A Forgotten Manuscript

I am planning a busking route through the Basque country and northern Spain this year and sorting through my maps and books in a pile of travel information, I came across an old black book I recognized from years back covered in dust. Inside were mostly blank music manuscript pages, but in the front of the book using my hand writing were traditional melodies from various countries: Lithuanian, Sweden, French and Slovak. The key signature of the notation told me that I had collected these melodies for playing on my Russian accordion that was in the key of A major, but other keys showed I was thinking for the Northumbrian pipes as the keys were also G and D major and were in the range of the pipe chanter (an octave and a half).

My Russian button accordion I had bought in 1992 while I was living in Vilnius, Lithuania; researching traditional music. The accordion was a popular instrument for dances not only in Lithuania but in Poland and Russia and throughout the Baltic States. I had bought it in a music shop in Vilnius, I could not play nor had I attempted to play it before, but I had time in those changing days when Lithuania was freeing itself from the Soviet influence. I was studying at the Vilnius Conservatoire so I thought I could get advice from the people there. My accordion had a range of about 3 octaves, double reeds that was slightly out of pitch with one another that gave it its particular sound, but what I loved was the harmony buttons that gave me that instant “Russian” feel. I learned a Belo-Russian melody and used these harmonies which transported me to the literature of Bakunin, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. I also learned a few Lithuanian melodies and used the more dominant harmony buttons, the style instantly changed into something more recognisable, more European perhaps; these melodies were dance melodies from the folklore tradition. It seems this is where my interest fell away as I could not co-ordinate my melody hand and harmony hand correctly, polkas, marches anything in 2/4 or 4/4 was fine, but I could not get the waltzes and 6/8 rhythms and if I could not master it there was no point in continuing with it? Anyways, my interests slowly changed later on when I met different, less academic, folklorists in Kaunas. These people were into wood and skins of the Baltic nature/villages, not metallic instruments of the Soviet cities; and even though I did continue play it for the next 2 years I never really progressed from these few melodies that I learned in 1992.

The melodies in the book were copied from scores in the Conservatoire, my interest in Swedish music was a long standing one, I had visited Stockholm in 1990 and came home with some records of traditional music: accordion, nickelharper, anthology of Scandinavian instruments, and of course the bagpipes, there is something about the Swedish lilt, style, and presence that is soothing to me, relaxing and touches my Celtic sprit. There are only 2 Slovak melodies in the book, not surprisingly quite different in structure to the other melodies. Apart from these melodies copied for accordion I had written next to certain scores “fiddle” so apparently they had been written for violin. A couple of French melodies were penned in ink as an afterthought, possibly done at a later date.

In the back of the book there are some of my attempts at folk melody composition; flute notation without any description; a Belo-Russian melody; Kankles melodies and some compositional workings on a musical project I wrote called “A Maiden Wreath Made of Lead” which was a composition using my experiences over 4 years in the Baltic States, the composition was written during my BA in Contemporary Arts (1994-7). This is followed by other compositional workings as a follow up from “Maiden Wreath…” called “Paths” which was a musical journey into religious music of India and Pakistan, especially Qawwali, where I went on a field trip in 1995.


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