Duo Abbas/Thézé Mazurka

A very beautifully shot performance of a beautiful piece of music. Duo Abbas/Thézé bring a bass clarinet and chromatic button accordion together for a super sexy, jazz inflected mazurkas. The dancers are mesmerizing. That guy at the end, his smile … tells a story.

The Language of the Button Box

This was originally published in February 2011, in a slightly different form. Reading the front pages of today’s “fake news” rags, I can still see that our world’s understanding of accordion lingo could fairly be described as a dearth. I hope this piece serves as a still-potent paliative

(for the inimitable, and inexplicably quiet, Tom B.)

A friend made a comment a few weeks ago indicating that those who are not Of the Bellows may have difficulty grasping the lingo of the box. “Yeah, yeah,” I thought, “thus is the fate of squeeze-muggles.” Then I read a sentence in another friend’s accordion blog, and it shocked me into sympathy. Describing a sort of uber-box, Andy, at Melodeon Minutes wrote, “It was a Gaillard, 4-voice — yes, 4-voice — in D/G, tuned LM-MM+, with two switches behind the keyboard.”

“Good Lord,” I thought, envious, “That’s quite a thing!” Then I imagined the uninitiated perusing that line (maybe the boys at Homeland Security) wondering, “What kind of thing?”

Then, in my own paean to the Hohner Corso, I found that I’d described the red, pearloid wonder as, “A wet tuned French-sounding box.” Holy Cow! Is that even legal in New England?

So, what does it mean? With apologies to Andy, I’ve decided to use his exemplar sentence to explain some of the naming conventions of accordions.

  • Gaillard: That’s the name of the maker, Bertrand Gaillard, of France.  Highly esteemed. Other makers are CastagnariSalterelle, and Loffet, to name just a few.
  • 4-voice: Button accordions — aka, melodeons — generally have more than one reed for each note. Each reed is a “voice.” Two or three voices are normal.  Four is extraordinary in a multi-row box because of the weight.  Each voice requires an entirely separate bank of reeds.
  • In D/G: Button accordions are diatonic, meaning they are designed to play in specific keys, rather than all keys (like a piano). In this case, the outside row plays in the key of D, while the inside row (the one nearest the bellows) plays in the key of G. Different types of music have differently keyed accordions that are most common. English music tends to favor the D/G melodeon. French music the G/C. In Irish music, B/C and C#/D accordions are all the rage. There are fantastic exceptions to all of these generalizations.
  • Tuned LM-MM+: This means Low Medium-minus Medium Medium-plus. Is that clear? Back to the four voices. Each reed for a particular note is not tuned to the exact same pitch. Say that the note being tuned is A. The main reed will be tuned dead on pitch. This is the Medium reed. The Low reed will be tuned a full octave below, filling out the sound. The Medium-minus and Medium-plus will be tuned slightly above and slightly below the Medium reed, creating a sort of tension that is generally pleasing to the ear — similar in function to vibrato for other musicians.
  • Two switches behind the keyboard: These allow you to turn on and off entire banks of reeds. So you can play all four reeds, or just the M reeds, or just the low reed. That it’s a switch behind the keyboard makes it simple to, for example, throw open the flood gates and engage all the reeds the last time going through a tune, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Not that you’d actually do that, though. It would be vulgar.*
  • A wet tuned French-sounding box: So, back to the LM-MM+ thing.  When tuning the reeds, the further apart the tuning, the “wetter” they are said to be. Some types of music call for a “dry” tuning, with the reeds tuned relatively close together — Irish music, for example. Other types of music call for “wetter” tuning, French and other continental musics, for example. A demonstration (on a piano accordion) of dry to wet tuning is demonstrated in under two minutes in the below video.

So there you go. Suddenly it all makes sense, hey? Additional resources for this can be found at Melodeon.net, and Steve Dumpleton’s excellent Voices and Tunings FAQ.

Further questions, comments, or corrections are welcome.

*This is sarcasm.  I love vulgar.

Accordion Tee Shirt

Last night I had a brainstorm, contacted my friend Sam Shain at Sam’s Tees, shared it with him, and he came up with the below design!

This can be gotten for $20 here. None of the money comes to me and Sam’s a good guy. Something about the way he did the bellows is mesmerizing.

Two Tunes with my Daughter

It’s been a dream for me to play music with my kids and I was able last weekend to do that! And I recorded. Here are Brigid and I playing a scottish by by Frédéric Paris and a hanter dro by Sylvain Piron. Also, I sing in French for the first time on video!

Holiday Tunes

I am not a big holiday tune kind of guy, but I’ve been asked twice by people I respect to post something along those lines. I have been playing like mad since acquiring the Mory, but haven’t been gigging, or recording. It’s the woodshed for me. Perhaps, as the sun is reborn, so shall my accordeonaire-ing.

Two Waltzes (on the Mory)

The first waltz is an original by Le Bon Truc member Barbara Truex. She has a talent for writing extraordinary melodies, and this is only the latest. I imagine my harmonies aren’t exactly right to the composition, since Barb wrote it on a mountain dulcimer, which, because of its drones has all sorts of incidental (if not accidental) harmonies.

This is a fast waltz (that’s what they said it was when I played it in Alsace) that I wrote a good many years ago. I don’t actually write many tunes, but this one had legs. Although one of my goals is to show off the sound of the Mory, I seemed to slightly overdrive the mic for this recording. Maybe time to buy new equipement.

The Button Box and the Mory

Disaster Narrowly Averted

Castagnari Mory.
A thing of beauty. A wonder to behold.
I was working with a school in Western Mass. last week, so I decided to swing by the Button Box. Had a good talk with Doug while playing his stock. I had no money and he knew I had no money. And he showed me this accordion that had just arrived as a trade in. It was a Castagnari Mory (GC). “Here,” says Doug, “Can you try this out for me?” It hadn’t even made it onto the website, yet. I played it and … who knew that such a thing of beauty could exist in the world? It was amazing to both the fingers and the ears. I left feeling the distinctive cracks of a heart breaking. My heart.
As I drove home I started concocting a plan … steeped in the intoxicating memory of the Mory … I could trade in ALL OF MY ACCORDIONS for that one. I could be happy! I could make this work! It’s a crazy old world, but sometimes, things work out! Right?
My daughter, Emma, stopped me. “You can’t do that, Dad. The band. Your band. You love your band. You need all those accordions for the band.”
Yes. Yes. I love my band. Le Bon Truc. The good stuff.
Doug and the Mory*
Sure. He looks unassuming. Mostly harmless.
The fevre dream did not abate, however. And perhaps Doug knew that.
Sure, he looks nice. Innocent. Maybe even charming. But that was some seriously, sinister salesmanship. “Here,” he said, “Could you try this out for me?” As if to say, “I don’t want to be an imposition.” Or, “You’d sure be doing me a favor.” Or, “I know this is a burden for you …” but could you play this unbelievably wonderful accordion and let me know how it feels?
Yeah. Yeah, Doug. I can do that.
The Castagnari Mory has held a totemic power over me for over twenty years. The first tradFrench music I heard was from Ad Vielle Que Pourra, led accordionist/hurdy gurdy-ist Daniel Thonon. Daniel played a Mory and I was completely ensorceled by that sound. And I get it! I swear to God, I get it! The instrument does not make the player. I wasn’t listening to a Mory, I was listening to Daniel Thonon playing a Mory. Later, I would hear other players playing wonderfully on other boxes. But that Mory stuck with me. Then, I found out that Andy Cutting also plays a Mory (he owned three when I asked him) … I’m pretty sure I don’t have to justify the desire for an accordion to you, fair reader. All I’m saying is that the Mory has been a grail-shaped-beacon for me for many years.
Disaster Embraced, Quality of Life Improved
Skip to the end, the Castagnari Mory is winging its way to my house, even as I type. How did I get to this state?
Le Bon Truc. We love each other.
Well, it wasn’t that I had to break down and succumb to temptation, so much as getting a clue as to what my priorities ought to be. My friends brought me around. First, my band mates — Le Bon Truc — each said something along the lines of, “Hey, if you wanna do this we will support you!” and “Follow your bliss!” Then I did the math and realized that I wouldn’t really have to trade ALL of my accordions, just two of them. Then, through karma and generosity, that number was reduced to one.
Not only was this possible. It was reasonable. My heart fluttered a bit.
Every accordionist is chasing after THE LAST ACCORDION THEY WILL EVER HAVE TO BUY. It is a mythical creature, and we all recognize that. But this mythical creature haunts us. The Mory had been that creature for me for twenty years — think of that! where were you twenty years ago?
I will report more when it arrives. Thanks, all.
*Disclaimer: I am only joking! I have known Doug for twenty years, now, and he has never been anything other than a great guy, reasonable and kind. A good friend. Still, he knew exactly what he was doing when he brought that box out.


Two Frédéric Paris Mazurkas

I’m going through a mazurka binge — that’s for sure. Also, I always have room in my heart for Frédéric Paris. These two tunes come from the La Chavannée tune book. They are humble, unnamed mazurkas that are infectious in the way that La Chavannée tunes usually are.

5 Mazurkas by Decombel

Jack Humphries, a buddy over at mel.net recorded this lovely video of himself playing five mazurkas by guitarist Maarten Decombel. Here’s what Jack has to say, “My favourites by the great Maarten Decombel, a guitarist who writes tunes so good to play on the accordeon: Tuileries, 1/11, Vappu, Ostendaise, Geliefden, Tuileries.”


French Polkas!

From our gig at Jay’s Last Church on the Left, in Portland, Maine.