|"Alouette French Folk Song"|
"Alouette" is a popular French-Canadian children's song 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 American doughboys 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). However, Canadian folklorist Marius Barbeau was of the opinion that the song's origin was France.
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 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.
Allouette 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 which 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 she will tell everyone; she 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 which 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||English translation||Singable version|
An English song known as "If You Love Me" uses the same tune as "Alouette".
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.
Alternate lyrics were used by anglophone pre-school and elementary school children in Québéc, ridiculing the frequent recitatations of the song in nursery school, kindergarten and first grade. "Aloutte, smoke-a-cigarette, chew tobacco, phht! (spitting sound) on the floor."
Instrumental version was recorded on March 20, 1962, for the LP There Is Nothing Like a Dame with Pete Candoli and Conte Candoli 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 Bugs Bunny short French Rarebit sing "Alouette" while inside an oven, and Nibbles sings it in the Tom and Jerry short The Two Mouseketeers.
- In the American sitcom Gilligan's Island (1964-1967), when Mr. and Mrs. Howell have a fight in the episode "The Matchmaker," the other castaways try to recreate the French restaurant where they met. Ginger Grant does her part by singing a slow, passionate version of "Alouette" for the couple, ostensibly to create a "romantic mood." The hysterical nature of this "faux pas" is not lost on the more astute members of the Gilligan's Island audience.
- In the 1965-1971 comedy Hogan's Heroes, Corporal Louis LeBeau sings the song for an audience of German guards in the episode entitled "Praise the Fuhrer and Pass the Ammunition."
- The song is also used for parody and cultural reference. Comedian and performer Andy Kaufman used to sing his own derivative of "Alouette" entitled "Abodabee," which he claimed was a song "performed every harvest time in the islands of the Caspian Sea."
- On Koffi Olomide's album Effrakata his song "R.A.S Rien à Signaler" he uses a sample of the song towards the end.
- In François Bourgeon's The Twilight Companions, a group of Breton villagers sing the song as they merrily prepare to torture and kill a suspected witch. Since the series is set during the Hundred Years' War, prior to the French colonization of the Americas, Bourgeon thus argues that the song is of European origin.
- An instrumental version is heard in the "Art Thief" episode of Mr. Bean: The Animated Series when Mr. Bean travels to Paris.
- In "Buford Confidential" from Phineas and Ferb, three Fireside Girls from France sing this song.
- In the Adventure Time episode "Holly Jolly Secrets", the cliffhanger in the end of part 1 has Jake screaming after seeing that Ice King found them watching his secret tapes. When part 2 starts, Jake is still screaming, and then he suddenly breaks into the song. Finn and BMO then congratulate him for doing a good job.
- 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 the Mark Ronson song "Bang Bang Bang."
- It is also used in an episode of The Ghost Whisperer.
- In Beetlejuice: The Animated Series, character Jacques Left Feet is often seen jogging while singing "Allouette. Jogging, allouette".
- In Salman Rushdie's 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.
See also Montreal Alouettes
- The song was adapted as Dirty Monkey Mackem to promote Newcastle and Sunderland.
- In the Wiggles video Taking Off!, the Wiggles visit their friend Mimi who teach him how to dance while the song plays its instrumental version.
- Conrad LaForte, Survivances médiévales dans la chanson folklorique, les presses de l'Université Laval, 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.