As a native Vermonter, my decision to study abroad for a semester stemmed from my desire to experience some of the world outside of this beautiful state. I attended the Université de Paul Valéry in Montpellier, France during my junior year. Montpellier is a city in Southern France on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. I figured there was no better place to enhance my language skills as well as soak up some sunshine (a stark contrast to the weather of the typical UVM Spring Semester). While the primary goal of my semester abroad was to improve upon my French, I found ample opportunity to experience the immense musical scene of Europe. At my university, I took a musicology course in which we discussed the history of classical music in the place where much of that history actually happened. The first troubadours roamed in the region where I was living, speaking a French dialect that can still be heard around Montpellier. I was a short train ride from Paris and Italy, making our discussions of the differences between French and Italian opera much more tangible. That new understanding led me to see my first opera, a production put on in the historic Opera Comédie in the center square of Montpellier.
During my time abroad, I took advantage of the accessibility to classical music. I attended a chamber music recital in a beautiful, ornate church in Paris on Easter Sunday. Paris is extraordinary for many reasons, but I found it surreal in that you can aimlessly wander while soaking in the sights that inspired so many musicians and artists. While in Paris, I even went to Père Lachaise to visit both Frédéric Chopin and Jim Morrison’s graves!
My musical adventures continued throughout my semester. I was able to get discounted student tickets to the Montpellier Orchestra, an active orchestra that performs each month. I found out that they had recently hired a new principle clarinetist. As a clarinetist myself, I made sure to attend all of the solo and chamber recitals of his that I possibly could.
I quickly learned that classical music is ingrained in the culture of France. In Montpellier, as in most cities in France, the local opera hall is the grandiose building in the center of the city, a fitting location because music seems to be at the center of French and European society. The history and the pride taken in classical music made me love my experience studying abroad even more than I thought possible. Being immersed in the ubiquitous classical musical scene gave me a better understanding of the music that I love, both where it came from and where it can go.