September 6, 2019
Being a musician is about much more than music. Wise artists are always telling their students: as well as mastering your instrument, you have to read, learn languages, hang out in bars, go to the theatre, live your life…and travel, of course, for travel broadens the mind and soul. The Camac team can certainly testify to that: we’re on the road every ten days. Sometimes you’ll hear a loud groan emanate from one of our offices, perhaps accompanied by the exasperated evocation of a national airline – but the fun and the experiences we have more than make up for this, and we wouldn’t change anything.
Recently, the Camac Artist Relations department has got more deeply involved in accompanying musicians on such travels. Together with our business partner in Beijing, Duoli Wu, Guan Wang and Lin Lin Wei, Professors at the Central Conservatory of Music, and Xue Mei Zheng, our first project after the summer break was a ten-day tour of France. Duoli, professors and nearly thirty young Chinese harpists joined us for a combined programme of masterclasses, concerts, and other excursions: some directly harp-related, and some – as those wise musicians say – indirectly, but none the less importantly for that.
Everybody was still smiling on arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, after a twelve-hour flight from Beijing: the Camac coach was waiting to greet them, and take the party to their hotel. The first part of the tour took place in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, home of the Paris Conservatoire, Jean Nouvel’s magnificent new building for the Philharmonie – and our Paris showroom, our base for the next five days.
After a good rest, we began with a day of welcome and celebration. We filled L’Espace Camac with a selection of the size you’ll normally only see at a World Harp Congress, and closed the store for an afternoon so that our group could enjoy some peaceful, private browsing. In the early evening, Mathilde Wauters gave a beautiful short recital (of French music, naturally!), followed by a cocktail to round off the day.
Work began in earnest the following, as the students began four days of masterclasses with Isabelle Moretti. It’s common knowledge that Isabelle does not give regular private lessons, and the chance to work with her over an extended period is rare. The Camac team much enjoyed chatting to our friendly group, as they came in and out of the Paris store: to listen, to practice, to browse our sheet music, or to get tips on where else to visit in Paris. After these sessions of dedicated work, plus what looked like, beyond the harp, a serious amount of shopping…everybody was ready for another party on Saturday night: a dinner cruise down the Seine river, which is a gorgeous and atmospheric way to experience many Parisian sights. Even for those of us who have done it before, it is a journey that never grows stale. In the Second World War, Dietrich von Cholitz famously disobeyed Hitler’s orders to bomb Paris to the ground. The city’s architecture thus has a breathtaking unity, which has become exceptional in comparison with other European cities. Notre Dame is bandaged, wrapped in scaffolding, after its fire last April. It will be restored.
Tour day 5 saw the Camac tour bus draw up outside the hotel. Its destination: Brittany, and our other seat in France. We were on our way to visit the Camac factory, and also our collection of historical instruments at the Château d’Ancenis. Many thanks to Martine Charles, the Secretary for Culture and Deputy Mayor of the Pays d’Ancenis, for her warm welcome to our group at the Château. We are proud of our regional roots, and the interest and support we receive from our Breton community. As well as making the fine rooms at the top of the Château available to display our historical collection, the civic authorities of the Ancenis region will organise their third Harpes au Max. Come to this part of the world over the long weekend of May 14 – 17, 2020, and you’ll land on Planet Harp!
After a week on the road around our own Planet Harp, it was time to branch out. With only a small hint of smugness at getting to go on this part of the tour, we wished our Mouzeil colleagues well with the rest of their working week, and boarded the tour bus for Puy du Fou. Puy du Fou is a historical theme park often credited as France’s answer to Disneyland: imagine a similar spectacular quality, with added elegance, culture and better food. Puy du Fou’s amazing variety of shows bring European history to life, with extraordinary skill. There are Viking raids and Roman arenas, swashbuckling fencing, stunning falconry, the magical universe of La Fontaine…and some obligatory heroics saving France from the English. If you go, go for at least two days – it’s impossible to do it all in one, and you won’t want to leave.
The journey from Puy du Fou back to Charles de Gaulle airport is well-placed for a stop at a UNESCO World Heritage site: the Cathedral of Chartres. One of the most admirable and best-preserved examples of French Gothic art, the Cathedral has been little-changed for the last nine hundred years. At its inception, architectural innovations allowed for unprecedented height and volume, and therefore also larger windows. Chartres’s enormous stained glass windows, all executed within fifty years of each other in the 13th century, fill the cathedral with light on the three facades. On the West, the window depicts the Last Judgement; on the North, the Glorification of the Virgin; and on the South, the Glorification of Christ. As with the buildings lining the banks of the Seine, to visit the Cathedral of Chartres is to experience a piece of exceptional historical and cultural unity.
Organising our tour, we also experienced a great deal of rewarding cultural unity and exchange. It would have been impossible to realise our project without the commitment and efficiency of Duoli Wu and the Chinese professors. They were the translators and essential advisors for the young students, many of whom were visiting Europe for the first time. Once you are used to frequent travel, you fall asleep instantly in every hotel, ignore your jetlag (or mutter “mind over matter”), and eat strange food with curiosity and relish. You learn to move easily about the world, and this is a gift. But it doesn’t happen by itself; everyone begins with a first journey. If you are well-supported on that journey, you’re much more likely to enjoy yourself, and set out on another.
Even Camac’s most enthusiastic travellers do not commonly associate CDG Airport with what sparks joy. But it was the scene of unprecedented warmth and affection as, after ten days on the road together, we said goodbye and zhù nĭ yī lù píng’ān! (bon voyage) to our friends.