You can go far with a cello and a woodworking machine
Sue Evans and husband Mark found their hobbies came in useful when they moved to Tarn-et-Garonne
When we moved here we decided despite any language difficulties, to pursue the same hobbies we might have pursued had we stayed in the UK. I'd received a cello as a retirement gift; Mark was considering buying a large woodworking machine but needed to know how to get the best from it; we'd previously sung in a choir and wanted to do so again.
We weren't short of ideas but maybe a little nervous as to how we would begin with so little fluency in French. But we didn't want to wait till we'd developed fluency before getting on with our new lives.
So, three weeks into our move Mark enrolled in a week’s woodworking ‘stage’. We still didn't quite appreciate some of the distances involved in living as rurally as we do. He drove for 90 minutes to Villefranche each day, where in the company of six fast-talking French enthusiasts, he learned the rudiments of the machine and completed a cabinet which we still have.
He recalls the lunches eaten together at a small traditional village restaurant – oreilles de porc, tête or ris de veau. Mark soon realised that the French Canadian in the group was taking advantage of the entrecôte steak offered as an alternative. He followed suit.
I joined a municipal French language group where the exercises and pace were tedious, but the Russians, Portuguese and Moroccans in the group were feisty and fun. A lively Russian told me she sang in a choir and so we were enrolled in the cathedral choir where we sang in Latin for three years before graduating to the conservatoire choir where we continued in Latin, helpfully a pretty universal language.
I found an unenthusiastic and unsympathetic cello teacher and lasted two terms with her before I found one of the best teachers I've ever met. She continues patient, inspirational and inclusive.
Music seemed to be a great way to get involved until solfège raised its head. No more a,b,c only do, ré mi; no more flats and sharps but bémols and dièses; no more quavers and crochets but croches et noirs.
Whether I could hit a top f with a pleasing sound or vibré on the cello, and I couldn't do either, were the least of my worries.
Imagine this: the choir leader is frustrated at the choir’s lack of attention and progress, ‘Arrêtez à la fa dièse measure quatre vingts seize’ (Stop at the f sharp in bar 96) – Mark and I the only ones left warbling on regardless into bar 98.
We've arrived at the wrong venue at the wrong time in the wrong outfit. We've probably sung more or less the right notes but not necessarily in the right order – but, who knows, we'd probably have done that in the UK too.
After two years learning the cello we were invited into the music school orchestra. I can't describe the pride and excitement I felt and still feel and yet it is so modest. Each September a range of instrumentalists turn up and the inspirational cello teacher who also is the orchestra conductor, has written parts for each player.
There's adults and teenagers playing the cello, flute, violin, saxophone and piano as these instruments are taught in the school. But then, at random, there's a bassoon, a French horn, and a clarinet – we were graced with bagpipes one year.
This for me is the essence of how amateur music is embraced and supported in France. On the evening of the fête de la musique we've played tangos, music from the films, baroque and rock outdoors in the town square.
We support one another, the community seems to support us and we are, as we'd planned, involved!
UK TV programmes about moving here often seem to suggest that friendships develop overnight at the village fête, usually with aged farmers, or the owner of the local charcuterie or boulangerie. As I've written before, our community is kind and inclusive, but the reality of close friendship is that more often than not we form bonds with those with whom we share common goals or interests.
Through involvement in music and art we've found opportunities here to contribute and to develop creatively. Of equal importance are the friendships we've found with like-minded people. Vive la musique!