Thursday, June 09, 2011

Terra Maïre @ Le Jardin Des Biehn

“Terra Maïre” is a unique duo of ‘a cappella’ singers. Two surprising voices, emanating from the same source – those of Marie-Ange and Beatrice, mother and daughter – with a common heredity and a common repertoire, rooted in the South of France, in the regions of Rouergue, the Basque Country and the Bearn.

In the intertwined voices of “Terra-Maïre”(“Mother Earth” in the Oc language of the South), a world of essential emotions wells up, one that borders on the sacred and on sorcery. These are medieval and sacred melodies in Occitan, language of troubadours and Cathars, which touch the heart.

This musical adventure began in 1996, when Beatrice and Marie-Ange started out together on a pilgrimage back to their roots. As of then, mother and daughter - each with her own personality and her own artistic background - began to breathe life back into the secular songs of the land of their ancestors. These songs – prayers, laments, psalms – "chevrotés" or “sung in a quavering voice” by men and women who have gone before them and most of whom have disappeared, make up a unique heritage, a timeless tradition in danger of extinction.

The View from Fez could not resist and so sent our Musical guru, Chris Witulski on a mission to hear these amazing voices. Here is his report.

A bit of a pleasant surprised popped up yesterday at Le Jardin Des Biehn. On the roof of the Fez Cafe, I had the opportunity to hear Terra Maïre, two women from the south of France, singing sacred songs from their region's distant past. I say "hear" and not "see" because the lights were out. They stood in the dark, joking as they struggled to read their setlist and notes with starting pitches!

Once they were able to settle into a song, however, the ghostly melodies filled the open night air. While one would sing a drone, a single constant pitch, slowly shifting her vowels to create unexpected textures, the other's sorrowful melodies took off from this grounding and wandered through the aural space. They alternated these roles until coming upon a moment at which they broke the pattern and sang lines in thirds (almost always beautifully in tune), bringing surprise as well as harmonic closure to the pieces.

Another welcome aspect to this smaller-scale performance was the lack of photographers. I, like others, attempted one photo only to find that, without lights, it was a waste of time and energy. Instead, without the clicking of cameras, the crowd sat in contemplation on the terrace, simply listening.


While at Le Jardin Des Biehn make sure your check out the exhibition of photographs by Pail Biehn. The collection of photographs are intriguing and beautiful. The gallery will have the display on show until July 31.

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