Thursday, March 31, 2011

This just made my day! (Melodeon-wise, at least!)

What a gem:

(Video from YouTube.)

What a classic box!

I wish they still made them like this...

"Recording King" (link to listing on eBay)

I have no connection to this auction, and have never played one of these... I'm just saying that I like the looks of this box, especially the grille.  Understated glitz! 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two of my favorite melodeonists...

... playing a handful of my favorite tunes? What more could I ask for? Perhaps a glimpse of Benoit Bourque clacking away enthusiastically on the bones? Oh, what do you know, there he is at the 2 minute mark!

(Video from YouTube.)
Marcel Messervier, Sr. (the melodeonist with the pompadour) is a legend, and it is a special treat to be able to view this recording.  Despite being a prolific composer and dance band musician, there are very few recordings of Monsieur Messervier.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Meanwhile, with under 1,000 hits...

... there is some (rare) footage of THE Master, Monsieur Bruneau.  (Video from YouTube.) Enjoy:

No, this isn't me!

... but I'm am very curious about this video. (Video from YouTube.)  Not only do I wonder what effect it has had on the world, since it has been viewed over 80,000 times (!), but I am also really unclear about what is going on.  Is this guys accordion (a seemingly innocent Melodie) really controlling the MIDI?  Can anyone figure this out?  He sure does seem to enjoy all that music that he is making!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One Solution to "Melodeon Face"

Gilles Poutoux has come up with a nice solution to the well-known phenomenon of "melodeon face":

(Video from YouTube.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Cajun one-row accordions for non-Cajun music

If you want to play Cajun music on a diatonic accordion, there is no question: even if you learn on a Hohner, you'll eventually want to upgrade to a Cajun-made accordion.

However, there are other types of music played on one-row accordions: English, French Canadian, and Irish trad have historically featured one-row accordions (along with other squeezable instruments).  So, if you play one (or more) of these types of music, is a Cajun-made accordion the right choice for you?

There are several points to consider:

1. Tuning: Cajuns tune their accordions in a manner that is not ideal for French Canadian, English, or Irish traditional music.  Without getting into details here, you will either need to find a Cajun builder who understands this and can adjust his tuning accordingly, or you will have to have a tuner work on the accordion after you buy it (this will likely cost between $100-$300 depending on the tuner).  Marc Savoy and Tina Pilione ("Acadian Accordions") have made accordions for French Canadian players and they have developed a tuning for these customers.  I used to have one of these boxes and can say that it is a suitable tuning for the music; however, it is not the manner in which Mélodie and Messervier (in Montmagny) tune their accordions.

2. Action and responsiveness: Not all Cajun accordions are created equally. Glowing references found on the internet are not necessarily written by people who really play the music. Caveat emptor!

3. Action, again: I've noticed that the rods connecting the button levers to the pallets, on many Cajun-made accordions, are rather flexible.  With time, the rods flex under pressure as the springs hold the pallets to the action board.  Eventually the button action becomes higher!  Note that the rods on a French Canadian accordion (such as Melodie) or an Italian made accordion are less flexible and will not develop this issue.  If it happens, it can be corrected.  But how far are you from Louisiana, and how much with the shipping cost? What will the builder charge to make this adjustment?

4. Overall build quality: I am a big fan of autodidacts -- people who teach themselves to do something.  At the same time, I recognize that self-taught accordion builders do not necessarily understand the consequences of their choices of material, joinery, finishes, glues, etc.  When you choose a Cajun accordion, keep this in mind.  It's a good reason to choose a builder who has been making a lot of boxes for a long time, i.e. Marc Savoy. Or, if you feel up to assessing the talent of a newer builder, try out one of his or her boxes before you decide to buy one.

5. Those four stops: I've heard that some Cajun builders tell their customers not to use the stops -- just keep them in the on position. According to those builders, the stops are only to be used by a person in the process of tuning the reeds.  In my estimation, this indicates that the builder lacks confidence in his ability to construct the stops in a mechanically durable, airtight manner.  In Cajun music, the four-voice sound is pretty much the standard, with rare exceptions.  However, in French Canadian, Irish, and English music, you will find occasion to use the stops to alter the sound of the accordion.  Seek out a builder who expresses confidence that you can raise and lower the stops on a daily basis without problem!

6. I have often been asked which one-row accordions I prefer.  I can only recommend the makers whose instruments I have tried and cannot speak to the quality of accordions that I have never played.  I have played many different Cajun boxes, and the ones that I have found to be the best, for non-Cajun music, were "Cajun" brand made by John Roger as well as "Acadian" brand made by Marc Savoy and Tina Pilione. That said, I would still encourage non-Cajun players to seek out Melodies (made by Sylvain Vezina) and Messerviers (made by Marcel Messervier Sr. and Marcel Messervier Jr.), as well as the Castagnari one-row melodeon, in order to establish some base-lines for comparison.  Try as many as you can.  Accordions from the same maker can differ widely in quality.

In the end, it will be your skills that contribute the most to your ability to capture the right "sound" for the type of music that you play. However, it has been my experience that the technical demands of French Canadian and Irish music are such that having a competent instrument should be your starting point, rather than an instrument that works against you.  And remember that a lot of great players play Hohners!

Postscript: If any Cajun builders would like me to review their boxes for use in French Canadian music, if you cover postage both ways I'll be more than happy to review your box. (If the review is negative (zero stars), I'll send you the review comments without publishing them; if the review is postive (one to three stars), I'll publish it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On the "quickness" of a melodeon

     In assessing the playability of a diatonic button accordion, I consider the accordion's "quickness" to be one of the most important factors.

     Years ago, I believed that the speed of the keyboard's action was the key element that determined the instrument's quickness.  Some buttons feel hard to press down, but have a quick return; others can be pressed effortlessly, but seem slow to return the pallets to the action board.  It seemed to me that a well-fettled accordion would achieve a balance in spring strength that would render the box "quick."

     Now I believe that the keyboard's action is important, but not the most crucial contributor to the impression of a box's quickness.

     Reed response is critical. An accordion with reeds that respond instantly to small amounts of airflow will render an accordion fast enough to play, say, a French Canadian reel, regardless of how sluggish the keyboard action feels.

     The quality of the reeds plays a huge role in reed response, but even lower quality reeds can be adjusted by a skilled accordion tech to achieve a very high level of performance.  I met French Canadian accordion builder Marcel Messervier in 2002, and he told me that he spends a lot of time adjusting the set of each reed in order to achieve the "nervous" (his word!) response that Quebecois players demand.  Depending on the players preferences, builder Sylvain Vezina (Accordeons Melodie) will choose longer scale (quicker but quieter) or shorter scale (slower but louder) reeds.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A simple flutina

This is a picture of an "accordéon français," now commonly called a "flutina" -- just a very simple one, without fancy abalone or mother-of-pearl, without intricate marquetry or purfling. (I found this picture on the internet in 2003 -- perhaps on eBay -- and saved it for my reference.  If it belongs to you and you would like me to remove it, please send me a note and I will remove it promptly!)
These instruments were imported from France, en masse, to the United States in the late 19th century.  They are single-voice instruments, often with "drone" bass notes or tonic/dominant accompaniment notes.  Like melodeons, each bellows direction yields a different set of notes.
Their modern successors, if they have any, seem to be Castagnari's Lilly, Saltarelle's Epsilon, Loffet's Touptit, and of course, Stormy Hyde's Shantym'n.
However, all of the above feature eight bass/chord buttons on the left hand.  The old French flutinas, to the best of my knowledge, never had more than a few bass drones on the left hand.
I'm intrigued by these instruments, and although I've seen several, I've never had a functional/playable flutina in my hands!