How I feted the Fête de la Musique at the Shanghai Expo

At the Shanghai Expo, the Monitor's Beijing bureau chief and his Francophone Choir serendipitously serenade the founding father of the Fête de la Musique.

Jacques Brinon/AP
At the Shanghai Expo, people perform during the 29th 'Fête de la Musique' Music event in Paris, Monday.

One of the things I do with my time off is run the Francophone Choir of Beijing. There are about 40 of us, a heterogeneous bunch of Chinese and foreigners who speak French and enjoy singing, and on Monday we were invited to perform at China's Shanghai World Expo.

Monday was the Day of France at the Expo (each country attending gets its special day) which was a happy coincidence because June 21st, the Summer Solstice, is the Fête de la Musique in France.

This Fête has become a massive public music-making event in its homeland since it was launched in 1982; everybody from the French national opera company to the neighborhood garage band finds somewhere to play on June 21st – and always for free. By now, the fun has spread to 350 cities around the world, a global legacy left by the intellectual gadfly who first created the “Fête” – then-French Culture Minister Jack Lang.

This was the first time that Shanghai was organizing itself as part of what has become known as World Music Day, joining in with a performance by a 500-strong choir from Shanghai’s French Lycee accompanied by 200 accordion-playing Chinese schoolchildren.

Our choir spent Sunday singing outside a Buddhist temple and inside a chic art gallery, and then on Monday we toured French and Europe-related pavilions at the Expo. Most of our songs are in French, but we do a couple of gospel numbers too, and a Chinese folk song that proved especially popular with local audiences.

Monsieur Lang! May we sing for you?

We were just wrapping up a performance outside the Alsace region’s pavilion when a delegation of heavily perspiring French dignitaries in suits trooped past us on an official tour of the Expo. Trailing along behind them, looking slightly out of place, was Jack Lang.

This was too good an opportunity to miss. I hailed him loudly, and he turned around. I explained who we were and what we were doing, and offered to sing him a song.

He looked relieved to drop out of the delegation and delighted by our performance. We were thrilled not just to be singing at the Expo for Shanghai’s first “Fête de la Musique,” but to be entertaining the man who started it all, nearly 30 years ago.


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