Wouter and the Dragon

Wouter Kuyper is an accordionist from the Netherlands. He’s a member of the bal folk band, Lirio, and recently joined in duo with Joris Alblas (guitar) on a new recording, Wouter en de Draak. Via the interwebs I got into a convo with Wouter about his music, his accordions, and the bal folk scene in the Netherlands, which seems so far away from here. The interview was conducted via email. Emoticons are Wouter’s.  🙂

Click here to listen to Wouter en de Draak while reading the interview.

Wouter Kuyper

How did you come into the world and find the accordion?


I was born in 1978, and I live in the Netherlands. I started playing music when my parents took me to some sort of traditional music camp when i was 10 years old. For our family this was really the first encounter with this kind of music. No one played before that. But we started going there year after year, and my mom took up the accordion, and I started playing the pipes, at 12. I still play and love those, but at the age of 15 I picked up my moms accordion when she wasn’t home. I absolutely loved the fact that you can accompany your own melody, a thing I missed when playing pipes or flutes/whistles/recorders/etc.

The nights at those gatherings were awesome. Especially for a kid my age. During the day you would get music lessons, which was fun and all, but it was really about the nights. People were dancing until the sun came up again. I really wanted that too, but for a 12 year old boy it was easier to sit in a corner on stage trying to play along with the session, than to dare ask a girl to a dance that you never danced before…I still learned to dance the dances in that period too 🙂

Could you talk about your recordings? Two with Lirio, and then Wouter en De Draak (Wouter and the Dragon).

Those are the three closest to my heart, yes, those really feel like my own bands, in which we play a lot of my own tunes. But with Lirio we recorded some stuff for albums together with others as well. And I also recorded some albums with singers, still folky, Dutch language, but not as trad as Lirio or Wouter en de Draak. “Laroux” has a bit of Zydeco-flavor sometimes, but i mostly play pipes and whistles there, and De Vliering is a bit singer-songwriter-folk-like… (you can both find them on YouTube and/or Spotify)

Lirio Hanterdroom

How did Lirio come together? What were you trying to achieve?

Well, I must have been around 20 years old when we started the band, I knew Gerdien, our violinist who is a couple of years younger from another band (medieval) that died not much later. Her boyfriend at the time was Sander, the guitar player. All of us were really just starting in bands and making music and stuff. Over the last 15/20 years it has been great. Seeing each other grow, both musically and as human beings 🙂

What we were trying to achieve? We wanted to create the atmosphere in the Netherlands that we found at several gatherings/festivals in Belgium and France. At those places we saw such intense music and dancing, by young people, too, that we thought we could and should bring that to the Netherlands. So we started a band, and started organizing bal folks. And we tried inspiring each other and other people too. And it worked, even now, when we don’t do any organizing anymore, there is a foundation to keep this scene alive, there is a nice national website, which has all the bal folks on it, where you can find dancing classes, music workshops etc etc. It isn’t that big a community, but it is very alive.

The last couple 2 or 3 years we don’t play that much anymore, life gets in the way, the others got real jobs. 😉

Is this why you did Wouter en de Draak? The new group? (Love the flute!) What are your goals with this work?

Love the flute too! Music is good, more music is better. 🙂 At the moment we started this band I was playing solo a lot. And i really like that, but for my own variety and the dancers’ variety I wanted another band, Joris was a guitarist who always jumped in my ear when i heard him play in other bands, and a very lovable person too, so I gave him a call … and here we are. We normally play with just the two of us, but for the CD we wanted to do something extra, so we called in the cavalry 🙂 I am very happy to have such wonderful musicians as friends playing on our album (Ies Muller, Flute, Frank van der Vliet Trumpet/Bugle and Roeland Uitdewilligen on percussion).

And about goals … making beautiful music, seeing people dance before us and having fun, and have fun ourselves on as many stages as possible :-). At the moment I am looking around to see if we can play more in countries around us, the Dutch scene isn’t that big. It is hard finding good spots.

The name? Just a joke, is Saint George and the Dragon a myth that you know? I thought “Joris en de Draak” (the myth in Dutch) would be a fun name because of the guitarist’s name. But he preferred this one.

Can we talk about the scene there? From here it seems like there’s an accordion movement going on in the Netherlands and Belgium. Is there actually such a movement? Or does it just look that way from afar?

It is a bit difficult question. There are quite a few different scenes here that don’t interact a lot. For instance, i have very little knowledge of who plays what in the Irish scene. Most people playing diatonics around here, play shanties, and music like that. I am pretty sure both those scenes don’t use 3 row accordions. I only follow the diato-world (bisonoric) a bit. I know nothing of the chromatic world (unisonoric).

But if you look at the bal folk scene here, then yes “three row is the way to go.” I think it started with Bruno Le Tron teaching in Belgium a couple of times, having Didier Laloy as one of his students, and later playing with Wim Claeys (in Tref) who has had lots of students. Then, of course, Naragonia. In Belgium in the last few years you can learn diato at several main stream music schools, and they require a third row with accidentals. I must be honest, and tell you that i jumped on that wagon a lot later. I have been playing 2 rows for a very long time, and i teach all my students on 2 row, rather then 3 rows. I think it is better to comprehend the playing of a diato on a 2 row, and then later add the options of the third row.

I still don’t play a lot of tunes in different scales than the scales that work on a two row. I try to stick to scales that only require one extra accidental (on a GC for instance Dm, or Bm) so as to keep the logic and feeling still the same.

Milleret and Pignol had their influence on the bal folk scene as well, mostly through the playing of Aurelien Claranbaux who played here a lot. So yeah … especially in Belgium, but also in the Netherlands bal folk style playing is mostly on a 3 row, other styles not so much.

[In] the current bal folk scene … all balls are organised by individuals, enthusiastic volunteers. Mostly people who have been dancing for a couple of years, and want to dance closer to their homes. Utrecht, a city right in the middle of the Netherlands has been the centre of the scene for over a decade, with bal folk nights about monthly. When we had a big and cheap location at the [height of the scene] we would get close to 300 people in. Nowadays, smaller locations, a big ball is for around 140 people, but most evenings get around 50-80 people. When I organised evenings, we would get mostly students (17-25) but lately the crowd has grown a bit older (like i did 😉 ) i think most people are now 25-35, mostly highly educated. Of course, you see all other ages as well 🙂 Most people come for the atmosphere, and they like the dance and the music too, in that order 😉 We’ve been giving dancing lessons as well, at several locations.

There are not enough musicians in the scene here in the Netherlands, it is quite a small country … and since it isn’t really traditional we need to import music too. Sometimes from Belgium, sometimes from France. If I am not on stage, it is usually a band from abroad. Which isn’t bad, per se, but it would be nice to have more bands and musicians just from close by.

What is next for you?

Ha ha, I am not a planning person that much. 🙂 I just try to take and see opportunities as they come along. But making sure the the bal folk scene survives and making music for it will always be on the top of my list. With my kids growing older (youngest is now 4, eldest 10) everything keeps changing anyway. 🙂

For more info on the bal folk scene in the Netherlands go to the official Dutch bal folk website.

One-Row Goodness

Castagnari Max, One-Row

Diatonic Accordion players speak affectionately of the warmth or lift generated by the push/pull action of their boxes. It’s better for dancing, they might say, or, it has a character to it that’s different from (read better than) chromatic or piano accordions. I don’t believe that this is always true — Patrick Lefebvre’s chromatic playing has plenty of lift, rhythm, and character — but when played well … wow … one-row, pushing/pulling accordions can really get a little somethin’ somethin’ going.

Andy from Vermont recently posted three recordings of himself playing Quebecois tunes on his Melodie one-row in D and I find myself completely besotted. Go see for yourself. Wonderful.

Lady Cassili’s Lilt

Off topic from the usual French stuff, the Melodeon.net Theme of the Month is music from Scotland. I’ve loved harper Robin Williamson for years. This tune, “Lady Cassili’s Lilt,” is on Williamson’s Legacy of the Scottish Harpers.

UPDATE: A listener over on Melodeon.net supplied the following information  “Lady Cassilis’ Lilt” is a very old tune (she died in 1642) and was used for the ballad Johnny Faa and the Earl of Cassillis’ Lady, the origin of Gypsy Davy/Gypsy Laddie/Gypsy Rover. It’s most commonly heard nowadays as the tune for the Jacobite song “Wae’s Me for Prince Chairlie.”

Accordion Building Workshop

In February, in Norway, at the Rauland International Winterfestival, international folk music doings were abundant. Among these doings, accordionist and singer Emmanuel Pariselle led a “build your own accordion” workshop for twelve extraordinarily skilled crafters. Norwegian photojournalist Knut Utler, who has a fascination with folk music, recorded the event. The full album of pictures from the workshop can be found here.

Emmanuel Pariselle leading the “build your own accordion”
workshop. Photo by Knut Utler.
Three treble ends in process.
Photo by Knut Utler.

A Good Question!

In comments, the inimitable Tomb asked the following question:
Alright, Professor Chapin, here’s my latest in what will be a long line of questions from a novice. The history of the bellows that you’ve published so far seems almost entirely centered in England and France. This goes against my (assumingly incorrect) impression that Italian, Greek and Spanish folk music (maybe I should just say Mediterranean music) always seemed to have some sort of bellows wheezing in it somewhere. Are the European southerners the thieves of their northern cousins’ genius?

Thanks for the question! The classic, great names in accordion making are Italian (Castagnari and Salterelle, for example) or German (Weltmeister and the ubiquitous Hohner). This is an almost criminal oversimplification, but it serves for the moment (Andy?). The type of accordion I play has two rows tuned a fifth apart (G/C). This is called a Vienna tuning (more colloquially, “quint tuned”). England, Ireland, and France have great accordion traditions, very visible in the US. But there’s also a great Scandinavian tradition (hello, my Minnesota friends) that I need to learn more about, and an Eastern European tradition. In short, every musical tradition from the Caspians to the Andes, including your Mediterranean faves, has some sort of squeezebox going for it.

Peeter Joosep on lõõtspill, at
the 2008 Lõõtspillifestival.

Very often, the traditions adopt piano or chromatic accordions for their purposes, or they stay in the diatonic world but modify the instrument to suit their needs. Estonia, for example, has it’s own type of accordion called a Lõõtspill. On this side of the Atlantic, Quebec, Louisiana, and Tex-Mex each have a well-developed characteristic style. And this doesn’t even get into the concertina thing. 

So why am I focused on mainly France, and some England? Well, aside from accordions themselves — which are, you must admit, very clever — I am especially fascinated by (enamored with? obsessed on?) the repertoire of Central France, Alsace, Brittany, England, etc. Thus the focus of this page. It’s a small slice of squeeze-world, but it’s where I’m choosing to live.