Le Lundi Accordéonaire: Duo Expire

This Monday I bring you a video from Duo Expire, featuring Cédric Martin and Flavien Di-Cinto. I met Cédric about twelve years ago, when I was in Alsace. I don’t expect him to remember me, but I’ve always remembered the fluidity and personality he brought to his playing that night.

If you would like to draw my attention to something out there that should be posted, or want to submit one of yourself playing some French tune (including Breton) on accordion, email me here.

Two New CDs from Sylvain Piron

Georges Haibach, Catherine Piron-Paira, Sylvain Piron

A joyful package arrived on my doorstep a few days ago. Two new CDs from Sylvain Piron!

The first is a trio recording, Par un beau soir: Chansons Traditionelle, featuring Sylvain along with Catherine Piron-Paira and Georges Haibach. The three of them wield a truly impressive array of instruments, including accordion, basse aux pieds, nyckelharpa, dulcimer, epinette, psaltry, various whistle-type instruments, and objets sonores (sound objects). On top of it all are their three voices weaving genuinely delicate melodies and harmonies. All but one of the songs are traditional or ancient, and the one remaining song is Sylvain’s own minor-key mazurka, Le chemin

Le Chemin

The second CD is On est que des cailloux, a set of Sylvain’s original songs, played solo by the man himself, recorded over a few years. Sylvain’s singing, solo with only the accordion accompaniment, is a sort of pure, earthy thing — strong and reminiscent of the harp singer tradition. His songs are light but filled with feeling, both pathos and humor.

Both CDs are available directly from Sylvain himself. You can contact him at his email.

Breton Dance Field Recordings (and other places)


The An Dro snakes through! Pic by Chris Ryall

UPDATE: I’ve gotten some push back on this post from folks (great stuff in the comment section), essentially saying that some of these videos are not exemplars of their regional styles, but are just examples of dances done at the Big Bal. I think that’s fair, but still think it’s interesting to see these as documentations of what’s going on at the Big Bal, especially for those of us who would have a hard time ever making it there.

Following up from the post of French Dance Field Recordings, here is the second half of Chris Ryall’s amazing collection of videos, or dance as he found it in the wild. Chris writes, “Breton dance is often done in lines, traditionally snaking around the floor intertwining and ‘meeting people.'” Here is the repository:

Breton

Rond St. Vincent – a very simple village dance that has become a standard
An Dro (An Dro = “the turn”)
Another An Dro – Wild at the end!
Tricot (mixed An Dro and Hanter Dro)
Plinn (Simple, very peasant, gets wild improv from musicians)
Another Plinn
Suite Plinn (Same rhythm. Couples dance with fast and slow parts)
“Standard” Gavotte” (Danced as a suite with varying speeds)
Gavotte de l’Aven (small valley in the Cornouaille with it’s own “dreamy sway” style – this is just part of a “suite gavotte”

Le Ridée (aka Laridé)

Other Regional Dances from France

Auvergne (and other mountain areas): Rigaudon
Basque Country: Fandango
Basque Country: La Saute

Gascony: Gascon Rondo – done in pairs in a big circle
Alsace: asymmetric waltzes (5/8, 8/8, 11/8)


And two imports


Swedish Polska

Another Swedish Polska

Untold quantities of gratitude to Chris for this work and for permission to put this together here. Thank you, sir!

Pique Diatonique Sept 2013

The twice yearly accordion gathering, Pique Diatonique, took place on September 14. I think of it as an Alsatian event, but really it takes place all around that region. Friend Mary Line took and posted an album of pics, including the following photos. I’ve written about Pique Diatonique before (and here). One day I’ll go back!
Photo: Mary Line
Sylvain Piron Photo:Mary Line

Photo: Mary Line

Photo: Mary Line

Next year, in Alsace!

Alsatian Dance in 7

Here’s a tune I learned from storyteller Catherine Piron-Paira and her husband Sylvain Piron, both of Saverne, Alsace. Catherine played it on psaltery, thus I tend to call it “Catherine’s Psaltery.” I feature this tune on my new CD, but with added clarinets and recorders, and with vastly improved sound quality. I recorded this to include in the melodeon.net Theme of the Month for July 2013, French Tunes.

I’m not sure why my pants figure so heavily in this video.  I apologize.

L’intermittent

UPDATE: Gilles Péquignot of Au Gré des Vent has pointed me to their more current web site — Association Carnet de Bal. On that site, four of the group’s albums are available for streaming. They also have about twenty-five tunes available as sheet music.

Continuing my fascination with asymmetric tunes — and my fascination with the Alsatian duo Au Gré des Vents — I present one of their most infectious tunes. “L’intermittent” is the opening track of their album Fraxinelles. It’s a scottisch-marche-valse composed by Danyèle Besserer. Here’s their recording of the tune.

“L’intermittent” excerpt by Au Gre des Vents

And here’s my own recording of the tune on solo accordéon, a rough track from the album I’m currently recording with engineer Caleb Orion. As Gilles pointed out to me, I take the tune much more freely in this context. He calls it “Wagnerian,” which is fair. For dancers, of course, regularity is everything (all of the “ones” are an equal distance apart).

“L’intermittent” played by Gary Chapin

And for those who want to try such a thing for themselves, here are the dots for the tune, as transcribed by the inestimable Steve Gruverman.

Gilles Péquignot and Danyèle Besserer, with

Sylvain Piron in the tricorn hat.

BONUS Picture, sent to me by Mary Line, of the Journal d’Alsace. That’s the duo on the right, with Sylvain Piron in the tricorn hat.

Branle Asymétrique

A branle is a medieval dance, still done in many areas of France and Germany. It’s pronounced “brawl,” and is the etymological foremother of the modern word for a chaotic outbreak of fisticuffs — which should tell you something about the dance. This branle is found on the album Du Piment Dans Le Kugelhopf – Musiques d’Alsace À Danser by the fabulous Alsatian duo, Au Gre des Vents. This is my second attempt at recording it. At first I played it as a 5/4 waltz, but Gilles, of Au Gre Des Vent, emailed me and pointed out that there’s one bar in there that is in 6/4. Tricksy tune! Hopefully, I got it right this time! This was recorded for the Theme of the Month over on Mel.net.

Special thanks to Flora, the Boston Terrier, and her invaluable support.

COMING SOON! An interview with Au Gre Des Vent!

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.

Sylvain Piron, Continued

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Part Two (see Part One and Part Three)
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?

Music 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.
I 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!
If 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 basses. For 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?

Sylvain 1960
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
Another thing 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.

A Conversation with Sylvain Piron

Part One
Sylvain Piron
Sylvain Piron – diatonist, piper, nickelharpa-ist, dancer, and singer – has been a central figure in the traditional French music and dance scene of Alsace for years. He might deny that, but ask any of the dancers and musicians around the scene, and the level of their esteem will be clear. I met Sylvain in 1998, as recounted here, and it’s safe to say that, more than any other person, he is the reason I play this repertoire on this instrument. The lightness and feeling of his style – playing and singing together – is the bedrock of my aspirations (if something that light can, in fact, be a bedrock …). For this reason, my gratitude to Sylvain and his wife, Catherine Piron-Paira, is immeasurable.
Four of Piron’s CDs — Par coeur, Tranches de temps, Fleur de ciel, and Le plume et l’anche — are available for free download here
The interview was conducted entirely in English.

Gary: Could you tell me when and how you got started playing?

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Hohner 2915, Pokerwork

Sylvain: I started to play diatonique during the holidays of 1977 near Saint-Malo in Brittany. My [first] wife had been offered a Hohner 2915 few years before. It was sleeping in our flat, waiting to be played. My wife was a violinist and had learned two or three tunes on the 2915, not more. We took it with us, as I had the idea to take profit of holidays to give it a try. Within two days I was able to play 2 or 3 tunes, not very well but already danceable! I remember having started my playing with “En avant blonde,” a famous waltz played on record by Marc Perronne at this time. Since that, even if I had some periods where I played less, I never really stopped playing.

What was the diatonic accordéon scene like in those days?
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The traditional music movement (called musique folk), at this time was led by groups like Mélusine, la Bamboche and Malicorne — all coming from the revival movement born after May 68. In Alsace there was Le folk de la rue des Dentelles, a famous group who started to reintroduce old forgotten tunes and dances. At this time there were two generations of diatonists, the elders being more than 60 years old, people who used to play in villages. They usually had big and heavy 3 row Hohners. The second generation was young, like me at this time, people of the revival movement. We did not have a lot of relationships with these old players as their style and repertoire were not really the same. Most of them (in my regions, Normandy and Alsace at least) played musette style or songs of the beginning of 20th century. We, the youngest, were much more interested by older  musics, collected in the 19th century for most of them. We were very few diatonists at this time, maybe less than 5 in Alsace and a few tens in France.
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What was your repertoire at the time?
Sylvain, the blur in the middle, leads the dance
The first tunes I tried to play were from Centre France and Alsace. As I said before, it took me a short time to begin to play, but a long time to play correctly! That is a strong point of this instrument: you can get a result rather fast, faster than with violin or bagpipe or hurdy-gurdy. Even so, you have to work a lot to get a good feeling, a right tempo, a light bellow squeeze, a soft touch, in one word: a good sound! 
As my technique on accordion was improving I began to play with Heidi (my wife at this time) who is a good violinist. We began to play at friends’ parties, and also in the pedestrian streets of Strasbourg, with Pascal, a friend violinist as well. I enjoyed a lot to play like that and to, sometimes, make people dance in the streets. We played mainly Massif Central, Alsace and Breton and Irish tunes but our choices were based on music and not on dance at this time.
Dance is central to what you do, now.  When did you start focusing on that?
 
Sylvain Piron and Charles Gonfalone, back in the day.
In the late 80s I began to play from time to time in small bals organized by the school of my children. But it remained a bit confidential and not really open to public. In the late 90s I founded a group with two friends, Raymond Frank and Charles Gonfalone, the group was named “les Abandonnés” in double reference to a Cajun song by Moïse Robin and to the fact that we were all alone, “abandonnés,” without any girl friends around us at this time. My involvement in music for dancing increased a lot when I met Catherine, and when we started a dance workshop ten years ago. In fact, I started to lead the bal in a more official way at that time, rather late in my practice of accordion.
Sylvain with Raymond Frank, in Alsace

My attraction for traditional music and dances was in fact very old. When I was about 15, we founded in my village in Normandy, a group to do folkloric regional dances. It was for showing on stage, not for the bal. But that experience was very positive, and I discovered the richness of our heritage. That probably influenced me in the choices I made later.

You mentioned other players around at the time. Who were your primary influences?
 
Perlinpinpin Folk, with Marc Perrone.
When I started to play accordion Marc Perrone became rapidly a reference for me. He was at the origin of the diato revival and his style fascinated me: light, délicate, subtle, fits to the dance, not too fast, with a very sensitive touch. The result is a very expressive music which drives you in a delicious mood. Marc’s play is transparent, and his personality is that of a very generous man and musician. Very few musicians have this generosity, a fundamental quality for a musician.
Marc often tells the funny story of having gone in the 70s to Paul Beuscher music shop in Paris (close to Place de la Bastille), and, having asked — “What is this instrument on the top of the shelf?” — he was told, “Accordéon diatonique, but nobody knows how it is played.” Marc tried and immediately bought it and learned it within a few days.
I had a similar experience around eight years after in the same shop — this would be the end of the 70s. I went there to buy my own accordion after having started on my wife’s. Eight years later, diatonic was still not known … The guy in the shop was surprised by my interest for that thing. There was only one choice: a Pier Maria in D/G. I was not aware of tonality differences at this time. I bought it, 2000 francs ($400). Back home I saw that its tonality was totally different than Heidi’s one in C/F actually.  The Pier Maria stayed again for a while on shelf … It is several years later, as I was more familiar with singing and playing, that I discovered that D/G tonality was very suitable for my voice.

Part Two is here! Part Three is here! To read more about my 2004 visit with Sylvain Piron and his family in Alsace, go here.