"Alouette" is a popular French-speaking Canadian children's song, commonly thought to be about plucking the feathers from a lark, in retribution for being woken up by its song. Although it is in French, it is well-known among speakers of other languages; in this respect it is similar to "Frère Jacques". Many US Marines and other Allied soldiers learned the song while serving in France during World War I and took it home with them, passing it on to their children and grandchildren.
Its origin is uncertain, though the most popular theory is that it is French-Canadian. The song was first published in A Pocket Song Book for the Use of Students and Graduates of McGill College (Montreal, 1879). Canadian folklorist Marius Barbeau was of the opinion that the song's origin was France, though the first printed copy in France came 14 years after the original Canadian (McGill) publication.
The Canadian theory is based on the French fur trade that was active for over 300 years in North America. Canoes were used to transport trade goods in exchange for furs through established expansive trade routes consisting of interconnecting lakes, and rivers, and portages in the hinterland of present-day Canada and United States. The songs of the French fur trade were adapted to accompany the motion of paddles dipped in unison. Singing helped to pass the time and made the work seem lighter. In fact, it is likely that the Montreal Agents and Wintering Partners (precursor to the North West Company of fur traders) sought out and preferred to hire voyageurs who liked to sing and were good at it. They believed that singing helped the voyageurs to paddle faster and longer. French colonists ate horned larks, which they considered a game bird. "Alouette" informs the lark that the singer will pluck its head, nose, eyes, wings and tail. En roulant ma boule sings of ponds, bonnie ducks and a prince on hunting bound. Many of the songs favored by the voyageurs have been passed down to our own era.
"Alouette" has become a symbol of French Canada for the world, an unofficial national song. Today, the song is used to teach French- and English-speaking children in Canada, and others learning French around the world, the names of body parts. Singers will point to or touch the part of their body that corresponds to the word being sung in the song.
Ethnomusicologist Conrad LaForte points out that, in song, the lark (l'alouette) is the bird of the morning, and that it is the first bird to sing in the morning, hence waking up lovers and causing them to part, and waking up others as well, something that is not always appreciated. In French songs, the lark also has the reputation of being a gossip, a know-it-all, and cannot be relied on to carry a message, as it will tell everyone; it also carries bad news. However the nightingale, being the first bird of spring, in Europe, sings happily all the time, during the lovely seasons of spring and summer. The nightingale (i.e., rossignol) also carries messages faithfully and dispenses advice, in Latin, no less, a language that lovers understand. LaForte explains that this alludes to the Middle Ages, when only a select few still understood Latin. And so, as the lark makes lovers part or wakes up the sleepyhead, this would explain why the singer of "Alouette" wants to pluck it in so many ways.. if he can catch it, for, as Laporte notes, this bird is flighty as well.
The lark was eaten in Europe, and when eaten was known as a "mauviette", which is also a term for a sickly person.
"Alouette" usually involves audience participation, with the audience echoing every line of each verse after the verse's second line. It is a cumulative song, with each verse built on top of the previous verses, much like the English carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
Below are the original French lyrics along with a literal English translation. As the translation does not match well with the meter of the song, a slightly less literal, yet more singable version is included.
|French||Literal English translation||Singable English version|
An English song known as "If You Love Me" uses the same tune as "Alouette".
The English composer Benjamin Britten adapted the tune for part of his 1939 orchestral composition Canadian Carnival.
The tune of the chorus has been adapted to make the tune of the children's song "Down by the Station".
The song was used by French-Canadian nuns in the United States to help teach French to their students. They substituted the French word for human body parts for the bird parts.
An instrumental version was recorded on March 20, 1962, as one of the songs on the Pete and Conte Candoli jazz album There Is Nothing Like a Dame, featuring the Candoli brothers on trumpets, Shelly Manne on drums, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Howard Roberts on guitar and Gary Peacock on bass.
In popular culture
- As this song is not under copyright, its music is frequently used in cartoons. For example, the two chefs in the classic 1951 Bugs Bunny short French Rarebit sing "Alouette" while inside an oven, Pepé Le Pew sings it twice in Touché and Go (1957) and it's heard again at the very end of the short, and Nibbles sings it in the 1952 Tom and Jerry short, The Two Mouseketeers. It is also used as a leitmotif for appearances of the character Fifi La Fume on the animated television series Tiny Toon Adventures (1990–1992).
- On the Alvin and the Chipmunks 1961 album The Alvin Show, they perform the song with Alvin going very loud and high on the "OHHH" and Dave admonishing him "Alvin..." and then Alvin goes low and out. When Dave says he can't understand what they are saying and asks them can they sing it in English, they respond with a few verses of "If You Love Me".
- In the television sitcom Gilligan's Island, when Mr. and Mrs. Howell have a fight in the season 1 episode "The Matchmaker" (1965), the other castaways try to recreate the French restaurant where they met. Ginger Grant does her part by singing a slow, passionate version of the song for the couple, ostensibly to create a "romantic mood" – humorously offset for the viewing audience by the less than romantic nature of the lyrics.
- In the television sitcom Hogan's Heroes, Corporal Louis LeBeau sings the song for an audience of German guards in the season 2 episode titled "Praise the Fuhrer and Pass the Ammunition" (1967).
- In the television sitcom Get Smart, the season 3 episode "The Hot Line" (1968) features the Chief singing "Alouette" with the lyrics altered to code words to warn Smart and 99 that they are in danger.
- The song is also used for parody and cultural reference. Comedian and performer Andy Kaufman used to sing his own derivative of "Alouette" titled "Abodabee", which he claimed was a song "performed every harvest time in the islands of the Caspian Sea".
- On Koffi Olomide's 2001 album Effrakata, his song "R.A.S Rien à Signaler" uses a sample of the song towards the end.
- In François Bourgeon's first issue of the comic book series The Companions of the Dusk (1983), a group of Breton villagers sing the song as they merrily prepare to torture and kill a suspected witch.
- In the television series Mr. Bean: The Animated Series, the season 3 episode "Art Thief" (2003) features an instrumental version of the song when Mr. Bean travels to Paris.
- In the animated series Phineas and Ferb, the season 3 episode "Buford Confidential" (2012) has three Fireside Girls from France singing the song.
- In the animated series Adventure Time, the season 3 episode "Holly Jolly Secrets" (2011), ends part 1 with Jake screaming after seeing that Ice King found them watching his secret tapes, then part 2 starts with Jake still screaming, and then he suddenly breaks into "Alouette".
- An episode of the Canadian sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall featured a sketch where a pair of French-Canadian trappers (Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley) sang the song while canoeing in an office and taking "coats" (the jackets of businessmen).
- The song is the basis for Mark Ronson's 2010 song "Bang Bang Bang".
- The song is used in an episode[episode needed] of the television series Ghost Whisperer (2005–2010).
- In television's Beetlejuice: The Animated Series (1989–1991), the character Jacques Left Feet is often seen jogging while singing "Alouette, jogging alouette...".
- In Salman Rushdie's 2005 novel Shalimar the Clown, after the ambassador Max Ophuls is murdered outside his daughter's doorstep, his daughter India recalls singing this song with her father.
- In the Japanese television anime series Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo (2003–2005), King Nose Hair sings a part of the song during a flashback in an episode.[episode needed]
- The song is heard in the 2016 film The Promise, when Anna tries to comfort orphans of the Armenian Genocide during the battle of Musa Dagh.
- In 2006, the tune was used with new lyrics, in a song titled Dirty Monkey Mackem and attributed to the "group" Septic Hank and the Magpie Cowboys, to promote the association football rivalry between closely located Newcastle United Magpies and the Sunderland Black Cats (the suggested Mackem-tongued monkeys).
- In The Wiggles' video Taking Off!, The Wiggles visit their friend Mimi who performs a ballet dance, joined at intervals by The Wiggles, to an instrumental version of the song.
- In the 1967 France film production Les Amitiés Particulières, the song is heard during an ambiguous conversation between Georges and Lucien, then again during a dramatic moment in the train.
- In the animated series The Simpsons, the season 4 episode "Lisa's First Word" (1992) has Bart singing the song to Patty and Selma, though he only remembers the refrain.
- In the 2019 BBC adaptation of Les Misérables, Cosette remarks that the guests at the Thernadier's inn would often sing this to her, and she was nicknamed "petite alouette". She is later seen singing this to herself after she is rescued by Jean Valjean.
- Montreal Alouettes, a Canadian football team based in Montreal, Quebec
- Plouffe, Hélène. ""Alouette!"". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
- Conrad LaForte, Survivances médiévales dans la chanson folklorique, Université Laval Press, 1981
- Larousse gastronomique, Hamlyn, London, New York, Sydney, Toronto, 1974
- Conrad LaForte, Survivances Médiévales dans la chanson folklorique, les presses de l'Université Laval, 1981, pp. 227–229.
- "Lark", Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedia of food, wine and cooking, Hamlyn: London, New York. Sydney, Toronto, 14th edition, 1974.
- Rushdie. Shalimar the Clown. Random House, 2005. 41.
- Dirty Monkey Mackem. Septic Hank and the Magpie Cowboys. YouTube. 2007-03-06. Retrieved 2018-08-21.