Bourrée: On d’onderon garda

As always, any corrections, additions, or questions are appreciated.

I was listening to one of the first bourrées I’d ever learned, “On d’onderon garda,” and realized I had this tune in a number of versions. I listened to them all and found it a fascinating exercise. Thus, here are a number of different versions of this ear-worm of a tune. Check out the sheet music, as well. (There’s a difference in how some play the second bar of the A section. Some play it as here, one-and-two-three, others play it as one-two-and-three. Choose wisely.)

I first heard this tune about twelve years ago, played by Sylvain Piron on a Castagnari Giordy, a tiny accordion with a concertina-ish sound.

Sylvain and I, about to perform On d’onderon garda
at the Trenton Grange

I quickly downloaded the sheet music, which Sylvain had posted on his site. Later, when he visited the United States in 2002, we performed the tune together at the Grange hall in Trenton, Maine.

Sylvain’s light touch on the tune did not prepare me for the version I heard on a compilation called, Accordeons en Aubrec. This is pretty hard-core Auvergnat playing on the five-row, chromatic button accordion — the squeeze-instrument of choice for tradfrench music for most of the twentieth century. Note the spelling change of the name.

Christian Bessiere, “On Onarem Gardar”

As a counter-weight to this accordion-ish-ness I thought I’d include a version of the tune on French pipes, the cabreta d’amor, performed by José Roux. On this instrument, the tune becomes a completely different beast. This recording is especially nice because it’s done in duet with the chromatic accordion and bells. Pretty much the classic Auvergnat sound. I only regret I couldn’t find a version on vielle à roue.

José Roux, “Ont tirarem garda?”

[UPDATE] In another vein, a fellow over on concertina.net pointed me to this recording of the open session at the George Inn, featuring members of the George Inn Giant Ceili Band (GIG CB) leading the festivities. Members include Alan Day (concertina), Mel Stevens (pipes), and Chris Shaw (melodeon). I invite you to bask in the experience of living in all that sound, the pipes right there, multiple hurdy gurdies, fiddles, conversation, glasses clinking, and you drinking. The melodeon player has place his ear against the box in order to hear it! Marvelous.

[UPDATE TWO] Alan Day, of the GIG CB, has posted a solo concertina version of the tune on his YouTube. It’s a delightful rendition that shows that, while it may sound “concertina-ish,” the Castagnari Giordy is not a concertina. Alan does some very interesting things with the rhythm and chords. Take a listen.

Finally, here’s a reposting of my recording of this, made about three years ago on my Salterelle Pastourelle.

A Brief History of French Accordion

The information in this post comes from some disreputable sources (liner notes and websites), and from conversations with musicians during my trip to Alsace. Any comments, corrections, or questions are welcome. In fact, I’m very aware of the gaps in my knowledge. I would love to know more.
Cabrette et Vielle

Most people, when they imagine French accordion music — if they imagine it — think of Parisian cafés, Edith Piaf, expatriate artists, and the time between the wars. That isn’t the music that’s captured my heart — though the two are related. The accordion music of rural France (musique traditionelle du centre France), centered in Auvergne and the Massif Central, was originally played by a duo of bagpipe (cabrette) and hurdy-gurdy (vielle à roue). Around one hundred and seventy years ago, the accordion was invented and adopted by many musicians of central France.  

This led to consternation and conflict. Flyers were posted asking dance organizers to refrain from hiring accordionists, as the accordion was only barely a musical instrument. “Help us drive out the accordions that are overwhelming our region,” wrote one bagpiper. “[Accordions],” he continued, “are good for little more than accompanying a dancing bear and are absolutely unworthy of limbering the legs of our delightful Cantal girls.” 
Unfortunately, the hurdy-gurdy and the pipes could, apparently, not compare in sweetness to the newfangled squeezing instrument. The hurdy-gurdy and pipes also suffered in comparison because they are notoriously difficult to keep in tune. The accordion, having steel reeds, stays in tune for years. It almost seems unnatural.
Enter the accordion!

Thus the accordion entered France, an invasive species, like so much wheezing cheatgrass. Then, during the last half of the 19th century, a wave of migrants traveled from Auvergne to Paris seeking opportunity.  Like black musicians in the American south moving north to Chicago, the Auvergnat formed their own communities and brought their music with them. Some things changed.

The accordionists formed into large bands and added a rhythm section (often including, yes, a banjo). They adopted the fleeter, more harmonically flexible, chromatic accordion, as opposed to the more limited (but, if I may, far more charming) diatonic accordion. They played music more swiftly and with more ornaments than ever before. The rural music they’d brought with them became florid, smokey, and urban. Still beautiful, but in a completely different way. This music, bal musette, became the Next Big Thing in Paris, and, once Edith Piaf emerged, provided the soundtrack for fifty years of Parisian life, legend, and cliché.
Jean Blanchard’s recording


of solo accordéon diatonique

But the original kernel continued to exist. As with much ethnic music, it seemed in danger of dying out until, in the 1960s and ‘70s, the same folk music wave that brought blues to the fore in Britain and the United States inspired artists such as Jean Blanchard, La Chavannée, and others. They combined all of the instruments of French dance music — accordion, pipes, hurdy gurdy, recorder, and violin, as well as voice — into bands, and looked at the bourrées, mazurkas, and waltzes in their simpler forms. The results were sublime.




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