Sounds of 'The Little Singers'

NEWPORT BEACH — An all-male choir from France will perform Saturday at a Newport Beach church.

The touring Les Petits Chanteurs d'Aix-en-Provence will sing during evening Mass and perform a special half-hour concert afterward at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church.

The young French singers, however, won't be entirely out of place. The church on Mar Vista Drive, off Eastbluff Drive near Jamboree Road, has become a magnet for Orange County's expatriate French community, many of whose members are Roman Catholic.

Once a month at Our Lady Queen of Angels, Mass is given in French. Catechism classes are taught there in the language. And members of the county's French expat community gather at the church regularly for potlucks, and the sharing of home-cooked dishes that offer a respite from American fare.

Between 50 and 100 French Catholics belong to an association known as the Catholic French Community of Orange County, said Bernard Prat, the association's spokesman and co-founder, who lives in Santa Ana. He believes that the true number of French Catholics in O.C. is much higher.

"They just haven't heard of us yet," Prat said.

Les Petits Chanteurs ("The Little Singers"), who will be performing at the church, range in age from 8 to 28 years old and are members of the one France's oldest choirs, which was formed 49 years ago in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence by Gérard Mouton, the choir's current director.

"Boys come to this choir partly because they like to sing and partly because they want to be together in the group," Herve Gautier, the tour director, said of the choir which has family-like dynamics.

As the children grow with the choir, the most senior members stay on to coach the junior members.

The choir will perform both well-known religious songs as well as more modern secular pieces, Gautier said.

With the exception of the mini-concert, the rest of the Mass should go on as usual.

Orange County's French Catholic association that Prat helped to found is part of a larger "welcoming committee" sponsored by the French Consulate in Los Angeles for French nationals entering the U.S.

Our Lady Queen of Angels has given the association permission to use church facilities for religious services and community events.

The association was the brainchild of Prat's wife, Elizabeth, who was a teacher in France. The couple moved to the U.S. in 1995.

Madame Prat found that immigrant French children could not understand the church services in English, which made it difficult for the children to learn the necessary sacraments.

"At its origin, we were just a few families," Prat said. "Mostly, we were helping the children through catechism. As we grew, we realized we could only make a stronger association with a priest."

A French priest used to serve the small group, but he died in 1998, Prat said.

In 2002, the French Catholic Church decided to send a priest overseas, and "fortunately, they chose Los Angeles and Orange County," Bernard Prat said.

The priest, Père Germán Sánchez, spreads his duties between L.A. and Orange counties, and is one of only two priests from the French Catholic Church serving in the U.S., Prat said. The other priest is in New York.

When asked about the differences between American Catholics and French Catholics, Prat replied: "The French are very impressed with American [Catholics'] discipline. They come to Mass on time, and when it's done they wait until told it's time to leave."

"This is not true in French Mass," Prat continued. "People come and go the whole time. The priest — he tries to argue — but the people will continue to come and go as they please."

Père Sanchez leads mass in French on the first Saturdays of each month at Our Lady Queen of Angels. The mass is followed by a potluck where each family brings a traditional French dish.

"And it must be a good dish," Prat said. "Food is very important to the French. We like to say that the meal we have after the Mass is the very best meal you can have any where in Orange County."

Among the shared dishes are boeuf carrot (beef with carrots), confit de canard (confit of duck), foie gras (goose liver), and many chocolates cakes and deserts.

And although the church prohibits alcohol, "because we are French, sometimes they let us open a bottle of wine," he said.

If You Go

What: Les Petits Chanteurs d'Aix-en-Provence

When: 5 tonight

Where: Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, 2046 Mar Vista Drive, Newport Beach

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