ones— whereas in older days, especially in the rural world, everyone's existence was immersed in various rituals of often-obscure origin, just as people were immersed in the calendar of labour and the passage of seasons. Some of these customs lasted until the late 20th century, others are even enduring, whether greatly weakened or transformed, -as is the case with Midsummer bonfires. The traditional French-speaking song heritage still bears their marks. This album has been conceived as a time loop, starting and ending with a song that was performed on New Year's Eve. Over the 12 months of the year, it develops as many sequences presenting the month's customs and events, or evoking them. These songs belong to the huge French-speaking pool of songs from the provinces that share this heritage. Two of them nevertheless comprise elements in regional languages (Normand and Gallo). The sources both come from old collection books and more recent collecting. With its circular bow and its wooden disc —which gave it its French name : 'wheel fiddle'— the hurdy-gurdy emits a continuous tone, enabling its player to lengthen notes and create melodies based on these steadfast drones. We can thus bring about the image of a fiddle weaving an uninterrupted musical thread intertwined with the voice, so that songs can rest on and rise from them. It therefore appears as the ideal instrument to illustrate the cycle of seasons, both flowing by and immobile : the "Thread of Days".