by Jay Landers (2008)

Jay Landers is an accordionist and freelance writer in Springfield, IL


When it comes to how we regard the accordion, and, more importantly, how we'd like others to consider the instrument, two words come to mind: (1) transference and (2) transcendence.

Once we get it in our heads that our statements and actions have the most immediate impact - and influence - on the reactions of others, then we must realize the responsibility we have to be the most effective ambassadors on behalf of the accordion.

The accordion is only as ethnic as the person who's playing it or the material being performed.

It's not fair to try to categorize the accordion. It's a musical instrument with a rightful place alongside all other reed instruments, plus the strings, brass, pipe/electronic organ and piano. Any instrument could be categorized as ethnic if you kept focusing on Russian, Italian, German, Hispanic, African-American or Asian performers and the repertoire they prefer to present. If you find yourself either caught or creating the context of transferring ethnicity to the accordion, please make the effort to clarify the diversity of the instrument. This "transference" of ethnicity to the accordion should be "transcended" with broader statements about the incredible versatility of it.

Folks, everyone who plays or enthusiastically supports the accordion can be comfortable with this approach. If you practically "polka your eye out" with one specific genre of music, that's terrific! Traditional folk performers "fiddle", they don't play the violin. A "piano picker" plays ragtime music, while a pianist performs a classical sonata. It's a matter of association.

The accordion has applications in all forms of music and should easily appeal to anyone with the desire to learn an instrument and excel with it. Like any other instrument, the accordion only makes as good an impression as the person who's playing it. And, the advanced skill level of the player should be inspiring - not intimidating. You may never match an advanced player's skill note-for-note, but you can benefit from the experience and certainly strive to improve your playing. All accordionists understand and appreciate what is required to play a vertical keyboard, manipulate a horizontal bellows and feel their way among scores of unseen buttons - simultaneously! It's an accomplishment without equal outside of the free reed family.

The piano accordion has been in America for just over 100 years. It was first popularized on the stages of vaudeville and on hundreds of radio stations by a handul of virtuoso's including Guido Deiro, Pietro Deiro, Charles Magnante, Charles Nunzio and Anthony Galla-Rini. (Pietro Frosini, who performed on chromatic accordion, was among these pioneers.) They were performing classical transcriptions...popular music of the day...and creating hundreds of original works and arrangements. At the same time, there were huge Italian-American events called "Accordionists' Picnics". One of the last great events of this kind took place 75 years ago last month, July 16, 1933, in California Park, north of San Francisco. Pietro Deiro was the emcee. Frank Gaviani was one of the featured artists. Over 10,000 persons attended this event. It was both a celebration of the accordion, as well as ethnic heritage.

There are still a few large outdoor events today, notably the Cotati Festival in northern California. A quick glance at the news articles in the June posting on www.accordionusa.com revealed no less than 8 festivals and conventions that have already taken place or will later this Summer or Fall. These include: National Button Accordion Festival/successor to another that ran 26 years/Bessemer, PA/also includes piano and chromatic accordions, concertinas and bayans; ATG Festival (68th)/Nashville, TN; Los Angeles Accordion Festival (brand new 1st annual); Accordions Now! Festival (brand new 1st annual)/Manchester, NH; Tenjano & Conjunto Festival (27th)/San Antonio, TX; Las Vegas International Accordion Convention; Rocky Mountain Accordion Celebration (27th)/Philipsburg, MT; Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration (15th)/Leavenworth, WA. In addition to the ATG, the AAA and NAA both have conventions and there are other state and regional accordion celebrations.

The accordionists' names from the "golden age" (1910-1960) are as diverse as the accordion's versatility: Bill Hughes, Bill Palmer, Mort Herold, Carmen Carrozza, Leon Sash, Art Van Damme, Victor Hager, Janet Dillingham, Alice Hall, William "Bud" Kuehl, Lois Halfpapp, Carl Lucas, Kathryn Lennerd, Art Metzler, Myron Floren, Lawrence Welk and so on. These folks were concert artists, players in dance bands and orchestra's, teachers (often in their own studio), radio (and TV) performers and composers. Some names are more familiar than others, and all shared the same experiences with their accordions.

Charles Magnante was the first person to take the accordion to the main stage in Carnegie Hall before an audience of 3,000, April 18, 1939. (That same year Benny Goodman elevated the "Big Band" as a classical art form when he gave a concert there.) The accordion was back in Zankel Hall in the Carnegie Hall Complex on January 13, 2008, when the "Motion Trio" from Poland performed a concert of original and contemporary music. Concert accordionist Henry Doktorski has performed and recorded classical music with chamber ensembles this year. In Central Illinois, Maria Merkelo has performed Argento's "Valentino Dances" twice with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony in November, 2006, and the Jacksonville (IL) Symphony Orchestra in November, 2007.

The accordion was taught in huge schools devoted to it such as Chicago's Andy Rizzo who produced Art Van Damme, Art Metzler, Enrico Mastro-Nardi and many others. There were degree programs in accordion at universities (and their founders), notably: University of Denver's Lamont School of Music (the late Robert Davine); University of Missouri-Kansas City (Joan Cochran Sommers); and the University of Houston (Bill Palmer). You could earn Bachelor's, Master's and even a Doctorate - in accordion! Peter Soave has taught accordion at Wayne State University in Detroit in recent years while Eric Bradler currently is the head of the accordion program at the Univeristy of Denver's Lamont School of Music).

Eugene Ettore was a composer for the accordion whose repertoire includes "Accordion Miniatures", "Five O'Clock Rush" and many others, as well as a series of accordion method books. Ettore arranged popular music for accordion ensembles. He arranged a book of international light classics that includes works by Beethoven, Strauss, Haydn, Mozart and many others. He was an accordion duet partner with Carmen Carrozza. Robert Davine included Ettore among his list of prominent accordion instructors.

Rita Davidson is a protege' of Eugene Ettore, and accomplished accordionist and music teacher in West Orange, NJ. She plays her accordion every day in the classroom! Rita has been a featured artist in accordion conventions and workshops throughout the USA. She wrote the "Accordionist's 2008 New Year Resolutions" earlier this year and emphasizes that we should all promise to:

1. Play my accordion every day.
2. Play my accordion for friends and family at least once a month (if not more).
3. Learn at least 1 new song every 2 months.
4. Attend at least 1 accordion event in 2008.
5. Purchase at least 1 accordion CD this year.

She closes with: "Make 2008 the year of YOUR ACCORDION!!!"

We're the ones with the perspective on the accordion. We must be effective "agents of change" in order for the accordion in America to earn a new perception and to flourish.

Jay Landers is an accordionist and freelance writer in Springfield, IL; e-mail jllanders5214@msn.com. His sources included "The Golden Age of the Accordion" by Flynn, Davison & Chavez, Third Edition, 1992; and www.accordionusa.com.



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