‘Mélodies’ brings a celebration of French culture to GV

Courtesy / GVSU

Courtesy / GVSU

Jacob Creswell

On March 20, the French section of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures put on Mélodies, described by the department as being “An evening of French song, music and poetry performed by GVSU students, faculty and special guests from the community.”

French professor Isabelle Cata has been the coordinator of Mélodies since 2012. In regards to the event, she said that, “It’s an evening of song and poetry, and students, professors and members of the community perform poems, songs, French musical pieces and sometimes excerpts of plays.” 

While the performances at Mélodies are all in French, students who don’t know the language can enjoy the event too.

“Even if you know no French whatsoever, you can still appreciate the melodic sounds of the language and the music,” Cata said. “We provide a program with the English translation of all the pieces included in the event so that attendees who do not understand fully the French words can understand, but also so they can follow in French.” 

Mélodies included performances from faculty, guests and students. One student who performed at the event was Lee Gamm, who performed a ukulele cover of “Jouer Dehors,” a song by the French rock band Mademoiselle K.

“As someone who has tentatively decent listening comprehension in the French language, hearing the songs, poems, music and other performances was a good experience,” Gamm said. “You could hear the happiness in the performers’ voices as they shared a part of their artistic selves with the audience, with us, from the stage.” 

“It has cultural value,” Cata said. “The performers are very good. It is inspiring to watch fellow students perform in a foreign language.”

Cata said that holding these events can encourage students to pursue foreign languages.

“(Mélodies) could inspire a student to study French, to sing in French, to write in French, to become more curious about French and French-speaking cultures,” Cata said, including that many students perform original work.

Pieces for Mélodies are submitted by the students who want to perform them, and according to Cata, they have never turned down a performer, even though some require revising. 

Mélodies sees a wide range of pieces performed, including songs, poems and literature, among others. Gamm said that the audience hears “everything and anything” at these events.

“Works by Victor Hugo, Charles Trenet, Claude Debussy and Édith Piaf are frequently performed, however, which definitely ties in to France’s cultural obsession with those figures,” Gamm said.

Cata echoed the popularity of a few of the poets that Gamm mentioned.

“The poetry read at the event can be original pieces written by students, poems by famous poets, such Victor Hugo or Paul Eluard or lesser-known ones. It is the opportunity to discover their works,” she said.

As submissions to perform are open to the student body, both Cata and Gamm encouraged students to participate and attend.

“If you’re nervous about attending or performing in an event where you don’t know the language, or have a very shaky grasp, be it French or otherwise, just go, just do it,” Gamm said. “You cannot control your emotions, but you can control how you respond to them, anxiety included. I have stage fright and I performed…I had so, so much fun. Fun that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.”

“It is inspiring to watch fellow students perform in a foreign language and think, ‘Well, if they can do it, perhaps I can, too!’” Cata said.

Cata is organizing a similar event, the International Water Poetry and Song Celebration. This event includes all languages taught by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures as well as English. This event will take place on April 3 at 6 p.m. in the Cook-DeWitt Center. Like Mélodies, this event will feature poems from both students and faculty.

“We certainly hope some students come to the event just out of curiosity for French and the cultural value of the program,” Cata said. “In this world where violence, bad news and fake news abound, a little joy, poetry and song is greatly needed.”

“We sing, play instruments, put on little theatrical performances and share food, laughter and the joy that comes from shared experience and love of the arts,” Gamm said. “Take chances, put yourself out there, the worst that will happen is that you’ll learn something new about yourself.”