Duo Abbas/Thézé Mazurka

A very beautifully shot performance of a beautiful piece of music. Duo Abbas/Thézé bring a bass clarinet and chromatic button accordion together for a super sexy, jazz inflected mazurkas. The dancers are mesmerizing. That guy at the end, his smile … tells a story.

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!

Book of Bourrées from Berry

Blog reader Mark van Nieuwstadt wrote me informing me of a bourrée tune book he had come across. It’s in Dutch, he writes, “but it contains an interesting collection of bourrée tunes from the Berry region, and detailed descriptions of dances. I happen to know that the writer, Harry Franken, was a very knowledgeable amateur musicologist.”  Aside from this collection of bourrées, Franken “collected many tunes in the field and published an impressive collection of tunes from the southern part of the Netherlands.”

The tune book is called Youp ‘Nannette. It is posted as a series of images on Picasa and can be found here.

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)


Bourrées
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?

My Trip to Alsace (Part Three)

Part One

In 2004, my wife, Bethany, and I were given the gift of a trip to Alsace, France, to visit my accordion teacher, Sylvain Piron, his wife, storyteller Catherine Piron-Paira, and their family. I wrote the following shortly after the trip. It appeared some time later in Wolf Moon Journal, a local Maine literary magazine. I present it here in installments over the next few months.



Sylvain Piron, J’ai un noveau chapeau, MP3

(This tune plays a part in the story a few paragraphs down, but I thought I’d include it here because it’s just that good.)

Accordion besotted simpleton (me).
Charlie playing stage left.  Bethany
in cantaloupe sweater in back.

Sylvain and Catherine threw a party for us on the third night of our trip. Not just a small gathering, but a grand fête held in the community center of Steinbourg. After the birthday parties of our youth, very few of us have the experience of having a party thrown in our honor. Not that this crowd really needed an excuse to party, but when we walked into the hall and saw the vast banner with the words, “Welcome to Gary and Bethanie,” stretching across the entire length of the stage, we were speechless. Would it be possible to feel more welcome?

“We’re in Alsace, about to play Alsatian music with Alsatian friends.” The happy mantra of an accordion-besotted simpleton. Sylvain seemed nervous, not knowing how many people would show up. Throwing parties is an anxious business on any continent. Folk dancers and musicians are notoriously tardy people. It was Tuesday, a workday. Sylvain wasn’t sure how well he had publicized the event amongst the music community. Yes, the meal was a potluck, but how much beer and wine should he buy?
A good amount, it seems. Throw a party, they will come. And they will bring wonderful food, and they will be prepared to dance and drink. They will also be thrilled to try out their English on you, and–in the age of Bush and the Iraq war–discuss politics and art. Many came from Sylvain and Catherine’s monthly dance group. They knew the tunes and dances in a way that few American crowds–even contra-dance aficionados–would have. After eating, a group of five or so musicians drifted to the far corner. Gilles, the guitarist, tuned up. Marie, Sylvain’s daughter, assembled her flute. The accordionists noodled. We don’t need to tune. 
An agglomeration of accordionists, with François and
Dani on fiddles

In came Charlie, an accordionist, still dressed for work. Then François, a lanky and excellent fiddler arrived. Cedric, a charismatic accordionist who’d learned from Sylvain, came and shook the hand of every musician in the room. This was the first time I’d participated in this particularly French gesture which, to me, says, “We’re in this together.” Danielle, another accordionist, was introduced to me as an English teacher. I had one of those moments in my mind and blurted our, “You’re kidding!” Not because I didn’t believe her, but because it occurred to me that an English teacher in Alsace is a very different thing from an English teacher in the States. Yes, I know it’s obvious, but the fact of that difference delighted me.

After two hours, the crowd achieved its number. Sixty to eighty people. Twenty musicians, ten of them accordionists. It made me wonder: if sheep come in herds, ravens in murders, and Mongols in hordes, what do accordionists come in? Are we merely a “band”? (We few, we happy few …) What is our unit of agglomeration?
Even though I’d spent years learning tunes from Sylvain, I found I didn’t know half of what was being played. Of course, this means that I did know half of what was being played, and that fact was a comforting gem of amazement. Sylvain regularly turned to me, asking me to start a tune. It struck me that, even playing tunes that I’d known for years, my fingers were being guided by the musicians around me. Very subtle issues of tempo or touch–which I had struggled with back home–were settled merely by my being in a room with the accordionists who belonged to these tunes. French accordion music was not an obscure passion for them. It belonged to them, and they to it. They were at home, and standing next to them, I learned, musically how to get home.
An English country dance in France
Photo by Martine Lutz

At various points through the evening I found myself fixating on my wife. Bethany had been a bit anxious about dancing, not cowardly as I was, but nervous. The week had been filled with dance of the most charming sort. Catherine took Bethany under her wing, teaching Bethany to waltz and mazurka while Sylvain and I played. Catherine was an excellent teacher, intuitive and kind. Bethany was an excellent student, grateful and willing. The two of them were a delight to watch. Bethany shimmered as if she were the object of a love song. She looked beautiful, happy, and fluid. Through the Breton circle dances, the an dro and hanter dro and the English country dances, mazurkas, scottishes, and waltzes, I was proud of her in a very lusty way.

Sylvain Piron, J’ai un noveau chapeau, MP3


“J’ai un noveau chapeau …”
Photo by Martine Lutz

Later in the evening I started a tune. “J’ai un noveau chapeau” was written by Sylvain, and it was well loved. As soon as they heard the first notes, the crowd flew into action. The size of the dance circle doubled, musicians, who had been milling about, ran over to get their instruments to get a a piece of the action. Sylvain walked over to the circle, beckoning us in. Charlie, Cedric, François, and I followed. The circle opened, and we stepped into the middle. It was an embrace, the dancers and the musicians. Sylvain sang the first line, “J’ai un noveau chapeau …” and the entire room took up the song. Fifty people, it must have been, singing together, with Sylvain at the center. Catherine led the dance, but no one needed to be led, really. The very simple Breton rhythm, the simple steps, Sylvain’s funny lyric, his voice, his tune, his accordion. It wasn’t louder than the ten other accordions playing, but it was certainly more central.

I looked at Sylvain. I looked at Catherine, his fiancé. Cedric,his student. The dancers. Their friends. Their children. Bethany dancing! And myself — was everyone happy?
Everyone.


(Sylvain Piron’s CDs are available for FREE DOWNLOAD at his website, Tradfrance.)

Bourrées

The bourrée is the signature dance of Musique Traditionnelle du Centre France. This isn’t the baroque bourrée of Bach and his suites, and it’s not the jazzy bourrée of Jethro Tull. The bourrée of the Massif Central is a thing about to erupt. It is chaos imminent. Two lines face each other, and seem ever on the verge of colliding. When I took an accordion lesson some years ago, Quebecois multi-instrumentalist Daniel Thonon told me, “The bourrée is a crazy dance! Crazy!”

Here’s a set with a 3/8 bourrée followed by a very fast waltz performed by me in my living room. The waltze I learned from a La Chavannée tape, Cotillon, about ten years ago. The bourrée is in the Massif Central Tune Book (OP) compiled by Mel Stevens. I should mention that for years I have lived under the impression that the waltz I play here was, in fact, a bourrée. Thanks to Chris Ryall at Melodeon.net for disabusing me of that notion. I’m not sure why I thought it was a bourrée, since my sources all list it as a waltz, but there you go.

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