Festival of Instrument Makers & Musicians in the Castle of D’Ars (‘Saint-Chartier’), 12 - 15 July 2012.
In the very centre of the country and in the middle of July, France does not just celebrate its national holiday (14th of July), but it also organizes probably the world’s biggest fair for ancient and traditional musical instruments. Its full name in 2012 is “RENCONTRES INTERNATIONALES DE LUTHIERS ET MAÎTRES SONNEURS”, although in the past (and still today) it was known as the festival of SAINT-CHARTIER.
A Musical Microcosm in the Old Berry Region
The main town that you have to look for on the map is the commune of La Châtre, 300 Kilometres to the south of Paris, in the department of the Indre river, about 37 kilometres south east from the bigger town of Châteauroux (Central France). For a number of years, the nearby Château (castle) of Saint-Chartier is no longer the venue for this immense gathering of instrument makers for: hurdy gurdies, bagpipes, fiddles, flutes, oboes, accordions, drums and frame drums, etc.
For several years and still now in 2012, the new place for this event is the forest and the fields around the Château D’Ars. The exact name of the castle area is Lourouer-Saint-Laurent, which is only 7 km away from the village of Nohant-Vic, where a mansion of the French female writer George Sand (1804-1876) is located, being also the official site of the band Les Gâs du Berry.
This folk music orchestra has origins dating back to the mid 1800’s, and it mainly integrates vielle-à-roues (hurdy-gurdies) and cornemuses (bagpipes), although they incorporate a long list of musicians, singers and dancers performing the traditional songs in this area in central France. In their 2012 performances and recordings, ‘Les Gâs’ are also joined by relevant musicians such as: Gilles Chabenat, Patrick Bouffard and Greg Jolivet (hurdy gurdy), or Daniel Langlois (bagpipes from central France). The area is full of beautiful green fields, forests and lakes, and its scarce population is scattered in villages of medieval architecture, such as Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, where in 1947 the French filmmaker Jacques Tatí (1907-1982) shot the movie ‘Jour de Fête’ (a.k.a. Festival Day, The Big Day).
Makers of Unusual Instruments
The main attraction of this festival is the market for ancient and traditional instruments, where you will find makers coming from a diversity of places in France, but also from other countries such as: Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Hungary, Turkey, USA, Brazil,... They have their instruments on display in individual booths spread in the forest in front of the castle. We are talking about as many as 135 instrument makers, and more than 3000 instruments exposed at the "Salon de Lutherie".
Being fair, the king and the queen of the instrumentarium that you can see and hear in this gathering are the cornemuse and the vielle-à-roue. Most of the bagpipes that you will see are of the kind ‘grande cornemuse bourbonnaise’ or ‘musette du centre’ most typical in this part of central France. But you will also easily find pipes from other places in France (a variety of around 18 different ones typical in several regions of the country), and other parts in Europe: English medieval pipes, gaitas from Galicia (NW Spain), zampognas from Italy, electronic bagpipes from Germany,...
The variety of instruments is then extended to: diatonic accordions, cistres, bouzoukis, spinets (spruces), psaltérions, violins, flutes, nyckelharpas, zithers, lutes, dulcimers, harps, gralles, bombardes, 3 holed flutes,...
Concerts & Dance Floors
Besides the musical instruments market, the festivals offers a number of musical shows, both on the streets and gardens, as well as the three main open air stages placed around the castle. In the summer of 2012, the street performers were mostly bands with French bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies such as La Bande Ménetrière. The concerts performed on stage were from artists such as:
Some of the French bands performing on stage, they do it for an audience that participates showing traditional dancing on some of the large wooden floors placed in front of the stage. This was the case of:
Workshops & Trad Music Sessions
The truly motivating aspect of this great festival is that you can participate not simply by listening to the music or watching the dancing crowd. There are a number of workshops that admit both absolute beginners and experienced musicians and dancers.
In 2012, the festival offered one day courses for:
There are also a good number of places for improvised performances: for trad music sessions (like the Irish music ones lead by Cillian & Niall Vallely), or even for musicians that just want to display their talent in public.
Where to stay
The organization provides controlled areas for camping vans and tents just outside the festival bounds. Alternative options are other campings or hotels in the town of La Châtre, and other villages nearby: Montgivray, Le Magny, Saint Août, Lacs, ...
Photo Credits: (1) Bagpipes @ Château D’Ars July 2012, (2) Xarnege, (3) La Bande Ménetrière, (4) Jean-Claude Condi (by P. Fernández).