Mélodies event features French culture

GVL / Clare Fisher
Don Sikkema

GVL / Clare Fisher Don Sikkema

Claire Fisher

An evening filled with French snacks, French poets and French song brought students straight to France during this semester’s Mélodies event at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 in the Cook-DeWitt Center. Mélodies is an event in which students, faculty members and community members from all different levels of French come together to perform and celebrate French culture.

A transcription of each performance and it’s English translation is included in the program, to help students follow along. Professor Isabelle Cata said the event is a way for students, even those who may not know French, to be exposed to French culture.

“I think it’s beautiful, so it’s a really nice cultural opportunity,” Cata said. “And then because we have the translation in English, even if they are not fluent in French, they can follow and they are exposed to French culture.”

Mélodie is a French concept of an art song from the nineteenth century. It combines poetry and music and is usually sung by a solo voice and accompanied by a piano.

Don Sikkema, a GVSU alumnus and professional vocalist, has been a part of Mélodies from its conception in 2011 and continues to perform each semester. Accompanied by Robert Byrens on piano, Sikemma performed five Mélodies for the audience. He said he enjoys sharing the concept of mélodie with students outside of the music major.

“For me, it’s another opportunity for me to present a cultural (concept) such as mélodie and bring it to a new generation,” Sikemma said. “I just hope that (students) have another opportunity to be exposed and to hear the mélodie. It’s good to have mélodie on a program that encourages people other than student musicians to hear them.

“I like to hear the students talk, speak, sing and play; it is also great to have the faculty involved.”

In addition to the traditional mélodie, students read poems, sang popular songs, performed songs from French composers and acted out French stories. Professor Isabelle Cata said the program has changed over time to include a variety of performances.

“We have mélodie, we have chanson, but we also have popular songs,” Cata said. “That really evolved because we started out to keep it the classical mélodie, but this is nice because then people can sing things that they like. It’s a great opportunity for talent obviously, but also just for fun.”

Evelyne Leffondre-Matthews, a GVSU French professor, said her favorite part of Mélodies is seeing students share their talent and knowledge of French.

“I love it when students are brave enough to sing and to recite poetry,” Leffondre-Matthews said. “That of course is pure joy when it happens. I hope [students] have fun with it and get inspired by other performances.”

Leffondre-Matthews said Chris Cirefice is one student who shares his talent during Mélodies. Cirefice has been performing in Mélodies since 2012. Each semester he writes a song in French to perform at the event.

“There are all sorts of people from different levels participating,” said Cirefice, a senior computer science and French major. “It’s really interesting to see how all those different people, from all different levels, are able to enjoy the experience even though they may not be at the necessary level to understand everything.

“I always write a song. I’ve written four songs for Mélodies,” he said. “Mélodies is really the only time that I perform stuff especially in French.”

Cirefice said he started participating in Mélodies in his French 202 class when he really started to be interested in French. He said he is always impressed by how students of all French levels participate and enjoy the experience.

“It’s really amazing for me to see students from French 101, 102 and 201, who probably don’t understand 99 percent of what’s going on here tonight, have the gumption to go up on stage and read these poems, even though they don’t know exactly what they’re saying,” Cirefice said.