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[Breton flag]Breton Music Page

Welcome to my Breton music page! This page contains information about the music of Brittany - types of tunes, unique instruments, notable musicians and groups, and more.

General Information

Brittany, located in the northwestern part of France, is an area that the average person doesn't usually consider to be Celtic, but it is. There are a few instruments in the Breton tradition that are unique, and the types of tunes that are played are not found in the other Celtic regions. As with the other Celtic music traditions, Breton music has a variety of tunes for dancing and a wide variety of vocal music. I've found that Breton music has a very unique sound that is quite different in some ways from the music of the other Celtic lands. There are two things I've discovered so far that really stand out about Breton music - Scottish-style pipe bands called bagadoú, and a singing style known as kan ha diskan.

The bagad (sounds something like "buh-GAHD") is a very unique part of Breton music. A bagad (plural: bagadoú) is organized like a Scottish pipe band and typically consists of Scottish highland pipes, bombardes and drums. In my mind, the one thing that stands out most about bagadoú is their originality. They just seem to play so may types of tunes from many parts of the world. (I heard a bagad play a tune called "Dardanos" once - I think it might have been a Greek tune, or something similar. Can you imagine that...a band from Brittany playing a Greek tune on Scottish bagpipes?) All the music I have heard from bagadoú so far is impressive to me - I honestly think it has more musical impact than the music I've heard from Scottish pipe bands. (And let me tell you, that's no small accomplishment.) I used to have links to some pages on various bagadoú, but all the sites have changed hands or have ceased to exist, so I've had to remove them.
YouTube link - Bagad Breig performing at Lorient, 2007

Kan ha diskan ("chant and counterchant") is a traditonal Breton style of singing. In kan ha diskan, one singer (usually referred to as the kaner) begins singing a song. When the kaner approaches the end of a verse, a second singer known as the diskaner joins in and sings along with the kaner for a short time. Then, at the beginning of the next verse, the kaner stops singing and the diskaner sings solo until near the end of that verse, where the kaner joins in again. This process continues back and forth throughout the song. An instrumental style similar to kan ha diskan is used by traditional Breton sonneurs (instrument players), particularly with the pairing of the biniou and bombarde.


Notable Musicians & Groups

Barzaz
I haven't had the opporunity to listen to a whole lot of their music (in fact, until I found one of their CD's in a music store last year, I had only heard one track from one of their albums), but I've heard enough to know that they belong on this page. The vocals of Yann-Fañch Kemener, one of Brittany's preeminent singers, are featured rather prominently and are the main reason I enjoy their music. But, the instrumental backup from the rest of the group doesn't hurt either.
  • Group members:
  • Yann-Fañch Kemener - vocals
  • Alain Genty - bass
  • Gilles Le Bigot - guitar
  • Jean-Michel Veillon - flute
  • David "Hopi" Hopkins - percussion
Dan Ar Bras
Dan Ar Bras is considered by some to be the best Celtic guitarist in the world. He has played with renowned musician Alan Stivell (more info below) and is a former member of the French folk band Malicorne. He also played with Fairport Convention, a British folk-rock group, and is also an accomplished soloist.
Gwerz
I've never heard any of their music, but after doing some research I came across their name quite a few times. I'm also familiar with several of their members from their work with other groups. I don't know anything about this group's style of playing since I've never heard their music, but I thought they deserved to be on this page anyway.
  • Group members:
  • Soïg Sïberil
  • Bruno Caillat
  • Jacky Molard
  • Alain Genty
  • Erik Marchand
  • Youenn Le Bihan
  • Patrick Molard
Kornog
A very influential folk group from the 1980's, Kornog played an important role in introducing Breton music to the people of North America. The group was originally started by Jamie McMenemy, Soïg Sïberil, and Christian Lemaître in 1981, with John-Michel Veillon joining a year later. Soïg Sïberil was replaced in 1985 by Gilles Le Bigot, and the band continued on until 1987, when they disbanded. Fortunately, the band re-formed in 2000 after being apart for 13 years. Here's their current lineup:
  • Group members:
  • Christian Lemaître - fiddle, viola
  • Jamie McMenemy - bouzouki, mandolin, vocals
  • Nicolas Quemener - guitar, vocals
  • Jean-Michel Veillon - flute, low whistle, bombarde
Christian Lemaître
A former (and now current) member of Kornog (you just read about them), Christian is also known for his work with Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham and John McGann as part the original "Celtic Fiddle Festival." Christian is now in the "third coming" of the "Festival" (along with Kevin and Johnny), which, incidentally, now features the guitar playing of Soïg Sïberil. (Small world, ain't it?)
Pennoù Skolm
Another influential Breton folk group. I've heard some of their music, but I don't really know much about them. I have finally found a listing of their group members, though.
  • Group members:
  • Patrick Molard - uilleann pipes
  • Christian Lemaître - fiddle
  • Jean-Michel Veillon - flute
  • Soïg Sïberil - guitar
  • Jacky Molard - "special effects"
Skolvan
Once again, I haven't heard much of their music, but after doing some research, I found that there are some "familiar faces" in the group.
  • Group members:
  • Youenn Le Bihan - bombarde, pistoñ, biniou
  • Gilles Le Bigot - guitar
  • Dominique Molard - tabla, bodhrán, darbouka, cajon
  • Bernard Le Dreau - soprano saxophone
  • Loïg Troel - diatonic accordion
Soïg Sïberil
Another former member of Kornog, and current member of the "Celtic Fiddle Festival." He plays excellent accompaniment on guitar, but is equally accomplished at playing solo. According to something I remember hearing on "Thistle and Shamrock" once, he wasn't involved with music at all until age 21! (You wouldn't know it from listening to his playing, that's for sure.)
Alan Stivell
Alan Stivell is considered by many to be a "pioneer" in the field of new age music. His exotic and unusual arrangements of tunes put him in the spotlight and helped to raise awareness of new age music worldwide. It also helped to open the door for Breton folk music, a door which other groups and musicians (most notably Kornog) have since "walked through" successfully.
Jean-Michel Veillon
Yet another former (and current) member of Kornog. After reading some information about him on the Internet, I learned that not only is he a very talented musician, he's a musical pioneer. His playing of Breton music on the wooden flute has made the flute a part of the Breton musical tradition. That's quite an accomplishment! He is also an excellent player of the bombarde and is very good at composing tunes.

Unique Instruments

Biniou koz
The biniou koz is a very high-pitched Breton bagpipe. It has a single drone and is played in much the same way as the Scottish highland pipes, with the player blowing air into the instrument rather than using a bellows to provide the air supply.
YouTube link - "Suite en-dro" - 2 an dros played on biniou koz and bombarde
Biniou bras
The biniou bras is the Breton name for the Scottish highland pipes, which are not that uncommon in Brittany. The Breton style of playing the biniou bras is very different from the traditional Highland style of piping, although I haven't been able to find out any particular details on those differences.
Bombarde
The bombarde is a member of the oboe family, and, much like the biniou, has a very high-pitched sound. The bombarde is often paired with the biniou in traditional Breton music.
YouTube link - "Suite en-dro" - 2 an dros played on biniou koz and bombarde
Pistoñ
The pistoñ is actually an oboe which is played with a bombarde reed. Youenn Le Bihan of the group Skolvan introduced this instrument into Breton music.
Veuze
The veuze is a type of bagpipe that is native to southern Brittany. It is not as high-pitched as the biniou koz but it also typically has only a single drone.
YouTube link - "Al Cantara - Veuze Joyeuse"

Types of Tunes

Note: Sheet music and MIDI files are available for each tune in this section. Just click the "Sheet music" link to view the sheet music, or click the "MIDI file" link to listen to the MIDI file. You can also save the sheet music or MIDI file by right-clicking the link and selecting "Save As", "Save Link As", or "Save Target As" (depending on which browser you're using) on the menu that appears.

An dro [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
According to something I read once, an dro means "the turn," which probably describes the type of dance that typically accomanies this kind of tune. Every example of this type of tune I've come across is in 2/4 or 4/4.
Dañs fisel [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
The dañs fisel comes from the central part of Brittany, and is probably my favorite type of Breton tune. In the liner notes of "Korong," Kornog's latest CD, Jean-Michel Veillon describes the dañs fisel as "one of our most spectacular dances."
Dañs plin [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
I've heard a few of these, and even composed a couple, but I really don't know much about them other than the fact that they're typically in 4/4 time and seem to be rather fast-paced, with some sixteenth notes and triplets in them.
Gavotte [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
Gavottes are dance tunes which are typically notated in 12/8 or 4/4. As with most Breton tunes, the time signature seems less important than the rhythm with which the tune is meant to be played. This tune was composed by Padrig Sicard and was played by Kevin Burke and Michéal Ó Domhnaill on their album called "Portland."
Hanter dro [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
Judging by the name, this type of tune is probably somehow related to the an dro. Every hanter dro I have encountered so far has been in 3/4.
Kost ar c'hoat [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
This type of tune is a bit hard for me to describe since I haven't heard many examples of it. I'll be glad to add some information here as soon as I find some.
Laridé [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
To me, this seems to be one of the more "laid-back" types of Breton dance tunes. These tunes seem to have more quarter and half notes in them than the others do, even though the actual tempo may not be much slower.
Ridée [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
I really don't know much about this type of tune either. Some ridées, like the example I've provided here, have six bars in each part instead of the more typical four our eight. These particular tunes are known as ridées à 6 temps.
Rond de Loudeac [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
The rond is a Breton dance which is danced in a circle. As with most Breton dances, there are quite a few local variations of the rond. This particular one comes from the Mur-Loudeac region which is almost in the precise center of Brittany.
Rond de Saint-Vincent [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
This particular variation of the rond comes from an area southwest of Mur-Loudeac, near Vilaine and Redon.