I stumbled across Winse Saunders on the YouTube machine this evening. I don’t know anything about him except he’s from Newfoundland and he squeezes the hell out of that accordion of his. If any readers know anything about Mr. Saunders, please comment.
I came across a nice little NPR piece on the YouTube machine about “El Parche”, the late Esteban ‘Steve’ Jordan. Mr. Jordan was an individualist, very hard to pigeonhole into a category. Conjunto? Latin jazz? Cumbia? He had a very distinctive accordion sound. Mr. Jordan played a signature Hohner diatonic button accordion and he used effects like Echoplex and the like to create a sound much different than we normally hear out of that instrument.
Ran Kan Kan
and finally, Summertime
I’ve been teaching a young fellow how to play the triple row button accordion for about a year and a half. He’s doing quite well. That is to say he has all the tools he needs to be a good player. Just add practice. He’s planning to go to university next year and has taken a weekend job to save money for school, and for now he’s stopped taking lessons. I hope he continues to play because it will enrich his life in all kinds of ways. He’s at a point where he doesn’t really need me, if he can build the discipline to practice without knowing he’s got to see a teacher each week who has expectations that he’s applied himself. Video taping himself my be helpful for him. It’s a good way to see your own problems.
I had another student for a while who wanted to learn an instrument I didn’t play and who lived in another country. How strange is that? She would come see me every month or so when she was in town visiting her daughter and son-in-law (She lives in the US). She had learned a few songs from her father, who can no longer play. Her instrument is the C-griff chromatic button accordion. It’s an instrument I know a good bit about, and I understand the fingering patterns but I can’t say I really play it. I play triple row diatonic button accordions. To you maybe they both look like squeezeboxes with a lot of buttons but the differences are night and day. The most fundamental difference is that on the instrument I play, each button produces a different sound when you close the bellows and when you open the bellows, kind of like a harmonica. As well, my instrument is set up in 3 diatonic scales and I don’t have access to all the notes in the chromatic scale. In any case, she made really great progress (as I told her the more you practice the better a teacher I am). Even though she had to develop some of her technical chops on her own, in some ways the situation worked out pretty well. Along the way though, she sustained an injury related to her playing, or at least made worse by her playing, so she’s had to back away from all the practice she was doing and I haven’t seen her in some time. I hope she’s able to continue playing. She is more than capable of advancing on her own.
For a short while, I had yet another student. He wanted to learn to play diatonic button accordion on an instrument tuned to the Continental tuning system and he wanted to play the traditional music of the Minho region of Portugal where he is from. I know of a fellow who teaches this specifically and I attempted to send him to this guy, but he was determined that I be his teacher. I play some Portuguese tunes, but I’m no expert on the regional music this fellow wanted to learn. The different tuning was no big deal. I was able to diagram it out for him. The fingering is only a little different than the Hohner or Gabbanelli tunings I’m used to. He had this powerful 4-reed box, an Italian accordion tuned for Portuguese music. These guys tune their accordions to what we call a wide open musette, the wettest of the wet tunings. Let me try to explain what I’m talking about. Accordions have multiple reeds tuned octaves apart. If the reeds are exactly tuned an octave apart, the tones will sound like one rich tone. That is dry. If you tune the reeds for every note just a little off, say a couple hundredths of a half step, it still sounds in tune, but you get a little bit of a tremelo effect. That is wet or musette. The more off you tune, the greater the tremelo until at a certain point it just sounds out of tune. Many Portuguese players tune their boxes as wet as they can and still sound in tune.
Here’s an example of an accordion with wet tuning:
…and here is an example of much drier tuning…
Anyway, I digress. I explained to this fellow that the only way he was going to make progress was to practice practice practice, and each week, he would come to see me, explain why he had no time to practice, struggle through the lesson, and go off to not practice more. I guess he came to his senses and realized he just didn’t have the time or the discipline to learn this and he just stopped coming. Good thing because I was ready to tell him I couldn’t teach him any more.
All this is to say that I’m not teaching right now, and I’m not looking for a student. If someone tracks me down and really wants to learn, I’ll consider teaching again, but I’m happy to take a break from it too.
I’m posting the following video for my button accordion student Elliot. This clip starts out with Mr. Hibbs performing Mussels in the Corner and then The Leaving of Liverpool, two tunes Elliot plays pretty well.
Looking back in the fullness of time, Mr. Hibbs looked quite nervous on stage. His playing sounds relaxed but his body language is less so. His version of The Leaving of Liverpool was played faster than some groups play it, but I think it works out well in the context of the show. It looks like he’s playing a Hohner Erica.
Here’s an assortment of nice button accordion performances from all over the place I dug up on the YouTube machine. Let’s start with a Norwegian player named Øystein Nicolaisen.
And now over to Ireland with a performance by Conor Keane.
And to Newfoundland…Danny Benoit and Bernie Retief
How about a Basque fandango played in Buffalo Wyoming…
And finally here’s the Los Angeles Vallenato band Very Be Careful – playing in Bogotá
Check out this fantastic video about Joe Derrane, an Irish-American button accordion player. It was uploaded to YouTube by the MassCulturalCouncil.
I love his accordion too, with the square buttons. I’ve never seen one like it.
I don’t know very much at all about Scottish button accordion music, but based on this performance, I could grow to like it quite a lot.
I’ve been suggesting to one of my button accordion students that he should try to feel the rhythm of the music through his whole body. I found a delightful video of a Fogo Island kitchen party that illustrates exactly what I mean, and I showed it my student today.
There is so much joy in this music!
Your Daily Dose tonight is some music from a Zydeco band called Fernest and the Thunders, led by a button accordion player named Fernest Arceneaux. Mr Arceneaux is gone now, but I remember seeing him and his band live here in Toronto back in the 80s. It was really that show that got me interested in the button accordion, even though I didn’t so much as hold one until over 15 years later.
I think it was the Horseshoe they played at. I remember there was a good crowd and lots of dancing. Fernest stood off to one side with the vocal mic and his accordion and his frattoir (scrub-board) player stood centre stage, a really unusual set-up. Between sets, we enjoyed a beer with a couple of the guys in the band. I don’t remember their names. I do remember they were really fine players and they were really happy that people enjoyed their music up here in Canada.
I bought one of their records (the vinyl kind) at that show and got it autographed. My favourite cut on that record was a cover of Kansas City, nicely done in the Zydeco way.
A fellow contacted me during the week asking if I was the guy who taught button accordion. It is true that I have done a little bit of teaching. I have one regular student and another occasional student. I hadn’t thought about seeking another but this guy seemed really determined to learn.
He came over today for a first lesson. He has a nice accordion, with the notes arranged in what I’ve heard called the continental tuning. His box is a GCF like mine but the note arrangement is a little different. The G row has 12 buttons, the C row has 11 buttons and the F row has 10 buttons for a total of 33. I normally play either the 31 or 34 button system (sometimes called the Hohner or Gabbanelli systems), which are set up such that the C row is longer than either the F or the G row. As well, there is one button on the C row tuned so that the same note plays on either the push or the pull. This doesn’t occur on my accordions. All this is no big deal though. The fingering is close to being the same. The other thing I’ll say about his accordion is it is tuned very wet or what is sometimes called wide open musette. This is very typical with instruments for the Portuguese market.
My new student doesn’t have a musical background so we’re starting at the beginning. We talked about scales and notes and rests and notation and I had him start playing the C scale pushing and pulling air through the bellows. On diatonic accordions, the fingering is different pushing or pulling. This week he’ll work on some basic reading and getting used to playing the scale and then move on to some simple exercises I put together. After that, he’s going to move right into learning the melody side of a simple song.
I have to say that I enjoy teaching, and while I hadn’t planned for a new student, as long as this fellow works at it, I’ll be happy to help him learn.