Listen to my CD!

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:

Breton

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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book of Bourrées from Berry

Blog reader Mark van Nieuwstadt wrote me informing me of a bourrée tune book he had come across. It's in Dutch, he writes, "but it contains an interesting collection of bourrée tunes from the Berry region, and detailed descriptions of dances. I happen to know that the writer, Harry Franken, was a very knowledgeable amateur musicologist."  Aside from this collection of bourrées, Franken "collected many tunes in the field and published an impressive collection of tunes from the southern part of the Netherlands."

The tune book is called Youp 'Nannette. It is posted as a series of images on Picasa and can be found here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

VIDEO: L'Autre Diatonist and Tattoo

Bangor Daily News photographer, videographer, blogger, and box player Troy Bennett (who I corresponded with here) is producing a series of short videos about Mainers and their tattoos for the BDN blog. Last week he came to my home to talk about my tattoo and French accordeon music.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

French Dance Field Recordings (Part 1)


Part Two is here.

Melodeonist Chris Ryall spent August of 2013 at Fête Embraud (La Chavanée) and Grand Bal de l'Europe St. Gervais. He shot a lot of video. He writes:

"The collection was intended to inform some of the ... shall we say, 'different' ... versions of these dance rhythms heard in UK pub sessions. The general focus on the dancers and their movement is intentional. If your play of a melody 'informs the feet' ... it is probably about right!"

Some of the videos are posted on Facebook (possibly requiring Flash); others are on YouTube. The first batch of videos presented here focus on French dances. Breton dances will be featured in the next post.

French Dance Videos

Basic French Waltz (played faster and smoother than English waltz)

Scottiche (note "skip")
Another Scottiche (delightfully light - Accordzéâm)

Mazurka current "Bal" style (generally 9/8)
Another Mazurka -- Accordzéâm - great accordion solo

Mazurka Morvan style "simple, straight 3/4)


Circassian Circle - same as UK - sometimes even to the same tunes!
Another Circassian Circle

Medley of Various Dances (Lucas Thebaut says this set was made up = non Trad)



Bourrées

Bourrée du Centre - Grande Bourbonnaise (the main line bourrée, 4/4 rhythm)

Bourrée d'Auvergne (fast 3/8 rhythm) Auvergne = Massif Central
Another Bourrée d'Auvergne (fast bourrée with variation - St. Gervais BIG dance!!)
Yet Another Bourrée d'Auvergne (Komred, with the great Etienne Loic on accordion, at Embraud -- watch those feet!)

Bourree de Morvan (simpler, 3/8) Morvan is the hilly part of Burgundy

Fast 3/8 circle bourrée - duo Thebault are from Charantes, so "Poitou" style?




Sunday, March 30, 2014

Correspondance with L’Accordéonaire, Part 2

Continuing my correspondence with David Maust (begun in the previous post).
__________
Hooked!
Jan. 26, 2014

Spoiler!  He goes for the Panther!
Hi Gary,

Thank you for the thoughtful reply! You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate the invitation to continue the conversation.

I especially liked listening to the various renditions of On d'onderon garda that you posted. I agree that the various instruments give the music a very different feel, and think what you say about the CBA and PA tending toward fluidity and complexity is true. I didn't realize the CBA had such a strong presence in the Auvergne music, but I can see how this would have bridged the Bal Folk to the Bal Musette. I love the sound of the CBA recording, but I also really like the one on the Giordy. And really, for some reason the less adorned Giordy version seems to fit more what I feel is my own personality as a musician. I really love simplicity and maybe that is why I feel drawn to a diatonic box. I think I have always felt musically more at home in playing in a diatonic mode, even on chromatic instruments. Maybe this also comes in part from playing different diatonic instruments like the mountain dulcimer and harmonica. I feel that I put the love of those instruments into my playing of chromatic instruments like the piano, organ and piano accordion.

I mentioned in my last email that I have liked playing from an Ad Vielle Que Pourra songbook on my PA. There is something so different about how the tunes feel on my PA and the sound of the recordings of the band with the diatonic accordion. Of course the musicians are so well accomplished, but the instrument itself too is just different and that keeps my interest in looking at the diatonic accordion. Also the lighter weight of the diatonic is something I know I would like. When I bought my 60 bass PA I downsized from an extremely heavy Titano 120 bass and that made a great improvement in my comfort with the accordion (and my 60 bass still weighs about 16 pounds).

I appreciate what you say about enjoying the process of learning the instrument. This is true for me. I'm not really concerned with reaching a goal of ability, although it is always nice to improve, but the satisfaction from playing is of much more value to me. I've always felt I'm a bit of a slower learner, but I really enjoy, and deeply remember the process. I have so many memories over my life of playing music in different places, situations and with different people, and there in lies the richness of music for me. I sense you approach music in the same way and I appreciate your causing me to reflect on this.

As far as monetary investment goes - is there a particular box you would recommend for someone on a budget?

I noticed The Button Box's most economical diatonic accordion is the Hohner Panther, and I've read a lot of favorable reviews, but I'm not yet sold. I really would like to try and save for a higher quality instrument. I've always felt that one should get the best instrument one can afford, and that has certainly proved true for me in playing the accordion I have. I just love hearing it every time I play it; it always seems worth the money I spent on it. Have you ever played a Panther?

I also remember reading that you started with a Hohner Corso. Do you like the Hohners? They seem a little more affordable than some of the other brands the Button Box carries. I wish I had a place like the Button Box close by where I live and I could try out different boxes. Watching different videos is helpful, but it's nothing like actually playing the instrument.

Thanks again for the conversation, I've really enjoyed it! -David
__________
Honing in on an Acquisition
Jan. 26, 2014

Hello, David,

Again, thanks for your kind words.

I agree about the difference that diatonic instruments have, even if I can't necessarily describe it.  Even when I play guitar I tune it CGCGCC.  Very drone-y.  I play whistles, keyless flutes, and diatonic accordions. The only chromatic instrument I really play is recorder (love baroque music). And I play piano, but really just to help me figure out arrangements and such.  I like the diatonic mindset a lot. I have thought a lot about the CBA, because I love that Auvergnat style -- and Weltmeister makes a good, less-expensive CBA ($1200) -- but I feel like it would amount to a huge distraction from the work I've already done.  Just taking on the quint-tuned Dino Baffetti has stretched me quite a bit (and I love it!)  It takes me away from the simplicity your describe. If someone were to gift me one, the temptation might be too much.  But the next accordion I'm going to buy is going to be a one-row in D … whenever that happens.

About buying an accordion … you really have to try it before you buy, unless you are commissioning a new instrument from a trusted maker (Saltarelle, Castagnari, Dino Baffetti).  The cheaper accordions CAN be great, but there is a variability. I am very fond of the sound of Hohners, and I would recommend a Corso or Erica. I got VERY lucky with my first accordion (a Hohner Presswood in A/D), which was a loaned to me for a time. Then also lucky with my Corso, which had a very wide tuning and a very nice touch. I have heard good things about the Panthers and such, but really, the inherent musicality you describe in your own playing will move beyond a Panther quickly. The action of the instrument is really important.  I was happy with the Corso, but I'm much happier with the Dino Baffetti I've gotten, which, essentially, is a Hohner clone except made with top quality parts. I do love that Hohner sound. I see the Button Box has a Corona III that looks pretty sweet. If you did decide to go for a cheaper box, I would go for a Presswood or Pokerwork and pay to have it de-clacked.  If you do get a chance to go to some place where there might be a collection of accordions -- make the pilgrimage. There's nothing like trying them and having it suddenly "feel right".

Gary
__________
Framing the Quest
Jan. 28, 2014

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the tips. I really appreciate your opinions on all this and feel I know where to go from here in looking for a particular box. It's hard to decide since there are so many beautiful accordions out there, not just brands but keys and reed set-ups as well.

I took a look at that Corona III and you are right, it is has a remarkable sound. I also love the sound of your Dino Baffetti. But I think I will probably go with a less expensive, simpler option at this stage in my playing like a Presswood or Pokerwork like you say. I should be able to afford one of these and feel it would be a better choice than the Panther. I really liked the used Presswood and Pokerwork boxes on the Button Box's site and watched the videos.

As far as key, I'm assuming a two row G/C will be a good tuning to start out with. I figure that's what many players would do French folk music with. I know that hurdy gurdies that are usually G/C tuned are considered Auvernait and D/G Bourbonnais. I'm hoping for something that is a pretty standard key for my first instrument. And G/C is good for American folk stuff too which most of my local musician friends play - although I do like playing in D also... but I figure I always have my chromatic accordion for other keys if I want them.

And I'm going to do some looking around for a shop in my area (Los Angeles) and up north around San Francisco too as I'll be up there most likely this summer for a family trip. There is an annual accordion festival near there in a town called Cotati (which is close to SF), although going to it is not an option this year for me. Still, maybe there is a shop up there.

And maybe I'll be surprised and find something in my area too. I found out this year that one of my high schoolers is learning button accordion from his uncle. I'm sure there are more at my school who play as well;  my school is overwhelmingly Latino and accordion is plentiful in a lot of the traditional and popular Mexican music.

Thanks again for all your help! I've learned so much from our exchange and am deeply grateful for the chance to talk.

David
__________
After that I heard nothing. A few months letter, I checked in on David to see how the quest was going. His response.

March 23, 2014

The quest has been going well and thank you again for encouraging me along the way. I'm so happy I decided to get a diatonic box after many years of piano accordion.

After talking with the Button Box some, visiting a place in downtown Los Angeles that had a few diatonic accordions (mainly 3 rows for Norteno players, Corona, Panther, etc.), checking my budget and looking on Craigslist, I decided to buy a Hohner Panther to start myself out.

And although I really like some of the used "Presswoods" and Pokerworks on the Button Box site, I am looking for a G/C instrument and they don't currently have any in my price range. I'm staying on the look out for one of these but in the meantime, I was able to easily get started with a Panther.

There are a lot of Panthers and Coronas on Craigslist out here in California, and I wanted to be able to play the box I was getting since I have heard the Panther's out of factory tuning can be inconsistent sometimes. Getting one on ebay, even new just seemed scary to me.

Also, the place in downtown LA wanted 600 for a Panther and I could get one on Craigslist for 350-400. I found an older style Panther about 20 min. away, the model with the Corona-like grill (I really don't like the newer grill) and it is in great shape. I have been really enjoying it! It is so light compared to my 60 bass piano accordion and I love figuring out tunes and just noodling around on it around the house while my kids play. And I can take it with me so much more easily than lugging the 17 pound piano accordion around!

So my plan is that I've got this Panther and will play it for a year or two to see how I like playing a diatonic box. I figured that if I didn't like it as much as my piano accordion, I could sell it. But if I did like it (which I do!) then I eventually will probably sell my Panther locally on Craigslist and step-up to a nicer box.

I also got the Panther, because I thought I might like the 3 row over a 2 row. I'm undecided on this right now, but the Panther was an inexpensive way for me to try out playing essentially either a 2 or a 3 row system. I purchased Pignol &  Milleret Book 1 from the button box and am playing the Panther with this course like it is a 2 row instrument, since that is probably what I will eventually get (but that third row is tempting for shortcuts and fun stuff).

I like having this P and M as a structured course to get my fingering right from the beginning (but ouch it works my left hand pinky doing basses with four fingeres! - I'm used to Stradella bass and NO pinky). But even though I'm not doing much row crossing yet in the course, I'm amazed at how quickly I figure out the same tones and runs across the rows when picking out favorite tunes and messing around with it.

One question for you if you don't mind... Pgnol and Milleret "deeply" suggest removing thirds. I looked this up on Mel.net and read up on it a little, and now am thinking about taping off my thirds.  I took my basses out and mapped out the thirds and I could tape them off easily (although it means taping the reeds themselves which I hesitate to do until I talk to the Button Box or Mel. net or something; I'm very careful to not touch my reeds, even breathe on them, so the idea of taping them makes me cringe). On Italian boxes, I guess thirds are on the same "port" so you can tape them at the "hole" very easily, but Hohners are not like this. If I take the ports on most of my thirds, then I will also be taping a tonic or a 5th for another chord.

Do you play with thirds? I taped my Bb at the port to see how I would like the sound (has the third on push and pull), and I do like it. I like the simplicity and un-Stradella-bass-ness of it. But maybe I'm a little jaded to Stradella-sounding basses from piano accordion playing. When I play French-Trad. things on my piano accordion, I think the Stradella-bass mucks it up on occasion. If you did remove thirds, any advice on taping them off?

Sorry I got a little long-winded, but I love getting to talk about this stuff with someone who enjoys listening. I'm sure you understand.

Thanks! David

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Correspondance with L’Accordéonaire, Part 1

Very often I am asked questions along the line of "How can I get started?" or "What sort instrument should a beginner buy?" These are questions that don't have pat answers, but they can start great conversations. David Maust, a piano accordion player who is considering the intensity of diatonicity, began such a conversation via e-mail a few months ago. Enjoy.
__________

Diatonic Temptation

Jan. 21, 2014

Hi Gary,

Accordion Temptation is Well Documented
I began reading your blog a couple months ago and have really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your thoughtful interviews, posts and put up videos of yourself. I also love the resources as well like the tunebooks. Your site has helped both French folk music and the diatonic accordion become much more accessible for me and I was very excited to find it.

I have a question for you, and I understand if you are busy and may not have a lot of time. If so, no worries, but still, I just have to ask. What is the experience of playing the diatonic accordion compared to a piano accordion? How does the instrument affect the music, especially for playing French folk dance tunes?

I'm aware the answer to this question may be obvious to most diatonic accordion players, but I ask because I am trying to decide whether this is an instrument I want to buy; I'm just not sure yet if this is an investment that is the right one for me. I'll give a little background so you know where I'm coming from.

Right now I have a nice 60 bass piano accordion that I have been playing for about 10 years (it's a German made Castiglione that has a nice musette setting and also a low set of reeds that I like the sound of too, especially when played dry with an upper register reed - in all it has 5 switches but I usually play the musette switch). It is a nice size compared to a full size accordion, but it is still much heavier than a diatonic accordion. I have played piano all my life and also enjoy playing the Hammond organ, so about 10 years ago when I wanted to start playing the accordion, this was a good choice for me. I was able to learn fairly quickly and have had much enjoyment from playing it. I use it to play French and Italian folk tunes and dances (and American folk tunes too - I also really like American folk music).

I got interested in French folk music about 12 years ago by accident. A friend and I decided to try our hands at building a hurdy gurdy after I had successfully built a mountain dulcimer in my dad's wood shop. After we built two symphonie hurdy gurdies (those are the box shaped, diatonic Medieval types), we attended a hurdy gurdy festival put on my Alden and Cali Hackmann in Washington State. There we were introduced to a lot of people who loved French folk music (although there weren't any diatonic accordion players when we went). I also purchased a tunebook of Ad Vielle Que Pourra at one of their concerts and it has been one of my favorite songbooks since for playing accordion. My friend too ended up being deeply impacted as a result of this as well because he ended up spending a couple years as an apprentice with the Hackmann's, and built a beautiful chromatic hurdy gurdy in their shop for himself over that time.

For me though, since that time, the accordion has been much more of a favorite instrument than the hurdy gurdy. And I suppose I'll be happy enough continuing to play my piano accordion, but there is just something about diatonic accordion that I feel I will love in a whole different way. I also feel I would have a good feel for it since I have played harmonica for many years and successfully messed around on my friend's concertina.

OK, I'll stop there; that's more than I intended to write, but I wanted you to have an idea of where I was coming from. Purchasing an expensive instrument is a big deal for me, and the time commitment of learning a new instrument is too (I'm a teacher and have two kids of 6 and 4 with another on the way, so there isn't lots of  "down-time" for practicing around my house), so thinking about getting a diatonic accordion is something I've been reading and thinking about for a while.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your experiences on your blog, and for sharing your love of this instrument and music!

David Maust
__________

Wherein I Urge Him to Succumb

Jan. 24, 2014

Hello, David,

Thank you for your kind words!  The blog is a joy of mine, along with the music. Of course you should buy a diatonic accordion.

You ask about my experience with button accordions and piano accordions. I haven't played piano accordion but I think you can do a perfectly fine job of playing this repertoire on the piano accordion or (more commonly) the chromatic button accordion.  Auvergne, especially, has a substantial CBA tradition. I generally think of CBA and PA in the same category, since they both are fully chromatic, have the stradella bass, and don't have the diatonic push/pull thing.

So, now that I've established that I'm not anti-piano accordion … the diatonic box is just very very fun. It's a different way of approaching music and the physical activity of it is very satisfying.  If you check out this blog post. You can hear the same tune played on a number of instruments, including a CBA. You can hear that CBA/PA tends towards fleetness and smoothness. It doesn't HAVE to lead to more complex harmonies, but I would say it tends to.  It was the CBA and its 120 basses that bridged the gap between Bal Folk and Bal Musette. (At the same time, I have to say I just did a concert with a singer doing Edith Piaf, and I did not do the quick jazz musette filigrees … it sounded different., but still good.)

I can tell from your note that you have the fascination.  Building hurdy gurdies? This is more than you wanting to play the repertoire … this is having a relationship with the physical instrument.  

I understand the concern about money. I was a teacher for 12 years and have five kids, and that's a legitimate concern. I would not be concerned about the time spent to learn, because I get the sense that you enjoy every step of the learning curve -- you aren't practicing so that one day you can play. You're playing right from the beginning. I guess if you want to be utilitarian about it, you could ask yourself what it is you get out of music, and what you would like to get out of it.  If getting a diatonic fits with your goals, then it's worth it.  In my own case, my goals have led me to divest myself of other instruments, and concentrate on the diatonic box. But it's also led me to stretch out into non-trad keys (F/Bb/Eb) because I've started playing with a singer.

I hope that helps. I'm happy to continue the conversation,

Gary
__________

What Box?

Jan. 26, 2014

Hi Gary,

Thank you for the thoughtful reply! You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate the invitation to continue the conversation.

I especially liked listening to the various renditions of "On d'onderon garda" that you posted. I agree that the various instruments give the music a very different feel, and think what you say about the CBA and PA tending toward fluidity and complexity is true. I didn't realize the CBA had such a strong presence in the Auvergne music, but I can see how this would have bridged the Bal Folk to the Bal Musette. I love the sound of the CBA recording, but I also really like the one on the [Castagnari] Giordy. And really, for some reason the less adorned Giordy version seems to fit more what I feel is my own personality as a musician. I really love simplicity and maybe that is why I feel drawn to a diatonic box. I think I have always felt musically more at home in playing in a diatonic mode, even on chromatic instruments. Maybe this also comes in part from playing different diatonic instruments like the mountain dulcimer and harmonica. I feel that I put the love of those instruments into my playing of chromatic instruments like the piano, organ and piano accordion.

I mentioned in my last email that I have liked playing from an Ad Vielle Que Pourra songbook on my PA. There is something so different about how the tunes feel on my PA and the sound of the recordings of the band with the diatonic accordion. Of course the musicians are so well accomplished, but the instrument itself too is just different and that keeps my interest in looking at the diatonic accordion. Also the lighter weight of the diatonic is something I know I would like. When I bought my 60 bass PA I downsized from an extremely heavy Titano 120 bass and that made a great improvement in my comfort with the accordion (and my 60 bass still weighs about 16 pounds).

I appreciate what you say about enjoying the process of learning the instrument. This is true for me. I'm not really concerned with reaching a goal of ability, although it is always nice to improve, but the satisfaction from playing is of much more value to me. I've always felt I'm a bit of a slower learner, but I really enjoy, and deeply remember the process. I have so many memories over my life of playing music in different places, situations and with different people, and there in lies the richness of music for me. I sense you approach music in the same way and I appreciate your causing me to reflect on this.

As far as monetary investment goes - is there a particular box you would recommend for someone on a budget?

I noticed The Button Box's most economical diatonic accordion is the Hohner Panther, and I've read a lot of favorable reviews, but I'm not yet sold. I really would like to try and save for a higher quality instrument. I've always felt that one should get the best instrument one can afford, and that has certainly proved true for me in playing the accordion I have. I just love hearing it every time I play it; it always seems worth the money I spent on it. Have you ever played a Panther?

I also remember reading that you started with a Hohner Corso. Do you like the Hohners? They seem a little more affordable than some of the other brands the Button Box carries. I wish I had a place like the Button Box close by where I live and I could try out different boxes. Watching different videos is helpful, but it's nothing like actually playing the instrument.

Thanks again for the conversation, I've really enjoyed it! -David

__________

NEXT POST: David takes the plunge! What will he choose?