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In Praise of the Accordion

Posted by: Jeremy Walsh, June 11, 2013 12:33 pm
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June is International Accordion Awareness Month. If that news has got you formulating wisecracks, just remember that plenty of ground has been covered there, and accordions are far more than mere novelty instruments.

Accordions have been the butt of jokes since the rise of rock & roll music in the 1950s. If you hang out with musicians much, you may even notice a bumper sticker that reads “I PLAY THE ACCORDION … AND I VOTE!” The mockery may have hit a high point in the 1980s, when the cartoonist Gary Larson immortalized it in The Far Side: The devil says to the newly deceased person, “Welcome to hell. Here’s your accordion.”

Accordions came to represent a hopelessly square lobe of musical enthusiasts, but their cultural significance is too great to ignore. Accordions were huge in American music for decades. Many of the amplifiers used in the 1960s were built with “accordion” inputs along with guitar inputs.

Indie and roots rockers have also embraced the instrument, and you can find it on seminal albums like Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and throughout the work of the acclaimed rock band Los Lobos.

And as long as we’re talking about accordion heroes toiling at the margins of rock, let’s not forget Weird Al Yankovic, who for nearly three decades has been releasing albums of parody songs and revved-up accordion medleys of chart-topping hits.

If any of this has piqued your interest, you owe it to yourself to borrow Squeeze This!, a remarkable exploration of the history, symbolism and cultural importance of the accordion that, among other things, offers up the unlikely and delightful phrase “accordion industrial complex.”

Author Marion Jacobson points out the accordion’s “wholesomeness” as a major factor in its failure to find a place in the American youth culture of the 1960s. Indeed, the instrument, which originated in Germany in the early 19th century, was mass-produced in the Midwest in the 20th century and factored largely in the benign and edgeless cultural stylings of Lawrence Welk.

But the accordion is essential to many musical genres of varying levels of chastity. Tangos thrive with accordions. Polkas, of course, require the instrument. Louisiana’s zydeco music relies heavily on accordion, and Mexican pop music showcases the instrument. So does Klezmer music. One of my college roommates, a supremely gifted musician and all-around nice guy, is skilled at accordion, clarinet, ukulele and saw. That unlikely combo makes him highly sought-after in Klezmer circles.

In fact, the important role the accordion played in many forms of ethnic music played by immigrants is essential to the plot of Accordion Crimes, by Annie Proulx, the same writer who brought us Brokeback Mountain. The novel charts the immigrant experience in America through the descendants of Mexicans, Poles, Africans, Irish-Scots, Franco-Canadians and others, who all come to own an old green accordion.

Want to learn how to play? Queens Library has you covered when it comes to instruction. But be careful – I’ve heard it said somewhere that if Mama gets a squeeze box, Daddy never sleeps at night.


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Comments

As an African American woman who is currently 52, I am so excited right now! I just acquired and second accordion recently from a thrift shop. My original was lost after I was married and moved from my parents home.
The my newly acquired accordion needs some repair. I did clean it up…poor thing appears to have been left standing in a basement somewhere and was donated to the theft shop. I only paid $70.00 for it.

It is great to read this article about the accordion coming back to popularity. I also play the cello (stringed instrument that is larger than the viola and violin…but smaller than the bass). I have a Celtic harp, and many keyboards.

When I was seven years old I had a wonderful white mother of pearl accordion. My father and mother supplied me with a teacher for the accordion I was mandated to practice and hour each day. They had a timer and I would sit and practice. I loved it…so much! I will always be thankful for those early years of music lessons.

As I improved in my playing my parents would send me to recitals. I played at the Creedmore Childrens Hospital at the urging of my father who was a practical nurse there. I was only seven years old.

I wore a beautiful cinderela aquamarine dress and had a tiara on my hot combed hair. I played two pieces. These memories create for me a great desire to read this wonderful book which I cannot wait to read.

The accordion opened many doors for me to other instruments such as the tenor sax, piano, cello, organ, and harp. I have played in several adult orchestras and currently own my own cello as well.

I took lessons on tenor sax and played in the jazz and pop rock bands in Martin Van HighSchool in Queens Village. I graduated in 1979 and attended Queens College to major in Elementary Education with a minor in music.

Also I was taught by Robert Lavin,(located in Jamacia Estates- (son of Robert Lavin Senior cellist in the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.)

Therefore my reading and musical theory is classical. Because I had formal lessons on the cello, my skill level was such that I was lead cellist at Martin Van Buren HighSchool as well as a member of the jazz and pop rock bands(tenor sax) at the same time,

I loved high school for the freedom I had to express myself musically and the respect it gave me among my piers and the teaching staff at the school as well.

See, the wonder of the accordion? That was the first keyboard instrument I learned. And I learned the violin at the same time, I have a thirst to learn and my loving parents indulged my every wish as long as I practiced daily.

I also took lessons on piano and organ. I play and teach the piano currently. about 5 years ago I began playing the pipe organ for my church Redeemer Lutheran Congregation in St. Albans Queens. A side note the organ at Redeemer is under renovation presently…it is a pipe organ. I am on leave from playing presently due to that and a medical spine condition also is preventing that unfortunately.

I love instruments and music so much….I must be rambling…..but all that to say Yippee! I am happy about the respect that the accordion is now getting, I would not be writing this comment if it had not been for my experience with it. What a Bracha! Blessing!

Shalom and Peace

Elesheva


As an African American woman who is currently 52, I am so excited right now! I just acquired and second accordion recently from a thrift shop. My original was lost after I was married and moved from my parents home.
The my newly acquired accordion needs some repair. I did clean it up…poor thing appears to have been left standing in a basement somewhere and was donated to the theft shop. I only paid $70.00 for it.

It is great to read this article about the accordion coming back to popularity. I also play the cello (stringed instrument that is larger than the viola and violin…but smaller than the bass). I have a Celtic harp, and many keyboards.

When I was seven years old I had a wonderful white mother of pearl accordion. My father and mother supplied me with a teacher for the accordion I was mandated to practice and hour each day. They had a timer and I would sit and practice. I loved it…so much! I will always be thankful for those early years of music lessons.

As I improved in my playing my parents would send me to recitals. I played at the Creedmore Childrens Hospital at the urging of my father who was a practical nurse there. I was only seven years old.

I wore a beautiful cinderela aquamarine dress and had a tiara on my hot combed hair. I played two pieces. These memories create for me a great desire to read this wonderful book which I cannot wait to read.

The accordion opened many doors for me to other instruments such as the tenor sax, piano, cello, organ, and harp. I have played in several adult orchestras and currently own my own cello as well.

I took lessons on tenor sax and played in the jazz and pop rock bands in Martin Van HighSchool in Queens Village. I graduated in 1979 and attended Queens College to major in Elementary Education with a minor in music.

Also I was taught by Robert Lavin,(located in Jamacia Estates- (son of Robert Lavin Senior cellist in the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.)

Therefore my reading and musical theory is classical. Because I had formal lessons on the cello, my skill level was such that I was lead cellist at Martin Van Buren HighSchool as well as a member of the jazz and pop rock bands(tenor sax) at the same time,

I loved high school for the freedom I had to express myself musically and the respect it gave me among my piers and the teaching staff at the school as well.

See, the wonder of the accordion? That was the first keyboard instrument I learned. And I learned the violin at the same time, I have a thirst to learn and my loving parents indulged my every wish as long as I practiced daily.

I also took lessons on piano and organ. I play and teach the piano currently. about 5 years ago I began playing the pipe organ for my church Redeemer Lutheran Congregation in St. Albans Queens. A side note the organ at Redeemer is under renovation presently…it is a pipe organ. I am on leave from playing presently due to that and a medical spine condition also is preventing that unfortunately.

I love instruments and music so much….I must be rambling…..but all that to say Yippee! I am happy about the respect that the accordion is now getting, I would not be writing this comment if it had not been for my experience with it. What a Bracha! Blessing!

Shalom and Peace

Elesheva