Sylvain Piron continues his conversation as it ranges over a number of topics: instruments, song, and Alsace.
At the end of Part One, Piron was playing inexpensive button boxes. When I met him in 1998, he had a wonderful 2.5 row Salterelle. The new instrument made a difference.
|Piron with Benny|
About instruments: getting the Saltarelle Pastourelle III
was really a big step for my playing. It was the first accordion of
quality I ever touched, with a large range of possibilities of sound and notes. I
should have bought such instruments much before 1995. When beginners ask me for
advice about buying an diatonic I would always advise a good quality
instrument, even if a bit more expensive, you will immediately get
good sensations which is incentive for improving. And if at the end of the day,
the accordion is not for you, you will always resell it better.
When my wife and I visited Piron and Catherine in 2004, Sylvain had three Castagnari accordions, a Benny (tuned G/C/acc) and a Tommy (D/G) and a Giordy (G/C).
|Chapin with the Salterelle, Piron with the Giordy, daughter Marie on flute|
I am a Castagnari
man! Yes! The first reason is the sound, the second the weight of the Benny,
Tommy (and Giordy!). I like the sound of these accordions and their
flexibility, their very light weight helps to get punchy attacks of the notes and allow you to
use a lot push and pull which is the strength of diatonics.
He also plays many other instruments.
I am interested in the sound, and not so much in speed and virtuosity
(too late for virtuosity for me anyway!). Catherine has the same approach and
that leads us to buy new instruments just for their capacity to bring a special
atmosphere by their sound. I use flutes, bagpipe, nickelharpa, épinette
des Vosges, ocarinas. Catherine uses flutes, psalter, shruti box and
tried hurdy-gurdy as well.
|Sylvain and Catherine with Nickelharpa and Psaltry|
I must say again
that sound makes my interest in these instruments. I do not master them
at all. I just try to play very simple things that sound, that is the trick,
when I touch a new instrument I am searching a good sound before trying to play
a tune on it. I strongly think that to produce one nice note which sounds is
much more effective than hundreds of notes poor and not in place.
Song is a central part of Piron's music -- hear Sylvain's recordings, here. When did Piron begin matching music and song?
and song are intimately bound for me. It's true that in France a lot
of traditional dance musics are with words, and in Brittany and Centre France a
lot are chansons à répondre, where a leader first sings and people
repeat afterwards. Catherine and I like very much these sort of songs for dance,
and we often use them in bal and workshop. It brings a special atmosphere of
sharing music with dancers.
started to sing with accordion very early as I considered these two components
not to be split. At the beginning it is a bit difficult to play right hand,
left hand, and sing at the same time. It took me a good amount of time to coordinate these 3 aspects. I still have big difficulties to play a second
voice on right hand while I am singing the first voice. The tune must be very
simple for succeeding in that exercise!
I remember well, I managed to sing with accordion by starting to hum with my
right hand, the same melody, no words, and progressively I added words and finally
me, voice remains the royal musical instrument. I am much more relaxed with my
voice than with my accordion. So much that if I make a mistake with accordion -- it occurs very often! -- I cover the sound with my voice. It is a trick I use
very often. I
told you once that to give more energy to dancers I like to suppress bass and
keep only melody of the accordion, there is a trick which gives even more energy:
to keep only singing and suppress totally the accordion.
Now, Piron is very strongly associated with Alsace, but he originally came from Normandy. How did he develop his connection with the eastern region?
I was born in
Normandy and lived there until the age of 20. I next went to Paris for my
studies and began to work there. It is a job opportunity which moved
me to Strasbourg in Alsace in 1976. I did not play accordion at this time, just
flute and a little guitar. I discovered step by step the rich heritage of
Alsace, its dialect first of all. In the 70's there were still a lot of people
who spoke Alsatian and you where first addressed in Alsatian in most of the
shops, even in cities. It was fascinating for me, coming from the "inner
France" where centralization had done its job for ages eradicating the local jargons. Alsatian language was very alive and spread. This is unfortunately no more the case now, even if a lot of people still speak
and write in Alsatian.
I also discovered the regional music and dances, thanks
to groups like Folk de la rue des dentelles, Geranium,
and individuals like René Eglès and Jean-Pierre Hubert. I must say a word on
Jean-Pierre Hubert. He was a science-fiction writer and a traditional music and dance fan (funny
association!). I was playing accordion for a few months and he was himself
playing for a few years already when we met and quickly became
friends. I learnt a lot of tunes from him. He was one of my
models even if he was not my teacher. His way to consider tradition as a
living heritage, open to others and not closed on itself influenced me a lot.
The fact that he was born in '41 in Alsace during the Second World War, the fact that he lived in
Wissembourg, very close to German border, made him a man of dialog
between people and cultures.
|Sylvain with Roland Engel at Summerlied music festival in Alsace|
surprised me at this time: what people considered as traditional music in Alsace
was made of German music played by brass and reed bands! It was German music,
not Alsatian music! The really old musics had been forgotten by the several
layers of successive German occupations. The work of Folk de la rue des
dentelles, Geranium, and others was to make those old tunes
live again. And the pity was that there were not a lot of tunes remaining in
the archives and in people memories, compared to the heritage left by other
regions. A few dances remained as well. Nowadays thanks to creative people this
heritage has been enriched by more recent compositions in music and in dance.
What I like much in this repertoire are the collective dances and the 5 or 8 or
11 meter tunes.
In August, Sylvain and Catherine joined their friend Roland Engel at the Summerlied festival in Alsace. Does the traditional music have a following in Alsace?
The concert we
gave on 15th August was in the frame of a music festival. The organizers
wanted to promote traditional songs and musics and we were very happy to do
that, but I must say that these musics are not as popular as rock, pop or
even american country music... The festival is strongly supported by the Region
of Alsace and other regional institutions. There is a clear political will
to promote local creativity and exchange with the German neighbour regions.
Labels: Alsace, Castagnari, My Trip to Alsace, Saltarelle, Sylvain Piron