Scottiche à Catinaux

A few days ago I came across a performance of Scottiche à Catinaux (spellings vary, but I like this one) by French one-row accordeonaire Gilles Poutoux. In itself it’s unusual to hear French tunes on the one-row (though there is the obvious connection to Quebecois and Cajun one-row traditions), but the tune happened to be one of my faves, a  Bal Folk standard.

The scottiche is a medium tempo couples dance in 4/4 (I love medium tempo). This one is particularly simple and seems to come along early in the learning arc of many players. Perhaps because, it appeared on Jean Blanchard’s seminal Accordeon Diatonique recording, which set the bar for everyone back in 1977. But its simplicity does not diminish the joy and possibilities for Scottiche à Catinaux. Poutoux on the one-row plays a bubbly sort of scottiche, with a lot of verve and vim. But that’s his take on the tune. Here is the sheet music, the pure tune:
Scottiche à Catinaux
 
(NOTE: This is a correction from an earlier posted image, h/t Anahata)

Notice on the third beat of the first bar in the B section, where the melody drops. It goes to an A. An F chord is the natural choice, and that F chord makes all the difference. The F chord confirms that, in fact, there is love in the room. That’s right. I said it.

There are many versions of this tune on the YouTubes. I especially love Anahata’s version, pairing the tune with Scottish á Virmoux, another ear worm of a tune.

Finally, I’ll offer my own version from my CD, L’Autre Diatoniste (available at Bandcamp). At this far remove (it was recorded five years ago) it sounds too fast (that’s the trouble with technically easy tunes), but I still like it. I like Will Leavitt’s spoon playing. And I like the second tune, L’eau de Roche. Enjoy.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1065904761/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/track=162679940/transparent=true/

 

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.

La Roulante

A Jean Blanchard tune, this one also goes by the name, “The LNB Polka.” Blanchard, who I’ve written about briefly, is one of those credited with reviving rural French folk music in the early ’70s. I recorded this video as part of Melodeon.net‘s Tune of the Month festivities. Even though it’s called “The LNB Polka,” there are some who say it is not, in fact, a polka, but a scottish. Having not heard Blanchard’s version I played it the way it made sense to me. Enjoy.

 

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.