NAUGATUCK — Inside the Davis Auditorium at Naugatuck High School on Wednesday, a group of 26 French teenagers rehearsed a popular French song that they had rewritten to tie into an American classic, “The Great Gatsby.”
On a break, one of the students decided to try his hand at a more modern American song.
“I’m sexy and I know it,” he sang into the microphone in accented English.
The students, who arrived Tuesday night from Louise Michel High School in Gisors, Normandy, are the first group in an exchange program that the French faculty organized with Naugatuck High School band director Robert Hughes.
“Now they are living their American dream,” said Sophie Ricaud, English teacher at the French school.
In between trips to New York City, the French students are rehearsing their musical piece, sung in French and English with instrumental accompaniment. The students, ages 15 to 18, would be juniors and seniors in the United States and they read the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel in English class, Ricaud said.
The French students will perform the piece Friday night at the high school, while the borough’s band will pay classic American songs such as “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Shenandoah.” The concert will be held in the Davis Auditorium and begins at 7 p.m.
The students are staying with their peers in the Naugatuck High School band, Hughes said. Some borough families have taken two students, and a few French students are staying with borough students who are taking French classes, Hughes said.
“So far it’s going really well,” Hughes said. “All the students are really excited and having a good time. … It gives Naugatuck students an opportunity to be exposed to a completely different culture.”
As part of the program, Hughes plans to take the high school band to the French school over April vacation next year. The band has roughly 70 students this year, but not all of them would go, and they would likely stay in hotels, Hughes said.
Ricaud said the planning began a year ago, when she emailed a long list of area music teachers in an attempt to set up a partnership with a high school close to New York City. Fewer than 10 responded, including Hughes, Ricaud said.
“He was very enthusiastic, very open-minded,” Ricaud said. “So far it’s been lovely.”
Some of the French students said they were surprised by how much bigger things, such as buildings and trucks, are in the United States, and that Americans dress differently from them.
The French high school enrolls about 1,000 students, while Naugatuck High School enrolls about 1,300.
“The high school is two times bigger than ours,” said Aline Mahanna, 17, a guitar player.
Eric Rayann Gueoval, 15, a piano player, said he was enjoying his time here.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Gueoval said. “That’s why we came.”
Gueoval is staying with Gregory Marquardt, a sophomore trombone player in the borough’s band. Marquardt said Gueoval brought him French chocolates and desserts and he is excited to go to France next year for his first trip out of the country.
“I feel they’re the same as us,” Marquardt said. “They just speak a different language.”