How do you start a kickass international accordion orchestra – and why would you do such a thing?
A month ago I was asked by SEED+SPARK if I’d talk about the creation of the Free Reed Liberation Orchestra as part of their arts/ecology/creativity series The Seed Hour 2021. I did it and here’s the recording of that conversation. Steve Gruverman and Matthew Bampton, orchestra members, joined for the conversation. There’s a bit of front matter, including the wonderful Jasmine Gillison singing two songs, and then the accordion talk begins. Enjoy!
Three tunes from the Bal Folk Tune Book Project. I play these on the F row of the Dino Baffetti Tex-Mex accordion because of a provocation from Martin Ellison at melodeon.net, who was curious about the sound of the low F row. This is tuned MM, so it doesn’t sound LOW, but it’s very sweet and comforting. The only really weird thing to get used to was that the F row is second button start on my box, keeps everything else in line across the three rows.
This was a piece I wrote (lyrics) for my second CD (which you can listen to over on the right, or download from Bandcamp). The idea was that there was this fictional between-the-wars crypto-anarchist, quasi-mystical accordion orchestra uniting squeezers everywhere. And this is their anthem.
I had no idea, at the time, that the FRLO would become and actual real thing nearly two decades later. I am grateful beyond measure for everyone in the group — squeezers and friends — who, I think, experienced a bit of trepidation when I asked them to sing.
There was also some emotion with the line about mothers, which should not have surprised me (mothers are complicated things). Steve said to me, “I don’t get this line about mothers.” To which I replied.
I wrote this around the time after my Mom died. It’s not really ABOUT MY MOM, just that I was feeling warmly about the idea of mothers. The FRLO in my mind, in 2006, was a … dance band that played in dives in a 1930s Svengali landscape. John Barrymore might bring Marion Marsh there while they’re on vacation in Vienna, trying to avoid the press and the police, and maybe get their hands on some absinth. The FRLO would be playing there, and they might dance, or they might not.
Two Waltzes from the Bal Folk Tune Book (but they are played in Aflat) “Lo Rossinhol” (#118) “Aure Françoise” (#116) If you’d like to support this work or just buy me some coffee Venmo is @Gary-Chapin-7 Thanks!
This march is dedicated to the wonderful British accordionist, Chris Parkinson, who was the box player for my favorite group, The House Band. That band, made up of Parkinson (also playing keyboards), Ged Foley (guitar, small pipes, singing), John Skelton (flute and bombarde), and Roger Wilson (fiddle, singing), had a huge impact on me as I shifted into folk music. To the point where I remember handing three of their CDs off to a potential band mate, and I said, “This is the kind of music I want to play.” It wasn’t just the Celtic, or the pan-Celtic, or the Breton, or any specific genre focused thing, it was the energy of the group and the mix of talents and choices. I saw them once in Minneapolis and they were all kind enough to hang out after and speak to me. Skelton provided “some comfort” on a bombarde question I had, and Parkinson gave me a tour of his instruments and laid down some breadcrumbs for me to find my way to the box as my instrument not long after.
Some four weeks ago, I was wondering what the next FRLO tune would be and was driving in the car with Sunshine (my wife) and “The Rock in the Mountain” came on. She said, “That’s the next Orchestra tune.” And it is. The images are all Sisyphus. Get it? The rock in the mountain? I guess it was low hanging fruit, but it amused me.
A few interesting things. This video has eleven musicians, but eighteen tracks of music. Many of us are playing multiple tracks, which is fantastic. Anahata’s cello makes its first appearance in the orchestra, as does Howard’s bass concertina (which I erroneously termed “baritone”), and Barb’s faux snare drum. This is the Free Reed Liberation Orchestra, and it is MOSTLY accordions and concertinas, but we are super grateful for friends like Barb, Margaret, and Eric on their respective stringy things. The backbone of this effort is the wall of reeds that comes in the second time the tune plays, laying down a solid solid melody and allowing the other tomfoolery to happen. This process does tax my computer, though. Sometimes listening to it do the math is like watching men move heavy objects. “You got it? I got it.” Two of the videos submitted refused to work, so you get a still pic of Julian and Barb. I will try to solve by next piece.
House Band type music is still “the kind of music” I want to play, even if my version would be a bit less celtic and a lot more French. I think there’s room in the world for such a thing.
The Free Reed Liberation Orchestra is Anahata, accordion, concertina, cello Matthew Bampton, accordion Gary Chapin, accordion, whistle Margaret Cox, fiddle Little Eggy, accordion Eric Johnson, guitar Howard Mitchell, concertinas, accordion Gren Penn, accordion Julian Scholefield, accordion Janneke Slagter, accordion Barbara Truex, tenor guitar, faux snare
directed by Gary Chapin All are welcome! If you want in on the next project contact Gary
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 melodeon.net 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 melodeon.net 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 melodeon.net 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.