The Dank Calliope

A wet-tuned shuffle with a bunch of stories.

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

Last week, I posted a tune that I wrote, along with a writers prompt. The prompt was this: “Imagine this piece of music the soundtrack for a movie or story. What would that story be?” Because of the stories and conversations, I have named the tune “The Dank Calliope.” Originally, it was called “Expedition,” but I didn’t tell anyone that because I didn’t want them to be influenced by that title. Here’s the tune:

Here are some of the stories that emerged, in the order received (more or less):

Alltid on Facebook wrote: Dawn. The old farmer slowly rises, gets dressed, and heads for the barn. Multi layer montage of taking care of her or his animals. A sound of crunching gravel as some city folk arrive in a very expensive car. They look lost. The farmer raises a disdainful eyebrow. End scene.

Trevor Henderson on wrote: That’s a great tune. It’s best known as the soundtrack for the Aluminum Heart. The film centres around the old tin merchant who makes a hard scrabble living going yard to yard collecting aluminium cans from recycling bins. One day a ragamuffin boy befriends him and the two make a great and loyal pair. After many humorous and semi tragic misadventures the boy finally learns the tin man is his grandfather, who abandoned the boy’s mother as a child. The boy is then forbidden to see him again. The old man goes back to collecting aluminum cans as before. It rains a lot.

I wrote: Dusk. Anders is walking across a frozen lake. The snow falls. He is fleeing home, but no one from home cares enough to pursue him — so he walks. In the distance, another person on the lake, walking. Anders slowly matches this persons pace. They walk together silently as the sun sets.

Gonk over on wrote: The parade was held that year as it was each year, weather notwithstanding.  The weather, as if it knew it would be unwithstood, did its worst.  A fine drizzle soaked the handful of onlookers, some of whom huddled beneath black umbrellas.  The others, long since resigned to their fate to be wet at most times, stood resolutely in their sodden grey suits.  From far above, where a few croaking seabirds wheeled, the townsfolk gave the overall impression of a field of mushrooms in various stages of growth.  There was just enough damp in the air to trap and intensify the familiar stench of sulfur from the old paper mill.  From the main street, one could dimly make out the harbor, and beyond it, it was impossible to tell where the grey sea became the grey sky.  The town’s venerable calliope, drawn by two ancient Clydesdale horses, wobbled on its large wooden wheels as they jerked slowly along the cobblestones.  The scene might have been mistaken for the funeral of a clown.  The calliope, once painted in bright colors and gold leaf, was now faded and weathered.  Many pieces of its vegetal ornaments had broken off, revealing fractaline channels in the wood where worms had bored.  No sound emerged, as its pneumatic system had failed many years ago.  Still, the town’s anthem, which, try as they might, no one could forget, played unbidden in the minds of all present.

Little Eggy offered the title: “Funeral of a Clown.”

Julian S built on Gonk’s idea: And in the film version, a ramshackle cart piled with crates and pulled by an aged and long suffering horse arrives. Walking alongside is a tall stranger, wearing a shabby coat and cap, with pockets bulging with sundry tools. He walks over to the calliope, rummages for spectacles, stares up and mutters…aye they don’t make them like they used to…Just needs a bit of tape on’t bellows, one or two new valves and reeds, a bit of retuning and her’ll be as reet as ninepence … Time passes. The cart is seen disappearing out of the town, with the stranger now wearing a brand new coat and cap. Onlookers gaze up at the resplendent and shining calliope…the mayor gives the signal, and the calliope plays the anthem…But rather than joy on the faces of the townsfolk, some look puzzled, others shake their heads, and a few even shove fingers in their ears. The Mayor is clearly angry, turns to the Town Clerk and says, “I thought I told you we wanted wet tuning!”

Karen Allen on Facebook wrote: I see a sad-faced mime in a striped shirt, a cold gray day, a city street with grim people passing by hunched in their coats. The mime is offering flowers, but few take them, or even look at him. His face becomes sadder and sadder. The flowers begin to droop. At the end a child — a girl , or perhaps a boy — comes along hand-in-hand with a very stern-looking woman. The mime gives the child the last flower, by now sadly wilted. The child clutches the flower and smiles briefly before the woman gives an impatient tug and hurries them on their way.

I wrote a second one: Cat stalking critters in the woods. He’s not too bright, our Thomas, and not very stealthy, either. A soft rain makes him impatient and even less of a threat to the rodent community. Voles, moles, and mice watch from behind a bole, laughing a bit as Thomas creeps low and slow and obvious. Thomas stops, and so do the rodents. They see something, someone. Girl cat, Ursula, black and sleek, smart and the scourge of the understory. She’s got an eye for Thomas, though — dumb and good looking and kind hearted enough, unless you’re a vole, a mole, or a mouse. Ursula and Thomas exchange some unhurried words, and then head towards the bole, creeping together, low, slow, and devious.

Blake over on wrote: I believe it is to a soundtrack to a film about a family of tortoises who spend all day walking to the ice cream parlor, only to find that it closed moments before their arrival. They settle for Indian food, but the kids are picky because it is spicy. On the way home the missus says they should just stay in and play yahtzee next family night.

And here is the tune in its final form:

A Writing Prompt

What is the story for this music?

Something different for this blog. This is a piece of music I wrote and recorded. Imagine it’s the soundtrack for a movie or story. What would that story be? Think of the silent movie days, where a musician would play music to accompany the silent film. In this case, you’re given the music and you have to write the story. Enjoy. Share results in the comments or just keep them to yourself. Just trying to add some art and joy into the world. Here’s the full score.

Would you believe even MORE Bal Folk Bourrées?

Three Bal Folk Bourrées “Quinta” (#80) “La Montagnarde” (#84) “Frida” (#73) (that’s the correct order, they are listed in the wrong order in the video, sorry).

The first and the third of these were unnamed in the book, so I named them after two of my cats so I could keep them straight. from The Bal Folk Tune Book Project

Quoun vòls ganhar (FRLO Waltz)

The Free Reed Liberation Orchestra returns with a waltz which Steve Gruverman and I first heard on a cornemuse anthology, Landes de Gascogne. A couple of interesting points. First, a bunch of people play multiple tracks, but even though they are multiply audio-ed, they are only shown once in video. Also, Anahata with the pipes! I am smitten. And, first FRLO piece with puppets, thanks to Janneke.

Free Reed Liberation Orchestra
(February 2021 edition)
Anahata, Matthew Bampton,
Gary Chapin, Steve Gruverman,
Ben Hemmendinger,
Little Eggy, Gren Penn, Rick St. John,
Julian Scholefield, Janneke Slagter,
Barbara Truex

Puppets by Janneke Slagter
Directed by Gary Chapin

Un Pied dans L’eau

Tune 17 in the Bal Folk Tune Book, this scottish has a nice harmonic ambiguity. A lot of different choices could have been made. In the end, for the A section, I went with Amin-F-Dmin-Bb. All the thirds in the chords are off, so the major/minorness is just implied. The B section is Amin and then G (with a smattering of D thrown in).

If you like this sort of thing and would like to support the blog, please click on “Support This Blog” above! Thanks.

Free Reed Liberation Orchestra Merch!

Huzzah! I have not only created a logo for the Free Reed Liberation Orchestra, but also set up a small shop and created some merch. Go over to the Accordeonaire shop for all the mugs, tee shirts, hoodies, stickers, etc. that you need, AND support the FRLO and accordion love in the process. Thank you!

Three Bal Folk Mazurkas

Mazurka Auvergne (#134), Mazurka de Samatan (#142), and Mazurka (untitled, #136) played on my Hohner Erica, in A. The unnamed Mazurka is a variation on one that I play a lot, but it’s very similar to a version played by Gentiane, found below. Also includes their version of the amazing Brezon Valse.

If you feel like tipping the accordionist, go here!

Three Bourrées (2-time)

Continuing the Bal Folk Tune Book Project with three 2-beat bourrées — “Les Moutons” #153 “En Passant la Rivière” #144 “Bourrées Dérobée” #148 — done in a fairly straightforward style. The first and third tune are in G, the middle tune is in D. That was a choice I made, since it is a completely diatonic tune, and usually for that sort of thing I would either transpose to a home key for this box (G/C) or get a different box in the right key. I did neither of those things and, because the key is a not-home one for that box, it sounds clunky to me when I get to the C#.


Well, that is why I took up the project — aside from obviating pandemic madness — to push me further in my playing. I’m almost ninety tunes into the Bal Folk Tune Book Project and the low hanging fruit is disappearing.