Sunday, April 3, 2011

A versatile session box

     I just got home from a really wonderful session -- there are so many tunes!

     Anyhow, the elbow-to-elbow crowded space made me more aware of how much space I'm taking up with multiple boxes.  I had my D one-row and three-row GCF.  There were two other accordionists who had multiple boxes.  A mandolin player and a banjo player also each had a melodeon.  At any given time, there were 3 to 5 boxes on the floor.

     Then there are fiddlers, who of course manage to play every tune that comes up with just one instrument.  So at times like this, I envy the simplicity.
     It would be nice if there was a handy three-row melodeon that "switched" keys -- with one set of reeds (single voice) in A/D/G and one set in G/C/F.  Single voice bass with bass fifths (instead of chords) that also switched.  Compact size.  Dark wood so as not to frighten the fiddlers.

     This would not be an accordion to suit all needs.  But it would fill a gap, and it would solve the problem of too many instruments on the floor.

    Alternatively, I could take up the fiddle.


  1. NO! I absolutely forbid you taking up the fiddle! What sort of session were you in? When I did sessions (mostly in St. Paul) everything was in D or G, except for the occasional A-turn. When I was at what we would call a session in France, everyone had G/C boxes.

    I agree with your premise, though. Key-versatility is not the forte of the box, BUT the ability to transfer fingerings from one key to another SIMPLY by picking up another box, is the forte of the box. It's a very elegant solution, even if it does take up space.

  2. This was a Franco-American session at a musician's house -- not a weekly event. People drove from hours away to be there!
    Mostly Quebecois tunes, some Breton and Centre France, and some Daniel Thonon tunes.
    I was as happy as a lark!
    There are plenty of A tunes in the Quebecois fiddle repertoire. Really an ADG box would be perfect. But at this particular session, G/C/F//A/D/G would have been a compact solution!

  3. Dare I say (running backwards very fast) Saltarelle Bourroche?


  4. Sure, if I was looking for a chromatic box, and even a D/G/accidentals box would provide a convenient enough chromatic capability to "play all the tunes," but I play only traditional diatonic systems -- one-row, two-row, three-row. I acquire tunes by learning them within this system. The chromatic button accordion, in its compact forms like the Bourroche, certainly appeals to me, but I'd be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I'd sooner learn the C#/D since the one-row in D is my "native language" on the box.

    I also understand, and agree with, the suggestion that someone take up the chromatic button accordion instead of diatonic boxes when the person is really trying to play a kind of music that is chromatic in its nature, i.e. within a tune (or more likely, a modern composition) containing chromatic runs, lots of key changes among keys like C# minor, then E major, etc. And that is clearly not what I am looking for!

  5. It would be nice if there was a handy three-row melodeon that "switched" keys..

    They're called MIDI melodeons ;)
    The session sounded wonderful,only wish I could have been there. Enjoying your blog from North Wales, GB. All my best wishes.

  6. Hi Tom,
    Glad to hear from a long-distance reader of "Melodeon Minutes."
    The MIDI melodeon indeed fulfills the surface requirement of being able to switch to many different keys/button configurations.
    Unfortunately, they aren't for me. The problem is the sound, and my sensitivity to hearing nuances and perhaps detecting them in other ways in the connection between the physical movements of playing the instrument and the sound that comes out. I play the kind of music that I play because of what I hear and what it feels like to play a real instrument. Just like I don't substitute a handful of vitamins for real food, I don't want a MIDI instrument, especially for playing music with other people. For me, the advantage would be the "silent practice /headphones" option for practicing at night without disturbing others, but again, I believe that I would miss the nuanced feedback of real free reeds!
    I understand that some people like them -- good for them, I'm glad they found something to enjoy. I'm sure that there are also people that enjoy taking care of "digital" pets, but again, not for me. There is no accounting for taste!

  7. I did seriously consider switching to the small CBA model a few years ago, but, honestly, am put off by the insane (to me) bass. Also, baby-with-bathwater. I've put a lot of years into the diato, and I LIKE the way its system makes decisions about the music -- the semantic environment of the instrument -- appeals. Still, I'm always impressed when I hear someone playing the small chromatics.

  8. I agree with you, Accordeonaire. That's why its different when someone wants to plays in several traditional keys than when a person wants to play music that demands a chromatic button accordion, i.e. it's not the same thing when someone wants to play fiddle tunes in modes related to A, D, G, C, and F major diatonic scales than when someone wants to play Eric Satie, or modern French musette (as opposed to classic musette, for which diato mixte is arguably appropriate).

  9. It's interesting to consider how much someone like Marc Perrone has worked to keep his diatonic frame, but plays music that is as chromatic as if he were playing a CBA. I would love to know what his keyboard layout looks like.

  10. First of all, it is possible to play most "chromatic" music on a standard three-row layout by learning to cross all three rows and use the accidentals at the low end of the keyboard.
    Denis Pepin showed this to me, not just playing (on a GCF) a tune in G, with accidentals, but also playing tunes in Bb and D with lots of chromaticism. Add a stradella bass to a standard GCF and you get an accordion mixte with lots of possibilities.
    For that matter, it is possible to play quite a lot of chromatic music on a standard 2-row in G/C.
    Marc Perrone's music is a special case. My understanding is that his keyboard layout has changed over the years. At one point it was a three-row, in which redundant notes in a given bellows direction were replaced with accidentals as you move from the outer to inner rows. So on a GCF, since the G row already contains "pressed" G's, the G's in the C row are replaced by G#. The pressed C's in the F row are replaced by C#. I can't remember any more detail, but you see what kinds of possibilities this generates.
    More recently, Perrone seems to have been playing on a special 4-row Castagnari. Not sure about the layout.
    Of course this layout leads a diatonic system player toward more and more "chromaticism." Someone who has spent a decade or more playing diatonic boxes, and who wants to branch out into more chromatic, composed music might want to go in that direction. My perspective is that it is misleading to emphasize (on the internet) these capabilities of a diatonic box. Yes, diatonic boxes are not truly diatonic and they have chromatic possibilities, but full chromaticism in practice is something that is acquired only after climbing to a relatively high plateau of skill.
    As a simple demonstration, imagine an intermediate player learning to play "Fisher's Hornpipe" in F major on a C/F diatonic box. Now, for a gratuitously chromatic arrangement of the tune, the player needs to shift it up a half step to F# major. Now he will spend hours working out a very twisted fingering pattern, which is nevertheless possible. Now his bandmates find that they want it to shift into B major, then to Bb major. Now, he can learn to do this on the diatonic box. The notes are there. But playing that intermediate level tune in those four keys on a C/F box will soon reveal itself to be a feat of very advanced diato box playing.
    Compare that to doing the same thing on a chromatic button accordion in either c or b system. The player learns the tune in any key, then effortlessly uses the same fingering, in a different keyboard position, to transpose into all the other keys.
    I respectfully submit that if a player is looking to do "musical" stuff like this (not my taste, but hey, they are studio musicians who have to do things like this all the time), the diatonic box is not the right path for that person, even though all the notes are there, and even though there are a handful of diato players who can prove that it can be done!
    If someone hears modern French musette and loves it and wants to play it, and they haven't already invested tons of time in mastering a diatonic system, then a fully chromatic system, in which the fingering pattern of each key has relatively equal "weight", is probably a better choice than a diatonic box or a diatonic box that has been tweaked to more easily allow for chromatic play.