The official choir of the French Republic, the choir of the Republican Guard is formed of 45 French singers, recruited from among the elite of the discipline. Director of the choir since 2007, Aurore Tillac talks of the special place of La Marseillaise in the official repertoire.
What is the choir of the Republican Guard and how do you join?
The Choir of the French Army is a male voice choir made up of more than forty professional singers. Part of the Republican Guard, it is the official choir of the French Republic. It is regularly called upon to perform at national ceremonies, such as Bastille Day and Remembrance Day, and at other commemorations. It also takes part in music seasons and festivals across France, as well as in productions at leading French theatres, in the capital - the Théâtre du Châtelet, Philharmonie de Paris and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées - and in the provinces, for instance at the Auditorium de Bordeaux. To join the choir, you need to pass an audition, before a jury of choir directors and members of the choir. The audition consists of four stages. It begins with a piece of the candidate's choice, followed by a singing exercise and a piece chosen by the jury. Candidates are then examined on sight-reading, four-part harmony and unison singing. Finally, an interview with the candidate enables the jury to assess their profile and motivations.
In what circumstances do you sing La Marseillaise?
At all official ceremonies and some of the choir's other concerts. We have two versions of the national anthem: the “official” version, for four unaccompanied male voices, which we sing at official ceremonies, and the arrangement by Hector Berlioz, for choir and orchestra. Both versions I find very powerful and moving. The Berlioz is very impressive due to its symphonic dimension. But we also have other songs in our repertoire, including the Chant des partisans, Chant du départ and La Madelon, as well as many other pieces determined by the ceremonial services of the Ministry of Defence for each commemorative event.
As director of the choir of the Republican Guard, what do you feel when you conduct La Marseillaise?
All I can say is that, in more than ten years with the Choir of the French Army, the emotion is still the same when I conduct La Marseillaise. As choir director, I must take a purely technical approach to the work. It is impeccably structured, harmonically effective and very straightforward to conduct! I think the most vivid memory I have is of a ceremony at the Struthof camp. After a particularly poignant speech by a survivor of the camp, we sang the “Song of Natzweiler-Struthof”, followed by La Marseillaise. We all had tears in our eyes.
In your opinion, what place does Rouget de Lisle's song have in French society today?
Whatever place people want to give it! My answer is in no way objective! La Marseillaise is what it has always been for the French: a contemporary symbol of our national identity. Since the awful terrorist attacks in France, La Marseillaise has taken on an even stronger symbolic dimension. It is also a rallying song sung by whole stadiums at football matches!
To find out about the structure and programme of performances of the choir of the Republican Guard, see: http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr
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