The Button Box and the Mory

Disaster Narrowly Averted

Castagnari Mory.
A thing of beauty. A wonder to behold.
I was working with a school in Western Mass. last week, so I decided to swing by the Button Box. Had a good talk with Doug while playing his stock. I had no money and he knew I had no money. And he showed me this accordion that had just arrived as a trade in. It was a Castagnari Mory (GC). “Here,” says Doug, “Can you try this out for me?” It hadn’t even made it onto the website, yet. I played it and … who knew that such a thing of beauty could exist in the world? It was amazing to both the fingers and the ears. I left feeling the distinctive cracks of a heart breaking. My heart.
As I drove home I started concocting a plan … steeped in the intoxicating memory of the Mory … I could trade in ALL OF MY ACCORDIONS for that one. I could be happy! I could make this work! It’s a crazy old world, but sometimes, things work out! Right?
My daughter, Emma, stopped me. “You can’t do that, Dad. The band. Your band. You love your band. You need all those accordions for the band.”
Yes. Yes. I love my band. Le Bon Truc. The good stuff.
Doug and the Mory*
Sure. He looks unassuming. Mostly harmless.
The fevre dream did not abate, however. And perhaps Doug knew that.
Sure, he looks nice. Innocent. Maybe even charming. But that was some seriously, sinister salesmanship. “Here,” he said, “Could you try this out for me?” As if to say, “I don’t want to be an imposition.” Or, “You’d sure be doing me a favor.” Or, “I know this is a burden for you …” but could you play this unbelievably wonderful accordion and let me know how it feels?
Yeah. Yeah, Doug. I can do that.
The Castagnari Mory has held a totemic power over me for over twenty years. The first tradFrench music I heard was from Ad Vielle Que Pourra, led accordionist/hurdy gurdy-ist Daniel Thonon. Daniel played a Mory and I was completely ensorceled by that sound. And I get it! I swear to God, I get it! The instrument does not make the player. I wasn’t listening to a Mory, I was listening to Daniel Thonon playing a Mory. Later, I would hear other players playing wonderfully on other boxes. But that Mory stuck with me. Then, I found out that Andy Cutting also plays a Mory (he owned three when I asked him) … I’m pretty sure I don’t have to justify the desire for an accordion to you, fair reader. All I’m saying is that the Mory has been a grail-shaped-beacon for me for many years.
Disaster Embraced, Quality of Life Improved
 
Skip to the end, the Castagnari Mory is winging its way to my house, even as I type. How did I get to this state?
Le Bon Truc. We love each other.
Well, it wasn’t that I had to break down and succumb to temptation, so much as getting a clue as to what my priorities ought to be. My friends brought me around. First, my band mates — Le Bon Truc — each said something along the lines of, “Hey, if you wanna do this we will support you!” and “Follow your bliss!” Then I did the math and realized that I wouldn’t really have to trade ALL of my accordions, just two of them. Then, through karma and generosity, that number was reduced to one.
Not only was this possible. It was reasonable. My heart fluttered a bit.
Every accordionist is chasing after THE LAST ACCORDION THEY WILL EVER HAVE TO BUY. It is a mythical creature, and we all recognize that. But this mythical creature haunts us. The Mory had been that creature for me for twenty years — think of that! where were you twenty years ago?
I will report more when it arrives. Thanks, all.
*Disclaimer: I am only joking! I have known Doug for twenty years, now, and he has never been anything other than a great guy, reasonable and kind. A good friend. Still, he knew exactly what he was doing when he brought that box out.

 

Pilgrimage to the Button Box

Le Maestro, Doug

I found myself spending a day working in Connecticut, and decided on a whim to cut out early and take a swing to The Button Box, a mere two point five hours away, and a genuine melodeon mecca. While the trip to Sunderland, Mass., did have a whiff of the sacred to it, there was no penitence, penance, or redemption involved, just the sort of prosaic joys that give one hope in the world.

There was a Dino Baffetti three row, big button, five coupler Tex-Mex machine in Tex-Mex colors that sounded wonderful but … defeated me. I think I’ve found the limit in size for me for an accordion. If I find myself using gravity to assist on the pulls, then it’s too much!

Who really runs things? I think we know

There was a flock of one row boxes in D. Maybe they’ve suddenly gone out of style and thus are ending up on Doug’s shelves? Unlikely, as these were things of beauty. I was interested in trying out the two Castagnari Max boxes, one used for a mere $1995, the other new for $2525 (I see the used one is gone, now.) Try as I might I could not talk myself out of coveting those. I also tried a Pointe Noir box which was an absolute joy, but is in Cajun temperament. My band mates are already pissed off at me for having to tune to the three rows of reeds on the Saltarelle.

Best of all, of course, was catching up with Doug, who I am shocked to realize I have known for eighteen years! Aside from being a Dad, there is nothing I’ve done for eighteen years together. But I still remember, vividly, buying my first box from Doug, the mighty Corso.

Also, there was a way cool dog, and I bought some shirts.

I bought a shirt.

Interesting One-Rows at the Button Box

Temptress Margaret at the Button Box
She of the seductive e-mails

About once a month I can count on an e-mail coming over my transom from Margaret, at the Button Box, letting me know of new joys that are sitting on their shelves. It’s always interesting, but only occasionally prompts biblically suspect levels of covetousness. The latest note (June 30, 2015) did provoke such covetousness, which is very unusual since I only last month took delivery of a new (to me) Hohner Erica A/D. There were many interesting boxes, of course, but the ones that tweeked my interest were these.

First, there’s the Dino Baffetti ART organetto, one row plus (8+3), in, get this, Ab. That’s right A – bloody – flat! Aside from its value in obscurity (four flats? really?), I’ve been curious about these organettos since I got my Baffetti three row and loved the heck out of it. Baffetti makes quality boxes. Price on this one is $500 (used). Comes with a hard case.

Dino Baffetti in Eb

Similar, is the Romeo Erminio organetto, one row plus (9+3) in Eb. (I’ve not heard of this maker before.) As opposed to the Baffetti, which has two reeds per note (LM), this one has three reeds (LMM), with a stop for the low reed. Wow. All this for only $400 (used). A price so low it makes you wonder? Also, if you look at the little windows on the top of the box, you’ll see pictures of two lovely women. There are all kinds of incentives.

Castagnari

On the other end of the posh scale is the Castagnari Melodeon. A box I’ve been craving for years now. It’s a one row in D, with four reeds per note and four stops (classic Cajun structure, though the tuning doesn’t typically have the weird third that Cajun boxes have). I’ll tell you, not to fall sway to a brand name, but there is nothing like playing a Castagnari. It’s really true. Boy, would I love to get one of these. Price $2,300 (used).

Romeo Erminio is Ab, note the two pics

These boxes are interesting to me maybe because I’ve been dancing around the idea of a one row for a long time (see Rees Wesson’s boxes, for example). But it’s really all moot. I report the prices to you, but I am completely tapped this summer. In this case, I am serving the role of matchmaker. True? True.

ALSO: Another interesting thing about the Button Box notice is the large number of Irish style boxes available, 12 of them. I wonder if this is a sign of the high popularity in Irish playing (the Button Box stocks these because they expect to sell them). Or if it is the sign of a decline in such popularity (if interest were high, Irish boxes would be more rare). I don’t know. Pondering.

All I have to say to the Button Box is, “Thank God you are here!”

Castagnari Tommy D/G at the Button Box

A few weeks ago my job took me within stopping distance of Sunderland, MA, so I stopped at the Button Box. It was a great time. I met Margaret of the e-mails and got to sit among the instruments. One stood out among the rest. A used Castagnari Tommy in D/G that’s there. I enjoyed most of the instruments I tried, but this one was just magical. The feel was effortless, so very responsive. Here’s me playing “Mominette,” a scottish by Maxou, of La Chavannée fame. This tune has become my “go to” piece for trying out instruments. If I had the cash, it would be hard to pass this one up.

In Praise of AMTA Cassettes

At a rehearsal last week over at a friend’s place I spotted a cassette sitting on top of his formidable array of stereo equipment. It had a familiar look. The red italic lettering. The black bar at top and bottom. The name of the performers in white, just above the smallest text, the title, in quotation marks. There’s the circular stamp: MUSIQUE EN AUVERGNE. And the stylized AMTA logo.

This particular cassette was by La Jimbr’tée, and called Virage. The cover shows five men and one woman, an array of vielle, accordéon, and pipes.

Seeing the cassette there, I was cast into a fugue state. I was thrilled. These were the cassettes that changed everything.

I believe I have mentioned before, the role that AMTA cassettes have played in my musical life. The AMTA — Agences des Musiques des Territoires d’Auvergne — is an especially effective regional cultural organization that somehow managed to export its music to Amherst, Massachusetts, which is where the Button Box was located at the time.

In 1998, I traveled to the Button Box to pick up my first box — a red Hohner Corso (G/C) tuned very wet — and saw a bunch of these black/red/AMTA cassettes on the shelf. I picked up Frédéric Paris’s, Carnet de Bal, and Jacque Lavergne’s, Cadences d’Auvergne. After getting home, I called the store back and asked them to send  a few others, including the hardcore Bal Auvergnat duo of Guy Letur and Pierre Ladonne on chromatic button accordéon and cabrette.

All of my copies of these cassettes have either broken, melted, or disintegrated into iron dust. (All the more amazing that my friend’s were in great shape). My cassettes had lived in my car, mostly, which is never ideal for a music delivery medium. A good number of them I’ve managed to find in digital form. But that doesn’t change the magic of that discovery at the Button Box. The sheer abundance of discovery. The amount of this music suddenly to hand, this joyous, amazing music.

I’d love to hear how you discovered this music. What early finds inspired you? Feel free to add your story to the comments.

In the meantime, thank you AMTA!

Welcoming Baffetti

The plan unfolds slowly! Made arrangements for sale of the Nik, yesterday, and arranged to purchase a Dino Baffetti, Tex-Mex II/34 from the Button Box. As it happens, both the buyer of the Nik and the Button Box are right near Sunderland, Massachusetts.  Saturday, I’ll be making the pilgrimage.

Here’s a picture of the Baffetti, and there’s a video over on the Button Box site. It’s a three-row, MM box, tuned American Tremolo (as was the Nik), with rows in F/Bb/Eb. Baffetti has a stellar reputation as a maker. As the name of the thing suggests, it was made for the Tex-Mex market, but its wider tuning perfectly suits all of the French musics I’m obsessed with. This decision has been a long time coming. I’ve loved that Nik, but have felt the redundancy of its G/C tuning many times at gigs. Also, working in a chanson trio with Barbara Truex and Joëlle Morris, the need for key flexibility is urgent. Finally, I’ve wanted a three-row quint tuned box for ages. Now I get my chance. I’m already thinking of the new possibilities for across-the-row madness and right-hand chords.

Here’s hoping it all goes off as planned!

Castagnari Nik (G/C) for Sale (SOLD)


UPDATE:  Arrangements for sale have been made!

In order to meet my wider musical goals, I’m putting my beloved Castagnari Nik (G/C) up for sale. It’s in perfect condition, comes with original straps, and the Castagnari box. A two row, 8 bass machine, two-reeds tuned MM, “American Tremolo.” What does all that mean? It means an amazing simple box with a lovely sound.  I love this box, but having two quality boxes in G/C doesn’t serve my needs. I’m asking $2000 for this box. A new box of the same type goes for $2365 at the Button Box. I would also take a good quality F/Bb/Eb (Baffetti, for example) box in trade, if one were offered.

Contact accordeonaire@aol.com.

Here’s a video:

And another:

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.

Tribute: Diatonic Liaisons

Around thirteen years ago I was at the Button Box and saw a tune book, Diatonic Liaisons, by Alexandra Browne. An amazing piece of work, it compiled original tunes by Frédéric Paris, Dave Roberts, Bruno le Tron, Alain Pennec, Alan Lamb, Andy Cutting, Trevor Upham, and Marc Perrone. With eight tunes by each of these worthies, along with extensive biographical notes, this was an amazing, unprecedented collection. On top of that, it was simply beautiful, with the music hand rendered, incorporating unique symbols to capture the particularities of button accordion practice. On any other day, I would have picked up the thing for twice the asking price.

But on that day I was purchasing an instrument and had no excess supply of the ready to get the book.  “Next time,” I said, and then never saw it again.

Until a few months ago. Who should show up on Melodeon.net but Alexandra Browne herself, and she doesn’t know, but is there any interest in this book … and there was a lot of interest. A print run was done, and copies were made available (also by PDF), all for a reasonable price. So, I’m recommending the thing unequivocally. If you’re interested in obtaining a copy, contact Ms. Browne at alexandra.browne6@btinternet.com.

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