The Dank Calliope

A wet-tuned shuffle with a bunch of stories.

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

Last week, I posted a tune that I wrote, along with a writers prompt. The prompt was this: “Imagine this piece of music the soundtrack for a movie or story. What would that story be?” Because of the stories and conversations, I have named the tune “The Dank Calliope.” Originally, it was called “Expedition,” but I didn’t tell anyone that because I didn’t want them to be influenced by that title. Here’s the tune:

Here are some of the stories that emerged, in the order received (more or less):

Alltid on Facebook wrote: Dawn. The old farmer slowly rises, gets dressed, and heads for the barn. Multi layer montage of taking care of her or his animals. A sound of crunching gravel as some city folk arrive in a very expensive car. They look lost. The farmer raises a disdainful eyebrow. End scene.

Trevor Henderson on wrote: That’s a great tune. It’s best known as the soundtrack for the Aluminum Heart. The film centres around the old tin merchant who makes a hard scrabble living going yard to yard collecting aluminium cans from recycling bins. One day a ragamuffin boy befriends him and the two make a great and loyal pair. After many humorous and semi tragic misadventures the boy finally learns the tin man is his grandfather, who abandoned the boy’s mother as a child. The boy is then forbidden to see him again. The old man goes back to collecting aluminum cans as before. It rains a lot.

I wrote: Dusk. Anders is walking across a frozen lake. The snow falls. He is fleeing home, but no one from home cares enough to pursue him — so he walks. In the distance, another person on the lake, walking. Anders slowly matches this persons pace. They walk together silently as the sun sets.

Gonk over on wrote: The parade was held that year as it was each year, weather notwithstanding.  The weather, as if it knew it would be unwithstood, did its worst.  A fine drizzle soaked the handful of onlookers, some of whom huddled beneath black umbrellas.  The others, long since resigned to their fate to be wet at most times, stood resolutely in their sodden grey suits.  From far above, where a few croaking seabirds wheeled, the townsfolk gave the overall impression of a field of mushrooms in various stages of growth.  There was just enough damp in the air to trap and intensify the familiar stench of sulfur from the old paper mill.  From the main street, one could dimly make out the harbor, and beyond it, it was impossible to tell where the grey sea became the grey sky.  The town’s venerable calliope, drawn by two ancient Clydesdale horses, wobbled on its large wooden wheels as they jerked slowly along the cobblestones.  The scene might have been mistaken for the funeral of a clown.  The calliope, once painted in bright colors and gold leaf, was now faded and weathered.  Many pieces of its vegetal ornaments had broken off, revealing fractaline channels in the wood where worms had bored.  No sound emerged, as its pneumatic system had failed many years ago.  Still, the town’s anthem, which, try as they might, no one could forget, played unbidden in the minds of all present.

Little Eggy offered the title: “Funeral of a Clown.”

Julian S built on Gonk’s idea: And in the film version, a ramshackle cart piled with crates and pulled by an aged and long suffering horse arrives. Walking alongside is a tall stranger, wearing a shabby coat and cap, with pockets bulging with sundry tools. He walks over to the calliope, rummages for spectacles, stares up and mutters…aye they don’t make them like they used to…Just needs a bit of tape on’t bellows, one or two new valves and reeds, a bit of retuning and her’ll be as reet as ninepence … Time passes. The cart is seen disappearing out of the town, with the stranger now wearing a brand new coat and cap. Onlookers gaze up at the resplendent and shining calliope…the mayor gives the signal, and the calliope plays the anthem…But rather than joy on the faces of the townsfolk, some look puzzled, others shake their heads, and a few even shove fingers in their ears. The Mayor is clearly angry, turns to the Town Clerk and says, “I thought I told you we wanted wet tuning!”

Karen Allen on Facebook wrote: I see a sad-faced mime in a striped shirt, a cold gray day, a city street with grim people passing by hunched in their coats. The mime is offering flowers, but few take them, or even look at him. His face becomes sadder and sadder. The flowers begin to droop. At the end a child — a girl , or perhaps a boy — comes along hand-in-hand with a very stern-looking woman. The mime gives the child the last flower, by now sadly wilted. The child clutches the flower and smiles briefly before the woman gives an impatient tug and hurries them on their way.

I wrote a second one: Cat stalking critters in the woods. He’s not too bright, our Thomas, and not very stealthy, either. A soft rain makes him impatient and even less of a threat to the rodent community. Voles, moles, and mice watch from behind a bole, laughing a bit as Thomas creeps low and slow and obvious. Thomas stops, and so do the rodents. They see something, someone. Girl cat, Ursula, black and sleek, smart and the scourge of the understory. She’s got an eye for Thomas, though — dumb and good looking and kind hearted enough, unless you’re a vole, a mole, or a mouse. Ursula and Thomas exchange some unhurried words, and then head towards the bole, creeping together, low, slow, and devious.

Blake over on wrote: I believe it is to a soundtrack to a film about a family of tortoises who spend all day walking to the ice cream parlor, only to find that it closed moments before their arrival. They settle for Indian food, but the kids are picky because it is spicy. On the way home the missus says they should just stay in and play yahtzee next family night.

And here is the tune in its final form:

Septembre (Stephane Delicq)

A mazurka by the great Stephane Delicq called Septembre, but played as part of the December 2020 tune-of-the-month. Also happens to be the first day of snow in Maine. I learned this tune from Catherine Piron-Paira around 2006 when she and Sylvain Piron visited us in Maine, and I heard her playing it on a bowed psaltry. For years I thought it was a medieval tune. It’s true that it is very characteristic of Delicq, but one of those characteristics is timelessness.

“War Hent Kerrigouarch” (FRLO #3)

We do this every once in a while, contact Gary Chapin if you want in!

This is the THIRD recording by the Free Reed Liberation Orchestra and our first Breton offering. This project has been a blast and something that would never have happened without the pandemic or me being laid off, so that says … something. I’m not sure what!

“War Hent Kerrigouarch” (The Road to Kerrigouarch) is a Breton tune that I first heard on the Kornog album, Premiere. Later, Alisdair Fraser did it with cellist Natalie Haas as part of their Derriére Les Carreaux set. Jamie McMenemy (of Kornog) recorded it on his own first album in 1981. It was written by Soig Siberil, guitarist for Kornog (thanks to Patrick Moriarty for letting me know that in the comments). The F.R.L.O (Nov 2020) is Anahata, Matthew Bampton, Gary Chapin, Margaret cox, Steve Gruverman, Benjamin Hemmendinger, Eric W. Johnson, Little Eggy, Janneke Slagter, Greg Smith, Barbara Truex.

My son, Max (living in Japan), brought this tune to my attention when he transcribed Alistair Fraser’s set for my band (Le Bon Truc) to play. We may still do that, COVID willing, but in the meantime, I hope this pleases him.

La Françounette (Free Reed Liberation Orchestra)

Introducing the second Free Reed Liberation Orchestra tune, La Françounette, a waltz which also happens to be #108 in the Bal Folk Tune Book. This is eleven box players (all from, one clarinetist, one fiddler, and two strummy-strummy players. I said this for the last FRLO recording (which was also the first). this is among the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life, and I am very grateful to everyone playing and listening.

The Free Reed Liberation Orchestra (October 2020, pt. 2) is Anahata, Matthew Bampton, John Barber, Gary Chapin, Benjamin Hemmendinger, JohnAndy, Howard Mitchell, Helena Painting, Gren Penn, Julian Schoenfield, Janneke Slagter, Greg Smith, Steve Gruverman, Margaret Cox, Eric w. Johnson, and Barbara Truex. Performance ©FRLO 2020

Note: Turns out this tune is virtually the same tune as another in the Bal Folk Tune Book, Valse à Bouscatel #111.

Les Grandes Poteries (Orchestre d’accordéon)

Many boxes, one piece. The Free Reed Liberation Orchestra is a notional (and virtual) orchestra to which any accordionist who wants can belong (and friends, like banjo uke and bass clarinet players). This is our debut upon the world. The tune is a bog norme bourrée, a tune that will get you a free drink at any Bal Trad Pub you might come across. This agglomeration of individuals are mostly habitués of — my home parish for diatonic squeeze matters. This tune is also known as La bourrée tourante, and is tune #32 in the Bal Folk Tune Book. This project is on the very short list of coolest things I have ever done. The Free Reed Liberation Orchestra (Oct 2020 edition) is Anahata, Matthew Bampton, Gary Chapin, Steve Gruverman, Benjamin Hemmendinger, Gren Penn, Pete (playandteach), Julian Scholefield, Janneke Slagter, Greg Smith, Barbara Truex. Video by Gary Chapin

Josefin’s Dopvals (by Roger Tallroth)

One of my very favorite waltzes, by Roger Tallroth of Väsen. I learned it from the version by Dervish, which is very winsome and almost sentimental — but goddammit it always gets me the third time through when drum kicks up! Very inspiring. This is specifically NOT a sentimental version. Trying something different. A straight-ish French waltz at French-waltz pace.

Unknown Tune in Four

The Theme of the Month at mel,net is “Something in Four.” It’s for the odds and sods tunes. The march, polka, or whatever that seems somehow different and out of place. This tune is one that I learned from a fiddler about fifteen years ago. I don’t know if I ever knew what it was called, but I certainly don’t now. I can’t honestly even say what type of tune it is or its provenance. It sounds Breton? Maybe and an dro? If YOU know, please say so in the comments.

P.S., I used my phone for this recording and I’m still figuring out the best way to do that. I’ll do better next time.

Welcome to a New Box

A beautiful box

Ah, joy!

Today I took delivery of my new box, a Hohner Erica A/D, sent from England by its previous owner, a denizen of the inestimable

I’ve had my eye out for an A/D box for a while. I found myself playing in situations where my disdain for “the peoples’ key” was becoming more than a charming eccentricity. I had boxes that played in C, G, F, Bb, and Eb. I needed an A and a D. (Anything beyond three sharps or three flats seems a vulgar affectation.)

So, did I want posh box (oh, a Tommy!)? A less expensive posh box (a Lilly)? Or a tiny box (Giordy)? Or a Baffetti organato? I didn’t know. Then this box showed up for sale on

I was intrigued. I always had a thing for that old fashion Hohner sound, and had actually started on a mighty Corso. The Erica is a classic bog norm box. Jean Blanchard played one back in the day. Then, accordion fettler, bold Lester Bailey, pointed out that he had worked on the Erica and that it was an excellent model of the species. Also, that the seller was very trustworthy. That was enough for me.

After adjusting all the straps to suit my massive frame, I made some videos. Be kind, still getting used the action and all that.