Le Canal en Octobre

Perhaps one of the more beautiful accordion videos on YouTube, even with the sub-pristine recording quality.  Below is Dominique Rivière playing a Frédéric Paris tune, “Le Canal en Octobre,” from Paris’ CD Rue de l’Oiseau.

Rivière is playing a chromatic button accordion, different from the type I play.  It’s unisonorous, meaning that you get the same pitch on a button whether you’re pushing or pulling the bellows.  This is as opposed to bisonorous, typical of diatonic accordions like mine, where you get a different pitch depending on the bellows direction.*  Rivière is a versatile musician, with his finger-style guitar and bouzouki work being just as intriguing as his accordion playing.

*Trust me, accordion geeks found those two previous sentences very meaningful.

Corrupting Influence

As so many folk songs say, “You sailors take warning!”

I’m currently in a doctoral program at the University of Maine, and it happens that one of my advisors, Richard Ackerman, plays piano accordion. On the last day of class, he suggested we bring our accordions and jam a bit during break. We did, and it was good. I’m French trad, he comes from boogie woogie piano … we meet at the schottisches. Shuffle and lope along. A good time!

Apparently, one of my colleagues was deeply impressed, went out and bought a small piano accordion. He had come from Wisconsin and loved polkas — he had asked me to play a polka — and the accordions had just made him very “happy.” Fantastic! My goal exactly.

Still … the slope is a slippery one.  Consider the consequences! First you’re making a guy happy with your polka. Then he’s buying piano accordions, and not even consulting his wife about it. I like to think she would have steered him to a button box.

Melodeon or Accordion or Accordéon or what?

“So what is that you’re playing?”

I get that all the time. They’re pointing at my accordion.

“Isn’t that supposed to have … like … piano keys or something. Is that a concertina?”

Saltarelle Pastourelle III, a magnificently fine button
accordion, or melodeon, or accordéon diatonique.
photo by Brigid Chapin

No, it’s not. It’s a diatonic accordion. A concertina has hexagonal sides with buttons on … nevermind.  They glazed over at “diatonic.” So, it’s a kind of accordion, I tell them, and send them on their way. I don’t tell them that there’s disagreement on this topic even in the accordion community!

I belong to a fantastic on-line forum, based in England, called Melodeon.net, and there, it seems, any rectangular, free-reed box with buttons and a diatonic push-me-pull-you (bisonorous) action going on is a “melodeon,” not an accordion. An accordion would be … well … not entirely sure, maybe unisonorous piano keys or buttons. Historically, “melodeon” has been used for button accordions with one row of buttons, like Cajun accordions, but my guess is that, at least in England, the word “melodeon” has gotten legs.

In France it’s an accordéon, which is where my nom de blog comes from, though it’s a rogue derivation, a figment of caprice. A person who plays accordéon is an accordéonist, properly. Colloquially, though, a person who plays a melodeon is called a diatonist, because the kind of accordéon a melodeon is, is an accordéon diatonique. Which is what l’Accordéonaire plays, though he is a figment of caprice. In America, he plays an accordion of some sort, and it’s not a concertina. That’s something else.

Bernard Loffet Recordings

Just had some coin to spend so I treated myself to downloads of Bernard Loffet’s two CDs, Action! and Moteur! and, honestly, I can’t say enough nice stuff about them.  I got them on Amazon for $9 US each. They are top notch Breton music, in every way.  Action! it seems, was recorded at an actual dance, and the shuffle-ish feet action really adds to the energy.  The recording is very clear, and the melodeon sounds amazing.  What a sound his machines get!  Also, Action! features a pach pi that I recently put on YouTube … I’m not saying it means anything … just had one of those, “Hey, I play that!” moments.  Moteur! (the older of the two) begins with Perroch’s “Scottish du Regret,” done very nicely — cocktail accordion style — with a lot of swing and variation.  The rest is a marvelous clinic of Breton accordion.  And, again, beautiful sounding accordions, beautiful playing.