Mazurka Return

Feels like it’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. It hasn’t been very long, but it feels that way just because so much else has been going on. With the divorce, and moving, and my brother being ill … after the end of “Folk Dance Season” in New England, I put down the box for a few months and just didn’t think about it. But now I am in the new place. There is space and light, and the Shadows seem to have fled from the land. Let’s hear it for new beginnings, which, as usually, I celebrate by playing old songs.

The mazurka in this video is one of the old ones, untitled, collected by Mel Stevens, and available in the Mallinson’s Bal Folk book. As is my wont with untitled tunes, while teaching it to a student, I gave it the title, “Hannibal’s Mazurka.” I do love my Roman/Carthaginian history, and who are we to deny elephant’s in the alps their right to mazurka? For some reason, that landing on the IV chord at the beginning of the B part seems especially touching. Hits you right in the feels.

UPDATE: Yes, I have shaved my head. And, no, I did not realize my legs looked like THAT.

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?

Mazurka de Comptoir

Here’s a mazurka I learned off the compilation, Accordeons Diatonique en Bretagne. On that recording it was played by Christian Desnos. I don’t know if that makes it a “Breton” mazurka or not, but it’s a good tune. For more mazurkas, I invite you to go here and here. Also, you can check out Melodeon.net‘s “Theme of the Month” — featuring mazurkas — from some months back.

Mazurka: Bec à Bec

In my interview with Frédéric Paris, he referred to adapting the repertoire of various instruments to the diatonic accordion. This was back in the seventies when the “tradition” of French diato was being mapped out by the likes of Paris and Jean Blanchard, et al. What struck me was how apt the word “adapt” is to the process of taking a tune found on vielle or cornemuse and making it work on the diatonic box. About a year ago, I started paying attention to this mazurka, “Bec à bec,” on the La Chavanée recording, Rage de danse. Here it is:

Just listening back to it now, as I write, I am stunned at just how perfect a piece of music this is. It is heartbreakingly beautiful. Everything I love about French music is there.

But it’s not very accordéon-ish. How to make it work on the box? La Chavanée gives us two bagpipes playing single, entwined melody lines — of all folk musics, I think it’s fair to say that tradFrench is the lord of the counter-melody — and no chords, per se, though a harmony could be sketched out. That’s not what I did, though. Rather, I got my hands around the melody, and worked out the bass and chords according to my ear. Here’s what I came up with:

Not nearly as majestic as the pipes, but what is?

Click to enlarge

Meanwhile, in Alsace, the doyens of the biannual Pique-diatonique gathering had chosen “Bec à bec” as one of the three new tunes for the October 9 gathering. The sheet music they posted, which included tab and dots, showed that they had “adapted” the tune differently than I did. For example, in the third bar I play an F chord over the “D”-based melody phrase. In the Pique-diatonique transcription they use a “G”-chord. Again, in the third bar of the b-section, the Pique-diatonique transcription uses a G chord, which, with the “F”-natural suggests a G7. I chose an F chord, which, with the “D”s hints at a D minor. Either works. But they’re different.

I’m not making any arguments here, other than this: there are any number of choices you make when you adapt a tune to the box. Another example, I notice that in the fourth bar of the Pique-diatonique transcription, they play across rows, rather than down the one row, as I do. I think my playing sounds a little galumphy at that point. Time to try it their way.

Mazurka (Auvergnate)

Mazurkas seem to be moving towards the bouncier edge of the spectrum — more of a dotted-eighth-sixteenth feel. In Pignol and Milleret’s instructional books, mazurkas are consistently notated in 9/8! I play this particular mazurka with fairly straight eighths. It’s in the “Bal Folk” tune book as an unnamed mazurka from Auvergne (it’s number 76 in the blue book). The first recording I heard of it was this track, “Soirée Auvergnate” by Joseph Aigueperse, from 1933.  Here’s my take on it: