Nous Chantons: If you can read this, singing group may be for you

French singers look for new members in 10th year

Suzanne Bernard was singing her granddaughter to sleep one night in her mother tongue, French, when she stopped halfway through the song. She’d forgotten the words.

“I said ‘well I’m not going to spend the rest of my life re-learning these words, what do I do?’ Let’s be creative,” said Bernard.

Determined not to let her knowledge of French music slip away, Bernard formed the group Nous Chantons in September of 2009.

Since then, Nous Chantons has participated in numerous events around the mid-Island. They meet up every Wednesday afternoon to sing together, mostly traditional French songs from Quebec and France.

“We sing for the pure pleasure of singing in French,” said Bernard.

The group has been on a break for the summer months, but will start up again for this, their 10th year, on Sept. 11.

Nous Chantons boasts 20 members, and Bernard says there are room for more. Members come from Nanoose, Lantzville and Nanaimo. They meet at Bernard’s house, and take turns hosting at other people’s homes. Once a month, they meet in Nanaimo.

To join, you don’t need to have a perfect voice, but you do need to be fluent in French, or at least have a working knowledge of the language.

“Some people are not totally fluent in French, but they can read and they can understand French speaking,” said Bernard.

“We tried for awhile with people who are not really fluent, and it was difficult, because we end up translating stuff. I said ;’no, we’re here for singing, it’s not a course, it’s not a course in French.’”

The schedule of the group is also fairly flexible. As Bernard explains it, there are two tiers to membership. So if you don’t want to commit to a weekly practice, that’s OK.

“Some singers are called “papillon,” butterfly — meaning they come once in awhile. And we’ve got the bees “les abeilles” and they come every Wednesday,” said Bernard.

The group is more than just a chorus of voices. Singing is the focus, but it’s also a social and cultural exchange.

At her home, Bernard thumbs through a book of stories compiled from group members over the years. They’re stories about all kinds of things — life, love, luck, you name it.

“We sing 1:30 to 3 p.m. and 3 to 3:30 p.m. somebody brings some goodies, and I serve herb tea, and we chat en francais. About anything you want,” said Bernard.

In addition to practising, the group performs on occasion. They dress up and perform for Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and once at the Parksville Community Park in June in addition to other groups.

Though French is the focus, the group occasionally branches off into other cultures. Spanish songs, as well as songs from French countries like Martinique mingle with bilingual folk songs, Christmas songs, children’s songs, country songs and the occasional hit by Leonard Cohen or ABBA. Group members don’t need to come with a developed repertoire, just a knowledge of French and a willingness to learn new tunes.

“It’s the passion of singing. To be able to share with other people your culture, events in life, your stories,” said Bernard.

For more information or to become a member please contact Bernard at 250-248-8714 or

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