First accordion lesson

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:

music book

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."

"Oh, good!"

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."


Kelvin said...

Kia Ora (Hello) & Happy New Year from a blogger down under in New Zealand. I tried to learn once, but ended up making a "monkey" of myself !!! You don't really see CD's of the music palyed on accordian - wonder why ???

semanticist said...

A long time ago, I traveled cross-country with a beautiful, heirloom accordion. I stopped to fill up near Des Moines, in a shifty part of town.

As I went in to pay, I wondered if it was smart to leave the accordion in the back seat where anyone could see it. But I would only be gone for a minute. What could happen?

Well, I found out. By the time I returned, I found the back window smashed and the door ajar. Someone had left two more accordions in my car.

Grendel said...

kelvin -- oh, it's out there. But it hides in the dark, shameful corners of music sections. A lot of Irish, Mexican, Cajun, French, Italian, and American folk has accordion in it. Head to your library and you may discover, as I did, someone like Joe Burke.

semanticist, thanks for getting your funny on. Here are two others I've heard.

Definition of a gentleman: a man who knows how to play the accordion but doesn't. And: Q: what is a bassoon good for? A: Kindling for an accordion fire.

Brando said...

Grendel, I am making an early request for you to learn how to play Rush's "Xanadu."

possum said...

This is a glorious post. I am happy to have read it, happy to know you are over there in Iowa if I need to find you.

Peace out.

Grendel said...

Here's another gem that my neighbor, who has a bumper sticker that says "I'm pro-accordion and I vote," told me:

Accordions don't play "Lady of Spain," people do.

There is a t-shirt of that at http://www.thosedarnaccordions.com

Trevor Jackson said...

Agreed with Possum: a great post. The cover of that accordion primer is priceless and nostalgia-inducing.

I do, however, find it difficult to believe that your neighbor also plays the accordion. What are the odds? It would be like if my neighbor was taken to NASCAR races regularly as a child. Not impossible, but a noteworthy coincidence.

Grendel said...

I may have been confusing -- there are two people. Accordion teacher lives about eight blocks away. Next door neighbor is simply into polka music. She's got an autographed Brave Combo CD, for example.

SER said...

I must say that I find accordion music disturbing at some visceral, perhaps primeval level. There is something ominous about it. Next time I am writing a horror story, I will come over for some music to get in the properly freaked-out frame of mind.

Pete said...

Marginally related- I'm playing music again too. The guy I'm working with is John Huston of Ottumwa and The Grackles fame. He's posted some of the songs we'll be doing on a myspace page here.

The name is tentative. I want him to change it to "Bristol City," which is cockney rhyming slang for "titty." He likes the idea but is cautious because there will likely be a girl in the band. I guess girls don't like the british seashore.

possum said...

I grew up in the glow of the Indy 500, and NASCAR races were hot, too. Not too extraordinary to see your second grade classmates on the infield. And now, here in southeastern Ohio, where I'm kickin it on the dairy farm with the Quakers, there is a healthy crop of NASCAR tots every year. Accordion players, though, I've known only one (before Grendel picked it up), and he was the coolest dude I've ever met.

yl said...

This is such a great post to be nostalgic in the middle of dessert in Texas--I played accordian between age 12 and 16. It was a very popular instrument in China because, uh, weren't they from our brother communist countries in the Eastern Europe? I didn't love accordian then but I wish I could play now. We played many Soviet songs: The little path at the outskirt of Mowscow, Kaytusha (a girl's name as well as the name for a kind of cannon in the WWII), Red Berry Blossoms, The Boat Song of Volga...oh, all these old Russian tunes...I read in the New Yorker on time this story by Lara Vapnyer in which these former soviets sang a song about a winding path at a party, and I was jumping out of myself because it was the same song I played when I was young...
I remember another girl taught herself to play the music from a Japanese TV series, and our teacher was not very happy.

bihari said...

The Tall Doctor swears he's seen that textbook cover himself, when he was taking accordion lessons, but he says he was not at all bothered by it because, and I quote, he was a nasty little daschund-pulling boy at the time.

And to think, were it not for this post, I never would have known he played the accordion!

How I do love your blog.

K said...

I learned the accordion in the 5th grade and I absolutely loved it. It felt like I was actually PLAYING it. And even amateurs can squeak out a song.