Swannanoa Gathering – Breton Pot Luck

It would seem a perfect segue-way from France to Swannanoa would be an introduction to the Celtic music of Brittany. And fortunately for me, there were two fabulous musicians at SwannyG who hosted a “pot luck” session on Breton music. David Surrette (who was also our mandolin instructor for the week) and David Cantieni demonstrated several tunes and also introduced us to the bombard, a traditional Breton instrument. Other than a few passing moments such as John Skelton’s annual traditional Breton dance and hearing about Alex’s tour in Brittany, this was really my first introduction to Breton music and I very much enjoyed it!

The first set of tunes we actually learned in David’s mandolin class, but I’m including them here as it relates more to the topic at hand. These types of tunes are known as Andros, named after the dance (l’en dro in French). These are 3 tunes that one can pick up quickly as they are quite simple and fairly predictable. However, they are easily made more interesting by creating variations on the melodic pattern, especially effective if several people are playing the same simple tune.

Listen to a set of three Andros.

Note that even though David is playing these with lots of variations and accompaniment, the basic tune can be easily understood. Personally, I think this would be a cool set of tunes for our session class (hint hint). Even though they will be new to everyone, we can pick them up easily, and a nice change from the usual jigs and reels.

The next tune was played on the Bombard (Bombarde in French) by David Cantieni. The Bombard is one loud instrument that apparently requires quite a bit of air pressure from the player. It is one of several instruments that as far as I know are fairly unique to this region. Another is the Biniou, which was described as mini-bagpipes. Apparently the Biniou is an octave above the Bombard, and though we didn’t have a demonstration, I’m guessing packs a similar sound. Clearly, these instruments would have no trouble being heard at an outdoor dance (in the next town).

Listen to a tune played on the Bombard.

The last tune was my personal favorite from the pot-luck which was a call and response on flute and mandolin. Note that the tune is in 6/4 time. Normally, the call and response would be between a Bombard and Biniou, giving the Bombard player a chance to catch his or her breath. One thing that I thought was especially enjoyable musically is that the Bombard (or in this example, the flute) doesn’t come in at the beginning of a part, but instead several notes ahead of the measure. Quite tasty!

Listen to an example of Breton Call and Response.

I look forward to exploring these very unique Celtic tunes in the future, especially as it represents a perfect intersection of Karen and my interests. Time to start planning to attend Festival Interceltique in the not so distant future. Anyone care to join us?

One thought on “Swannanoa Gathering – Breton Pot Luck”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *