Sitting chatting with friends after market this Saturday, a friend of a friend dropped by to say “hello”, as one does – particularly on a lovely summer’s morning such as this Saturday was. In her hand Joyce held a small green flier. The distribution of fliers is commonplace on market days. In fact, it is a rare day indeed that there is not a single flier tucked under the windscreen wiper of every car parked in and around the town centre. That which Joyce had advertised “une randonnée musicale” that was taking place in the village of Monestier that evening. She asked Ian if he’d like to go, and he agreed. I tagged along, mostly for the curiosity factor; after all, who takes a musical ramble? What does one entail? I had fleeting visions of buskers leading a hike through the countryside.
I met Ian, and another of his neighbours, at about 7:30 and we loaded into his car and set off to collect Joyce, who had the directions to the pick-up point. We arrived and found a series of trestle tables & chairs set up between the salle des fetes and another building, whereat a group of people dressed in light walking gear were just finishing a meal. We each paid a nominal fee of €2 towards the costs (whatever they were) and a short while later we were mustered and headed out of the village without a musician in sight. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s a lovely evening for a stroll, regardless.”
We headed up a track running between rows of vines. Joyce, who used to be a vigneron, said that the light scent that filled the air was that of the vine flowers. Over to the west the sun was beginning to set.
As we meandered along the path I caught faint snatches of music: a recorder or similarly simple wind instrument. Sat at the end of a row of vines at the entrance to a small wooded area was a slender young man blowing on what looked like a piece of cane. He stood and greeted and explained the object of the walk we had ahead of us (to make “green” music) before asking each of us to pick a blade of grass and use it to make a very simple instrument. Instantly I was transported back through more decades than I care to admit to, and I recalled that the easiest thing to do was lick the side of one thumb before sandwiching the grass between your two hands. Juggling a dog lead and jamming my phone in my pocket, I did as bidden, and blew between my thumbs. To my delight success was instant! My friends were surprised. Almost as surprised as I was.
This done, was wandered into the wood where we each gathered 2 sticks and transformed ourselves into a rudimentary percussion section. It was astonishing to hear the music that we created. On a little further and the slim young man cut a twig with his pocket knife. With a few deft turns, he had stripped the bark from it in a manner that produced a long, continuous spiral. This, he showed us, when dried and hard became a simple horn. He had a selection of various sizes in his small pack.
Further still, he cut a couple of teasels and quickly fashioned another percussion instrument, this time by cutting just above a pair of leaflets, and sticking another couple of twigs that he had joined together into the hollow stem of the teasel. Cutting 2 of the dried teasels, he rubbed them together and produced the sound of crickets. I learned from Joyce, and then from Etienne, that the French country name for the teasel is “cabaret des oiseaux” due to the way that rainwater and dew collects at the base of the leaves, thereby forming a natural watering hole for birds.
A little further along, as the sun continued its descent towards the horizon, Etienne (for that, I later learned, is his name) pulled a 6″ long piece of cane from his pocket. It was similar to bamboo. A few flicks with his very sharp knife transformed the cane into a flute, which he blew, tuned by shaving away at the holes he had created, tested again and then handed to a member of the group. After a few experimental puffs, the result was a few notes, which instilled confidence and thus music was made.