It all started when Yannick, a retired engineer, met Serge “the Gaul”, a former fisherman who is now homeless. In 2005, Serge was sleeping in the doorway of the car park in Nantes that Yannick used on a regular basis. They began by saying hello to each other, then a little small talk, and eventually began to talk properly. One day Serge spoke about one of his companions of fortune who had recently died, “It’s bloody awful to see your pals die like that… even dogs are buried with more ceremony! Nobody ever comes to sing at their funerals.” So, Yannick suggested to Serge that he might be the one to do something about it and set up a choir of, and for, people living on the streets.
Now, every Tuesday at 1pm, people who have lost everything they ever had get together… to sing. The only condition for joining the group? No drinking before the rehearsal. The repertoire started off very simply: singing “L’Auvergnat” by Brassens, a hymn to fraternity, over the coffins of the people buried in anonymous graves after a pauper’s funeral. Gradually though, the scope increased. Today, the Au Clair de la Rue choir (see: http://www.choraleauclairdelarue.com) sings songs written by its members and even holds concerts. The initiative is spreading to other towns and cities in France.
The photographer Sophie Brandstrom (website: http://www.signatures-photographies.com/vitrine/fr/news/la-chorale-au-clair-de-la-rue-sur-le-chemin-vers-rome ) has been following the members of Au Clair de la Rue for many years now. She has produced a series of black and white portraits from her time with the choristers. “The most striking thing are the relationships which are forged, and the sense of dignity, the singers rediscover their self-worth for themselves, by their own means.”
Au Clair de la Rue will be travelling to Rome accompanied by Sophie Brandstrom.