France is Different – The Accordion is Alive and Well and living in Southwest France

Friday night was the night the local music school, based in rooms above the primary school, held its music night. All the students of the school played their little pieces, some performed solo and some in groups. The music teacher got to be a star for the night playing in half of the performances.

It was Friday night and we felt like wandering down the road the check out the performances. They used the Foyer, the village hall with a stage. The event started at 8.30pm and we were running late so we raced down the road to the Foyer, but an 8.30pm start really means 9.15. Kids stay up late here. Dinner is always after 8pm. Kids’ hour at the local village fetes starts at 10pm.

Many of the students were new at their instrument, so you were listening to the music to see if you could recognize the tune rather than to hear its beauty. The students were confident whatever level they were playing at. Maybe it helped that each musician was related to about 80% of the audience.

The night started with an accordion, which set the tone of the evening. We heard guitar solos from new guitarists, accordion solos from new accordionists, some accordion duets and trios and a couple of solo drummers. The drummers play along to canned music – I heard U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday and a jazz number. A keyboard player doodled along to Enola Gay, a wonderful song that still works even with a ten-year-old playing along. He was enjoying himself so much that he wouldn’t stop playing until the teacher came by and switched off the accompaniment.

A few performances in I stopped attempting to focus on the musicians and just looked around. Otto was bored. Minty was commenting on everything in her non-words with a voice louder than the amplified musicians. Jean took her out to the entrance hall where she got plenty of attention from strangers and kept quiet. The kids in front of us were looking out of the window at the other kids playing outside. The rows behind us were chatting. People were walking in and out. It was more a social gathering than a performance.

Otto and Minty went outside for a break and chased each other around the Foyer/Mairie complex. They played with the musicians that were also spending their time between performances running around. At one point I lost Otto. I asked one of the musicians, Maxence, if he had seen Otto. They knew each other from the school bus. He organized the others and within a minute Otto had been found. He had decided to take his running further than the Mairie and was going around the village church. Jean took the two little kids home to bed and I stayed with Lucy.

At the intermission Lucy had a snack, of which there seems to be only one kind at these events – crepes. Five lemon and sugar crepes rolled up tight and all wrapped in piece of tinfoil. You pay your two Euros and get a packet. Lucy ate four and half and drank an Orangina, which seems to be the French kids’ drink of choice. Because of all this sugar she crashed and fell asleep on my lap two songs into the second half.

The music got more interesting. There were a few performances from teenagers who knew their instruments well and could play beautiful music. It built up to an ensemble piece with eight accordions onstage. At first Maxence was the drummer and he kept slowing down and speeding up. I was a little frustrated – I play bass and keeping the beat is important to me. The next song the accordions stayed onstage but another kid switched in to play the drums. He kept the beat but the accordions went so much slower so that the drummer played an extra bar every now and then, lapping them several times. I realized that it wasn’t Maxence who had the timing problem, it was the music teacher, playing lead accordion, who was ignoring the timing of the drum beat. Maxence was trying to follow along and keep the group together.

At the end the musicians played songs that the audience could sing along to and a choir went on stage. I was the only one in the room singing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ in English. Since I didn’t know the real words after the first verse I sang the They Might Be Giants version (“In the space ship, the silver space ship, the lion waves goodbye”).

It was a good evening. I met a few new people, spoke to some people in a new context and saw the kids play around with the locals. This is all part of becoming a little local ourselves. The evening ended at midnight and I carried Lucy home on my shoulders. Finally, joy of all joys, everyone in the house slept in past 9am the next morning.


3 Responses to “France is Different – The Accordion is Alive and Well and living in Southwest France”

  1. 1 Jean
    June 24, 2009 at 15:10

    Man, I do do with a crepe. And what song were those eight accordions playing?!

  2. July 20, 2009 at 04:13

    hmm, maybe Ivy is French. We regularly scandalize the people around here by having a baby at a restaurant past 8:00.

    I’ve got a good friend who’s in the process of moving to Paris as we speak. I may just have to get over there 🙂

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