03 September 2008

Timeless Accordion Music

One of the perks of having a long association with American accordion activities is the wealth of music in my files from the past 100 years. Most of this music is unpublished now but some still available for sale. The original music written for the accordion is a treasure trove of history, the picture to the right is a scan of the cover for Trieste Overture with a copyright date of 1916 by O. Pagani Bro., New York.

Trieste Overture has been widely used by teachers and performers and is still for sale from Deffner Publications. http://www.accordions.com/deffnerm/solo/solo_tp_tz_1.html

02 September 2008

Shelves of Accordions

I've been asked many times how many accordions I own. At one time, when I had my studio/store open I would have said 200 or so as I had a nice stock of new and used instruments for sale. Now the answer is four. A Titano Bass accordion (for ensembles) that I personally rarely get a chance to play, a Pigini B-system chromatic 4/5 reed musette that I adore playing and use in teaching, a Titano Cochran Emperor 4/7 with free bass, pedal tones and extended right hand for concert work, and the work horse of my team a Titano Grand 3/5 from the early 60's - no frills - just a hefty reed sound great for folk music. If I had my way and money be of no object I'd have more instruments to choose from.

The picture to the above is from the Pigini accordion factory, the instruments on the shelves are not complete but waiting for their bellows and bass sections. Oh, to have a private shelf of completed accordions to choose from!

22 August 2008

On the Far Side of Accordions

If there's one item that keeps reappearing in my life it would be this cartoon which says, "Welcome to heaven, here's your harp. Welcome to hell, here's your accordion." This Gary Larson bit of humor has been emailed to me, handed to me in person at gigs and come via the post. It's also showed up on my honeymoon from an annonymous source. I have to admit, if there's one thing that comes in handy as a person who chooses the accordion for both their vocation and avocation it's a sense of humor!

More next week, until then keep your bass strap tight and don't forget to open your bottom bellows snap.

21 August 2008

Accordion factory - Pigini

How an accordion is made is fascinating to me, these pictures are from a visit to the Pigini accordion factory. The man in the left hand picture is working on a keyboard, the person below may be working on the bass section of an accordion. Note the reed blocks in the lower right hand corner of the picture, each reed was hand tuned and waxed into place.

20 August 2008

Horns on an accordion

Accordionists are well aware of the terms bellows, buttons, and keys but not all accordionists know or care about tone chambers.

A tone chamber changes the timbre (pronounced "TAM-ber") of the instrument and is used to apply tone color to the sound. The most common tone chamber is a wooden box inside the accordion that houses one rank of reed blocks. Sometimes it is a cover that slides into place over the air holes under the grill of an accordion.

The picture to above has examples of two early experiments in tone chambers for the accordion. If you look closely at the accordion picture you can see that early prototypes had the sound box (tone chamber) on the outside of the instrument. One of the additions resembles the bell of a trombone or tuba, the other is a hollow box used as the grill of the accordion. I suppose one could be called a tone chamber and the other a horn, verbiage aside the intent is the same, to change the timbre.

Although I can't say for sure how these instruments sound it is my guess that the open bell would project the sound, like a Stroh violin (see picture to right) and the enclosed box would give a hollow and muted tone.

19 August 2008

World record smashed....all for Madonna!

This link and text was just sent to me by one of my favorite former students. It's an excellent example of how most people don't even know they are listening to an accordion.......

Australian radio station Nova 919's pseudo-German Hans is a devoted Madonna fan and will do anything to get a personal birthday wish to the Queen of Pop. That 'anything' culminated in him breaking the Guinness World Record for Marathon Accordion playing last Thursday. Not only that, but he broke it by playing Madonna songs ONLY. That was no mean feat as he was not allowed to repeat a song a four hour time block and he played for 29 hours 30 minutes and 17 seconds! Let's just say, Madonna's full catalogue of work was explored. Hans' attempt to break the record and grab Madonna's attention even made it as a story on to Today Tonight. Nova 919 know that Madonna is an outrageously busy woman, but they are doing everything they can to make her aware of this story in the hopes of an acknowledgement from her - even just a sentence - it would answer Hans' (and everyone at Nova 919) prayers! The full story detailing his 29 hours 30 minute on the accordion can be found at: www.nova919.com.au

18 August 2008

Accordion prototypes from Italy

Here are a couple of other pictures from the Museo della Fisharmonica in Castelfidardo, Italy.

Notice the curved right hand keyboard that was supposed to facilitate moving up the keyboard with your hand in a natural arch.

The picture below is a keyboard only accordion, it is not missing the left hand buttons, it never had any.

15 August 2008

More about the Museo della Fisharmonica

So you thought I was kidding about the Nativity scene in the bellows, right? The accordion museum in Castelfidardo has it all including an accordion stamp.

I've been to the museum a few times and am constantly amazed at the craftsmanship shown in the prototypes. And about their ingenuity and creativity, I'm speechless. More next week, until then, keep your bass strap tight and don't forget to open your bottom bellows snap.

14 August 2008

Giant Accordion in Italian Museum

Italy is quite dear to my heart, after all it is the "Mecca" for people who love accordions. Why? Because most fine accordions are made between two hill towns in the Marche region of Italy.

In amongst the manufacturers and retail accordion stores winding in and around the streets of Castelfidardo and Loreto hides a wonder, the Museo della Fisarmonica (accordion museum), full of the historical prototypes of the modern day accordion. It is fascinating to observe all the different types of keyboards and shapes that have gone by the wayside in the evolutionary process of free-reed building technology.

The exhibit that ranked #1 with me? A 12 foot tall accordion that actually plays, yes, it works, I was lucky enough to hear it. The reeds are so large inside that they hook up an air hose instead of moving the bellows. Second place? An accordion with a Nativity scene in the bellows. Oh my.

13 August 2008

Air travel with an accordion

This post is for accordionists who want to travel with their instruments in addition to friends and family.

It's not too hard to travel with an accordion even with all the restrictions from the TSA. In fact it is easier now than years ago when you could board a plane with all kinds of stuff big and small.....except an accordion case which was always checked luggage. I tried everything from bracing the bases, splitting the accordion apart at the bellows and packing two containers to carry on (don't try this at home) and special hard shell cases to tears at the counter along with begging and pleading. Rarely was the instrument hand carried to the plane's luggage bays but instead went on its way tempting fate and gravity on conveyor belts and then workers brimming with apathy toward their mountains of suitcases.

In the 80s and 90s the airline companies managed to drop the instrument frequently which cracked the frame twice and broke the grill three times, once so severly that the manufacturer, Titano, had to rebuild it from the scraps - which they did expertly.

During the last eight years or so I've had no problems. My secret to free-reed flying bliss? A soft sided case. With a soft sided case the overhead bins of the most common planes fit even my concert model Titano Emperor with extended keyboard perfectly. I take the accordion on board as one of my carry-on pieces which means I can still have my laptop in a backpack. The instrument - along with the computer - never leave my care.

Even security checkpoints have been better as I always tell them in advance - after I take my shoes off - "this is an accordion". They usually want me to play a polka.

12 August 2008

Subculture - Accordions

Yes, there is a vast network of people who love to play accordions. We know who we are. Some are hidden away in the privacy of there own homes getting the instrument out of the closet or basement when they think no one is looking. Some are recording and performing for thousands or tens of thousands of listeners knowing that they are are quickly growing breed of musicians that use the accordion - and other instruments of the accordion family also known as the free reed family - for haunting movie melodies (Amelie), raucous rock (Gogol Bordelo), classical (Astor Piazzolla), jazz (Art Van Damm), hybrid jazz & folk (Peter Ralchev), hybrid contemporary & folk (Maria Kalaniemi), or oddly artistic (Bill Schimmel with Tom Waits). You'll also find an accordion in almost every German, Irish and French folk group, indeed this instrument has been adopted by almost every country through their folk music including the Middle East and China.

11 August 2008

Why the accordion?

My friends and family have wanted me to start a blog for more than three years hence the 2005 start date of this blog with the first post midway through 2008. Maybe it was because I didn't know where to start.....so I'll start where I started life, with an accordion.

Most people don't step knee deep into a family of professional accordionists, but I did. To me there is nothing sweeter than the sound of the reeds, both treble and bass, of an accordion played well. Played well means the musician has learned how to use the bellows to shape phrases and facilitate dynamics, and that they have also learned correct fingering, key signatures and of course have a sense of rhythm.