Au Clair De La Lune

I’m unfailingly drawn to setting children’s texts to music.

The poetry and songs we consume when we’re children get a special place in our hearts which shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. Our brains are like supernatural sponges at that point in our lives. But I do think that many of us forget that connection. When reunited, it can be a shock to the system that it’s still there.

The common refrain I’ve heard from ensembles and audiences is that the first impression of one of my settings of children’s texts (Like my notoriously lovely setting of, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) are often teetering on molecular level rejection (What is this? This is kid’s stuff!), before moving on to acceptance (Oh – I know these words. And this is lovely!), to surprise (I remember this, but wow this was not at all appropriate for my younger self). And I’m really tickled that this is how people experience this music for the first time.

There’s also a more mechanical, and somewhat obvious, reason for why I gravitate to these texts. It’s just hard to understand WORDS when they’re being said by a group of people simultaneously. And singing in general obfuscates the clarity of the recited word because of the nature of the mechanism.

When you combine music with words, the words are still the most important thing flying through the air. Choirs work very hard on making words understandable to the audience but it’s almost impossible to be 100%. The performance spaces tend to be quite reverberant and there is often a technical reason for warping the vowels of words for blend (Or survival). For that reason, subtleties in the poetry can be lost. Children’s poetry tends to be direct and – I’m not going to say simple – LEAN. The story tends to be buried in fewer layers of artifice, the forms are logical, and word choices tend to favour clarity over sophistication.

This setting of Au Clair De La Lune relies on, like most good things, a complete accident.

One of the opening lines is, “Prête-moi ta plume”. It’s thought by some that the word “plume” could be a mondegreen and that the original word may have been “lume” – an old french word for “light”. The word, “plume” works in the context of the first stanza, especially since it’s followed by the line, “Pour écrire un mot” but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the poem as the word “plume” is often surrounded by text alluding to a search for light. Once you get past the first stanza, if you substitute the word “lume” for “plume” a darker story emerges; one of the poet searching for the light of love from one of the world’s lost dark spaces.

Once this came together, the musical setting wrote itself.

Though, I may have helped it limp along at some point.

Very much looking to the premiere with Chor Leoni!