Saturday, August 27, 2011

What every diatonic accordion listener should hear...

... is the music of Renato Borghetti.  He is simply spectacular.  Here is just one sample that I found on YouTube.
(And yes: that is a kind of "mixte" system diatonic accordion he is playing!)

(Video on/from YouTube.)

Accordeon mixte, revisited

While I only joke about my attraction to playing chromatic button accordion, my interest in the accordeon mixte system has been increasing.  I would define the mixte system as having a bisonoric right hand (treble) and a unisonoric left hand (bass/chords). This could take many forms, including a standard 3-row layout for the treble with stradella basses.

Here's an example that I found on YouTube.  (Are the bombarde and binou koz actually mic'd? Yikes!)

(Video on/from YouTube.)

On the option not listed...

(Photo from the Button Box)

The Button Box now lists a Castagnari one-row melodeon in natural mahogany on its in-stock instruments page.
It's a new instrument.  And it's lovely, isn't it?
It's also interesting that Castagnari's current catalogue does not detail 'mahogany' as an option for the one-row melodeon: it is only available in black ("nero").
It really makes you wonder -- what can you get if you are willing to ask, rather than just choosing options from a list?
A friend told me a story about how he went to Castagnari to order his box in person.  One of the brothers spent time with him and let him choose what he wanted -- wood, inlays, grille pattern.  A few months later, he returned and picked up the instrument, which doesn't exactly correspond to any available model.

Those who aren't in driving distance to Recanati are perhaps within a day's travel to Sunderland, Massachusetts, where, apparently, rare instruments await you!

The melodeon in mahogany looks great, and if it plays like the other 3 or 4 one-row Castagnaris that I've played, its a wonderful instrument.  I still think that its the nicest keyboard of any one-row that I've tried.  As of today, I notice that Button Box currently states that this particular box is "on hold" -- but if it strikes your fancy, you know where to call to order another.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thank you, merci, danke!

Thanks to my readers, Melodeon Minutes enjoyed its largest readership to date this month.  Thank you for stopping by, and please contact me (via the comment feature) with suggestions for future topics or FAQs.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Standard-tuned 3-row played to the fullest!

Eric Bonneau posted some videos on the Facebook tribute to Philippe Bruneau.

In this video, Bonneau's camera captures Monsieur Bruneau playing some amazing music on a G/C/F. 

(Note: You may have to "join" the group in order to view Eric Bonneau's videos of Philippe Bruneau.)

Low-and-lonesome hornpipes

For months, I've been meaning to record an audio tribute to Accordeonaire's observations on the "low lonesome" reed.  Here are a couple of hornpipes recorded on a one-row Melodeon in D with only the "bassoon" voice turned on.

Slowing down a tune's theme of the month for August is to take a quick tune and slow it down.  Not only does this make it possible for someone else to play along and learn it by ear, it's also an opportunity to hear something in the tune that you haven't noticed before.

This is the "Valcartier Set," played slowly on a Melodie in D.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Castagnari releases new 3-row "Mas"

Castagnari has released a new model in its lineup of full-sized 3-row melodeons, dubbed the "Mas."  How does it differ from other currently available 3-row Castagnaris?
      -- the Mas has two treble voices, with a lever behind the keyboard that presumably turns one voice off.  This would lend itself nicely to an LM ("bandonion") reed setup. (The other 2 voice 3 rows, the Rik, the Evo, the Benny, and the Big 18 lack this feature.)
     -- the Mas has a different left-side design than the other 3 rows in Castagnaris line.  The openings on the face of the left side should result in different acoustic properties -- most likely, greater projection of left-hand sound.
     -- the Mas features a flat ("sinking keys") keyboard.  This is a matter of personal taste and habit.  Its nice that Castagnari is offering this option, since all their other 3 row boxes come with closed/stepped keyboards.
     -- the Mas bass layout is different in that the 18 bass buttons are 'skewed' or offset rather than lined up in a grid.  Some players may find that this facilitates bass runs and combining bass and chord buttons across the bass rows.
     -- the Mas setup includes two bass switches for its 2 voice bass.  I assume that the switches operate the "low" bass notes.
     -- on a purely aesthetic note, the Mas is constructed out of wenge, an exotic wood.  Using a different wood (or finish) than their standard (yet beautiful!) walnut and cherry tends to be a way that the Castagnaris distinguish a 'special' box (like the Wielly, the Montmartre, the Handry 2000 series, and the Sonu).

Bravo to Castagnari for keeping the harvest fresh!

(Photo from the Castagnari website.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Craftsmanship -- Part I

     I believe that a well-played traditional tune and an expertly handcrafted object have much in common.

     The handcrafted object has a dual purpose -- it awakens a sense of beauty for the beholder, and it performs a function.  Form and function are intermingled.  A tune is a delight to hear -- and perhaps to watch as a musicians plays it -- but it also serves a social function by providing a rhythm required for a specific dance.

     In a handcrafted object, the beholder can perceive the maker's expression of individuality.  Likewise, a tune conveys the individual touch of the musician.

     Conversely, the marks of the maker of a handcrafted object bear the indirect imprint of the maker's master, and the master's master, and so on.  In some cases, this lineage extends back for hundreds of years.  I know a baker whose loaves seem to carry that kind of weight, in juxtaposition to the lightness of his own touch.  I've heard musicians play a tune in which it seemed that generations of ancestors were touching the strings.

     When an artisan crafts an object to bring it into the world, its physical presence resonates with the consciousness and focus of the processes that created it.  I cherish the memories of two fiddlers who played tune after tune, delving into memories of places and friends to bring each melody forth like a glowing jewel.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The passing of a master

Philippe Bruneau died on August 8, 2011.  His daughter, Joanne Bruneau, wrote an obituary on the Centre Mnemo website. (In French.)  (Note that the original date of his death as announced was August 7, which his family has now corrected to August 8, hence the discrepancy in some earlier obituaries.)

There is a Facebook tribute page here. (Mostly in French.)

His rhythmical style of playing dance tunes on the melodeon will always be remembered. I'll never forget the first time I heard a recording of Monsieur Bruneau playing a 3/2 brandy -- it still takes my breath away.  Please use the comment feature below to post memories of Philippe Bruneau and his music. 

(Video from Youtube.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Extraordinary three-row playing

     For those who are delving into a specific musical tradition from afar, it can be a revelation to find that some of the greatest traditional musicians are not announced to the world with slick websites and major recordings.  Denis Pepin is such a living, cultural treasure.
     There is very little evidence of Denis outside of Quebec, but he is, in my estimation, to be counted among the greatest accordionists.  So it was a joy to have found several newly posted videos of Denis on YouTube.  To "Tiroir44," who posted them -- merci milles fois! (P.S., "Tiroir" is a video production firm, so I tip my chapeau to them, and you can visit them here.)

And: even more fantastique:

Quebecois tunes on the harmonica: where to start?

In response to an inquiry, here is some information that may be helpful to those harmonica players who are seeking in-roads into the traditions of Quebec:

1. A good place to start is to listen to what harmonica players in Quebec have done. There is harmonica playing on the early Bottine Souriante recordings, Les Epousailles and Y a ben du changementGabriel Labbe, who passed away in 2008, was the quintessential Quebecois mouth harp player and tune collector, and there is a Smithsonian Folkways recording featuring him. These a just a few places to start listening -- although Quebecois music seems to be dominated first by fiddlers, then by accordionists, there is actually a LOT of harmonica playing.  Seek and ye shall find.

2. Which tunes to start with? The tune collection Danse ce Soir contains loads of standards.

Left to right: Gabriel Labbe, Rejean Lizotte, and Denis Pepin at the Ste-Louise gathering, 2002.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kimmel rises again!

Christian Maes and Emmanuel Pariselle playing Kimmel tunes. (Video by Chas Clark on YouTube.)

(P.S. These are apparently boxes that Chas Clark made in two of Monsieur Pariselle's workshops!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marche du St-Laurent

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of hearing Raz-de-Maree at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival.  Not only was it wonderful to hear Sabin Jacques -- one of the accordionists who inspired me to learn to play the box -- but I also got to bring my son, who patiently listened to the whole set!
Raz-de-Maree are playing a mix of new tunes and classics.  They actually played the "Marche du St-Laurent," which was one of the first tunes that I learned on the melodeon. Here's my own medium-tempo rendition: