My lovely wife surprised me with an accordion for Christmas. Here it is in all its golden sparkly splendor:
Through Eble Music I found a woman in our neighborhood who teaches it! And yesterday I showed up for my first lesson. She seemed really nice, big smile, sturdy, early to mid-forties, ... I don't know why, but I expected someone like Granny Clampett. Anyway, as I came in her other student was packing up his axe. He was around 65, I'd say. She introduced us. I sat down and asked him how long he'd been playing.
"Oh, about six months. Course I've always had the accordion."
"And what spurred you to pick it up again?"
"I expect it was Myron Floren." He eyed me with a mysterious grin to see if I recognized the name. Seeing that I didn't, he continued. "He was Lawrence Welk's accordionist. And he was from the same part of South Dakota as me. Why, he had to be one of the greatest of all time." To Jill, the teacher: "Wouldn't you say?"
"He was certainly very famous, in his day."
"The way his fingers would fly!" The man slapped his leg. "Why, when he got ahold of some of those numbers..." He shook his head, as if struck speechless at the thought of Myron Floren taking on a polka. He recovered. "You know, they rerun those old Lawrence Welk shows. You ought to try and catch old Myron, if you want to witness some real accordion playing."
I nodded. If I wore a watch I would have glanced at it. The old fella was eating into my lesson time.
"And the kicker was, every week, at some point in the show, he played a solo! Well, thanks, Jill." He shuffled out the door.
She opened my case and took out my instrument and sat down opposite from me and strapped it on. "Oh, how nice! Look, you have a vibrating switch, so you can play Irish and French and Italian-sounding stuff."
I told her I was interested in Irish accordion, and she recommended a book, 100 Irish Tunes for the Piano Accordion. She then showed me the book she uses for instruction. It was for, um, young players and looked like it hadn't changed its design in fifty years:
Strolling along a giant keyboard that seems to be floating in mid-air? And inside were more pictures of those kids playing fast and loose with reality in dubious service to the actual topic at hand. For example, they blew a humongous bubble that was somehow supposedly a whole note, and to illustrate how a dotted half note lasts one extra beat, the two horrid accordion children had each taken hold of one end of a dachsund and were pulling and stretching the poor creature! Most disturbing. She advised me to ignore the pictures, but that would be impossible.
Anyway, she asked questions, trying to gauge the level of my musical ability. I told her I play bass pretty well, and guitar sort of, and piano in the most minimal way and that I am trying to relearn to read music.
"So you know key signatures?"
"Well, I know" -- and here, beginning to sweat, and desperate to "test out of" the books with those cruel accordion children, I winged it, as I had a dim memory of Bach's "Minuet in G," which I had been trying to learn, being in G, of course, and that there was a B flat in it --
"Like G has a B flat. Stuff like that."
Her smile never faltered. "G has an F sharp."
I cleared my throat. "Then I guess no. Would be my answer about key signatures."
"I can teach you from a different book."
She strapped on her own squeezebox, "the accordion I've been waiting for all my life" -- it looked like an accordion you might see on Star Trek -- and away we went oompa-ing. Such fun! She taught me little hints and techniques I never, ever, ever would have figured out for myself.
Her son stuck his head in the room to remind her she had to drive him to high school. I guess they were having a half day or something, because it was noon. I packed up and asked her what she charged.
"I never know," she said, laughing. "I called up West Music and asked and they said to charge $15 for a half hour." I had been there an hour. "But you write down whatever you can afford, because money should never stop anyone from learning the accordion."