The Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal was founded by Father Léandre Brault in 1956. Father Brault was inspired by the great tradition of boys’ choirs, which dates back to the 6th century. Since its [...]
They spoke about it
This recording of movie music celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal (PCMR). Music is a truly universal language with the power to conjure up imagery in the minds of listeners, and this eclectic recording both celebrates diversity and stirs the imagination. On this disc, which features music sung in Latin, Welsh, French, English, Hebrew and Spanish, the PCMR lends its voices to a broad spectrum of movie themes that evoke images from many different countries, eras and cultures.
The mission of the PCMR, the choir in residence of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, has always been to enrich the religious services of this majestic basilica with sacred song. Part of a long tradition of great choir schools dedicated to liturgical service, the PCMR performs great polyphonic masterworks from a repertoire that stretches from the Renaissance to contemporary music and is renowned as one of the finest children’s choirs in the Americas. From its very beginnings in 1956, the PCMR has been known for its exceptional performances both in Canada and abroad, and the choir frequently sings with professional orchestras, for operas or film scores, and for radio and television programs. As a musical and academic training institution, the PCMR has become the torch bearer for young Québec musicians.
For most music lovers, “Petits Chanteurs de Mont-Royal” evokes visions of angelic faces and celestial voices singing alleluias. And yet, as Clément Janequin urged, réveillez-vous,cœurs endormis! (Awaken, sleeping hearts!). Yes, the PCMR is known for its interpretation of Janequin, Giovanni da Palestrina and J.S. Bach, but that is certainly not all.
While remaining dedicated to its primary mission, the PCMR, along with musical director Gilbert Patenaude, decided to move beyond sacred music to celebrate other cultures and sing about the world around them. Indeed, composed of youths from a variety of different cultural origins, these Petits Chanteurs are a reflection of modern Canadian society. Today’s PCMR has reached a certain level of maturity and development that must make itself heard. Looking towards the future, these young musicians therefore celebrate diversity with song in a modern and universal medium: movie music. The PCMR has appeared on numerous film soundtracks, including La vie heureuse de Léopold Z (1965), La mystérieuse mademoiselle C (2002), Head in the Clouds (2004), and C.R.A.Z.Y (2005).
The movie soundtrack is one of the basic elements of the seventh art. A character in itself, a film’s music supports the drama, creates a mood, or evokes a feeling. The journey through movie music on this recording highlights the versatility and musicality of the PCMR, which happily moves between genres, from the musical to the pop music of the Beatles (“Yellow Submarine”). The Sound of Music, which tells the story of the famous Von Trapp family, remains one of the most popular films of all time, and its theme song is perfectly suited to children’s voices. The same is true of the well-known song “If I Were a Rich Man,” from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The PCMR joyfully plays the role of the Jewish peasant with all the spirit one would expect. Their singing can be touching, as in the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” from Evita, or infectiously irresistible, as in George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” Taken from the soundtrack of the film An American in Paris, the song was originally written for the 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy.
The special colour of children’s voices lends a new dimension to a number of songs, including “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King, “Into the West” from The Lord of the Rings, and “Emmenez-moi” from C.R.A.Z.Y, which were first popularized by Elton John, Annie Lennox and Charles Aznavour, respectively.
Because they were originally conceived with children’s choirs in mind, many of the selections on the recording were natural choices. For example, the magnificent “Exsultate Justi” from the film Empire of the Sun depicts the awe-inspiring beauty of the land of the rising sun. This soundtrack remains one of the most remarkable works of perhaps the greatest composer of music for film ever, John Williams, whom we can also thank for the unforgettable music from films such as Star Wars, E.T. and Jaws. Of course, this disc would be incomplete without the songs “Cerf-volant” and “Vois sur ton chemin” from the film The Chorus (Les Choristes), whose soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar in 2004. This story of a school teacher who transformed the lives of his students by initiating them to music and choral singing of course resonated strongly with the singers of the PCMR. And finally, the famous “Coeur des gamins” from Bizet’s opera Carmen, which was brought to the big screen in 1984, shows off the PCMR’s musicality and joie de vivre.
Musical director of the PCMR since 1978, Gilbert Patenaude knows better than anyone else the enormous artistic potential of these young singers and the different facets of their musical talent. He thus masterfully adapted several other pieces to let the choir sparkle, enchant, swing, move and surprise. They take on the magnificent music of Ennio Morricone (“On Earth as it is in Heaven” from the film The Mission) and of Vangelis (1492: Conquest of Paradise) with great conviction. Occasionally, a film soundtrack will be more successful than the movie itself. In the case of 1492, some critics went so far as to say that Vangelis’s score was more interesting than the film.
In short, the PCMR is able to create imagery with vocal expression alone. Whether it is the touching “Oyf’n Pripetshok” (heard in Schindler’s List, directed by the great Steven Spielberg), the song “Monsieur Émile” (music by François Dompierre for the film Le Matou), or the theme from The Triplets of Belleville, which launched the career of Québec composer Benoît Charest, each piece reveals the Petits Chanteurs de Mont-Royal under a different light.
So sit back, enjoy the music, and let your imagination direct its own movie.
© Francine Labelle, 2006
Translation: Peter Christensen