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Course Spotlight: Songs of France Then and Now

The French Song (French Chanson) Genre in Its Heyday, Its Wane and Its Renewal

Dinah Stillman

By: Amy Dickey, Program Coordinator

Spring 2015 features several courses guaranteed to introduce members of OLLI at OU to new areas of interests. Dinah Stillman is back on board for another semester, teaching a course that highlights the history and importance of French songs.

Dinah has long waited to teach an OLLI course over French songs. “French songs are not just songs. They are paramount pieces of music and, we cannot live without music,” Dinah said. Her love for French melodies has increased her desire to share the history of the songs with OLLI members.

The History of French Songs

“French songs developed all through the Middle Ages, transforming from poetic pieces of art to weapons people would sing to protest regimes, particularly during the French Revolution,” Dinah said.

At the beginning of the 1900s French songs became a permanent piece of French culture. “People would go places on weekends to listen to singers,” she said. “From the 1920s to the 1950s, the French song became intellectual, each song telling a story, a kind of mini play. ” The timeline and expansion of French songs kept evolving with each decade. “During the 1960s, there was a tidal wave of American and English rock and the songs in the 1970s were about social and political causes. Songs in the 1980s had an electronic feel, while in the 1990s and 2000s, very talented young singers  emerged and were known as ’la nouvelle chanson Française,’ the revolution of ’the new French song.’”   

Teaching French Songs Is an Act of Love

The Songs of France Then and Now course will explore the storylines behind French songs. Each French song is an important aspect of the ever-changing French culture. Some of the most famous French musicians OLLI members will listen to and discuss include Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and the latest French sensation, Zaz, who has millions of followers on YouTube.

There will be an in-depth discussion over Edith Piaf, who was widely regarded as the queen of French love songs and was crucial in skyrocketing French songs into the powerful pieces of music they are today. “Piaf was known for leading a life of both suffering and passion, and her singing career was so influential that composers would volunteer and write songs for her and her music,” Dinah said. One of Piaf’s most well-known songs is “La Vie en Rose.” According to this famous song of love,

Quand il me prend dans les bras

Il me parle tout bas

Je vois la vie en rose.

When he takes me in his arms

and speaks to me softly

I see the world through rose-colored glasses.

If you want to listen to wonderful melodies and beautiful voices, sign up for Songs of France Then and Now and enjoy something different from American music.

Songs of France Then and Now: The French Song (French Chanson) Genre in Its Heyday, Its Wane and Its Renewal will meet Thursdays, January 22 through February 12, 2 – 4 p.m.