Reunion Island Student Musicians Wow Toronto Francophiles

 A group of 12 to 20 year old musicians from Reunion Island, a French Overseas Department, held their audience spellbound at a concert hosted by the Counsel General for France to mark Bastille Day with a combination of jazz covers, movie and Broadway tunes in both English and French, French standards from Edith Piaf to Helene Segara, and Creole music.

Their first medley of songs began with “New York, New York” followed by “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago. the Edith Piaf Classic “Non je ne regrette rien” and “C’Etait Pas Moi”

Reunion Island is located in the Indian Ocean southwest of Mauritius and east of Madagascar and has a population of almost one million people.  Orchestra members certainly displayed the rich cultural diversity of Reunion Islanders who principally trace their roots to Africa, India, Portugal, France, and China.

There is no recorded history of the Island till the Portuguese invasion in the early sixteenth century though Arab, Swahili and Malay sailors may have visited as early as the twelfth century.

The 48 member Orchestra consists of12 to 14 accordions in both consoles, 9 violin and viola in three desks, 16 wood and brass wind instruments made up of 7 flutes, 2clarinets, alto sax, tenor saxophone, 2 trumpets 1 tuba, 4 keyboards and a battery of percussionists,  timpani, bass drum, two props as well as two vocalists are trained and directed by Pierre Varo the educational coordinator at the School of Music of Saint-Andrét.

The students who during the school term carry a full academic course load devote all their weekends and holidays to musical training which is their common passion. According to Varo, however, “It is far from being a heavy burden to bear because, to the key, there is rejoicing for making beautiful concerts, to hear the warm spectators applause and especially to have mounted a large directory, varied, so that everyone finds joy and a bit of dream”

The inclusion of four keyboards in an orchestra is unusual. But, notes musical director and conductor Varo “they are essential because they provide a thickness and a balance of harmony instrumental training (and) especially (because) they are replacing missing instruments in the orchestra such as the marimba, trombone or harp or guitar”

The student orchestra members beamed and the two vocalists swished their bright red long dresses as  the conductor set the pace for the final medley of songs beginning with Portuguese Baila,  African Creole and continuing with “Come Back Lisa”, “Jamaican Fairwell”, “Island in the Sun” and “Day O”.

After the formal concert the French Consul hosted the guests for wine and cheese in the foyer of the beautiful new amphitheatre of Glendon College.  Once again the students’ set-up their musical stands and played waltzes, cha-cha, baila and salsa music which had many of the guests, led by the Consul-General himself, strutting their stuff.

As the musicians put away their instruments a guest who does not trace her roots to France was overheard saying “this is why we all want to be French!”

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