Saturday, October 25, 2008

More Than Music at the Jam Session

Mark Savoy builds cajun accordions and operates a music center just east of Eunice, LA. The Savoy Music Center is a modest building and Mark himself is, on the surface, a modest person. To stop there, however, would miss the intensity that he devotes to his work and the preservation of the Cajun culture.

At a young age, Mark (center in the photo at the left) was drawn to the accordion. I read that he said, "I fell in love with the sound of it. It did something to me. I can't really describe it; it's almost like a spiritual happening."

He began repairing accordions, eventually became one of the finest makers of the instrument, and was instrumental in the evolution the Cajun accordion, being the first to introduce fine Italian-made reeds rather than the cheap, inferior ones that had been used up to that time.

I don't understand the construction of the cajun accordion, but I understand he uses 46 reeds (4 per note instead of 2). Having such a large volume of reeds housed in the relatively small body is what gives the small Cajun accordion its "big" sound. I don't know if Mark built this accordion (right), but I wanted to present some idea of how beautiful this instrument is.

To us, the sound of the instrument is loud, sometimes piercing, but captivating. In the minds of many, it is the signature part of the sound in the music of the region. And it is the culture of the region that Mark is devoted to preserving. He vigorously "campaigns" for learning (Cajun) French and maintaining the traditions and musical origins of the culture among the younger generation of the region.

It is my guess that the Saturday morning jam sessions held at the Savoy Music Center serve as a classroom for the preservation of the culture.

In the audience were "regulars" and "first-timers." As two of the middle group, Kate and I have been drawn to the sound of the accordion and the unique rhythm of the music.

Among the players was a 12-year-old blind youngster who played the piano for over two hours of the three-hour jam session. His grandfather told me that the grandson also played the guitar, but three months ago said he wanted to learn the piano. Mark taught him the basic chords, and the boy took some lessons. This morning, he played the accompaniment line by ear for all of the songs the group played.

Admiration, inspiration, and fascination--all in one jam session at the Savoy Music Center.

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