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.

Pique Diatonique Tomorrow!

Sylvain Piron

Tomorrow is May 29, and therefore time for the long awaited Pique-diatonique in Dahlenheim, Alsace. Though, I’ll be thousands of miles away, I plan to have a picnic tomorrow and play a bunch of tunes from the Pique-diatonique tunebook. To get into the spirit of things — pour les absents — I thought I’d post recordings of a few tunes from that tune book. The first two are MP3s by the inestimable Sylvain Piron. The first is a traditional piece that I’ve heard in a number of versions, “Le Maitre de la Maison.” The second, “Le Chemin,” is a mazurka written by Sylvain himself.

Sylvain Piron, “Le Maitre de la Maison”

Sylvain Piron, “Le Chemin”

Sylvain’s albums are available as downloads for free here.

Finally, I thought I’d include one of my favorite Pique-diatonique waltzes — actually, one of my favorite all time waltzes — “Sur les Bord de la Riviére.” Played on my Salterelle, this was my second post on YouTube, four years ago.

So that’s the plan. Find a picnic. Record some accordion tunes. Ready, set …

Pour les Absents

Debauchery in Dahlenheim

It’s coming. As I reported in a previous post, on May 29, a group of Alsatian diatonistes and their closest friends will be gathering in Dahlenheim for their accordion, picnic basket bacchanal, the Pique-diatonique. As usual, I am unable to attend, and I was thinking to myself, “Self, you could surely use such an event.” At the very least, I would like to express my solidarity with the pique-diatonistes. In that previous post, I suggested a sort of international holiday, Pique-diatonique Day. The UN declined to act on my request.  C’est la vie.

Still, to all who cannot attend, on May 29, I invite you to go have a picnic and play accordion tunes from the pique-diatonique tune book. (Note that the three tunes adopted for this year are here.)

Further, if you so wish, I invite you to record yourself in audio or video, and post it to YouTube or whatever service you prefer. I will gather these recordings into an Anthologie Vidéo de l’Absent, and feature them here.

What Are They Playing In Alsace This Year?

Corrupting the youth at the pique-diatonique.
Photo by François

It is with envy that I follow the Pique-diatonique, an occasional gathering of diatoniste and their closest allies in Alsace, France. My friends, Sylvain Piron and Catherine Piron-Paira, are regular attenders, as are many of the players I met while in France. This year’s event takes place on May 29, in the village of Dahlenheim, near Strasbourg.


For those of us unable to attend, I want to suggest that we create a new holiday — Pique-diatonique Day. On May 29, the diatonic diaspora will join in spirit and music with the Pique-diatoniste. Either alone or in groups, gather with baskets, sausage, cheese, and wine (gewürztraminer?), and play a few tunes from the Pique-diatonique Tunebook, Le petit bréviaire du diatoniste d’Alsace et d’ailleurs (clicking gets you to the tunebook). The tunes are given as sheet music, and accordion tab. There are a good number of Alsatian tunes, but most come from all over France, including Brittany. Given time, I’m sure that we, les absents, can come up with other traditions to celebrate our Alsatian brethren and sisteren. Something with storks?