We are en route by car to Paris from Giverny when our French driver/guide Patrick plays the songs of Edith Piaf, legendary chanteuse of France, from her latest album, Eternelle.

“My favorite song is Je ne regrette rien,” says Patrick, “which means I regret nothing.”

I nod my head in comprehension. My favorite is La Vie en Rose, or The Life in Pink.

“The good and the bad, I regret nothing,” continues Patrick. “That’s what Edith Piaf said at the end of her life.”

Patrick is referring to the latest movie, La Mome (or La Vie en Rose to the English-speaking world), which is based on the life of Edith Piaf that is showing in Paris on this merry month of May. Though he isn’t keen at first, in the end, Patrick is deeply moved and teary-eyed. I should watch the movie, he says, and buy the album.

I glance back at my three companions. Joan, Aida and Rachel are sleeping like a baby! I guess the long drive, fatigue, and Edith Piaf’s powerful voice must have lulled them to sleep. There goes the movie, I thought. At least, I could still buy the album in Paris, composed of two CDs at a special price of almost 10 euros.

I am to discover that Edith Piaf’s music is known as chanson francaise or popular French music that emerged at the end of the 19th century and in her case, in the late 30s, 40s, and 50s. It’s the kind of music where the lyrics are more important that the melody, with a sentimental hymn that could reflect a social commentary or a personal experience. Did you know that the classic 1952 song, If you love me (really love me) is based on a French song, Hymne a l’amour which had been popularized by Edith Piaf?

I’m glad that I took Patrick’s advice, as well as the advice of the assistant at the Laffayette store. Edith Piaf’s protégée, actor/singer Yves Montand is very popular in France, he says, and his male version of the song, Autumn Leaves is tres bien. Montand first sang the French song Les Feuilles Mortes in a 1946 French movie and the song became the basis of the 1949 English version Autumn Leaves and the theme song of the 1956 American movie, Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford.

Did you also know that the popular song, Beyond the Sea is based on the 1946 French song, La Mer by pre-World War II singer Charles Trenet? Trenet also composed the classic 1942 French song Que reste-t-il de nos amours? or more popularly known in its English version, I Wish you love. Even the famous 1969 song, My Way, lyrics by Paul Anka and sung by Frank Sinatra had its origins in the 1967 French song Comme d’habitude by Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux.

After our trip to France, a friend lends me two music CDs: Accordion de Paris by the Streets of Paris Orchestra and Paris Midnight Album by Liane & Boheme Bar Trio. Both albums feature French popular songs from the era of the 1950s and 60s and listening to them, I feel transported to a café in Boheme Paris.

“Why does music sung in French (or Spanish & Italian) sound more romantic than its English version?” I wonder aloud one day.

“That’s because you cannot separate language from culture,” says Ms. Edith Buñag, my former high school teacher. “Music is a reflection of the historical experiences of a people.”

It is a fascinating explanation, and I think Ms. B (as we call her), is truly wise in her observation. For many centuries, poetry and song were closely related in France and song is an important part of French literature. Many poems were made into songs. I discover that one of my favorite songs, Claire de Lune (Moonlight) is actually Claude Debussy’s depiction of the poem by Paul Verlaine (1905). There is much we can learn from chanson francaise and a little background of French is a good way to start. Bonjour!

Source by Elaine Friend