Gratitude at 40,000 Hits

In the United States, the fourth thursday of November is Thanksgiving. I love this holiday and love having the opportunity to express my gratitude for the extraordinary blessings in my life, many of which center on the accordéon, its music, and its masters.

  • Speaking of masters, first on the list would have be my wife, who has been generally and genuinely supporting of my accordéon efforts during the course of our marriage. Just as one example, she did NOT send back the Castagnari Nik when it arrived in the post last February, when I was at work. Instead, she sent a picture on my phone, and called me up so I could hear how it sounded.
  • Thanks to the folks who have willingly discussed with me things accordéon related, including Frédéric Paris, Sylvain Piron, Dave Mallinson, Alexandra Brown, and, most recently, Andy Cutting.
  • Thanks to the friends of this blog — whether they know it or not — who have been willing to discuss issues with me as I developed posts.  Some have actually written stuff that I’ve published here. Thank you, Andy of Vermont, Chris Ryall, Geoff Wooff, Owen Woods, Steve Mansfield, Chuck Boody, et many al. Tom McDonald — despite being a non-accordéonist — has been a real help just on the blogging and inspiration front.
  • Thanks to melodeon.net! Not enough to be said about that friendly, squeeze congregation’s influence on my quality of life! Just today, a quorum from that parish helped talk me off the ledge over a reed that seemed to be going sour.
  • Thanks to everyone involved in the collective effort to bring the “La Bourrée” tune book out, a huge important task! The folks at concertina.net really stepped up for this one.
  • Thanks to my kids — Max, Brigid, Emma, Julia, and Sarah — who somehow think that it’s cool that their old man plays obscure accordéon music. They continue showing up to my gigs.
  • Thanks to Amy and Rob, at the Water St. Cafe, in Gardiner, who have given me a place to play regularly in the past few months, so that I could get my chops into shape.
  • Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. Having just crossed the 40,000 hits line, I have no idea, really, who you all are (the occasional comment would go a long way!) … and I monetize the blog in only a very minor way … but this blog was started because I wanted to talk about accordéons with people who wanted to listen to me talk about accordéons.  Thank you.

25,000 Visits! Thank you!

Last week, I had a minor celebration as the hits ticker crossed over the 25K line. For a blog like this one, covering an instrument and music genre that could both be described as obscure, that’s pretty danged good. The title of the blog – a French-ish word that doesn’t actually exist – came from an album I put out in 2003. I created this blog just as a space to explore my fascination and to find others interested in doing the same. It worked!

Some facts that you might find interesting:

  • I’ve been averaging about 70 hits a day, though there are spikes when a new piece goes up. There are always a few bots hitting the page, though. At one point, a bot on a friend’s blog took aim at mine and my page a few hundred times over a week. I have no idea why anyone would do that.
  • The top referring site, by far, is melodeon.net, followed by concertina.net. Many of the pieces that I’ve written here, have started out as a conversation on one of those boards.
  • “Frédéric Paris” is the number one search term that leads here.  “Lõõtspill” is number ten.
  • Through this whole process, Andy from Vermont, has been a great ally, support, and resource. Thank you, Andy!

This blogging stuff has been a blast, and has inspired me to play more then ever. I appreciate the readers, and will endeavor to continue giving satisfaction. I’m hoping to do an interview with Sylvain Piron, and, fingers crossed, Jean Blanchard. I missed an opportunity when I recently had my Saltarelle worked on and forgot to ask the fettler to take pictures, so I’m hoping to take a pilgrimage to The Button Box and talk extensively with the folks there.

Again. Thanks, everyone.

Neil Postman and Accordion Technopoly

Neil Postman:  Not an Accordionist

Over on the Music and Melodeons blog, Owen is crafting a series of posts on the perennial query, “What is Folk Music?” At Melodeon Minutes, home of friend Andy from Vermont, the new Castagnari on-line catalogue is being gone over with the loving eye of a critical friend. Meanwhile, another friend’s blog, God and the Machine, has a piece on the late Neil Postman, not an accordion player, but a hero of mine.

Postman, in his books Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly, argued that technologies have ideologies.  In other words, a new technology encourages some possibilities (values) and discourages others (devalues).  The automobile, for example, values mobility and individualism, while devaluing stasis and communitarianism — to paint with criminally bold strokes.

It struck me that this applies to accordions, as well.

Discussing the Castagnari family of boxes over on melodeon.net, one member recommended the evolving 18-bass system, in general, as “amazingly liberating,” and pointed to its prevalence in the current wave of tradFrench players who rarely “play it straight.” And he’s right, of course. A three-row, 18-bass instrument can play in any key, and can produce the extended harmonies required for “jazzing up” the old tunes. It allows for an enormous amount of freedom.

Bruno LeTron, 3-rows, 18-basses,
and the Truth

Postman would say that the existence of such technology does more than allow for the possibility of, say, extended harmonies on the accordion. Rather, the existence of the technology is an ideological argument for such extended play.  We know this, he would say, because of the value judgements we make. Diatonic accordion playing that moves through a variety of keys or introduces chromaticism is seen as more virtuosic. It tends to be more valued. Players who can perform in such a way — players of the Mustradem collective, for example — are the stars of the genre and shape what defines “good” tradFrench playing.

(Before getting to the next paragraph, I want to make it absolutely clear that I love the music of Bruno LeTron, Didier Laloy, Norbert Pignol, Stéphane Milleret, et al. I am merely making an observation about how available technology impacts values. I understand that I am over-egging the esoteric pudding. It’s a good time for me. Are we clear?)

The Handry 18: Maybe this is
the last accordion I will
ever buy?

When I bought my Castagnari Nik (the last accordion I’ll ever buy?) I made the conscious decision to eschew the expansive ideology, opting instead for the two-row, eight bass ideology that does play the old tunes relatively straight. Perhaps it’s a recognition of my own limitations, but an over-abundance of choice is, to me, the definition of chaos. Is this luddite-ism? Is it cranky-old-fart-ism? Is it a deep, abiding, jealousy? Or is it just me making a choice about what boundaries I’ll choose for my music-making life. Ideologies are boundaries, after all. There’s still so much to learn from Jean Blanchard! The technology I’ve chosen has an ideology that allows me to focus on some things while setting aside others. It ties me in to a tradition and repertoire I love, and in its particulars greatly improves my quality of life. Color me content — at least until I can get my hands on a three-row, 18 bass ideologue.

Hanter Dro

Another Breton tune, learned from clarinetist Steve Gruverman (tune finder extraordinaire). The hanter dro is that rare thing, an intimate line dance. Moving to the 3/2 meter, the dancers snake around the floor, spiraling, encircling, ensorceling the musicians. I try to embody the apparent Breton motto — “repetition is the soul of wit” — by matching an entrancing melody with a sweet, innocent harmony. Against current practice, I am a big fan of 3rds in my chords.

The Theme of the Month over on Melodeon.net is Tunes from Brittany and I urge anyone who enjoys that sort of thing to head over for a listen. The tunes and videos being posted are wonderful. Also, Andy of Vermont recently posted a Yann Dour tune played on his 3-row Castagnari Jacky. Check it out.

One-Row Goodness

Castagnari Max, One-Row

Diatonic Accordion players speak affectionately of the warmth or lift generated by the push/pull action of their boxes. It’s better for dancing, they might say, or, it has a character to it that’s different from (read better than) chromatic or piano accordions. I don’t believe that this is always true — Patrick Lefebvre’s chromatic playing has plenty of lift, rhythm, and character — but when played well … wow … one-row, pushing/pulling accordions can really get a little somethin’ somethin’ going.

Andy from Vermont recently posted three recordings of himself playing Quebecois tunes on his Melodie one-row in D and I find myself completely besotted. Go see for yourself. Wonderful.

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