the shadow of Irish sacrifice
A short ferry ride from
Montmagny is Grosse Isle and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada.
It commemorates the tragic plight of Irish immigrants in steerage who were quarantined
at Grosse Isle in the mid-19th century, a time when cholera and typhus epidemics
claimed thousands of lives.
Fittingly, Irish music was spotlighted at
Carrefour Mondial de l'Accordéon, and seven-time All-Ireland button accordion
Whelan's poignant solo rendition of "From the Heart," his own slow
air, seemed to echo a past symbolized by the graves on Grosse Isle.
Irish traditional jigs and reels are no stranger to the Québecois repertoire.
So when Whelan joined North Yorkshire accordionist Chris Parkinson, whose grandfather
came from Atmass, Co. Mayo, for such Irish dance tunes as "The Foxhunter's"
and "The Reconciliation" on an outside stage Sunday afternoon, the audience
responded with strong applause.
Also appearing on that stage was 14-year-old
Dan Gurney, a Mid-Atlantic Region Fleadh Cheoil winner from Rhinebeck, N.Y. A
button accordion pupil of Whelan, Gurney performed solo on a jig he wrote, "Rhinecliff
Hotel," and joined his teacher and Parkinson for a medley of reels made famous
by Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman in 1934, "Tarbolton/Longford Collector/Sailor's
Bonnet." The music played by all three accordionists was an inspiration,
including a standout solo turn by Parkinson on one of his own compositions, the
plaintive "Golden Grove."
The diversity of accordion sounds from France was impressive.
The duo of button box player Benoît Guerbigny and guitarist/fiddler Robert
Thebault performed the traditional dance music of Poitou, a region in west-central
France. During late Sunday morning in the Louis Jacques Casault Secondary School
auditorium, Thebault ably laid down the rhythm and also deftly flatpicked the
melody from time to time, while the inherent swing in Guerbigny's accordion playing--and
his in-tempo calling of dance figures as he played--made it easy for guests Marif
Cofineau and Jean-François Miniot to demonstrate some of the traditional
steps popular in Poitou.
Swing was at the core of what Alma Sinti performed.
This French quintet -- three guitarists, acoustic bassist, and button accordionist
-- offered a heady mix of tzigane (music in the gypsy style), musette (post-1910,
accordion-driven music played for public balls), and jazz associated with Belgian
gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France during
the '30s and '40s.
La Belle Société is a trio led by the
highly accomplished Breton button accordionist Étienne Grandjean. There
was a broad, cabaret-like feel to much of their music on box, brass, keyboards,
and guitar, with a heavy measure of comedy shtick and circus-like antics. But
on tunes like "Retour à Paris," which began with a "Take
Five"-like piano rhythm, the quality of La Belle Société's
playing amply shone through.
Like Andreï Romanov, France's Baïkal
Duo played large bayan button accordions. Jacques Péllarin and Jean-Luc
Brunetti did a presto rendition of a Bulgarian piece, and the two brought similar
energy to tangos, tzigane, and original music.
Other native French accordionists
who distinguished themselves at the festival were Alain Chatry and Sébastien
Farge, as well as Brittany's Janick Martin. Also, the sextet of L'Orchestre du
Petit Robinson performed popular French standards for a bal musette, or old-style
ball, where a few hundred Quebecers waltzed and tangoed joyously.
At Parc de la Mairie on Sunday, an overflow
crowd saw some stirring Québecois music and dance for free. The apex of
the afternoon entertainment was la gigue, an older, often highly improvised form
of solo stepdancing in Quebec that's akin to Ireland's sean-nós style of
stepdancing. Dancing la gigue in rotating pairs were Normand Legault, Benoît
Bourque, Serge Mathon, Gilles Pitre, Érick Tarte, and Yvan Gagné,
and the excitement of their steps met with enthusiastic roars from the audience.
Quebecers Stéphane Landry, Yves Hélie, William Vézina,
Sabin Jacques, Gaston Nolet, and Frank Sears on button accordions, Normand Legault
on bones, and Benoît Legault (Normand's brother), Dorothée Hogan,
Rachel Aucoin, and Léopold Tremblay on keyboards were all in prime form
throughout the festival. Their incisive, driving style of dance music was exhilarating,
and they frequently invoked the names of Brooklyn's John Kimmel and Boston's Joe
Derrane, two Irish-style button accordionists of enormous influence in the Québecois
Raynald Ouellet's duties as artistic director fortunately
didn't deter this great Montmagny button accordionist from some spirited playing
on Thursday night as a guest with an Ontario klezmer band called Beyond the Pale
and on Monday morning at Le Brunch d'au Revoir, where live music and breakfast/lunch
were served to 650 people in Nicole Pavilion.
Other international and regional traditions of music
were well-represented at the festival. Within Canada, there were piano accordionist
Jacques Arsenault from Prince Edward Island, button accordionist Roger Lanteigne
from New Brunswick, piano accordionist and dancer Marian Rose from British Columbia,
and the guitar-accordion duo of Ti-Jardin from Newfoundland.
from Colombia, button accordionist Antonio Rivas led a trio featuring electric
bass and guacharaca (metal cylinder played with a scraper). They stayed mainly
within the tradition of vallenata, a rural, rootsy Colombian music that was hypnotically
From Italy were button accordionist Roberto Lucanero and
piano accordionist Daniele Ravaglia, from Bulgaria was piano accordionist Milen
Slavov (now relocated to Mississippi), and from Portugal was 18-year-old chromatic
button accordionist Ana Sofia Campeã.
The Lisbon-born, conservatory-trained
Campeã displayed a stunning command of the five-row, 120-bass box, at one
point playing two separate traditional Portuguese melodies simultaneously. Her
embrace of fado (mournful, moving folk music indigenous to Portugal) was magic,
and her vivacious performance of popular music ("Oh, Susanna," "When
the Saints Go Marching In," "Do-Re-Mi") on another accordion, one
with flashing lights, was a sight and sound to behold.
For five days,
from seven different stages, free-reed instruments ruled, and the music played
on them was mind-expanding in the best sense of the term. Le Carrefour Mondial
de l'Accordéon is, without doubt, the squeezebox summit of North America.
about the 2002 festival, contact:
Carrefour Mondial de l'Accordéon
Taché Est, C.P. 71
Montmagny, Québec G5V 3S3, Canada
Be sure to visit Le Musée de l'Accordéon at
the same location. The two-story museum contains rare instruments, vintage photos,
period music, reference books, and a wide selection of CDs and cassettes for sale.