Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Sound of Angels Singing

Image: Choir members taking a bow at the end of the concert

So this is what the sound of angels singing must be like. Four and five part harmonies; soaring tenors, and deep rumbling basses, pure sopranos and sweet, sweet altos. I’m sitting in Notre-Dame Cathedral on a freezing December night listening to a concert of Marian Polyphonies of the Renaissance.

No, I don’t know what that means either, but by chance I noticed a poster pinned to a board during my visit to Notre-Dame de Paris (French, for Our Lady of Paris), and on the spur of the moment, decided to attend this performance of choral works under the expectation that no matter what language the works were sung in, they would sound spectacular – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Some of the songs performed dated back to the late 1400s, while at least two pieces were written quite recently by the French composer, Caroline Marçot who was born in 1974.

I’m assuming all of the twelve songs performed during the evening were sung in Latin, but could be wrong. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Conducted by Lionel Sow, the director of Notre-Dame’s youth and children’s choirs, the sound of the small choir of around 20 performers (children and adults), filled the cavernous heart of Notre-Dame with exquisite harmonies and fine, clear singing. It was the sound of those voices that made the performance so special, and transcended the need to know or understand what was being sung.

As you would expect, the acoustics in the Cathedral are perfect for this type of concert, and as far as I could tell, no microphones or amplification of any type was used during the night. In fact, the choir left the ‘stage’ and formed a circle right in the middle of the audience (just one or two metres from where I was sitting) to perform the last song of the evening – and the sound was indeed heavenly.

Concerts of choral works are performed on a regular basis in Notre-Dame Cathedral, so it is well worth checking the Cathedral’s website to see if your visit to Paris coincides with one of these events.

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