help_outline Skip to main content
Add Me To Your Mailing List


Sister city choirs savor 18-year friendship

Published on 7/9/2019

Together en Chansons

Palo Alto’s Aurora Singers perform July 21, 2019 with chorale from Albi, France

Just weeks after 9/11, when the country was in shock, a chorale from Palo Alto’s French sister city came to town, hosted by the Aurora Singers. The Chorale Assou-Lézert from Albi brought more than music on their first U.S. visit. They brought friendship, support and hope in dark times. They also donated their share of the concert proceeds to the American Red Cross, aiding the victims and rescuers of the tragedy in New York.

“We are happy that we are able to make this gesture for the victims,” Sylvie Dupuy, former president of the chorale, told an Albi newspaper reporter.

Eighteen years and five choral exchanges later—hosted in singers’ homes in southwest France and Silicon Valley—the bonds between Palo Alto’s Aurora Singers and Albi’s Chorale Assou-Lézert have deepened, beyond music.

This month they will join voices in a sixth reunion, capped by a free concert, “Together en Chansons,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at Valley Presbyterian Church, 945 Portola Road, Portola Valley.

The choirs will share songs from their own repertoires and sing together, with love on the menu in two languages. Songs include Jacques Brel’s “Quand on n’a que l’amour” (“If We Only Have Love”), Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’amour (“Hymn to Love”) and a jazzy version of “C’est si bon” (“It’s So Good”). English selections include “Happy Together,” “California Dreaming” and the traditional spiritual “Soon Ah Will Be Done.”

The Aurorans will perform the spirited “Africa” and “Beyond the Sea” (adapted from “La Mer”), while the French group will sing a medley of Charles Aznavour songs as well as the Latin hit “Besame Mucho.”

The choirs will also perform together at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 17 at Napa Methodist Church, 625 Randolph St. Receptions follow both concerts.

Over 10 days, from July 13-23, the chorales will visit Wine Country and the State Fair in Sacramento, the beach in Santa Cruz, lunch in San Francisco’s Chinatown and a ferry cruise in San Francisco Bay.

Beyond the concert and the outings, what choir members cherish are the relationships developed over 18 years.

“With each exchange, we demonstrate that music unites us and shows us how we are all fundamentally the same— and creates lifelong friendships along the way,” says Dawn Reyen, director and founder of the Aurora Singers, now celebrating 30 years.

The friendship that blossomed between the two choirs grew out of a 2000 summer visit to France, sponsored by Palo Alto’s Neighbors Abroad. Former Aurora baritone Larry Dorety, who was on a hike with the French, was asked if he knew of a group in Palo Alto that might be interested in a choral exchange. The Aurorans jumped on the possibility, and 18 years later, the relationships continue to grow. Dorety, who now lives in Auburn, will return for the reunion.

Over the years, the choristers have learned from one another, musically and otherwise. American hosts who worried about preparing dinners for their visitors were relieved that the French relished the myriad traditions that Americans bring to the table. Meanwhile, the French singers who had not previously experienced potlucks began to incorporate them in events they hosted at home.

The Americans inspired the French to add dance and skits to what were previously more presentations, and the Aurorans picked up a few pointers from the French.

 “We were inspired by the French choir’s costumes, as they are always so creative, classy, stylish and well coordinated. Now we’ve made major changes to what we normally wear for performances,” said Aurora president Cynthia Mahood Levin.

“Our French choir friends are like long-lost cousins to us. We think of them as part of our family now,” Mahood Levin continued. “It is really beautiful how singing music together makes long-lasting friendships. I started taking French classes after my first exchange to Albi three years ago to be able to communicate with them better.”

What: “Together en Chansons,” with Palo Alto’s Aurora Singers and Chorale Assou-Lézert from Palo Alto’s sister city in Albi, France

Where: Valley Presbyterian Church, 945 Portola Road, Portola Valley

When: Sunday, July 21, 4 p.m.

Cost: Free; donations accepted at the door