Monday, 5 May 2014

Bayan time (21)

I haven't mentioned the progress on the bayan for a while. It's not through lack of interest, but because it's quietly become a fixture of my life.

Today I played at an outdoor charity event at Passage House Inn. I did a few well-rehearsed pieces: Autumn Leaves, Strange (the Grace Jones cover of Libertango), and the St James Infirmary Blues (with the intro and outro heavily influenced by Hugh Laurie's brilliant piano-led arrangement). It went very smoothly. About a month ago I was invited to play (among some seriously better musicians) at a leaving party also at the Passage House: a half-hour slot. I regularly play at the Jam Sessions at the Lighter Inn at Topsham, and I think I've overcome the performance anxiety that was such a bugbear not much more than a year ago. Plus I'm getting comfortable with singing while playing, and even a bit of improvisation.

It's all gone in unexpected directions. I tackle very little conventional accordion repertoire, and have focused in finding pieces from other genres that work (I'm currently working on a couple of Cole Porter songs). Although I practise most days, I doubt that I'll ever develop major-league finger dexterity for very rapid pieces. But the beauty of the bayan is that its compressed scale lends itself to rich chromatic chord work - it pays not to be scared of very dissonant intervals and wide intervals (two-octave chords are easy). There's strong resonance and overtones, so even fourths and open fifths have a great deal of complexity. I'm working at using those possibilities to the full: making up in atmosphere what I can't do in speed. I'm finding a lot of inspiration from players such as Maria Kalaniemi (check out Niityt ja vainiot) - while I can't match the virtuosity, it gives me an idea of the textures possible.

I don't know how far it'll go; I feel a little regret at having found the instrumental love of my life so late, and under such fraught circumstances. But the 'leap of faith' at having taken up such an uncommon instrument (at least in the UK) has over and over proved itself a risk worth taking. It has taken me to a happy, productive, highly distinctive, and now even respected, place.

- Ray

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