by Jay Landers (not a super star, but a persistent accordion player for almost 48 years)

I've had four very distinctive musical experiences with my accordion this Fall. I'll admit, I've done these before...several times...but it's the first time they've all been grouped so closely together. It occurred to me that similar performance venues must surely exist in many communities and regions around the country. Wherever there are accordionists, these are opportunities that must not be missed. If you can read music...follow a conductor with a score...fundamentarlly speaking, play in tempo with another instrument...you should consider looking for these or similar outlets for yourself and the accordion.

The accordion needs to be seen and heard outside of the usual dance, restaurant or seasonal ethnic situation. Ultimately, the accordion should be up on the stage, or down in the orchestra pit...much more often than it is, now. The more variety there is in the exposure of the general public to the accordion, the more appealing and desirable it will become as an instrument of choice for amateur and professional players alike.

The music director at Grace Lutheran Church in Springfield, IL, approached me in 2002 about an idea he brought with him from Iowa. Why not attempt a "polka mass" on a Saturday in August. The Saturday service was "contemporary" and much less formal than the more traditional Sunday morning service. The attendance was averaging about 50 people. The service was still true to the liturgy and followed the same pattern with a sermon, Communion, prayers, etc. However, the music was a combination of works from the original polka mass in Minnesota some 35 years ago, some traditional Lutheran selections...AND...hymns that were definitely NON-traditional. You can sing the stanzas of "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "The Happy Wanderer". Psalm 103 "Bless the Lord" matches "Lichtensteiner Polka". "Faith of Our Fathers" goes with "Blue Skirt Waltz". Now, you have the picture!

Members of the church choir agreed to lead the congregational singing. The minister even got into the spirit of the event and officially dubbed them the "Polka Dots". The minister's wife was among them. Ninety-five people attended that 2002 service and the sanctuary erupted into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of the service. The minister's wife remarked: "I've never seen so many smiles on the faces of a Lutheran congregation!"

The fourth annual polka mass at Grace Lutheran was this past August. In 2004 and 2005 a "Bratfest" has been added in the church basement. The attendance has averaged 150 the last couple of years. The formula is simple and it works. The instruments are accordion, piano, tuba and drums. This is now an annual tradition for this Lutheran Church. And, we took it on the road in September. The entire mass was replicated at a state resort park for the bi-ennial meeting of the Lutheran Women's Association. I am paid a small stipend for my participation in this service, which includes a rehearsal the afternoon of the service. The total commitment is about 3 hours.

Our community is fortunate to have a unique piece of musical history - a1927 Barton Organ that was originally installed in the Springfield Orpheum Theatre. When the theatre was pronounced an unsalvageable relic at the age of 38 in 1965, and was razed to create parking and a drive-in banking facility (!), the instrument was donated to the Springfield District 186 Public Schools. Our city's oldest public high school, Springfield HS, was built in the 1910's and the auditorium had an organ pit and pipe chambers on both sides of the stage. But, it never had an instrument until 1965. A small group of dedicated pipe organ enthusiasts installed the instrument and only one of the original crew is still there to maintain the instrument today. For those of you who know about these things, the Mighty Barton Organ has 3 manuals and 11 ranks of pipes (about 1000), plus the usual mechanical instruments. The console will be removed in 2006 and all-new MIDI technology will be installed internally, plus a cosmetic restoration of the ornate wooden exterior. And, we think our accordions are complicated!

I have been involved with helping to produce, promote and participate in semi-annual theatre organ concerts since 1998. I have been on-stage performing duets with the organ. More often, I have provided a one-hour "pre-concert audience warm-up" as people take their seats. The attendance has averaged about 350-450 people...and sometimes larger. The concerts are semiannual, usually May and October.

This is a volunteer labor of love for me. Occasionally, I have sold some CD's and once or twice I got a "gig" from it.

This is probably the most complicated and demanding endeavor that's come my way on 5 different occasions over the past 19 years. I would really like to know how many orchestra scores there are with parts written specifically for the accordion. I now know there are at least three musicals: "Cabaret", "Fiddler On the Roof" and "The Baker's Wife". I was introduced to the latter in late October and received the score only 3 days before the first orchestra rehearsal.

The hardest part of learning a score is following the score. At least it is for me. The part written for the accordion is not necessarily a technically demanding job. However, counting the measures until you play...following the rapid tempo changes...observing the frequent (and sometimes disturbing) key changes...can be a challenge. For me it's usually a period of years between these musical experiences and it takes a while to get my chops back. My experiences include 4 community theatre productions and 1 university production.

Music Theatre Louisville (my hometown, Louisville, KY) produces a summer series in historic Iroquois Amphitheatre. My initiation into musical theatre was with their production of "Cabaret" in 1986. The conductor/musical director and orchestra were comprised of University of Louisville faculty and students and community players. Seven years later I was called, again, this time for "Fiddler On the Roof".

The next year, 1994, we moved from Louisville. Cape Girardeau, MO, didn't provide any musical theatre experiences, but I did join a Dixieland group there and we would play on the banks of the Mississippi River when the huge steamboats would dock for a spell from their overnight excursion trips.

In 1997 we came to Springfield, IL, and in 1998 I was in the pit orchestra of the Springfield MUNI Opera for another production of "Fiddler On the Roof". Nine months later in the Spring of 1999, I was in a production of "Cabaret" at the Springfield Theatre Center (my first "in-door" musical theatre experience).

Cut to 2005 and a person who has booked me as a solo or my wife and me for our Celtic Duo called and had received a request for the referral of an accordionist for a Millikin University (Decatur, IL) production of "The Baker's Wife". My contact received no fee and was glad to facilitate in the networking to connect me with the musical director of the production.
Caution. These musical theatre experiences are extremely rewarding! You'll be spoiled with the opportunity to sit among a fully-voiced orchestra (although they're usually no larger than 15-20 players who are doubling sometimes on multiple instruments, i.e. saxophone/clarinet; oboe/recorder). When I met the bassoon player I was asked if I'd ever played alongside a bassoon. I almost said I have a bassoon register on my accordion. But, I thought the better of it. I did respond to the bassoonist's later questions about the accordion , and pointed out the array of registers and described the five sets of treble reeds and bass reeds I have on my Excelsior 960.
Yes, I've always been paid for musical theatre productions. In the most recent case I had to commute 82 miles round-trip for 6 rehearsals and 3 performances. I received both a mileage check and a service fee check. If you get involved with a high school production, go for it, but you probably will donate your time. There's nothing wrong with that.


There have been many of these in my 48-years of experience with the accordion. My accordion avocation often has been my most devoted pursuit, outside of my family and, sometimes, even my professional career. I love music...its challenges...its rewards...its therapy.

The Memorial Medical Center Foundation has produced a "Festival of Trees" benefit for programs and special needs identified by the hospital's foundation. It's a much-anticipated community event that has a 16-year tradition in Springfield, IL. It ran this year from November 19-27. My wife, Pat, and I have been involved as volunteers these past two years. I needed a community project in my full-time job - a way to create outreach for my employer. I have a committee chair responsibility in addition to providing entertainment as part of a huge roster of soloists and groups who perform almost non-stop throughout every day of the event. It's held in a building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Our "Donnybrook" Celtic Duo has performed, and I have taken solo sets of standards and some Christmas material. Actually, I want to be careful about adding so much more of the "same" holiday melodies. You don't have to perform holiday material. Just be yourself and it will provide additional variety to the schedule. It's very fulfilling volunteer time, because you're assisting in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for special health care needs.

There are many accordionists out there who are far more busy than I. They're providing memorable entertainment for dancers, diners in restaurants, and community clubs, nursing and retirement complexes. I just wanted to share about the diversity of my experiences within a four-month period, August-November, 2005.

There are many reasons or motivations to get active with your accordion. Some of them are financial...many are boosts to your self-esteem as an accordionist. All of them are rewarding in their own way, and you are promoting the instrument. Consider yourself an "accordion crusader" as did the founder of the Peoria Area Accordion Club well over a decade ago. Create your own opportunities through networking. Contact the organizers of community events in your region and let them know of your availability and talent with the accordion.

Feel free to contact Jay Landers at jllanders5214@msn.com