Fresno Beehive

City Singers remember Nice victims in song during French tour

The City Singers perform in Nice as audience members listen and photograph the experience.
The City Singers perform in Nice as audience members listen and photograph the experience. Special to The Bee

Here’s another testament to the power of music.

When the Fresno City College City Singers set out for a two-week concert tour of France earlier this month, no one had anything but pleasant thoughts about their final destination: the seaside city of Nice.

The 25 choir members and artistic staff never thought they’d end up singing there in memory of 84 people who died at the hands of a terrorist.

The massacre, on July 14, occurred in the tour’s first days, when the ensemble was still visiting Paris. Even though the group was nearly 600 miles from the carnage, it was traumatic to be in the country at the time. You can only imagine the concern from family and friends clamoring to know the singers were safe.

The choir, directed by Julie Dana, continued on during the two-week tour to participate in an international festival in the southern Aveyron region of France. There was never any plan to sing a concert in Nice – just a fun last place in France to visit.

“I chose it because I thought it would be a nice way to end the tour for them after working so hard doing concerts everyday for a week,” says Dana, who returned Tuesday – exhausted – to Fresno with the group.

Once the group reached Nice, the memorial concert took place at the suggestion of their guide in the city. The guide asked at first if the choir would consider a formal performance, but it was too difficult to organize something on short notice.

Then the guide suggested going to the makeshift memorial that has sprung up in Nice and singing a song.

“As we stood by the memorial, one song turned into two and then three as a crowd gathered and listened and cried,” Dana says.

Kenneshae Murray, a sophomore studying music at Fresno City College, says it was a humbling experience.

“The hundreds of flowers, pictures, paintings, and posters were overwhelming,” Murray says. “Although we could not read the posters or understand the language that was being spoken around us, we knew … The looks of sorrow and loss were universal. We did not know anyone, but we all understood each other, which was very unifying.”

One of those songs was “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Murray interpreted in sign language as her fellow choir members sang.

“Although we had performed those songs many times before, this was the first time they made sense,” she says. “The words and melody rushed into the air as we realized their real meaning. We realized not only what peace really meant, but how music can change and unify people.”

Dana has taken many choirs abroad before. This tour ended in a way she’ll never forget.

“Our guide was moved by the kids and their musical gift,” she says. “Through her tears, she told us in over 30 years as a guide she had never experienced such a powerful and healing moment as she experienced with us.”

The human voice in song is a powerful force in times of great emotion: in worship, in celebration, in crisis. I’m glad to know our student singers were able to offer a small measure of comfort against such a tragic backdrop.