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!