Sylvain Piron, Part Three

Sylvain Piron continues our conversation, discussing the current state of the tradFrench scene in Alsace.
Catherine and Sylvain

The trad scene in Alsace is currently quite busy. I remember the 80s and 90s were much more quiet. There was a bal from time to time. Nowadays every week-end offers at least one opportunity to dance. Public has changed as well and more and more young people are interesting in dancing. The facility offered by Internet has helped the organisers to disseminate information with no cost. In the same way, music groups have increased in number and quality, in the 80s there were only a few groups in Alsace. Now, Accrofolk has listed around 30 groups. This has been the same in all Fance.

Until end of 90s people interested were mainly those coming from the May 68 movement. A big difference since the 2000s is the involvement of young people in this music. Festivals have always been a big France, but they have increased a lot for the same reasons of growing interest.

There has been a movement towards multi-accordéon groups (see Pignol/Milleret, or Accordéon Samurai). Recently Piron joined with Raymond Frank, Flavien DiCinto, and Cédric Martin to form such a quartet.

In fact, we formed a 4-accordion group is just an idea we had with Cedric-Flavien, the 2 youngs, and Raymond-Sylvain, the two olds. The idea raised one day we were joking and playing together. In fact we noticed that young people have a tendency to play fast and punchy while older ones tend to calm and balance the tempi. We thought we could form a group where we play and joke about these differences. Here is a video of the group in action:

Of course, I know Piron best as a teacher, and others have talked about the guidance he’s given. He’s not entirely comfortable with that. 

I do not feel like an accordion teacher. I just give advice to beginners and take action to encourage them, but I miss two major qualities for a teacher: pedagogy and technicality. My accordion technique is not to be imitated because I have a lot of bad habits. Again it is the sound which interests me, not the way you produce it. Nevertheless, I like to gather people for playing together and share that music. 

What did Piron think when this American aficionado — that’s me — e-mailed him back in 1998?

I am very proud when you say I was your teacher, but I feel a bit usurping because you where actually your own teacher, I just gave my opinion on what I heard and felt from from your recordings. When you showed up in 1998, I was very happy that my small music home page was something interesting for at lest one American! Thanks to you, I discovered later that a lot of American people where involved in these European traditional musics and that through that practice I had a lot of potential friends in the States.

We very often think here that Americans are only fascinated by themselves and their own existence and way of life. The fact that a young guy, lost somewhere in Maine, was attracted by my music was really a great pleasure and surprise in the same time, a sort of miracle thanks to the web! I am a bit joking but not far from reality of my feelings at that time.

What does Piron think of the future of tradFrench music?

About future of trad French music, I would like it to remain a practice linked to dance more than to market! That means to keep the spirit of it away from commercial purposes. On one hand it is fair that professional musicians can live decently from their art but on the other I do not wish that this music become fashionable and loses its roots and fundamental role: to make people experience the great value of sharing dances, songs and musics.

6 thoughts on “Sylvain Piron, Part Three

  1. Hey Gary, I thought of you yesterday. My wife and I were at an Italian restaurant – sorry, ristorante – and they had an accordion player. It made such a great atmosphere, it was wonderful. Even made up for the fact that they had run out of Peroni!


  2. Hi,

    Thanks for posting this series with Sylvain Piron. I met him here in Maine (I'm in Portland) some years ago at a contra dance in Pownal. I'm a newspaper photojournalist and we were doing a story on the caller. And there he was. He gave me a CD — la plume et l'anche — and I've listened to it ever since.

    I've been making part of my living all my adult life playing folk music. Mostly Celtic-inspired vocal music with guitar and banjo accompaniment. I've traveled allover New England and as far as Omaha. But, anyway, I got interested in playing the concertina a year and a half ago. I ended up with an oddball Hayden layout with the same note on the push/pull and the low notes on the left and high on the right. It seemed to make sense to me.

    I've had fun messing around with it. But there's nobody to show me how to play. It's a rare instrument and there's only one guy posting tunes on YouTube. So, I've ended up adapting Melnet “tunes of the month” instead. To make a long story short, I found a Galotta D/G melodeon at Buckdancer's Choice Music Company here in P'land. I picked it up. Squeezed a few notes out of it and BOOM, I was in love.

    It's the multiple reeds and natural bounce of the diatonic push and pull. THIS is sound I was looking for. This is the sound missing from the concertina. I've played it every day for a month now. The first tune I translated (from YouTube accordion to concertina and now back to accordion) as La Marianne. I found out it's a French tune. I do some digging and it leads me to this site, Sylvain Piron and the CD he gave me close to ten years ago.


    I love the music. I've listened to trad Irish/Scots music for years. I've accompanied lots of fiddlers. But I never really wanted to play like that. I love to listen. I'm a singer and entertainer, really.

    But this trad French music is more akin to the contra dance stuff I used to hear all the time. It's for dancing, not for showing off. Sometimes Celtic trad has too many grace notes. Know what I mean? Where's the melody?

    Anyway, I'm rambling. But this is exciting! I'd love to meet you for coffee sometime. I know you're a busy father, husband and student, but please give it some thought.

    You can contact me at

    All the best,


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