The setting could not have been more fabulous.
We parked our car and walked on a narrow dirt road through vineyards that eventually led to Maguelone Cathedral, a Romanesque church that dates from the 12th century.
My new French friends had invited me to join them for a Corsican music concert. For my part, a chance to explore yet another aspect of the culture of my new home was an opportunity not to be missed.
Built on a spit, the cathedral is located between the Étang de l’Arnel and the Mediterranean Sea.
Since we had arrived early, we had time to walk around the cathedral and take in the views from different perspectives. Because of its location, no matter which direction we looked, we could see miles of turquoise-blue water under a blue sky dotted with a few wispy clouds.
The inside of the massive church was built mostly of undecorated stone.
Huge domed ceilings, perhaps fifty feet high, dwarfed the few hundred people sitting in the audience waiting for the concert.
After what seemed like a lengthy announcement (no doubt because it was in French, and I mostly didn’t understand what was being said), the concert began. The audience was facing the apse at the front of the cathedral when the polychronic music dramatically arose from high in the back. The melodic voices seemed to float down and envelop us.
We could not see the Corsican singers, who were singing from a balcony overlooking the seated audience. We could only hear their clear, complex harmonies.
After the initial song, the five women moved downstairs and into the center of the altar area, where they proceeded to entertain us for the next 90 minutes. Their voices, despite the focus needed for such an uninterrupted performance, remained pure, clear, and harmonic.
I was completely enthralled by the intricate harmonies and the unusual sounds the singers made as they sang.
I’ve since learned that Corsican music is a huge part of the Corsican culture and identity. For example, UNESCO has declared Corsican music to be an intangible national heritage.
The songs are thought to have originated with shepherds, who sang of life’s events. The music also includes religious themes and might be sung in Sardinian, Latin, Greek, or Corsican, the native language.
What made the concert even more unusual was that the music was sung by five women. Typically, Corsican music is sung by male choirs or small male groups. It is definitely not sung by women! I scoured the internet and could not even find a reference to female Corsican singers.
The music is usually sung a capella, but during two songs one of the singers (while still singing) played the accordion.
I found the performance quite extraordinary. Since I had sung in choral groups from high school through college, and later in community choruses, I had a true appreciation for the amazing difficulty and artistry that the women displayed.
I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. The group received a standing ovation, and the audience insisted on an encore.
When my friends invited me to join them for the concert, they gave me a very special gift.
To thank them, I’m going to make some brownies for them tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll fix a pot of soup, now that the weather is cooler. For sure, I want to keep the invitations coming!