French students spend day learning from renowned Canadian singer

The trips to France he arranges for French Club students at Grandview Heights High School are among the most satisfying aspects of his job, Steve Hedge will tell you.

But what the French teacher calls "hands down the most important educational thing I've done in my career" occurred in Grandview.

That was the concert performance by renowned Quebecois singer Bruno Pelletier, accompanied by pianist Julie Lamontagne, held April 3 in the high school auditorium.

It was only the second time the 16-time winner of the Felix Award (Quebec's version of the Grammy) has performed in the United States. He once performed at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

Lamontagne, a seven-time Felix Award winner, was performing for the first time in the U.S.

"It's not just the experience my students got to hear and meet Bruno," Hedge said. "It was the chance to share the cultural traditions he represents with the community as a whole. Even if they don't speak a word of French, people who came to the show were able to learn about and experience a culture other than their own, and that's the coolest thing that happened."

About 600 people attended the concert at the high school, he said.

The project to bring the two performers to central Ohio was a collaboration between the school and Ohio State and Denison universities, Hedge said.

"It really was the brainchild of Wynne Wong, a French professor at OSU who's a friend of mine," he said. "She thought a performer of Bruno's stature could serve as an incredible cultural ambassador. He's so well known and famous in Canada, but so few people have ever heard about him here.

"When she asked me if I wanted to collaborate with her on the project, I jumped at the chance," he said.

Hedge regularly uses Pelletier's music as a teaching tool in his French classes.

"To me, the teaching of language begins with the culture of a country," he said. "When I am designing units or lessons, I start with the cultural aspects. All else follows from that.

"The culture is what drives most people's interest in learning a language," Hedge said. "I think if you lead with the culture, the language will follow."

During his visit, Pelletier spent the day at Ohio State, leading a class at the university that students in Hedge's AP French class attended.

That evening, after his performance at the high school, Pelletier held a VIP meet-and-greet with Grandview French students.

Meeting Pelletier was awe-inspiring, said Jamie Mihocik, a senior AP French student.

"He was so down-to-earth and approachable," he said. "He was so easy to talk to during the one-on-one time."

"One of the first things he said to us was, 'Let's have some fun,' " said Nya Feinstein, a junior AP French student.

In his lecture at OSU, Pelletier talked about his career and his view that music can serve as a bridge between people, Mihocik said.

"He knows a little Russian, and he talked about his visit to Russia and how even though they didn't know each others' language very well, he could communicate with the people there with his music," he said.

Feinstein said getting to hear and meet the two performers was "the culmination of my five years of studying French.

"It's something that Mr. Hedge tells us all the time," she said. "AP French isn't just about knowing your vocabulary and being able to speak the language; it's about getting to know and appreciate the culture and develop an understanding about people from another country."

"This whole experience certifies the idea that learning isn't just about tests and grades," Mihocik said. "It's about the experience of learning itself."

Hedge said he hopes Pelletier also gained something from his visit.

"His perception of American audiences will be based on what he saw at GHHS," he said. "The audience reaction was stunning. I think he could see that his music touched everyone who was there."