Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ridée: Bannielou Lambaol

Here's a tune I learned from Steve Gruverman. My approach to it is informed by the fact that when I typically play this kind of thing for dancers, I'm told to slow down. It strikes me as a charming, mid-tempo piece with a nice, argumentative bit just at the beginning of the B section. I'm willing to be corrected on any statement in this paragraph.


Notice that I still have done nothing about my "accordion face," and that my chin-action on the stops is exactly the reason you should go for switches if you have the chance.

UPDATE: Steve Gruverman tells me I got the temp just right! Well done, me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Interview with Frédéric Paris

en Français

As I have written, Frédéric Paris has been at the center of my accordion world for over a decade. After the piece I wrote about him in March, he graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Thanks to Alex MacGregor and Sylvain Piron for help in translating. Thanks, especially, to Frédéric Paris.
____________________

Q: How did you begin your involvement in music?

  Carnet de Bal... Frédéric and Castagnari
A: I was 11 when I started playing the hurdy-gurdy in 1968. I tried an instrument that was at my grandmother’s and I liked it. I continued alone, and then I took a few courses where I met other kids like me, playing hurdy-gurdy.

Q: How did the Chavannée get started? 

A: Chavannée was founded in 1969 by my father who was the village teacher. He introduced his students and other young people from surrounding villages to the arts and popular traditions of Bourbonnais, our region in the center of France. Soon, we met the older musicians and singers of the region and we have since been researching the minstrels, instruments, repertoires, dances ...

Q: Someone told me, “There is no such thing as French Traditional Music. There is Bourbonaisse music, Alsatian music, Limousin, etc..." It’s difficult from a distance to understand these regional differences. Do you think there is such a category as "Traditional French Music?” Do you think it is possible for me to understand "French Traditional Music" without a thorough knowledge of regional differences?

A: Yes, there are regional differences, but traditional French music does exist -- through its atmosphere, melodic themes, its songs, the dance rhythms ... Local or regional particularities exist, but they should not hide a real unity of the French-speaking area.
Fréderic Paris's other great accordion recording:
Rue de l'oiseau

Q: Some of the music you play is very traditional (Carnet de Bal) and some is "traditional music of the future" (De L'eau Et Des Amandes) - how are they connected to you?

A: These records correspond to very different periods of my life. Carnet de Bal is my first solo production from 1984, I was 27! I wanted to share a little known repertoire, suitable for the diatonic accordion and playable by most musicians. De L'eau Et Des Amandes is much later (1995). Most arrangements are by Gilles Chabenat, and I took advantage of the flexibility and the volubility of the clarinet.

Q: You play many musical instruments. How did you start playing the accordion? 

A: I started the accordion at the time of revival of this instrument [in the 1970s] , under the influence of musicians such as Marc Perrone, Jean Blanchard ... I met with traditional musicians in central France. I also adapted the repertoires from other instruments (clarinet, fiddle, cornet ...)

Q: What role do you think the accordion has in traditional French music? In relation to hurdy-gurdy and cornemuse?

A: The accordion brings harmony, it can support or lead. Its attack brings energy to an instrumental group. This is a very flexible instrument.

Q: I noticed that you play a lot of accordions by Castagnari, and I've only ever seen you play the accordion in two rows. Can you tell me why Castagnari accordions? Why not three-row or two and a half? In other words: Why do you play the accordions you play?

A: I tried several kinds of accordions: 1 row, 2 rows 3 rows. The model I prefer is the "2-row 8 bass." I love its intuitive, energetic light. Limitations make it necessary to seek solutions to diversify one’s playing. Castagnari is very reliable. They are instruments of good quality and I work with a very professional dealer-tuner (Jean-Pierre Leray in Rennes). What more? I use 3 diatos: one in sol-do (GC), one in a do-fa (CF) and one in re-sol (DG), all in "8-bass, 2-rows." With these three accordions, I have almost all the tones I need.

Q: In the U.S., Carnet de Bal is an icon for accordion. I bought a cassette of Carnet de Bal in 1999 and I played it until it dissolved. This is a beautiful, clear statement of what the accordion can be. Can you talk about this? Is there a chance to do a reissue on CD?

La Chavanée, including, Frédéric and far too many hurdy gurdies.
I'm kidding! I'm kidding!
A: Some pieces recorded on Carnet de Bal have become "standards" for accordion players and I am very happy about that. At that time - 1984 - I adapted the repertoire of clarinet, cornet, hurdy-gurdy and unreleased songs collected in Bourbonnais (in the department of Allier). I added an accompaniment of clarinet (which I had played for a short time) a little voice and the vielle of Patrick Bouffard. The CD reissue has been requested for a long time. I should take care of this seriously ...

Q: Here is a very specific question: What are you doing with your left hand in bourrées, 2 and 3 beat? It is a very important issue for accordionists in the United States! How should you play bass and chords for bourrées?

A: While playing 2-beat bourrées, I prefer to play long notes in the left hand, alternating chords (no third) and basses, like drones. I am inspired by the harmonium, which I have played since adolescence. Otherwise, bourrées sound like polkas and it's a shame. I find it important to preserve the uniqueness of the 2-beat bourrée. The melodies have "horizontal" aspects. They must be left to unfold like songs, a capella, without chopping the left hand. Contrariwise, the playing in the right hand is at the same time bound and fast with ornaments, like the hurdy-gurdy. For 3-beat bourrées, the left hand accompanies with more traditional "bass - chord - chord," but occasionally, I break this pattern with odd rhythmic combinations. It's a bit complicated to explain, it would be easier with an accordion! I also sometimes get the effect of "drone" as in the 2-beat bourrée.

Q: Each disc of Chavanée is very different, how do you decide what will be done for each?

A: For many years, I choose themes for the records: the river, dance, Christmas ... It gives me different ideas for arrangements. I let myself be carried away by the lyrics (the traditional repertoire consists largely of vocal music). Each song tells a story. Otherwise, I work with musicians I've known for a long time. This is important.

Q: Finally, is there a chance that you and Chavanée visit America in the future?

A: Why not? We are open to any suggestions!



Une entrevue avec Frédéric Paris

in English

Comme je l'ai écritFrédéric Paris a été au centre de ma « planète accordéon » depuis plus d'une décennie. Monsieur Paris a fort gentiment accepté de répondre à quelques questions. Merci à Alex MacGregor et Sylvain Piron  pour l’aide à la traduction. Et merci, surtout à Frédéric Paris.
____________________
Carnet de Bal: Frédéric et Castagnari
Q: Monsieur Paris, comment avez-vous commencé la musique?

A: J'avais 11 ans quand j'ai commencé à jouer de la vielle-à-roue, en 1968. J'ai essayé un instrument qui était chez ma grand-mère et ça m'a plu. J'ai continué seul, puis j'ai suivi quelques stages où j'ai rencontré d'autres jeunes vielleux comme moi.

Q: Comment La Chavanée a-t-elle commencé? 

A: La Chavannée a été créée en 1969 par mon père qui était l'instituteur du village. Il a initié ses élèves et d'autres jeunes des villages alentour aux arts et traditions populaires du Bourbonnais, notre région située au centre de la France. Très vite, nous avons rencontré les "anciens" du pays et nous avons fait des recherches sur les ménétriers, les instruments, les répertoires, les danses...

Q: Récemment, j'ai écrit un article sur la «Musique Traditionelle Française» mais quelqu'un m'a dit, «Il n'y a pas vraiment de musique traditionelle française. Il y a musique bourbonnaise, la musique alsacienne, la musique du Limousin, etc... » Un américain comme moi a du mal à comprendre ces différences régionales. Pensez-vous qu’on peut parler de «Musique Traditionelle Française»? Pensez-vous qu'il est possible pour moi de comprendre «Musique Traditionelle Française» sans avoir une connaissance approfondie des différences régionales? 

A: I Il existe des différences régionales, mais la musique traditionnelle française existe bel et bien à travers ses climats mélodiques, les thèmes de ses chansons, les rythmes de danses... Les particularismes locaux ou régionaux existent, mais ils ne doivent pas cacher une réelle unité du domaine francophone.

Q: Certains airs de votre répertoire sont très traditionnels (Carnet de Bal) tandis que d’autres peuvent être qualifiés de «musique traditionnelle du futur» (De L'eau Et Des Amandes) – Qu’est-ce qui les relie selon vous?

A: Ces enregistrements correspondent à des périodes très différentes de ma vie. Carnet de Bal est ma première production en solo, c'était en 1984, j'avais 27 ans ! J'ai voulu faire connaître un répertoire méconnu, adapté pour l'accordéon diatonique et jouable par la plupart des musiciens. De L'eau Et Des Amandes est beaucoup plus tardif (1995). La plupart des arrangements sont de Gilles Chabenat et j'ai mis à profit la souplesse et la volubilité de la clarinette dont je joue depuis assez longtemps.

Q: Vous jouez beaucoup d’instruments différents. Comment avez-vous commencé à jouer de l'accordéon?

A: J'ai commencé l'accordéon à l'époque du renouveau de cet instrument, sous l'influence de musiciens comme Marc Perrone, Jean Blanchard... J'ai aussi rencontré des musiciens traditionnels dans le centre de la France. J'ai aussi adapté des répertoires venant d'autres instruments (clarinette, vielle, cornet à pistons ...)

Q: Quelle place tient l'accordéon dans la musique traditionnelle française, en comparaison de la vielle à roue et de la cornemuse? 

A: L'accordéon apporte l'harmonie, il peut accompagner ou "mener". Ses attaques donnent de la nervosité au sein d'une formation musicale. C'est un instrument très souple.

Q: J'ai remarqué que vous jouez beaucoup sur les accordéons Castagnari, en particuluer des accordéons à deux rangées. Pouvez-vous me dire pourquoi Castagnari et pourquoi pas les accordéons à trois rangées ou à deux rangées et demie? En d’autres termes: Comment choisissez-vous vos accordéons?

Musique en Bourbonnais.
Au centre Frédéric Paris.
A: J'ai essayé plusieurs sortes d'accordéons : 1 rang, 2 rangs, 3 rangs. Le modèle que je préfère, c'est le "2 rangs 8 basses". J'aime son côté intuitif, nerveux, léger. Ses limites obligent à chercher des solutions pour diversifier son jeu. La marque Castagnari est très fiable, ce sont des instruments de bonne qualité et je travaille avec un revendeur-accordeur très professionnel (Jean-Pierre Leray à Rennes). Que demander de plus ? J'utilise 3 diatos: un en sol-do (G-C), un en do-fa (C-F) et un autre en ré-sol (D-G), tous en "2 rangs 8 basses". Avec ces trois accordéons, j'ai à peu près toutes les tonalités dont j'ai besoin.

Q: Aux Etats-Unis, Carnet de Bal est un ouvrage de référence pour les accordéonistes. J'ai acheté une cassette de Carnet de Bal en 1999 et je l'ai passée jusqu'à ne plus pouvoir la lire. C'est une belle et claire démonstration de ce que l'accordéon peut être. Pouvez-vous nous parler de ce disque? Y at-il une chance de voir un jour une réédition sur CD? 

A: Certains airs enregistrés sur Carnet de Bal sont devenus des "standards" pour les joueurs d'accordéon diatonique et j'en suis très heureux. A l'époque - 1984 - j'ai adapté du répertoire pour clarinette, cornet à pistons, vielle-à-roue et des chansons inédites recueillies en Bourbonnais (département de l'Allier). J'ai ajouté un accompagnement de clarinette dont je jouais depuis peu de temps, un peu de voix et la vielle de Patrick Bouffard. La réédition sur CD est demandée depuis longtemps, il faudrait que je m'en occupe sérieusement...

Q: Voici une question très précise: Que faites-vous avec votre main gauche sur les bourrées, 2 temps et 3 temps? C'est une question très importante pour nous accordéonistes aux États-Unis! Comment faut-il jouer les basses et les accords pour les bourrées?

A: Pour les bourrées à 2 temps, je préfère jouer des notes longues à la main gauche, en alternant les accords (sans tierces) et les basses, un peu comme des bourdons. Je m'inspire de l'harmonium dont je joue depuis l'adolescence. Sinon, les bourrées ressemblent à des polkas et c'est dommage. Je trouve important de préserver la spécificité des bourrées à 2 temps, les mélodies ont un aspect "horizontal", il faut les laisser se déployer comme des chansons a capella, sans les hacher à la main gauche. Par contre, le jeu à la main droite est à la fois lié et avec des ornements très rapides, comme sur la vielle-à-roue. Pour les bourrées à 3 temps, la main gauche accompagne de façon plus classique "basse - accord - accord", mais de temps en temps, je brise cette régularité par des combinaisons rythmiques faussement impaires. C'est un peu compliqué à expliquer, ce serait plus facile avec un accordéon ! J'utilise aussi parfois l'effet "bourdon" comme dans les bourrées à 2 temps.


Q: Chaque disque de La Chavanée est très différente, comment décidez-vous ce qui sera fait pour chaque disque?

A: Depuis de nombreuses années, je choisis des thèmes pour les enregistrements : la rivière, la danse, Noël... Cela me donne des idées différentes pour les arrangements. Je me laisse porter par les textes des chansons (le répertoire traditionnel est composé en grande partie de musique vocale). Chaque chant raconte une histoire dont je m'imprègne. Pour le reste, je travaille avec des musiciens que je connais depuis longtemps. C'est important.

Q: Enfin, y at-il une chance que vous et La Chavanée viennent visiter l'Amérique dans le futur?

A: Pourquoi pas? Nous sommes ouverts à toute proposition!



Monday, September 5, 2011

Last Night in Alsace (Part Five)

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

In 2004, my wife, Bethany, and I were given the gift of a trip to Alsace, France, to visit my accordion teacher, Sylvain Piron, his wife, storyteller Catherine Piron-Paira, and their family. I wrote the following shortly after the trip. It appeared some time later in Wolf Moon Journal, a local Maine literary magazine. I present it here in installments over the next few months. Sadly, we were having such a good time on this last night that no photos were taken!


UPDATE: Just after posting this, Sylvain let me know that Catherine's uncle, Jacques, had taken pictures and sent them along to me. This was the first I knew of them. Amazing.
L'Auberge des 3 Frères


There is a fairy tale element to every vacation - just the exemption from work is a granted wish - but Alsace, accordions, wine, friends and dance has been especially fantastic. The transition from magic to mundane was long. The morning after the last great night. A five hour drive in a rented car, culminating with the particularly hideous Charles de Gaulle airport. The crankiness we felt. The trip back home through the wardrobe is always grayer than the trip out. The night before we’d said our tearful goodbyes to Sylvain, Catherine, and their children. We’d left the Auberge with the dancers still going.

The night before. The last night of our stay. The Salterelle has become very comfortable under my fingers. I play it almost exclusively, and am pleased that it seems happy with me. The tunes feel more natural, my playing more relaxed and commanding. The effortlessness of its touch has built up for me over the week, an accumulating ease. The effects of the wine, similarly, have accumulated over the week, and although I’m not complaining, I know that a monster of a hangover is somewhere in my future.

Food, dance, drink, family at the Auberge.
Sylvain arranged this gig for us at a Marmoutier eatery, L’Auberge des Trois Frères. According to Sylvain, it was a new concept for the area: a restaurant built in a converted barn, with long tables and rustic decorations hanging on the walls. The owner is worried about the success of the venture and is very happy to have us there. He shows his gratitude throughout the night by providing a wide range of drinking options.

Our party includes Sylvain, Catherine, the five kids, Bethany and myself, Catherine’s father, uncle, and aunt. François, the fiddler, soon joins us along with a student of his, Daniel. They rosin their bows and tune as we give the orders for the main course.

“What shall we play, Gary?” asks Sylvain.

What shall we play, Gary?
I begin Bourrée des Gars, one of the first three-beat bourrées I’d ever learned. Very simple and very major-key. Not a lot of mystery, but a lot of drive. Easy. I’m nervous and hedging my bets and smart to do so. The flop sweat comes in buckets. This happens to me in every performance. The first ten minutes are murder, but I’ve come to learn that the adrenaline surge passes quickly. The twitching dread is replaced by a lovely, arrogant fatalism. It’s a risk, I know, but it’s my idea of a good time.

And the crowd’s, too! They’re flying!

“The bourrée is a crazy dance,” said Daniel Thonon. It’s as old as the Renaissance, and probably older, and was a form used by baroque composers in their dance suites. For centuries, then, the bourrée has been whipping otherwise respectable folks into a frenzy. Thus at the Auberge.

Sylvain and François.
The dancers are up and moving. Somewhere, amid the tables, serving staff, wooden pillars, musicians, and patrons, they find the space to do the facing, turning, and kicking required. After the bourrée we do a waltze, a fast one I wrote some years ago. Sylvain puts down his accordion and dances with Catherine. This is unimaginably charming and fills me with a warmth that won’t disappear until we get to Charles de Gaulle.

Many of the people there are friends of Sylvain and Catherine, but most are not. Sylvain sings a number of Alsatian songs. The crowd sings along affectionately and unselfconsciously. It was as if an American crowd were singing “Home on the Range,” and genuinely getting behind the sentiment of the song. It seems foreign to me, and desirable, though I’m probably romanticizing. I hear them expressing their home in the music. They are at home in the music, and they are inviting Bethany and me into their home. She dances. I play. Wine is placed before us, and then more exotic intoxicants. Is it absynth? Sylvain talks, between tunes, about how we’d come all the way from Maine in the United States to play Alsatian music. The Alsatians are very please, almost flattered.

We play for hours. The room gets happier and happier.

Everyone dances!
A short, fat guy gets up to dance. He is a caricature of joyous energy, something out of a Peter Mayle book - or the BBC adaptation of one. Yes, he’s drunk, but he dances through the night, asking one woman after another. They all agree. He asks Bethany. Bethany agrees. When he runs out of women to ask, he asks a bearded gentleman. They waltz until it’s time to do the spin. They can’t decide who will “be the girl!” Brilliant! I start a polka, Polka de l’Averyron, and immediately - within three notes - someone begins pounding the table in rhythm. Holy cow! They drive me on. Sylvain and François join in, and Daniel, and we circle the room. Everyone who is dancing dances. Bethany dances. The short, fat guy. The bearded gentleman. Catherine. Marie. A woman in a wheelchair shouts - I kid you not - “Vive l’Americain!”

This, two days after the other great moment of my life, is one of the great moments of my life.