About singing but not in a choir, yet in one…kinda. Just a neat story I wanted to share…

In 1995 I designed a computer-based forecasting system for a disc drive manufacturer that linked together sales and marketing offices in 31 countries around the world and then was tasked with training all of the users (it’s your mess, you go make it make sense) so I ended up gallivanting around the planet several times. The European swing was brutal: four 10-hour classes in four days in four countries following a non-stop flight from San Fransisco to Frankfurt, Germany. I was only 35 at the time so I didn’t die; I certainly wouldn’t attempt that now!

I made a deal with my boss for the the Euro trips: I’d do the Monday-to-Thursday grind (Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Paris…yawn) if day five was mine and she was buying. Little did she know that this particular Friday was Bastille Day. And I was just outside Paris. Sweet. (The second time I did the trip that fifth day was a hockey tournament in Geneva but that’s a different story.) I booked a tiny room above a brasserie in a Paris suburb and headed out. I didn’t know it at the time but I was destined to never use the bed. I was having lunch in  Le Café Mollien in the Louvre (doesn’t that sound awesome?) and ended up chatting with another American sitting at a table nearby. He was in town for a concert that I didn’t know was happening. Shoots, my brain was still mush from the rest of the week’s travels. I managed to find a poster for it and decoded as much of the French as was necessary. Jean-Michel Jarre, a “new age” musician, would be performing that evening in front of the Eiffel Tower and the public was invited to gather on the Champs de Mars to enjoy the show. I was pretty sure I could find the Eiffel Tower and, knowing that “champ” meant “field”, I figured I could find the grassy spot.

I stopped at a little shop where I discovered five bucks can get you a VERY nice bottle of Bordeaux and a bit of bread and cheese (they opened the wine for me and a plastic cup was free) and off I went. As it turned out, the Champs de Mars was pretty easy to find; it’s more than half a mile long (the distance from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to the Honolulu Zoo) and over 300 yards wide (the length of the entire Blaisdell complex). I arrived about two hours before the concert was to begin to get a “good seat” and found an open space about halfway back (yeah, a quarter of a mile). There was an English-speaking local next to me with a bottle of Cabernet and some fresh fruit and we became fast friends sharing our fare.

As it got dark it wasn’t apparent what sort of spectacle it was going to be but when the entire Eiffel Tower lit up with lights and lasers and a massive movie screen and fireworks and a group of French Air Force jets blasted by overhead dropping a cloud of metallic chaff to shine spotlights through…well…you get the idea. And it got wilder from there.

What I didn’t know was that the Champs de Mars had filled completely along with any flat spot with at least a partial view. 1.25 MILLION people. When the Eiffel Tower exploded in light and sound, the number 7 was displayed on the huge screen about two stories high and a voice boomed “SEPT!” there was a rumble that ran through the crowd. With the appearance of the number 6 and the voice boomed “SIX!” and the masses realized it was a countdown there was a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard 0r felt before. It was both a deafening roar and a concussive pressure on my chest. That many voices is a special kind of thunderous, believe me.

The music wasn’t really my cup of tea (cup of Bordeaux?) but it didn’t matter. It was glorious because of the energy of the monster crowd. There weren’t any words in the pieces of music but there were simple chunks of melody that repeated themselves enough for the crowd to pick up on and “la-la-la” to. The whole crowd. At once.

Imagine for a second a choir of 1.25 million people singing in unison. Each time it happened it would start as an undercurrent of the notes and then build quickly. Much of the time it was muddy and disorganized but a few times it all came together and magic happened.  When ALL of the voices were singing together there was a dramatic and immediate effect. Overtones built open themselves filling in the harmonics above and below the notes being sung and the singing became…well…elevated. It was one of the most amazing vocal things I’ve ever been a part of and I can still feel how it resonated around and through me when everything was working.

The point of all this? Music is awesome and there are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can only be produced by the human voice. Go find ’em!

If you’d like to watch the concert it’s here. Jean-Michel’s style is referred to as “techno-pop” ( think of the background music to the “Circ du Soleil”) but it’s still pretty cool and the tricked-out Eiffel Tower and effects are epic. Huge costumes and puppets and all sorts of craziness.

(A funny postscript: on my way back to my hotel room to grab my bags and head to the airport the sunrise was being greeted by a Mariachi band playing in a little town square surrounded by kegs of beer. Mexican breakfast. Yum.)