Accordion files

Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, July 5, 2019


A bunch of years ago (almost 20) when I was in my I-don’t-know-what phase, I became smitten by this idea of playing the accordion. Of having one in my arms, doing the squeezy thing, and somehow reinventing myself, one more time, as someone who … well, played the accordion. What that actually meant was unclear. Did it mean more bohemian? More French than ever? More out there? Or was I simply wanting to pitch myself headlong into a world so very different than my own? This was before every indie band on Spotify had an accordion lurking dreamily in the background.

At the time, there was someone in town already hooked on it and playing regularly, a flutist with an offbeat gene. She wanted someone to practice with, learn with. She had lots of sheet music and she had ideas. We could play the Christmas Bazaar, she said, and then, well, who knew what else! As I had played piano growing up, she said matter-of-factly, my right hand basically already knew what to do. It’d be easy. I’d love it.

Plus, there just happened to be someone in town saddled with an accordion she no longer wanted — possibly never wanted — in a velvet-lined case. Italian, 130 buttons and in really good candy apple red shape. And so when the three things came together, self-reinvention, Kathy and the accordion sale, I morphed. We had our first “rehearsal,” where I suddenly found myself standing (well, almost upright) with a 22-pound squeeze box strapped across my chest and an instant sense that there was going to be a bit more to it than my right hand playing tunes. There was the other hand groping around all those myriad buttons on the left. Plus the no-joke weight of it (one-fifth my body weight) strapped on like a baby growing out of my sternum. Not to mention the whole bellows thing, which is something you really know nothing about unless you 1. had a big fireplace growing up, or 2. play the bagpipes. Bellows are not a part of everyday life.

It was loud. Really loud. The cat would literally panic then disappear in a puff (sort of like the rest of the family). We rehearsed in Kathy’s studio amidst her piles and piles of craft supplies and curio collections, and there, along the banks of the beaver pond, we learned a few songs together. In time, as prophesied, we played the Christmas Bazaar (possibly because I was one of the organizers that year) with a repertoire of maybe 12 songs, the best being “White Christmas.” I do remember a few carols inching dangerously close to something they are not supposed to be. Maybe not Oom-pah-pah but Oom-pah-pah-pah. Oh LIT-tle-town-of BETH-le-hem-how STILL-we-see-thee LIE-pah-paaaah.

Our big moment as a team came the following July 4 when we had a brilliant idea that an accordion band would be perfect for the parade. Right? By word of mouth and sheer force of enthusiasm, we unearthed a whole trove of accordionists (seriously) who were willing. Probably like seven in all, the best of us being Dave Farny of Skyline Ranch, who could actually play pretty much anything by ear, looked like the Marlboro man, and gave the whole thing a certain heft and authenticity. We called ourselves the Easy Squeezes and practiced (once) on our repertoire of July 4 songs. Found the flatbed truck. And somehow got through the sets, with our straw hats on and our red-and-white-and-blue outfits. All of this, thank goodness, before Instagram could seal the deal, #awkwardintoeternity.

Well, after we peaked (that day), I moved on to the next thing, whatever it was. I carted the accordion to storage and then to the next house and forgot about it in the closet, until one day it occurred to me that someone else might at that very moment be trying to reinvent themselves. I listed it online for the same price I paid for it and an instant taker called. A young guy. His wife had been dreaming about playing the accordion for years, literally, he said. He couldn’t believe this had just showed up in the neighborhood. He came over and examined the thing, still in great shape, looked it up online, offered me slightly less in cash and it was done. She was not going to believe it. She would love it. (And she did.)

So, what are we mostly talking about here, self-reinvention? Finding the hidden accordion players in one’s life? Making a loud noise? Having a good laugh? Paying it forward? I’ll defer to Lawrence Welk on this, who pretty much summoned it up: “I knew nothing of the real life of a musician, but I seemed to see myself standing in front of great crowds of people, playing my accordion.”

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