Talking beef with Marie Henchoz, songwriter

« I am very attached to the farming world, these are my roots»

Marie Henchoz is very close to her roots: she often visits her family in the Pays-d'Enhaut. (Photo: provided)

Ms Henchoz, your songs are familiar to most children in French-speaking Switzerland. How did you come upon the idea for the song «La vache en hélicoptère»?

It’s based on a true story. As an adult, I was visiting my family on a Sunday, when suddenly the neighbour came to us asking for help. His cow Augusta had slipped down a slope in a hole and couldn’t get out. We set off to give a hand. All the famers of the village were there and pulled. The cow kept mooing all the time. Finally, a Rega rescue helicopter had to come and lift the cow out of the hole with a net. Two days later, Augusta gave birth to two healthy calves. 
As I saw the cow dangling from the helicopter in the net, I thought: ‘‘That would make a fine song‘‘. I had only just started writing songs. 

How did you get into music?

Already as a child, I had an ear for music. I became a kindergarten teacher and wanted to bring music and children together. Although I loved what I was doing, my career developed in another direction. I studied at the Swiss Jazz School and the Jacques Dalcroze Institute, and became a rhythmics teacher. This is also where I  learned to write songs. A professor said to me at the time: ‘‘ You have to write children’s songs. When the students go out, they’ll all sing what you have played”.

Then he asked me every week if I had started. So I made a start.  I wrote four or five songs, recorded them with  my nephew’s help and took them to the publishing house «Éditions Loisirs et Pédagogie» in Lausanne. Philippe Bürdel, the founder and director, told me ‘‘we’ll make a book with cassette‘‘ – yes there were still cassettes at the time. That’s how the first  Sautecroche album came into being. 

And then you wrote more and more?

Not at first. After two albums I said I didn’t have any more ideas. But then I continued. My Inspiration for the songs often comes from my childhood, my everyday life and my travels.

Have you written other songs about cows?

Not about cows but about a calf. It’s called «Le veau qui aimait l’eau» (The calf that loved water) and is about a little calf who’s a daredeveil. It was very excited and reckless and ran away from the pasture. The farmer ran after it to catch it, but the calf fell into the small artificial lake. It swam right across the lake to the opposite shore. The farmer grabbed his bike and rode round the lake to capture the calf. When he got there, the calf just turned around and swam back. 

Farmer culture and tradition marked Marie Henchoz and her music. (Photo : provided) 

How would you describe your relationship to cows?

I have always loved cows. As I grew up on a small farm in Château-d’Oex, I spent a lot of time in the cowshed stall and saw many calves being born. I still remember that after each birth my father gave each cow a bottle of wine, for relaxation. Another memory is of us children bringing the milk to the village, in summer with a small cart, and in winter with a sledge. 

How do you relate today to cows and farming?

I am still very attached to this world, it has had a great impact on me. My brother took over the family farm and I still go home about every two weeks. The ‘fête de la desalpe‘ (descent of the cows to the valley) in Étivaz also means a lot to me, I go whenever I can. 

What is your mission?

Many people tell me that my songs are all positive. My mission is to share with children some of the happiness that I was fortunate enough to experience.  I have been in Vietnam and India and sung my songs with children in orphanages. It was funny because they didn’t understand the lyrics. They sang phonetically what they heard. And I used my hands and feet to tell them what the songs were about. With the song «‘La vache en hélicoptère‘ I used the fan on the ceiling to explain the helicopter.

Marie Henchoz with Sébastien Descloux, one of the soloists of the “Ranz des Vaches” at the “Fête des Vignerons” in Vevey. As a child, he was one of the little singers for Sautecroche, and already there Marie Henchoz called him "l'armailli". (Photo: provided) 

What is your favourite song?

My favourite is «Vive les différences» (= live the differences) from the album Sautecroche 10. It’s about a child in a wheelchair, who was taken and pushed everywhere by his friends. This child, now grown up, really enjoyed my rhythmic classes and inspired me to write this song. Here’s the refrain, just as I experience the world - enriched through differences: ‘‘Differences are like the holy bread, I love the ‘mishmash‘, the colourful mixing of friends. Thanks to differences, my whole heart expands, the class bulletin board has all the colours‘‘.

(Photo: provided)
(Photo: provided)

Marie Henchoz, 75: born and raised on a farm in the mountain village of Château-d’Oex, now living in Blonay, worked for many years as a kindergarten and rhythmics teacher in Switzerland and Canada, is today probably one of the best-known songwriters in French-speaking Switzerland. To date, she has released 13 albums for children under the series title ‘Sautecroche‘ and 5 ‘Minicroche‘.