Spring living tradition “Les Réveillez”

Spring living tradition “Les Réveillez”

« Les Réveillez » or « Réveillés » can be translated by “the waking up” is an old catholic tradition taking place during Easter and found in the French countryside, more precisely in its central region called “Massif Central”. People from the same village usually move from house to house at night time, singing and playing music in order to get some eggs and even coins. This quest is realized in order to bake an omelet at the end of the night to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. However, there’s more to this practice than just its religious background since this celebration is tightly linked to a popular tradition. It allows people to maintain the feeling of belonging into their community and nourish their culture.

Therefore the main function of this tradition seems to be the creation of a common space and time for people to gather and share a meaningful moment at this important time of the year. Obviously, the baking of the omelet in the morning is also a moment of reunion and celebration. These aspects shows that there might indeed be more to this tradition than just a catholic heritage and that people reclaimed it and made it part of their popular traditions. Moreover, according to the words of citizens found in recordings from these rural areas, we understand that they also feel that the religious part of it isn’t the most significant aspect of « Les Réveillez » anymore, at least in comparison to the strong oral tradition that comes with it and the social aspect.

Lyrics often mention the so-called waking up but they also refer to religious themes either directly or in a metaphorical way, particularly to Jesus. It sometimes have a dark and gloomy tone because of the period of the celebration that matches the crucifiction of Jesus. In fact, many « Réveillez » lyrics refers precisely to this scene of the Bible.

Musically, « Les Réveillez » are associated with a repertoire that has a strong link to actual musicians. When they were not sung, these songs were traditionally played with instruments such as the violin or the accordion. Each melody was attached to a small territory, resulting in a different melody from one village to another ; each village had its own song, sung all night long by its inhabitants. Due to their great variety and their differences we cannot build any special classification for the « Réveillez ». Nonetheless we can point out a shared aspect that is the 2/4 time signature, strongly linked with the walking part of this tradition which contrasts with the rest of the repertoire from these region, mostly dance-oriented.

The articulation of the melody doesn’t always follow a strict bar structure, the main goal not being the dance here. The fact that these songs are not meant to suit the dance allowed a vast playground for musicians to experiment and create intricate and unique melodies.

The temperament of the scales used in the « réveillez » is also an important aspect of the tradition with microtonality,regarding the unequal temperament, particularly for the third and the seventh degrees. The latters are sometimes mobile degrees, thus allowing them to loosen the mode and make it a bit ambiguous ; it can’t be told if the melody is in major or minor.

Recordings selection of « Réveillez » available here : https://amta.fr/chants-de-reveillez

Even though this tradition is no longer in use in French countryside apart from very sporadic occurrences in small communities, this repertoire still lives and is played by contemporary traditional musicians. Dance adaptations can be found ; this repertoire is a source of inspiration for traditional musicians.

Réveillez songs :

  • San Salvador : https://youtu.be/2YdMyh_c3dQ (Song by the french group « San Salvador » about the month of May. The group sings in occitan, one of the ancient languages spoken in France.)
  • Louise : https://youtu.be/oL2207hk6LE (« Louise », a french female vocal group sings a « Réveillé ». The group sings in French and in occitan.)

In addition to the renewal and revival of this repertoire, the practice of the « Réveillez » might as well get a rebirth. In the region of Corrèze where is found significant amount of « réveillez », the association Lost in Tradition organizes a practice, inspired by the catholic tradition yet devoid of any religious function or purpose.