Accordion Life Today

Meet the Dutch accordion duo that combine music and art

Accordion Life Today

possibly the most beautiful sheet music book ever published

In early February, Jean-Pierre Guiran and Cherie De Boer prepared to give a concert in Leeuwarden, a city of some 100,000 in the north of the Netherlands. The concert venue was near their home along the coast of the Wadden Sea, so they traveled by car with their accordions, Jean-Pierre’s Hohner Lucia III and Cherie’s Guerrini Classic with cassotto, the same instruments they have used for some 30 years. Most of the 50 or so concerts for the coming year are within driving distance, since they will take place in Dutch cities or in nearby German cities such as Bremen, Hamburg, and Düsseldorf. The real rehearsal had already taken place during more relaxed moments, but the concert preparation the day before the performance had given them a mixture of renewed energy accompanied by a “feeling of paralysis” according to Jean-Pierre. Their program, as usual, had not been set beforehand; just a half hour before coming on stage, this was determined by the atmosphere of the place, the people, the weather and their mood. A small box contained sheets of paper with little poems, anecdotes, and whatever they might tell the audience, and there were Post-it® notes with song titles. The program was made at the last moment by choosing a combination of sheets and stickers. Even then new choices were made during the performance, all contributing to a freewheeling approach that kept things fresh. Their audience was treated to a musical world tour: French café music, tangos and sambas from South America, merengues and calypso from the Carribean, just to mention a few.

The Beginnings
Like many future accordionists, as a young girl Cherie heard the instrument on the radio and was attracted by its sound. She told her parents that she would love to play accordion, and luckily they found her both a teacher and a borrowed instrument. Within a year the one on loan was replaced by a little, blue, Italian accordion paid for on installments. She stopped playing for a time during her teenage years, with the accordion under her bed, but later an accordion-playing friend encouraged her to take up the instrument again. Unlike Cherie, Jean-Pierre never saw an accordion until in his twenties. However, he had often heard accordion music on the radio in the Netherlands during its popularity in the 50s and 60s. The music played was mostly popular Dutch songs which he didn’t like so much, so he explored alternate musical sounds by teaching himself a little guitar and organ. Later, after seeing an accordion for the first time when in college, he borrowed one for a year and started playing and enjoying the instrument. He even started composing some of his first melodies at this time, including Helena and Solitude Heureuse, both of which have become familiar tunes to devotees of Accordéon Mélancolique. His organ background meant he was already acquainted with a piano keyboard, and the accordion’s left-hand buttons of bass and chords were reminiscent of playing the guitar. He was delighted to discover that the accordion felt like a complete orchestra in his hands!

First Meeting
Here is a charming story from Jean-Pierre about how the two met: “We met in the 80’s. Cherie just decided to play again after putting her instrument under her bed for years. There was a lot of change and experiment in society at that time, e.g.,Women’s Emancipation. She was accompanying a girlfriend, who also played accordion in a female theatre group. Just when they had an “important” show, the girlfriend went ill. And Cherie didn’t feel confident enough to do it just on her own. That was how I came in, somebody knew me. But there was one problem, I was not a girl! The solution was this: we were sitting next to each other at the right part of the stage. But I was sitting just behind the curtain! Ha ha, it was fraud! But I let it happen. In the weeks following we generated interest in each other. (Me first!).” At the time of their meeting, the 26-year-old Jean-Pierre was playing his accordion in restaurants with the 62-year-old gypsy violinist Lembosh Wilca. According to Jean-Pierre, “He taught me, the shy boy at that time, to play kneeling down for ladies in restaurants. But unfortunately he passed away shortly after. Requests for gigs kept on coming, and that was the moment Cherie made a big decision in her life: she quit her job at the municipality and restarted the study of playing the accordion. We started to offer us as an accordion duo, playing for parties and in restaurants.” Jean-Pierre and Cherie made a commitment to “squeeze” for a living and so, in 1984, Accordéon Mélancolique was born. Both Jean-Pierre and Cherie agree that the most difficult part of playing the accordion is managing the bellows. They say that it is the bellows that make music come alive. However, accents with the bellows affect both the bass and melody lines of the piece, which is not always the optimal musical choice. But as an accordion duo they solved this problem by dividing the parts, one playing the melody and the other the accompaniment. Their highly nuanced dynamics are readily evident in their recordings. The listener will also “hear” frequent intervals of silence. As Jean-Pierre has said, “ ... by using silence next to sound as building stones …, even the most simple pieces receive an intense thrill and give rhythmic melodies an extra sparkle.”

In the late 90s, the duo issued their first CD L’imparfait du Coeur. The recording was highly successful—indeed, it was chosen as the best accordion CD of 1999 in Sweden by the accordion magazine Dragspels Nytt. This acclamation was the stimulus to begin performing public concerts, where audiences were eager to buy the CD. They found that giving public performances was musically fulfilling and financially helpful to support their family that now included two sons. For over 20 years, Accordéon Mélancolique has pursued a busy schedule of performance, recording and music publishing. Their music has been adapted for a number documentaries and films. For example, some of their pieces are heard in the acclaimed documentary Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies, co-produced by Martin Scorsese. In 2008, the Julliard School of the Arts staged the dance Because There Isn’t Any, a work by Johannes Wieland, with songs mostly by Jean-Pierre.

Their Music
Accordéon Mélancolique has also been active in the recording studio, and the duo now has seven CDs available. There is good news for accordionists wishing to play their music: each CD is accompanied by a book of sheet music published by Reba Productions in the Netherlands. The CDs and sheet music include duets and solos of pieces arranged or composed by Jean-Pierre. The arrangements are tunes from a number of music traditions around the globe, and even the original compositions of Jean-Pierre are inspired by a variety of musical genres. The CD and songbook Les Invités is quite typical, at least of the first five CDs, so it will be described in a little detail. First, the collection includes several arrangements of world music: two klezmer pieces, a traditional Swedish folksong, Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, and three of Nino Rota’s themes from The Godfather movie. The other eight pieces are original compositions of Jean-Pierre: a Brazilian free clave Bougainville, a swing Ma Chérie, two Caribbean claves Padikiti Dikitika and The Dancing Tortoise, the harp waltz Por el Camino Real from Venezuela, and two French café pieces Requiem pour une Rose and L’arriveé des Invités. The book also contains Jean-Pierre’s Indonesian-inspired Tanah Tumpah Darah, which has a beautiful cantabile melody that floats above a driving kronchong rhythm. The subtitle, “her native country,” is a reference to Cherie’s birthplace, Jakarta. All of the songbooks are “Pour 1 ou 2 Accordéons,” and indeed they work nicely either for one or two players. Another possibility is to have a violin, flute, clarinet or other melody instrument play the Accordion 1 line.

The duo’s sixth and latest CD/Songbook, Aquarelles, became available last year. It is a little different from the others in being thematic. As its subtitle, Waterworks, suggests, the 15 original compositions of Jean-Pierre are all related to water in some way. Jean-Pierre describes Aquarelles this way; “It started all with a composition that we named Mermaid. Playing that song we had a strong association with water. And then the Yann Tiersen-ish pieces like Quicksand and Water Cave bubbled up. Minimal music pieces like Aquarelle d’Amour and Ebb and Flow arose while recording the CD. We have now lived eight years within walking distance of Wadden Sea in the north of the Netherlands, and before this we lived 25 years near a small lake in the middle of the country. My father was a sailor in the merchant navy and later worked at a shipyard. Finally, Cherie made a weeklong voyage over sea, from Indonesia to the Netherlands, a single day after her birth. So clearly, our bond with water is deeply engrained within us.” All of the six songbooks are graced with Cherie’s paintings, making them possibly the most beautiful sheet music books ever published. She is mainly focused on impressionistic oil paintings on canvas, but also creates aquarelles and pastels. She finds similarities between her art and her music: sound and silence become color and no color, harmony in music is reflected by harmony in colors. The painting shown here is included as a two-page spread at the centerfold of Aquarelles. The piece Swan & Swan, including Cherie’s painting can be found on the following pages, reprinted here with the kind permission of Reba Publication.

About the Authors
Emma Carscallen is a senior at Moscow High School, Moscow Idaho, and co-authored this article as part of her Extended Learning Internship project on accordion. Duane DeTemple, a retired professor of mathematics at Washington State University, served as Emma’s Extended Learning Internship mentor; he played accordion as a boy and recently started to play again after an accordion-free gap of nearly 50 years. Enjoy the Music Swan & Swan on the next pages!

From the Spring 2017 issue of the digital magazine, Accordion Life Today.


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