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Melodeon making



There are now about fifty superb, unique one-row melodeons 'out there' that have been made at innovative workshops run by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust in partnership with Emmanuel Pariselle, instrument-maker and musician from the south of France. The instrument design was based on an early twentieth century model of instrument that was hugely popular in East Anglia amongst traditional musicians - which is why the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust was keen to provide these courses.


We ran the first-ever UK workshop in March 2007, and subsequently ran four more, in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014.


Since 2011 some similar courses with Emmanuel Pariselle have been run in other areas of the UK, where participants have built more contemporary-styled two-and-a-half row instruments.


Currently EATMT has no further plans to run another one-row making course in East Anglia.


However, there is good news if you are interested in making a melodeon with more buttons! From 2016, Halsway Manor have taken on the hosting of Emmanuel's UK workshops and are happy to discuss the possibility of a one-row building week. Halsway is a residential centre for the folk arts in Somerset, and a great place to spend a week, although of course, not quite as lovely as Suffolk! If you're interested in these courses, contact Halsway Manor directly.


Emmanuel also runs an annual workshop in July in France. The instrument specification is two-and-a half rows, two voices, fourteen basses. 2016 price was €2200 including straps, gig bag, accommodation and food. Details here (in French) or contact Emmanuel directly (in English) by email.


You can also look on the Melodeon.net forum where there is usually a discussion thread about forthcoming courses, in the News & Events section.


The Suffolk 'Melodeon Makers' workshops


All photos above from the 2013 course, showing the day-by-day progress of the instruments.


Each workshop ran for seven days, during the course of which each participant made a one-row, ten-key melodeon to very high specifications under professional and inspirational guidance from Emmanuel Pariselle (holding the yellow sign in the top centre photograph above), with the aid of tuners including Theo Gibb of The Box Place (top left in the bottom centre photograph) Marc Serafini and Rees Wesson (maker of the Clipper one-row melodeon) of Wesson Accordions. The East Anglian Traditional Music Trust organised these events as part of an ongoing commitment to the preservation of East Anglian musical traditions (of which this type of instrument was a key feature throughout the twentieth century) - and in order to support the melodeon-playing and making community in the UK.


During the workshop, participants found out more about:

  • the different components and materials

  • the mechanical functions

  • techniques for a professional level of craftsmanship

  • tuning the instrument

Prerequisites were basic woodworking experience, manual dexterity and skills, but most importantly, to be a musician motivated by working knowledge of the instrument. Co-operative working, expert guidance and high quality components result in superb instruments being made.


'The boxes are a copy of the Monarch (one row melodeon from around 1900). I like to make it in walnut wood (dark) or pear tree (light) wood with a little line of marquetry along the bellows. I use Binci a mano or Ciccarelli professional reeds and Serafini or Marconi bellows, and I put inox metal buttons and metal corners as is traditional. The options for tuning are very large, C, D, G, Bb, Eb or anything else you want. It's a group adventure, somebody can be bad at wood work and a very good reed tuner ...' (quote from Emmanuel Pariselle, designer and workshop leader).

The instruments made are of a very high quality and were customised to participants' requirements. As well as having a wonderful instrument, participants also benefited from the inestimable experience of working with a master craftsman and learning techniques for construction, maintenance and repair in the future. Emmanuel, whilst having a great sense of humour (and extremely good English) is also a demanding task master and made sure all instruments produced were of the highest possible calibre.

Emmanuel is based near Poitiers in France and has built many prototypes and commissions. In recent years musicians such as Andy Cutting and Mairtin O'Connor have designed and built their own instruments with him. Emmanuel himself is a wonderful musician. with a mastery of many styles and instruments.


Below are reports and photos, in reverse chronological order, from the five courses run by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, including a detailed description of the first of these wonderful weeks in 2007: "Take one Frenchman, many, many pieces of wood and 500 screws ..."




Melodeon Makers 5: October 2014


The fifth EATMT Melodeon Makers ran in October 2014, in Stowmarket, Suffolk.


We were once again able to use a school technology suite which worked very well indeed for the course. However, this particular course did not go quite according to schedule as we had to wait for some components to be delivered mid-week, but Emmanuel - ever the professional - worked around this and was able to rearrange the programme of work so that everything ran smoothly in the end!


As usual we had a great team of volunteer helpers during the week, including several previous makers. Their good humour (and the copious amount of strong coffee and cake they provided) helped keep everyone on track, aided by musical visitors Mary Humphreys and Anahata part way through the week.





Melodeon Makers 4: October 2013


The fourth Melodeon Makers week ran in October 2013. We had a really well equipped venue for this course, in a school technology suite. At the end of the week there were ten happy makers with instruments in five different keys across the group, so no possibility of a jam session!


The course included participants from Ireland Norway as well as a number of local musicians.


Emmanuel ran it single-handedly apart from the tuning which Theo Gibb completed in an incredible two days. When spirits were flagging mid week, it was great to receive a visit from Andy Cutting (below right with Emmanuel) who provided some "music while you work" and also showed everyone the box he had built with Emmanuel earlier in the year. Other visitors included Diana Kearsley, Councillor for Mid Suffolk District Council who is also a budding melodeon player herself (below centre, with Theo Gibb).




Melodeon Makers 3: April 2010


Click here to see the group's progress through the week: ten people building one-row melodeons under the tutelage of Emmanuel Pariselle and Marc Serafini. Facebook members can access the photos and comment via this link: Melodeon Makers 2010.


Click here for other photos uploaded during the week.


Melodeon Maker 2: October 2008

Ten people each made their own one-row melodeon, to very high specifications, with beautifully crafted components. It took only seven days ... and some late nights! Emmanuel had sourced some beautiful cherrywood for the boxes, and they became nicknamed the Golden Boxes as the wood had a wonderful glow when fully varnished. Rees Wesson and Theo Gibb both came back as assistants, and were kept particularly busy at the end of the week, when their tuning skills became crucial. We had two participants from Sweden join us for this course, both of whom play traditional English music as well as Scandinavian material.




More photographs from the 2008 course have been posted on the internet by various course members:

MelodeonMakers2008 from Karl Stevens



http://www.flickr.com/gp/26834957@N00/9bE774 from Paul Johnson


http://www.myspace.com/clarkchas from Chas Clark

Melodeon Makers April 2007 - the very first one in the UK!

Packets of reeds waiting to be opened!

Amazing progress on day one.

Emmanuel showing the next step.

Day 2: using the drilling machine.

Preparing the fingerboards.


"Oh no, I thought it was a mandolin-making course!" Keep going, Rees, it's only the second day!

Emmanuel poses for the TV cameras.

Letting the varnish dry in the evning sunlight.

Assembling the fingerboard.

Seeking refuge from the dust in the grounds of Abbots Hall.

Each box had a different marquetry inlay.

Day 3: all the holes drilled and corners being applied.

Emmanuel and Theo producing the buttons.

Dave adding the finishing touches to the varnishing.

Setting up the treble end.

Nearly ready for the buttons - hope Theo's got them ready!

Buttons finished, now it's on to the stops.

Day 4: bellows in place.

Treble end ready for the reeds ...

The reeds laid out ready to be fixed in place.

One reed block completed, three to go!

Adjusting the levers.

Day 5: checking all the bits fit together!

A touch of glamour on this one!

Seven components clamped together to make the bass end.

Day 6: Emmanuel helps Dave with tuning.

Rees demonstrates the product of all his hard work.

Celebrations on the final day.

Here's a few we made earlier ...




'Take one Frenchman, many, many pieces of wood and five hundred screws ...'

by Katie Howson

In November 2005, I was teaching students at ‘Melodeons at Witney’ (Oxfordshire) how to play the traditional Suffolk style of folk music, on the one-row melodeon. Also teaching on the course was Emmanuel Pariselle, from Poitiers in south west France. Emmanuel had with him an impressive one-row melodeon he had built recently, and mentioned that he had run a week-long course in France where students had made their own similar instruments.

That spark of an idea resulted in the UK’s first ever melodeon-making course, which took place in Stowmarket in March 2007.

From amongst over fifty interested people, eight people eventually came along to the Museum of East Anglian Life on a sunny spring morning, full of hope and apprehension in equal measures. How could they turn a pile of wood and an enormous number of tiny screws, buttons, wiggly bits of metal and unidentifiable objects into a high quality instrument that they would be able to make music on in only six days?

Emmanuel had of course put in many hours previous to driving his Citroen van for ten hours across France and southeast England to meet his expectant students. Some of them had engineering or carpentry backgrounds, some had little experience in this sort of work, but they all shared a love of traditional music and an enthusiasm for the melodeon.

Emmanuel soon took command of the group and spurred them on to work intensively through out the first day, until they could see the structure of the boxes beginning to take shape. A relaxing meal and session ended the exhausting but satisfying start to the week. By the end of the second day, they had varnished the walnut or pear-wood frames and begun to work on the fingerboards (seven different pieces of wood!) and mechanical parts. A patient film crew from BBC Look East stayed for three hours, filming what would eventually become a two-minute slot on the early evening regional news. A bemused group of visitors wondered why our students seemed to be sanding the banisters up the front door (just the right diameter to act as a sanding block for the bass end, apparently!) Day three saw the bellows and buttons fixed in place, and levers being worked into submission. Meanwhile technician Theo Gibb was busy constructing ninety inox buttons, Colin Dipper (yes, the concertina-making maestro) was varnishing the distinctive wooden ‘stops’, and I dropped by to count screws (500, if you must know!) and take yet more photographs and deliver yet more biscuits. A short break was taken to watch a DVD recording of the television broadcast, then it was time to fix straps and corners and drill yet more holes – no wonder people were glad to collapse with a hearty meal and a glass of wine at the end of another long day.

Day four started with some difficult tasks – cutting and fixing the springs, and finding someone prepared to go out and buy some bright red nail varnish in the town – guess who! Plenty of visitors, plenty of dust, and plenty more hard work. BBC Radio Suffolk reporter Jon Wright spent an hour or so with us on day five – a distinctly quieter atmosphere today, as the realisation dawned that there were only two days to go! Stops were fixed to whatever-you-call-those-things-they-fix-to (you can see why I didn’t do the course!) and some boxes looked finished … just lacking the reeds inside! This was a seriously pressurised day, and loyal supporters brought a buffet meal out to the students, so they could continue working through the evening. Just after 7.30, everyone was immensely cheered to hear the first tune played on one of the instruments by Colin Dipper, followed not long after by Rees Wesson. Everyone now sported a pair of glasses for close-up work and pleas for extra lighting were rapidly fulfilled!

Friday – the last day. Some managed to hear the Radio Suffolk broadcast at 8.45am, some were already hard at work by then. Three tuning stations were set up to get the reeds sounding sweet and coordinated, and the rooms resounded to wheezes and all manner of experimental sounds as the instruments gradually neared completion. Adjustments to the action were made, final sandings and varnishings were slotted in, and at lunchtime we cracked open a bottle of bubbly (French of course!) and looked forward to the last few hours of work and …er …clearing up! During the final evening session, people were able to down a welcome drop of beer and sit back and soak up the well-deserved compliments from visitors arriving for the following day’s Melodeons and More event at Mendlesham.

The whole experience was totally enthralling, even for me who didn’t make an instrument, and it was quite remarkable to see the progress of the melodeons as I dropped by every couple of hours. The participants worked so incredibly hard, but clearly enjoyed it enormously. Emmanuel kept up a very demanding schedule, but his huge sense of humour, and constant banter about the English-French relationship kept people going through the difficult bits (and everyone experienced some of those, I think!).

Why did we do it? Will we do it again? We did it because we felt that it was an unmissable opportunity to host a remarkable event in the UK, and that if a one-row workshop was to run in this country, Suffolk is where it should happen! We also felt it important to encourage the ever-growing local population of players to know more about how their instruments work, and to give them the opportunity to work alongside some of the best makers in Europe. And yes, we’ll certainly do it again. There is huge interest in the project, now that people have seen and heard the results and talked to the participants. Thank yous are due to Emmanuel of course, plus Colin and Theo, also to the Museum of East Anglian Life, and to the brave first participants!


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