Sunday, August 11, 2013

Melodeon Acquisition Disease

Taking home a Van der Aa
This was a fun weekend. I had a leisurely cuddle with a ménage à trois of Gaillard and Van der Aa accordions. Usually I only manage a quick clutch at a festival vendor's tent, surrounded by the din of other instruments. Instead I was able to hold each in turn, comparing and contrasting their finer points. True pleasure.

Last winter Chris Ryall, a contact, had suggested that Ghent would be an excellent port from which to base a summer's diato cruise. Then, recently having been at a festival in France, he found himself calling on Ghent on his way back to the ferry across the channel. We met up at Mazurka Clandestina and he crashed at Ballenstraat for a couple of nights. Fortunately, he arrived in a car loaded with accordions and generously invited two of them to party with my Gaillard.

In Ghent at sessions I often trade boxes but mostly end up simply holding the stranger. I have found the triple whammy of Dutch reversal, standard basses at the chin and different accidentals stop me cold. My fingers gawp in astonishment when they press the right button and out comes the wrong note. It is like stroking a cat and hearing it bark rather than purr. Trying to play a tune involves plotting all the differences and adjusting on the fly. If I were a better musician, perhaps.

In much the same way, I found that playing Chris' boxes with their accidentals on the outer rather than inner row was like trying to tell a joke in a newly-learned foreign language. There were long hesitations as I groped for notes and my effort often trailed off before the punch line. But given the entire weekend to practice, I got to know those strangers a bit. Their differences could certainly pay off with more familiarity.

Fast and responsive with silky action.
I found myself drawn to the Van der Aa. It had such a silky action and drove like a sports car. A twitch of the bellows and it would accelerate through a curve with amazing responsiveness.

My own last-century Gaillard is a two reed instrument and sings only soprano. In contrast, Chris' more modern Gaillard is a bandonèon voiced LM instrument. It has a satisfyingly deep growl when the lowest of the right hand reeds are engaged. It was like hearing an opera star, all tricked out in a gold grill-tierra, suddenly switch to singing bass. Quite intriguing.

Both boxes had Chris' custom air button arrangement that effortlessly gulped in huge breaths, making my box seem somewhat asthmatic. That's an air passage to envy.

So, it was a satisfying weekend, but may prove expensive. I am left thinking that I simply must acquire more accordions, having caught a virulent disease common among melodeon players. Gee thanks, Chris. Thanks a lot.

1 comment:

  1. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you, Doc. And thanks for the stopover and your own music. The air button that gulps air like a whale is not mine. It was developed by Bertrand Gaillard aided by Pignol/Milleret. I showed the idea to Frans van der Aa a couple of years later. Best wishes. I am now also retired, and typing this from Helsinki!