Paris Musette

Photo credit: Shawn Lipowski via Wikimedia Commons

If I were to close my eyes right now and imagine myself at an outdoor cafe in Paris, there would, I’m sure, be a certain sort of music playing in the background. I bet you know the kind I’m talking about: Charming, romantic, maybe a little jazzy, and heavy on the accordion. Music that sounds like fresh croissants smell.

That’s a style of music called “musette”, and many accordion players (myself included) love it in the same way–and for many of the same reasons–that banjo players love bluegrass and harmonica players love the blues. It’s tailor-made for our instrument, fun to play, and sounds great!

For a deeper look–and listen–into musette, here’s Jean-Pierre Beaurenaut’s 1993 documentary Paris Musette, which traces the genre from its start in the folk traditions of 19th-century rural France, through the influences of Italian immigrants, two world wars, and American jazz.

At least I think that’s what’s going on in the film. It’s in French, and mon français n’est pas très bon. But regardless of your own language skills, it’s still worth checking out if only for the great performances (both “live” and from archival recordings) and the vintage scenes:

 

Free Sheet Music for Accordion: The Irish Washerwoman

St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon, and if you’re an accordion player, you’re going to want to know an appropriate song or two. Well here’s arguably the single most famous Irish jig for you:

The Irish Washerwoman (pdf)

Granted, in certain “serious” Irish Traditional Music circles this tune is considered quite daggy and overplayed. (You wouldn’t want to start this one off in a session, for example.)

Elsewhere though, it’s an instantly-recognizable crowd-pleaser that’s perfect for setting the St. Patrick’s Day mood. It can be a lot of fun to play too!

In my arrangement, notice how the bass note usually doesn’t play in the second part of the measure unless you’re changing to a new chord there. That’s a good way to give the melody a bit of space while still providing a solid rhythm. And in this sort of music, the melody is king! (In fact you might want to omit the left hand entirely the first time through and only bring it in the second time around.)

Irish Underground

Looking for a unique way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day weekend? Why not come and spend a Saturday afternoon 333 feet below ground in a cave?

Bluegrass Underground Cave Photo

Yup, a freakin’ cave! How cool is that?

My friends the Nashville Celts will be putting on their trademark rousing show of Irish music and dance in the “volcano room” at Cumberland Caverns, as part of the Bluegrass Underground concert series.

They’ve once again invited me to join them on accordion. It should be a blast!

Tickets are apparently going fast, so grab ‘em while you can.

Why We Call Notating Music “Engraving”

Whenever I need to whip up a musical example to use in one of my accordion student’s lessons, or a string arrangement for my wife’s quartet, or the free accordion music I post here now and then, I sit down at the computer and knock it out using notation software. I started out with Finale, then switched to Sibelius, and eventually became a huge fan of MuseScore, which has been my current go-to for the past several years.

MuseScoreScreenshotBut long ago, when I first learned to write notation back at Berklee, none of the above programs existed yet, so we did it by hand, with a pencil or pen, a straight-edge, and a pad of pre-lined notation paper.

I thought that was pretty old-school until I watched the video below. I always knew that notating music was sometimes called “engraving” (The notation options screen in Sibelius is called “engraving rules”, for example), but I never gave much thought as to how it got that name. Behold:

 

 

Free Accordion Sheet Music: The “Original” Auld Lang Syne

This time last year I posted a few free arrangements of Auld Lang Syne, for any accordion player out there who happened to find themselves in need of playing along on New Year’s Eve.

But did you know that the familiar song we all know may not actually be the original version? There’s evidence that Robert Burns initially set his lyrics for Auld Lang Syne to a slightly different melody, only later having it changed to the one most of us know today.

And while Burns himself was reportedly not too fond of that first version, I think it’s by far the superior of the two. Some traditional folk singers, such as Mairi Campbell and Jim Malcolm, have recorded wonderful versions of the original melody. Give them a listen and see what you think…

And if you want to play it yourself, here’s the sheet music for an accordion arrangement of it I put together (inspired largely by the Jim Malcolm version):

Auld Lang Syne (Original Version) for Accordion

(I’m using a lot of left-hand minor-seventh chords in it. If you’re not used to playing them, it may take a bit of practice. The basic idea is that you play the root of the chord on the counterbass row, then add a major chord button from one row higher–that is, closer to your chin. So a Bm7 chord would be the counterbass of G, which is a B bass note, played along with the D major chord button.)

Enjoy! And have a great new year!

Stars Wars: An Object Lesson in How Music Makes a Difference

This week, after 32 long years, there’s finally a new Star Wars movie coming out! (“Prequels? What prequels?” is my official stance.)

And yes, I Fandangoed my tickets two months ago and will be going Thursday night! I might even dress up as one of my favorite characters. Anyone know where I can get a Max Rebo costume on short notice?

Anyway, I also thought this might be a good opportunity to post a couple of videos for the occasion. We’ll start with the first “teaser” trailer for the original movie (what’s now called Episode IV: A New Hope, but was just plain-old “Star Wars” to us back then). Even casual fans will notice a few differences from the finished film:

The trailer was released in December, 1976–five months before the movie came out. So the logo is all wrong, and the special effects aren’t quite finished. Check out the plain white energy blades on the lightsabers and those blasters that don’t shoot bolts of light yet!

But most glaringly, it’s missing John Williams’ iconic, Oscar-winning score, which wouldn’t even be recorded until several months later, in March of 1977. Instead, we hear a “temp track” of generic classical music (apparently based on Vivaldi’s Winter).

Boooooring!

If you knew nothing about Star Wars except that trailer, would you want to go see it? Without that classic, triumphant dun-dah-duntada-duuuun-daaaah, would you expect this weird little space movie to become the enormous worldwide success that it did? I don’t think I would.

And if you need more proof of the huge impact John Williams has on the world of Star Wars, check out this hilariously awkward look at what the final Throne Room scene would be like if the music stopped waaaay too early:

Yup. Music sure can make a difference.

EDITED TO ADD:  But hey, don’t take my word for it! I just found this great audio clip from a recent ClassicFM interview , where Harrison Ford himself talks about that wonderful music…

Upcoming: Accordion at the Nashville Jazz Workshop

njwsignThis Thursday, 12/10, I’ll be bringing my accordion and sitting in with the Nashville Jazz Workshop Trio, backing up the students of Christina Watson’s “French Chansons” class. This is sort of the “final exam” part of the class, where the students get to perform what they’ve learned in front of a real, live audience.

If last week’s rehearsal is any indication, it’s going to be a very cool show. The set list is full of classic French jazz standards such as La Vie en Rose, La Mer (“Under the Sea”), and Sous la Ciel de Paris (“Under Paris Skies”). And they’ll all be sung in French!

Details are at NJW’s website. It’s open to the public, completely free, and BYOB. So grab a bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy and come on down. J’espère te voir là-bas!

njwstage

photo credit: Scott Hammaker

Classical Music Musings from GroupMuse

If you haven’t heard of something called a “house concert”, well, it’s pretty much just what it sounds like:  A small-scale musical performance in someone’s home or apartment, with maybe a few dozen or so audience members sitting on sofas and chairs or just plopped down on the floor. Usually a hat is passed around at the end to collect money. A pretty cool idea in this age of giant festivals and Enormodome arena shows!

Over the past few years, GroupMuse has brought people together to put on over a thousand classical music house concerts around the world. They have a Kickstarter campaign to help support and expand their mission. It’s in the last few weeks, and I encourage you to consider backing it if you can (I have!)

Anyway, as a tie-in to the Kickstarter, the founder of GroupMuse did an insightful “Ask Me Anything” interview recently. A few highlights…

The truth is, when classical music institutions are only beholden to the patronage class, the experience and atmosphere is invariably a reflection of that class. We want the experience to be an active reflection of the component members–listeners and performers [...] so that it doesn’t just reflect the priorities of benefactors who can’t be alienated, for fear that un-diversified support would dry up.

“Classical music needs saving!” is actually the opposite of what we should rally around, because if you say “classical music needs saving” to someone who doesn’t yet care about or identify with classical music, it’s kind of like saying “blacksmithing needs saving!” The response is often, “I don’t care; why not just let it die?”

The rallying cry needs to be “Our world needs saving, and classical music can do that!”

From a social perspective, classical music works so well just because it’s so scalable. No equipment, no amplifiers. All you need is four chairs and a floor!

You can read the whole shebang for yourself over on Reddit.

 

Tour Diary: Sittin’ in with the Celts

Last weekend I was invited to bring my accordion and join The Celts for their marvelous Celtic Roots of Great American Music show at the Missouri Theater in St. Joseph, MO. It was a great opportunity to play all sorts of fun Irish, Scottish, bluegrass, country, and pop music.

I managed to take a few pics along the way…

More Free Accordion Sheet Music for Oktoberfest!

People enjoying large glasses of beer

“Prost!” Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gruß Gott!

As I type this post, it is less than 24 hours until the opening of Oktoberfest in Munich!

And while the party there runs until October 4th, here in the states the various Oktoberfest celebrations might not even get started until then–maybe even later. All of which means plenty of chances for we accordion players to bust out a few good beer-drinking songs.

So here’s my arrangement of Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit. If you’ve ever been to a German-style beer hall, you’ve probably heard this short little anthem more than once, and possibly taken part in the customary toast-and-chug at the end.

Note that there are two versions in the PDF file:  A basic one on the first page and a fancy one on the second. The basic one should be easily playable by anyone who has gotten through most of Palmer-Hughes Book Two. The fancy version is, well, fancier. You’ll need some experience playing two and three-note chords in the right hand as well as counterbasses in the left hand.

And if you need more drinking music than that, check out my arrangement of Du, Du Leigst Mir Im Herzen.

Tschüß!