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Dianoura: the art of singing beyond words

By Alison Hird

After a year of hard work, 270 young musicians and choir singers are set to shine alongside Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra. Dianoura, a “tailor-made” mini-opera by Etienne Perruchon, uses an invented gibberish language called dogorien “so that the emotion is only in the music, not the words”. RFI reports from rehearsals ahead of the big day.

The project was the brainchild of Orchèstres à l’école (OAE), a programme that has helped develop orchestras in 1,200 schools across France. A hundred more are sprouting up each year.

Funded mainly by local councils and private sponsors, OAE provides school orchestras with instruments for three year cycles. After initial scepticism, three French ministries (Culture, Education, Cities) are now supporting it.

"OAE is not really about music," says assistant director Marianne Blayau. "The real purpose is to teach children to have self confidence, to learn better in school, how to work together, respect each other and concentrate. It's a very deep project."

Just two school orchestras were selected to take part in Dianoura: Orner le Château and Livron-Loriol.

"We have a lot of different nationalities in our orchestra," says Robin Vies a music teacher at Livron-Loriol in Ardèche in the south of France. The area has welcomed a number of refugee families from Sri Lanka, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Ukraine. “It’s very multi-cultural and allows us to show that wherever we come from, we can speak a common language, the language of music.”

When they first saw Etienne Perruchon’s score both he and the youngsters thought it was too difficult, but the 30 musicians, all between 11 and 14, took up the challenge.

Now watching them rehearse for the first time alongside the Philharmonic, “after a year of very hard work,” Vies is visibly moved.

He points to Ellena, a young Ukranian refugee who arrived at the school three years ago after fleeing civil war in the east of the country.

“I think about her story, and now there she is playing the violin, looking so happy. You can’t help thinking there’s something magical about this project. It’s musical, social, and above all human.”

Composer Etienne Perruchon is every bit as enthusiastic, and moved, by the project. Whereas much of the choral repertoire is based on sacred music, he says Dianoura is open to everyone, regardless of colour or creed.

“There’s no religion, no philosophical point of view, no political point of view, only the emotional point of view in Dianoura.” So it’s particularly adapted to these kids who “come from everywhere in France, with different cultures and different religions,” he adds.

Perruchon describes the fourth part of the piece as a kind of hymn for kids for whom it’s increasingly something of “a battle to be happy” in this troubled world.

And yet he remains optimistic.

“I believe in these kids,” he says, adding that it’s up to the adults to give them the chance to be happy when they grow up.

“As a contemporary composer it’s my job to go to children and offer them the possibility to taste and appreciate all the emotion of music.”

Dianoura: 17/18 March at Auditorium de la Maison de la Radio,
116 Avenue du Président Kennedy Paris 7516

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