Multimedia concert “Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds” by Melodic Vision

A journey through the history, mystery and music of Père Lachaise cemetery

Do you ever wonder what a concert in Père Lachaise would be like of music by musicians in Père Lachaise? I do. I like to wander around Père Lachaise listening to my Père Lachaise playlist on my iPod. But I frequently wonder how extraordinary it would be to experience the music collectively with a live concert.

Playing instruments is permitted in Parisian cemeteries by special permission, so why not a concert every June 21 for France’s annual Fête de la Musique for example? Who better to perform than Melodic Vision.

About Melodic Vision

Melodic Vision is a production company co-directed by two Boston-based artists that specialize in combining sound, imagery, and stories. Their productions include, but are not limited to, art films, museum installations, documentary shorts and a multimedia concert, entitled “Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds: A journey through the history, mystery, and music of Père Lachaise cemetery”.

Curious to learn more about this production, I contacted co-directors, violist, Rebecca Strauss and photographer, Susan Wilson, who kindly replied to my questions.

Q&A with co-directors Rebecca Strauss and Susan Wilson

You both have fascinating backgrounds. How did a photographer and a violist come together to co-direct Melodic Vision?

Susan specializes in photographing musicians, and Rebecca hired her to photograph a group she was playing viola with, the New England String Ensemble. Within six months of that shoot, they were collaborating on projects that paired music with projected images. “Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds” was the second of these projects.

“Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds”. What a great title.

Thanks. We thought so too!

When, and how, did the idea come about?

Susan had long been interested in the art and history of rural garden cemeteries, and had even written and illustrated a book about one in Boston.

These Boston area cemeteries had been inspired by Père Lachaise, so the two of them traveled to Paris to photograph, research, and experience the original. And Susan (and now Rebecca) is madly in love with Paris and France. Susan also speaks French and is a wonderful tour guide for Rebecca who doesn’t speak a word of French. (She speaks Spanish though.)

Could you tell me more about the multimedia aspect of the performance?

The slide show contains about 400 images, which are projected on a large screen above the musicians. They are all stills, which dissolve slowly from one to another. Most are just images, but several include explanatory captions, especially in the beginning of the program.

The order is roughly this: overview of Paris by day, with all the predictable landmarks, statues, foods, etc; enter Père Lachaise, and do a tour, learning about its history; then the section begins where we highlight brief stories, along with historic images and grave shots, of the musicians along with their music.

Lastly, the beauty of the place in general is shown, with other monuments, gardens, walkways, and a few quotes. People both laugh and cry in the course of the show. There is no narration behind the show—only the music played by the live musicians.

What musicians are featured in the performance? How did you make your selection?

The program includes music by Chopin, Rossini, Grappelli, Piaf…. Our selection was based on music that we could perform with a string quartet and flute quartet with flute. Some pieces we had to arrange and others were originally written for the combination of instruments we had.

Jim Morrison is one of the most well known musicians in Père Lachaise. Do you include music by The Doors? If yes, what song do you perform?

Yes, “Light My Fire”. We thought about including “When the Music’s Over”, but we felt we needed to represent many, many musicians and composers, so we had to eliminate it.

Who would you say are your favorites musicians in Père Lachaise?

Susan’s are Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison. Rebecca’s are Lalo and Chopin. Violinist Julie McKenzie’s is Stéphane Grappelli. But we really do love them all!

What did you learn about the musicians in Père Lachaise that you didn’t know prior to this project?

So much that it’s impossible to relate it all. We were surprised to learn how many of them died so young, how many of them knew and inspired each other (especially in the 19th century), and that Maria Callas’ ashes were stolen, returned, then removed to be scattered in the sea.

The musicians

Julie McKenzie on violin, Rebecca Straus on second violin, Dimitar Petkov on viola, Suzanne Polk on cello, Lisa Hennessey on flute.

Melodic Visions, Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds, Rehearsal
Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds rehearsal

“All of these people are professional musicians who play with a variety of the finest ensembles and orchestras in Boston. We chose people who were friends, were excellent players, and who were in love with the project idea.” Melodic Visions

Feature image: Trinity Church Wall Street, New York City. All photos courtesy of Susan Wilson

Chopin, the poet of the piano

Frédéric François Chopin was a classical pianist and composer. Born in Poland in 1810 to a French father and a Polish mother, Chopin arrived in Paris in October 1831 and died there in 1849 at the age of 39.

Chopin’s Paris

In addition to Chopin’s grave in Père Lachaise cemetery, there are several points of interest to visit in Paris. Some of the more quirkier ones are:

  • Salon Chopin, a reproduction of the apartment where Chopin died. Bibliothèque Polonaise à Paris, 6 quai d’Orléans, Paris 4
  • A plaster cast of Chopin’s left hand at the Musée de la Vie Romantique, 16 rue Chaptal, Paris 9
  • Half of an oil on canvas of Chopin in the Louvre painted by his friend, Delacroix (also buried in Père Lachaise, Div. 49). The original painting also included George Sand watching Chopin play piano. For some unknown reason, the painting was cut in half. The other half with George Sand is located in the Ordrupgaard museum near Copenhagen.

This painting by Delacroix was divided into two for unknown reasons. The George Sand half is located in the Ordrupgaard museum near Copenhagen, while the Chopin half is located in the Louvre. 1838, 78 x 56.5cm, oil on canvas.

Painting of Chopin by Delacroix in the Louvre museum
Painting of Chopin by Delacroix in the Louvre museum (Photo Leon Salcedo/Flickr)

Further reading

  • Guide and map to Chopin’s Paris (in French)
  • Société Chopin à Paris
  • Chopin’s Heart, Alex Ross, The New Yorker Culture Desk, February 5, 2014
  • The Parisian Worlds of Frederic Chopin, William G. Atwood, Yale University Press
  • Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer, Tad Szulc, Da Capo Press

Père Lachaise

Chopin’s grave (Div. 11) is one of the most visited in Père Lachaise. More that 3,000 people attended his funeral at the Église de Madeline. Mozart’s Requiem was played following his wishes.

The soil that Chopin kept from his native Poland was sprinkled on his grave. His heart was taken to Poland by his sister and placed in the Holy Cross church in Warsaw. The sculpture is Euterpe, the muse of music. This sculpture and the medallion of Chopin’s profile are both by Clésinger (also buried in Père Lachaise, Div. 10).

Pèlerinage sur la tombe de Chopin au Père-Lachaise vers 1920
Chopin’s grave ca. 1920. (Photo public domain, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons)
Other musicians buried on the same path are singer/songwriter, Mano Solo, jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani and classical composer, Luigi Cherubini.

Feature photo courtesy Leon Salcedo/Flickr

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DJ Mehdi, a magician at the turntables

Mehdi Favéris-Essadi

1977–2011

DJ Mehdi was a critically acclaimed and award-winning Paris-based music producer and DJ. He initially started out producing hip-hop records, most notably 113’s Les Princes de la Ville which won two major French music awards in 2000 (Rap Album of the Year and Best New Artist). He then crossed over to electronic music where he made several critically acclaimed albums.

From the album Lucky Boy, released in 2006. The video was directed by Romain Gavras.

From 2010, DJ Mehdi was touring and mixing Chicago house with British DJ Riton forming the duo Carte Blanche.

For more music samples and discography, check out DJ Mehdi’s website and his Discogs page.

Homages

DJ Mehdi died on September 13, 2011 as the result of a terrible accident. News of his death sent a shock wave through the electronic and hip-hop music community. He was 34 years old. DJ Cut Killer broke the news with his tweet:

“Dj Mehdi !!! there are no words to tell you the pain I feel … a friend is gone … rest in peace bro’—DJ Cut Killer”

Frédéric Mitterrand, the French Minister of Culture, issued a press release upon learning the news writing that DJ Mehdi was “a magician at the turntables”.

The Social Club in Paris, where DJ Mehdi was a frequent DJ, posted the following message on their Facebook page (translated from French): “Following DJ Mehdi’s death, we made the decision to close the club tonight. An evening of silence in honor of the artist. Thank your for not commenting on this status.”

DJ Riton tweeted:

From Roman Gavras, director of DJ Mehdi’s “Signatune” video:
https://twitter.com/ROMAIN_GAVRAS/status/116094289754324992

“We love you Mehdi”

Mural at the artist residency Les Frigos (Paris 13).
Mural at the artist residency Les Frigos (Paris 13).

Père Lachaise cemetery

DJ Mehdi is buried in Division 73.

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❤️∞M //

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Three stories from a visit to Jim’s grave in 1976

Recently I reached out to Tom Teicholz to request adding a rare photograph of his of Jim’s grave from Spring 1976. Not only did Tom oblige, but he in turn reached out to his fellow travel companions in the photo who kindly provided their memories from that day.

I am so pleased to be able to share this photo and their comments with you. Many, many kind thanks to Tom, Mary and Lawrence!

Jim Morrison Grave Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris 1976
1976 © Tom Teicholz

Tom Teicholz

“Living in Paris in the spring of 1976, we went to Père Lachaise as a pilgrimage, out of deep respect for the greats buried there. And as Beats revered Kerouac, and as Patti Smith, who played Paris that Spring invoked Rimbaud, we sought out Jim’s grave to commune with his poet spirit. The grave was unmarked and the site was messy but we made it for a few minutes our own.”

Mary McBride

“This is a very special photo of a very special day. It was unseasonably warm and very sunny. We walked in the gates and this enormous vista of paths opened up. Many of the gravestones were in fact small monuments, like buildings along a road, and it was hard to tell the direction.
I turned to the guard to ask for a map. Before I could speak, and without prompting, he asked “Vous cherchez Jim Morrison?” That was weird.

There was in fact a map and we were shown how to get to his grave. Though I don’t remember that the site was listed on the map. My memory was that the grave was behind other graves, almost a no-man’s plot on leftover land. There was no official marking, maybe a frame of cement on dirt.

I don’t know what the grave looks like now but it was an absolute mess then. Of course there were candles, and other memorabilia around, but I was very disturbed at the amount of graffiti on every possible surface. And garbage. I was sorry that I hadn’t taken anything decent to leave like flowers.

On the other hand, the amount of emotion that squalid little corner could evoke was incredible. Here was a great. And there was no doubt that his visitors felt that. If there would be no official recognition, so be it.

The faithful would come and leave their mark. Seeing this photo again always brings back a lot of emotions for me.”

Lawrence Schoen

“I remember the day as sunny and no one else was about in the grounds. We spread out, each one forging along and exploring, calling out names. The layout of graves was chaotic. I remember feeling smallish as some of the headstones were immense, as those under them. I best remember Balzac, Proust, Chopin, then at last our Jim, in his cramped corner, defaced by ugly graffiti and other stuff.

We found our little place to sit and make it feel like home, at least, a connection to America for us in Paris. And I remember thinking he would appreciate the respect paid because the place was a mess and we came to pay our respects to one we admired.

We were lost, as he was lost, as the place was lost, at the time…, an ironic, lustrous back corner of history.”

Photo courtesy of Tom Teicholz www.tommywood.com

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Homage to George Whitman in Paris

Family plans to mark his grave with a statue of Don Quixote

Following George Whitman’s (1913–2011) death on December 14, a friend and I stopped by Shakespeare and Company today to pay homage to the owner of the legendary Left Bank English-language bookstore.Continue reading “Homage to George Whitman in Paris”