In my post “French Baroque: It’s French to Me!”, I gave a detailed account of how I literally struggled with French Baroque music, most notably with all its quirky ornaments. I also recounted how my voice teacher/continuo player literally had to play my line along with me for the next month or so until I could halfway grasp the idioms of the style. However, once I was “out of the woods”, I took off, and I was asked by my voice teacher to perform my first-ever French Baroque piece — Hotteterre’s Fourth Suite in D Minor — for a service at his church.
Not long before I performed or even had the dress rehearsal of that occasion, however, I arranged a lesson with my recorder teacher. At that lesson, we not only discussed the nuances of French Baroque music, but he also recommended to me another outstanding Hotteterre Suite, this time the Second Suite in E Minor from the same collection as the D Minor one. I proceeded to order it, and I even sight-read through the first movement with my voice teacher at the dress rehearsal at his church. Hence, after the service was finished, I proceeded to begin learning the E Minor Suite, playing it for my recorder teacher when I saw him next.
Even though my voice teacher had helped me over the initial obstacles when learning French Baroque, I was still struggling with both the style and the ornaments, even though I now had the ornamental symbols from each memorized. I just could not seem to execute them 100%, let alone make them fit the “passion” of the music. In particular, the tour de chant — a turn in which one begins on the written note, then quickly descends to the note below it and then ascends quickly back up to the main note — posed obstacles to me. Seeing my difficulty, my recorder teacher proceeded to explain the ornament to me in a highly innovative and memorable manner:
Teacher: “Have you been keeping up with the news?”
Me: “No; I really don’t watch the news.”
Teacher: “Do you know what’s going on in France right now? The big bicycle race ….”
Me: “Oh yes! The Tour de France!”
Teacher: “Exactly! And what do they do in that race?”
Me: “They go around France.”
Teacher: “Yes! And where do they start?”
Teacher: “And where do they end?”
Teacher: “Correct! So they’re going to take a tour around France, beginning and ending in Paris. So now let’s go back to Mr. Hotteterre. So what does tour mean?”
Me: “Taking a trip around something.”
Teacher: “And what does chant mean?”
Me: “Oh, like Gregorian chant …. A note, I guess?”
Teacher: “Yes. So what does tour de chant mean?”
Me: “A trip around a note!”
Teacher: “Correct! So now you are going to take a little tour around a note. You are going to begin on the note, take a little tour around it with the note below it, and then end on the note. Get it?”
Thanks to my teacher’s brilliantly clever, step-by-step memory tactic used above, I had no more problems with the tour de chant at my lesson, and today I have absolutely no issues in recalling or executing the ornament whenever I encounter it in French Baroque music. After my teacher had explained it to me as described above, the ornament made perfect sense to me, which it still does today. Hence, whenever I encounter the tour de chant in French Baroque music, I immediately recall the Tour de France and immediately have no issues in recalling the literal French meaning of the ornament’s name. Hmmm, perhaps French Baroque music is not so French at all ….. All I need is an “interpreter” like my teacher, and I’m all set!