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:


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!

French Dance Field Recordings (Part 1)

Part Two is here.

Melodeonist Chris Ryall spent August of 2013 at Fête Embraud (La Chavanée) and Grand Bal de l’Europe St. Gervais. He shot a lot of video. He writes:

“The collection was intended to inform some of the … shall we say, ‘different’ … versions of these dance rhythms heard in UK pub sessions. The general focus on the dancers and their movement is intentional. If your play of a melody ‘informs the feet’ … it is probably about right!”

Some of the videos are posted on Facebook (possibly requiring Flash); others are on YouTube. The first batch of videos presented here focus on French dances. Breton dances will be featured in the next post.

French Dance Videos

Basic French Waltz (played faster and smoother than English waltz)

Scottiche (note “skip”)
Another Scottiche (delightfully light – Accordzéâm)

Mazurka current “Bal” style (generally 9/8)
Another Mazurka — Accordzéâm – great accordion solo

Mazurka Morvan style “simple, straight 3/4)

Circassian Circle – same as UK – sometimes even to the same tunes!
Another Circassian Circle

Medley of Various Dances (Lucas Thebaut says this set was made up = non Trad)

Bourrée du Centre – Grande Bourbonnaise (the main line bourrée, 4/4 rhythm)
Bourrée d’Auvergne (fast 3/8 rhythm) Auvergne = Massif Central
Another Bourrée d’Auvergne (fast bourrée with variation – St. Gervais BIG dance!!)
Yet Another Bourrée d’Auvergne (Komred, with the great Etienne Loic on accordion, at Embraud — watch those feet!)
Bourree de Morvan (simpler, 3/8) Morvan is the hilly part of Burgundy
Fast 3/8 circle bourrée – duo Thebault are from Charantes, so “Poitou” style?

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! 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 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.

About Ornamentation

As part of the front matter of the La Chavannée tunebook, the editors wrote a small introductory paragraph. Chris Ryall, the euro-oriented melodionista over on did a rough translation of the piece. In part, it reads:

Notation has been deliberately stripped of all ornament, and of various variations. Obviously, only beginners would then play these melodies ‘as written’ – for [other musicians] that would be sheer nonsense. One of the great strengths of Traditional Music has properly been a constant re-birth of its underlying melodies, nourished within the format of their associated dances. Musical notation has only a small role in this. It’s all about interpretation.

I’ve heard this kind of statement in reference to a number of traditional musics, and I have to say — if I might indulge in a bit of confession — the ornamentation of trad music has bedeviled me since I first picked up a tin whistle in 1989. Each tradition — Irish, English, Scottish, French, Quebecois — has different expectations of what correct ornamentation is, and different expectations about how pedantically that “correctness” should be adhered to. The regimentation of Scottish bagpipe ornaments, for example, is legendary. When I played Irish music — on flute, not accordion — it was inevitable that a conversation would break out amongst anxious beginners. How to do the rolls! I found it very intimidating! Can you play that at speed?

“It’s all about interpretation.” When I did play Irish music, my ear tended to favor the less florid styles. I preferred Jack and Charlie Coen above all others, and was pleased to model my playing on theirs. I’ve never been a great musician — either on flute or accordion — but I’ve gotten good, and I love the instrument and love the music, and I hope that comes through. I try to play in a reasonably simple way that allows the tune to shine.

Playing Ornaments: At no point do my fingers leave my hands!

But I think about the ornaments, the twiddly-bits. Ornaments and variation are the “content” of interpretation. These can be cuts, rolls, trills, etc., or they can be rubato, fermata, actual melodic variation, harmonic variation, rhythmic variation, arrangements, dynamics, etc. The left hand. The right hand. I think I do okay with this. The Chavannée values articulated above are welcoming and inspire me to do better.

It’s all about interpretation. The point is not to get it right. The point is to continue to play in a reasonably simple way that allows the tune to shine, and to continue learning the language of interpretation. Always continue learning.

Maybe that doesn’t need to be said, but sometimes, I think, I need to hear it.

Chateau d’Ars (Mr. Ryall’s Sunday)

Featuring guest blogger Chris Ryall

Over on, Euro-oriented melodeonista Chris Ryall has been posting reports of his own experience at Chateau d’Ars. He has graciously allowed me to post them here.

Sunday morning was so much better – blue sky and a few roundrels of cloud. Wind was over. It would threaten rain all day – including some falling from a blue sky  ??? but you didn’t really get wet. Dolly unpacked a sun dress. I was looking forward to four unmissable acts. The little stall at the end of the lane had coffee, and croissants   :P

Once the château grounds reopened I determinedly sought out Saltarelle, finding them up a somehow missed line of stalls. I tried out a 3 row 3 voice 12 bass – a bit bling with its dazzling grills – but that’s their way. On enquiry, Saltarelle” does come from that Italian dance. I was told that their butterfly was added to (somehow?) evoke that.  The box was pretty good, nice sound, fast, and again excellent bang per buck.  Had a listen to Breton legend Alain Pennec who was guesting on the Maison d’Accordéon stall.  As the place dried there were other little entertainments – eg this mixed Flemish/Calabrian (whole-sheep bagpipes!) impromptu band

Lunch was leisurely and I joined in a little session with Dols and her London pals, then beers with Andy Cairns and his talented son.  Andy Cutting of this parish wandered by and said hello, we all talked about boxes and quality. Seemed la  Chevanée had invited him & Chris to join them – gosh – is it that time already! Wandered down to the concert spot to see the Chavs (in Bande Ménétrière lineup)  do their harmonious “songs of the Loire river boats” set.  Fred’s daughter Catherine and brother Manu have become really excellent singers! Fred and Maxu played … bouzoukis!  :o  You can see our two English cameos were in there too  8)

The evening’s first “unmissable” was Samuraï consisting of Tesi, Lepistö, Le Tron, Laloy, and Munelly. The Holland based Irishman looked to be on a C#/D and was a real star, with strong busts of Celtic rhythm, cool switches between Dorian and Blues, and bass (unisonoric?) rocks. Laloy is a great wit on stage and clearly very clever (a lady heckler was gently demolished). His music is jazzy and quite dark. I felt Lepistö did the best improvisations – again with all the jazzer’s tricks. le Tron … was himself with some great old favourites like Valhermeil.  I was
a bit
disappointed not to hear much of Tesi’s wonderful rhythms – he mainly seemed to be running their bass section. 

Visionary stuff, but they’d not moved on at all from last year’s CD.  An encore simply repeated the first tune :-


Bit of a race up the hill to see Cutting/Wood in the small dance floor. Chris spared the pauvre Galoises any homespun political dialectic (pour le bien, one felt!) and it was pure music and song ;D  Towards the end the boys sort of realised we were on a dance floor, and played a sweet Flatworld, and other classics. Dols was first up (as usual) with an elegant partner, bringing a poignant tear to papa‘s eye. I spotted a lady “in need of a chavalier“, and joined in. It was just lovely .. they got two encores and an ovation.

I’d so enjoyed Naragonia in Otley, and their Quartet was to finish the festival.  The real stars for me were Wouter Vandenabeele on violin and exquisite melodeonist Pascale Rubens – both were commonly “out” of the chord, off the beat, yet every swung note informed what your feet had to do. IMHO one of the best dance bands in Europe, and a perfect choice for the finale. Closedown at 1030 was abrupt and they pulled the plugs. A “boeuf” session band (of about 50!) formed and we kept dancing in the dark.

In classic Comite George Sand manner they’d stopped maintaining the sawdust loo’s next morning :-X  but then in the 90’s, it had all gone straight in the river!  :|glug

Chateau d’Ars (Mr. Ryall’s Saturday)

Featuring guest blogger Chris Ryall

Over on, Euro-oriented melodeonista Chris Ryall has been posting reports of his own experience at Chateau d’Ars. He has graciously allowed me to post them here.

Saturday  woke up to intermittent heavy rain and when that cleared there was a massive column of cloud (looked about 2 miles up) moving rapidly NE to the south of the chateau. Seemed the jet stream was still up there  :-

Basically it was like that all day, so I considered and rejected going back up to Brittany, and set about the salon d’instruments.  The first surprise was that stall #1 “Castagnari” had no members of the family at all*! Tried their stuff and (as last year) really liked the 2 voice 3 row 18 bass Matris and Mas. These are very close to being copies of Guillard’s saphir and are nearly as expensive!  Bertrand was around the corner, ably assisted by daughter Clara. Picking up his melodeons  8)  well it felt like the song’s old “49er” .. kissing the little sister .. quite forgetting his

Castagnari :P  It was palpably better, for only a bit more (+ the 3 year wait). They are quite “without fault” (as one might expect from a self-confessed perfectionist solo maker)?

      Casta have made an innovation! The Matris had an extra (fenestrated) “box” in front of the usual grill at right end. You then get a “plane” of thin wood to slide  in/out from below. It’s a muffler. To me it was reminiscent of the  big plastic muffler I had to put on the bonnet of my 2CV in winter, to reduce air cooling. I have to say this completely changes the tone which then sounds .. “muffled” ::)  I personally kept it out,  but no doubt some people will adore the sound!  Interested melodeonistas can easily enough make their own experiment with some stiff cardboard and Blu Tack …. 

I  couldn’t find Saltarelle at all  ??? but discovered Loffet and co in a corner. I’d promised to look at some middle range instruments and gave his, and the corresponding Casta’s a bit of hammer. As last year I felt you’d pay about 10% less for the same quality of sound and ease of play. Bernard’s tone was also nicer to my ear – but then he’s a “tuner and fettler of reeds”, so that isn’t too surprising.  I do prefer Loffet’s “Italian made to own design” boxes to the ones now being constructed in Brittany. There may be a learning curve in play here, and again, others might feel very differently.  You really do have to try before you buy ;)

Hurdy-Gurdy design is very much in flux at the moment  – a lot of innovation even amongst the traditionalists! Several luthiers offer all electric gurdys. I thought these were really clever. As a gurdy buzzes anyway – the tone sounds OK!  The ampification then permits all sort of new  technique, in particular pizzicato play. I expect some on stage delights in the near future … here’s what Gregory Jolivet can achieve (solo, improvised) with such kit  :D  One model even had a wheel that slid along the shaft – engage or disengage the strings at will!

BTW: met with Aberystwyth based Dylan Cairns-Howarth who is a fiddler, but was incredibly fluent on electric gurdy :o “self taught off youtube”! This is one young talent to watch out  for. The lad’s pauvre papa Andy is gonna expend a fortune kitting him out with instruments!

There was very little in the way of sessions going on, most of what was seemed to be groups/friends. I locked the box in the boot (blessing the NHS card that got my car onto the camp field!) and “carefully” climbed the muddy slope onto the big dance floor. Moussaka hale from Marne/Vosges in the east, but do quite the most energetic Breton I’ve ever heard. Flavien Di Cintio was superb on his 3-row .. all over the place .. try this suite plinn! Dolly May … bopped all night again  :|glug

Dols, scatting with two English bagpipers

* St Chartier “rules” have always been that a luthier gets a stall,
  and free festival for him, family and a musician. Saltarelle(importer) and
  Maison d’Accordeon (shop) don’t “make” – but the latter always had
  2 family members to hand in earlier years! Hohner-France took much
  flak last year, and weren’t there this time.   We’ll see ..

Chateau d’Ars (Mr. Ryall’s Friday)

Featuring guest blogger Chris Ryall

Over on, Euro-oriented melodeonista Chris Ryall has been posting reports of his own experience at Chateau d’Ars. He has graciously allowed me to post them here.

I picked up #1 daughter in London and we set off to the Channel. A couple of technical hitches slowed us up a bit (Dolly May has blagued her way into UK without passport, but never out!) slowed our progress into Kent and we managed to miss not one ferry, but two! Picardy went well enough, and with a delightful lunch stop behind us we got to the edges of Paris .. It started to rain :o

Geoff mentions a bit of weather … classic Britanique understatement! We are talking a wall of water. The spray was so heavy on the A10 that you couldn’t see the Mercedes bombing up your tail at 140+ until they were a few metres off the bumper. (One even had his lights off)!  When a Peugeot pulled out suddenly you couldn’t discern the lorry he was overtaking. Météo-France were forecasting “same tomorrow and at the weekend”.  It didn’t look good …

Downhill to the Loire, and Orléans still had some chambres à bonne marchée. It was even too wet to eat out. We picnicked in our “Formule 1” and turned in. The bloody UK weather had actually followed us – it was still raining in the morning  :-

Our rise onto the plain of Berry was easy enough and we chose to come in from due north, off the chauffard infested motorways.  I can confide that the Routier at Issoudun is very clean, very Berrichon in cuisine, and fantastic value. The D road from there then  miraculously took us right through the old St Chartier village! It was deserted.

There’s a legendary tale of bureaucratic central French bumbledom in the village of Clochemerle. Well – the Comite George Sand who run the festival are of this genre. This year’s innovations were to be sawdust toilets*, and a ban on cars on the camp site. Loyal customers of some 20 years were to carry their bedding ½ mile in the rain from the car park ??? Fortunately I had my walking stick in the car, and a standard NHS card looks very like a carte invalide to a Berrichon  ;) We were there.

Friday afternoon was spent renewing old acquaintances in the salon des instruments. The festival’s on site catering is pretty good (though a small beer is now €3!).  The sages of cGS had decided to save money on the canopy on the smaller dance floor  ::)  I tried the big one, but what with the rain and the mud it was pretty lethal. Patrick Bouffard waved me over for a drink and we swapped stories about breaking one’s leg! He was on crutches but I won’t embarrass by saying how he did it  ;)

The Friday bands were incredibly high tech – virtually all had their sound man actually on stage with them, bristling with computers. Krenijenn laid down layers of Breton sound, and the rondos were safe enough to dance to (though you got very wet)! I can’t find a youtube, but their music developed way out of the simple Breton themes with Rap and other imports, yet remained utterly danceable 8)

Gascony’s Ba’al were equally techo/fusion but that reference to the Sun god didn’t stop the rain. Again, note the integrated sound man on stage.  Dolly (now clad in bubble wrap!) had a great bop to la Clèda (1:30am+) but pauvre Papa had to turn in :|glug