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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Two Waltzes from Le Bon Truc

Barb and Gary rehearsing. Steve is off to the
left, also rehearsing.
On May 29, Le Bon Truc Trio (Steve Gruverman, Barb Truex, and myself) presented a concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Augusta, Maine. Barb recorded the evening and it came out great! So, I'll be posting those recordings sur le blog. Here are two waltzes, each composed by a band member.

Saturday Night in St. Andrew is a beautiful waltz composed by Barb Truex. The dulcimer is well featured, but the accordion comes in and the trio as a whole really shines.

Saturday Night in St. Andrews by Le Bon Truc

Dill Waters Run Steep is a fast waltz I wrote many years ago, but which I still find very fun to play. People who haven't been playing it for fifteen years seem to find it intriguing. Notice that I've left in the false start. It goes on for quite a while as I try to get back on the rails. Finally, I bring the festivities to a halt and restart. Just a little bit "you were there" verisimilitude!

Dill Waters Run Steep by Le Bon Truc

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Interesting One-Rows at the Button Box

Temptress Margaret at the Button Box
She of the seductive e-mails
About once a month I can count on an e-mail coming over my transom from Margaret, at the Button Box, letting me know of new joys that are sitting on their shelves. It's always interesting, but only occasionally prompts biblically suspect levels of covetousness. The latest note (June 30, 2015) did provoke such covetousness, which is very unusual since I only last month took delivery of a new (to me) Hohner Erica A/D. There were many interesting boxes, of course, but the ones that tweeked my interest were these.

First, there's the Dino Baffetti ART organetto, one row plus (8+3), in, get this, Ab. That's right A - bloody - flat! Aside from its value in obscurity (four flats? really?), I've been curious about these organettos since I got my Baffetti three row and loved the heck out of it. Baffetti makes quality boxes. Price on this one is $500 (used). Comes with a hard case.

Dino Baffetti in Eb
Similar, is the Romeo Erminio organetto, one row plus (9+3) in Eb. (I've not heard of this maker before.) As opposed to the Baffetti, which has two reeds per note (LM), this one has three reeds (LMM), with a stop for the low reed. Wow. All this for only $400 (used). A price so low it makes you wonder? Also, if you look at the little windows on the top of the box, you'll see pictures of two lovely women. There are all kinds of incentives.


On the other end of the posh scale is the Castagnari Melodeon. A box I've been craving for years now. It's a one row in D, with four reeds per note and four stops (classic Cajun structure, though the tuning doesn't typically have the weird third that Cajun boxes have). I'll tell you, not to fall sway to a brand name, but there is nothing like playing a Castagnari. It's really true. Boy, would I love to get one of these. Price $2,300 (used).

Romeo Erminio is Ab, note the two pics

These boxes are interesting to me maybe because I've been dancing around the idea of a one row for a long time (see Rees Wesson's boxes, for example). But it's really all moot. I report the prices to you, but I am completely tapped this summer. In this case, I am serving the role of matchmaker. True? True.

ALSO: Another interesting thing about the Button Box notice is the large number of Irish style boxes available, 12 of them. I wonder if this is a sign of the high popularity in Irish playing (the Button Box stocks these because they expect to sell them). Or if it is the sign of a decline in such popularity (if interest were high, Irish boxes would be more rare). I don't know. Pondering.

All I have to say to the Button Box is, "Thank God you are here!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Welcome to a New Box

A beautiful box
Ah, joy!

Today I took delivery of my new box, a Hohner Erica A/D, sent from England by its previous owner, a denizen of the inestimable

I've had my eye out for an A/D box for a while. I found myself playing in situations where my disdain for "the peoples' key" was becoming more than a charming eccentricity. I had boxes that played in C, G, F, Bb, and Eb. I needed an A and a D. (Anything beyond three sharps or three flats seems a vulgar affectation.)

So, did I want posh box (oh, a Tommy!)? A less expensive posh box (a Lilly)? Or a tiny box (Giordy)? Or a Baffetti organato? I didn't know. Then this box showed up for sale on

I was intrigued. I always had a thing for that old fashion Hohner sound, and had actually started on a mighty Corso. The Erica is a classic bog norm box. Jean Blanchard played one back in the day. Then, accordion fettler, bold Lester Bailey, pointed out that he had worked on the Erica and that it was an excellent model of the species. Also, that the seller was very trustworthy. That was enough for me.

After adjusting all the straps to suit my massive frame, I made some videos. Be kind, still getting used the action and all that.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Trio Gig Friday, May 27

The trio rehearsed today and sounds pretty dang sweet. Come on to Augusta. Listen to some beautiful music, in a beautiful space. And eat pastry. Donations go to my daughter to help her in her studies abroad.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Help With the Left Hand

Left Hand: Le Grand Mystère
During my hiatus I received the following letter from a person I'll call John because that's his name. John is a newish player on the button box, asking for help getting a handle on the bass end of the instrument. Uniting the left and right hand is always sort of Kierkegaardian Leap of Gosh I Hope This Works. Here's John's letter, followed by my response. If anyone out there has advice or encouragement for John (or corrections for me) be sure to post it in the comments.

John's Letter


I am writing because I have very much enjoyed your blog as an amazing resource for the sounds of French Accordion music. I am new to the accordion, having started just last spring, but am playing every day and progressing slowly. I however have been enthralled with the french accordion music (some accordion is just too much oom pah oom pah for me!), perhaps because of the years I spent living there.

I see that you recommend a specific book Bal Folk: Traditional Dance Music From Central France for learning some French tunes. My question to you is this: From the google images of the pages, I see that the music scores for that book have no notation for the bass notes. Is there some theory on how to add these in, or does it become intuitive at some point? Any thoughts on how this works? Am I missing something here? I notice the ABC notation format also has this same issue (I like listening to Lester Bailey's tunes, but wouldn't know how to add the bass to those either.)

I think I could get the right hand down for some of these tunes, but when it comes to just guessing what bass notes would work and when, this might be still a bit difficult for my ear to render...

Thanks for considering this email. Any thoughts you have would greatly help this new accordion player.


And my response ...

Hey, John,

Thank you for your kind words about my blog … it is amazingly gratifying to hear that people get something out of it. I didn’t do it for attention or some obscure form of fame. I was just stoking my own fascination with the instrument and the repertoire.

To answer your question about the basses … these are easily the hardest part for people to come to grips with. Getting the left and right hands to go together. The good news is that it not only becomes intuitive, but the system is actually built into the mechanism of the two row box. But how to go about getting there? You have a number of options. Here are your bass/chord buttons:

1 2
3 4
5 6
7 8

The even buttons are closer to the bellows. The higher numbers are closer to the floor. 

First you can recognize some basic tenets: the inside right hand row TENDS TO go with buttons 5 and 7 (Bass/chord); the outside right hand row TENDS TO go with buttons 1 and 3. If you start there, playing one row tunes just using those bass buttons, that will start you to hearing how the Tonic (I) and Dominant (V) work together. Second (meanwhile), start boning up on some basic theory around folk music … it may seem obscure and cryptic, but it’s really not. You only have six bass/chord combinations to deal with on the box. I once wrote a tune for a student that used all of those combinations. It is tricky, and requires you sometimes to squint and think a bit. But not too much. Don’t think too much. Third, I would urge you to find a French tune book (or web site) that had some accordion tab in it. I find I still learn stuff from tab, which tells you where to put what finger when.

I don’t really know what’s in print anymore. But there are a lot of websites out there. I would start with the CADB website (Collectif Accordeon Diatonique Bretagne). Another source is Bernard Loffett, an accordion builder in Brittany, he’s connected with CADB, but has his own great page here. He’s also the very first person I wrote about when starting this blog. Doing these three things, it took me about a year to know what to do with the basses, even if I wasn’t doing it well.

The other thing to do would be get a teacher, but I understand that everyone learns in different ways.

Gary Chapin

Monday, October 6, 2014

Photos of L'Accordeonaire

I have been out of action since June, because of arthritis in my right arm. I've recently been able to play again, and am getting ready for a gig on November 1, at AcousticArtisans in Portland, Maine! Yesterday, my daughter took me over to the park for pictures. Enjoy.

All photos by Brigid Chapin, Copyright 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mazurka Return

Feels like it's been a very long time since I've posted. It hasn't been very long, but it feels that way just because so much else has been going on. With the divorce, and moving, and my brother being ill ... after the end of "Folk Dance Season" in New England, I put down the box for a few months and just didn't think about it. But now I am in the new place. There is space and light, and the Shadows seem to have fled from the land. Let's hear it for new beginnings, which, as usually, I celebrate by playing old songs.

The mazurka in this video is one of the old ones, untitled, collected by Mel Stevens, and available in the Mallinson's Bal Folk book. As is my wont with untitled tunes, while teaching it to a student, I gave it the title, "Hannibal's Mazurka." I do love my Roman/Carthaginian history, and who are we to deny elephant's in the alps their right to mazurka? For some reason, that landing on the IV chord at the beginning of the B part seems especially touching. Hits you right in the feels.

UPDATE: Yes, I have shaved my head. And, no, I did not realize my legs looked like THAT.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

More Dance Videos

Gregory Dyke, on his dance blog Movement Creates Connection has posted an amazing set of videos of French dance and music, along with a great essay on the state of tradFrench music today. I urge you to check it out here. If you scroll further down, you'll see an entry for a post called, Expression (in Dance and Music), also worth reading!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Breton Dance Field Recordings (and other places)

The An Dro snakes through! Pic by Chris Ryall
UPDATE: I've gotten some push back on this post from folks (great stuff in the comment section), essentially saying that some of these videos are not exemplars of their regional styles, but are just examples of dances done at the Big Bal. I think that's fair, but still think it's interesting to see these as documentations of what's going on at the Big Bal, especially for those of us who would have a hard time ever making it there.

Following up from the post of French Dance Field Recordings, here is the second half of Chris Ryall's amazing collection of videos, or dance as he found it in the wild. Chris writes, "Breton dance is often done in lines, traditionally snaking around the floor intertwining and 'meeting people.'" Here is the repository:


Rond St. Vincent - a very simple village dance that has become a standard
An Dro (An Dro = "the turn")
Another An Dro - Wild at the end!
Tricot (mixed An Dro and Hanter Dro)
Plinn (Simple, very peasant, gets wild improv from musicians)
Another Plinn
Suite Plinn (Same rhythm. Couples dance with fast and slow parts)
"Standard" Gavotte" (Danced as a suite with varying speeds)
Gavotte de l'Aven (small valley in the Cornouaille with it's own "dreamy sway" style - this is just part of a "suite gavotte"
Le Ridée (aka Laridé)

Other Regional Dances from France

Auvergne (and other mountain areas): Rigaudon
Basque Country: Fandango
Basque Country: La Saute
Gascony: Gascon Rondo - done in pairs in a big circle
Alsace: asymmetric waltzes (5/8, 8/8, 11/8)

And two imports

Swedish Polska

Another Swedish Polska

Untold quantities of gratitude to Chris for this work and for permission to put this together here. Thank you, sir!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Castagnari Tommy D/G at the Button Box

A few weeks ago my job took me within stopping distance of Sunderland, MA, so I stopped at the Button Box. It was a great time. I met Margaret of the e-mails and got to sit among the instruments. One stood out among the rest. A used Castagnari Tommy in D/G that's there. I enjoyed most of the instruments I tried, but this one was just magical. The feel was effortless, so very responsive. Here's me playing "Mominette," a scottish by Maxou, of La Chavannée fame. This tune has become my "go to" piece for trying out instruments. If I had the cash, it would be hard to pass this one up.