Book of Bourrées from Berry

Blog reader Mark van Nieuwstadt wrote me informing me of a bourrée tune book he had come across. It’s in Dutch, he writes, “but it contains an interesting collection of bourrée tunes from the Berry region, and detailed descriptions of dances. I happen to know that the writer, Harry Franken, was a very knowledgeable amateur musicologist.”  Aside from this collection of bourrées, Franken “collected many tunes in the field and published an impressive collection of tunes from the southern part of the Netherlands.”

The tune book is called Youp ‘Nannette. It is posted as a series of images on Picasa and can be found here.

My Set List

I’m playing at the Water Street Cafe this afternoon and compiling a set list. At the same time, I’ve begun recording a CD, and putting together a set list for that. It’s interesting that the live set list is much longer than the recording set list (which is continuing to evolve). Tunes that I feel completely comfortable playing in a bustling cafe, don’t meet my standards when committed to recording — and both of those are small subsets of the large group of tunes I play in my living room. So here’s the live set list. Links, in some cases, to videos.

Appreciation: Daniel Thonon

Daniel Thonon was a first contact for French music for many North American players. Residing in Quebec, the multi-instrumentalist — accordéon, pipes, hurdy gurdy, recorders, harpsichord — was one of several key members of Ad Vielle Que Pourra, which was a featured group on the Green Linnet label, and their sub-label, Xenophile. Being associated with Green Linnet during the Celtic music boom of ’90s brought them into my sights. I was playing Irish flute and whistle at the time, and, honestly, had a narrow view of what music ought to be. Hearing Thonon and crew rip through their “New French Folk Music,” much amazement ensued. Worlds opened up.

Daniel Thonon, with the accordion that came
after the legendary Mory
Ad Vielle Que Pourra used traditional French instruments to produce a music that blends tradFrench, Breton, and Quebecois music. There are also touches of Parisian bal musette, and even some baroque. (Thonon is an impressive harpsichordist.) But rather than producing a sort of “more eclectic than thou” folk music, Ad Vielle Que Pourra produced music with a focused vision that captivated me. Perhaps this was because almost all of the music was original, thoroughly in the style of trad. 
Throughout his time with Ad Vielle Que Pourra, Thonon played a bit of everything, most prominently the vielle à roue. I was not a box player at the time, and didn’t notice in that context what extraordinary things he was doing with his Castagnari Mory. In 1997, Thonon released Trafic D’influences, a recording that focused on his box playing. It has since been re-released as the less-obscurely titled, Master of the Diatonic Accordion. Again, worlds opened up with this set of mostly original-in-a-traditional-style played on a two and a half row, twelve bass, beautiful sounding instrument. (Aside: when word got around that the Mory had been destroyed in an airline baggage accident, more than one player bowed their head in grief.)
When I moved to Maine in 1997, I met Matt Szostak, a hurdy gurdy player and builder from Camden. I was just beginning my accordéon journey, hearing La Chavanée for the first time, and Matt was a fantastic resource for me.  It also happened that he was friends with Daniel Thonon. Matt put me in touch with Daniel, and when I took a trip to Montreal in 1999, I drove out to Daniel’s for a lesson on the box. I can’t say for sure what I learned there — other than the fact that Daniel Thonon is a fantastic, generous person, and a great teacher. Daniel’s approach to the lesson was to watch my very rudimentary playing and make kind suggestions. “Have you thought about this?” or “Did you know you could do this?” Without being able to say exactly how my playing changed, I improved tremendously in that hour and a half. Certainly, I came away encouraged, enthused and loving the box and French music more than ever.
I haven’t heard much out of Daniel Thonon’s camp in recent years. Listening to his catalogue as I write this piece, I can tell you I very much would love to hear more music from him. There are no videos of Thonon playing box on YouTube, but here’s a vid of an accordéon group in Helsinki playing one of Daniel’s compositions. If you notice in the comments section, Daniel himself “liked” this.

Tribute: Diatonic Liaisons

Around thirteen years ago I was at the Button Box and saw a tune book, Diatonic Liaisons, by Alexandra Browne. An amazing piece of work, it compiled original tunes by Frédéric Paris, Dave Roberts, Bruno le Tron, Alain Pennec, Alan Lamb, Andy Cutting, Trevor Upham, and Marc Perrone. With eight tunes by each of these worthies, along with extensive biographical notes, this was an amazing, unprecedented collection. On top of that, it was simply beautiful, with the music hand rendered, incorporating unique symbols to capture the particularities of button accordion practice. On any other day, I would have picked up the thing for twice the asking price.

But on that day I was purchasing an instrument and had no excess supply of the ready to get the book.  “Next time,” I said, and then never saw it again.

Until a few months ago. Who should show up on Melodeon.net but Alexandra Browne herself, and she doesn’t know, but is there any interest in this book … and there was a lot of interest. A print run was done, and copies were made available (also by PDF), all for a reasonable price. So, I’m recommending the thing unequivocally. If you’re interested in obtaining a copy, contact Ms. Browne at alexandra.browne6@btinternet.com.

Quebecois Tunes

I don’t usually do second-degree blog posts, but Andy in Vermont has uncovered a web site devoted to Quebecois tunes that looks amazingly good. The link is over at his Melodeon Minutes.

I should mention that when my French pals were here, they quietly chastised me for doting on their European French tradition while ignoring the lively Franco and Quebecois traditions right on my doorstep. I do enjoy Quebecois music — though my time playing Irish trad has made me wary of reels. Does this mean I’ll need a one-row accordion in D?

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.