Unless you grew up in the former Soviet Union, chances are you probably haven’t heard of the accordion-playing Crocodile Gena. A character from the Cheburashka childrens books written by Eduard Uspenskiy, Crocodile Gena works as a crocodile in a zoo (naturally) and enjoys playing the garmon (a Russian accordion) and singing with his friends. This video comes from one of the Cheburashka animated films created in the 1970s and captures Crocodile Gena singing his most famous tune.
Forget Guitar Hero. In Valledupar, Colombia — the birthplace of vallenato music — children dream of becoming accordion stars. And for many of those children, Andres “Turco” Gil’s accordion school is the perfect place to start their journey.
Gil has about 1,000 students, some as young as 3 years old, but most between the ages of 6 and 15. They attend his school for free, with tuition supported by donations, proceeds from concerts, and tuition from other students who come from around the world to study with Gil. Many have the opportunity to win prizes at Valledupar’s annual accordion festival, but according to Gil, the accordion plays a more important role to his students, most of whom live in poverty:
“A child who plays accordion or other instrument doesn’t pick up a gun… The music makes them noble, it changes their heart. They start to sing, they forget about their problems and they feel happy.”
This audio slideshow shows Gil’s school in action, including one of his star pupils, a 9 year old blind boy named Juan David Atencia.
We’re busy moving into a new place, so “MP3 Monday” will be postponed until later in the week. In the meantime, I’ll share a fun video from Accordeonactueel which, as best I can tell, is a Dutch accordion news site. Among the videos they’ve posted is this one featuring a series of Japanese childrens’ orchestras. (It could be the same one, just with different combinations of musicians.) But these are no ordinary orchestras — they’re made up almost entirely of accordions and melodicas. Why don’t we see groups like this in the US?
While the headlines around yesterday’s Grammy Awards focused on the artists featured during the CBS telecast, we’re turning the spotlight on those noble, accordion-toting winners who flew under the radar at the pre-telecast ceremony.
It was no surprise that Jimmy Sturr walked away with his 18th Grammy for Best Polka Album. This was Sturr’s fourth consecutive win and, at this point, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone else wins this category. (Per our interview with Jimmy three years ago: “I’ll [step down] when the New York Yankees do.”)
Meanwhile, Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet took home the Grammy for Best Zydeco/Cajun Album. (Initially, we heard that Steve Riley won this award, but it turns out there was some confusion because both albums have the same title.) Unfortunately, I don’t have any clips from their winning album — but I did find one place where you can buy it online:
Conjunto legends Los Tigres del Norte won once again for Best Norteño Album. They’ve already collected numerous Latin Grammys over the years and appear to have extended their dominion over the main awards ceremony as well.
One of our longtime favorites, They Might Be Giants, won their second Grammy, this time for Best Musical Album for Children. The Here Come the 123s album and DVD has been in heavy rotation in our household for months and nothing calms our fussy baby faster.
We’re just starting to explore the vast world of children’s music, but Pint Size Polkas by Uncle Mike and his Polka Band already sounds like a must-have for our collection.
Creator and Wisconsin polka musician Mike Schneider first heard polka music when he was five years old and, even then, the bouncy rhythms made a lasting impression. He recorded Pint Size Polkas “to help children and their families discover the good, clean fun that you will experience with polka music.” With songs like “Alphabet Polka,” “Numbers Schottische,” and “Tiny Bubbles in the Tub,” children will learn about the alphabet, numbers, and even hygiene while dancing to a polka beat.
If you’re in the Midwest, keep an eye on your local news — Mike’s been doing a number of local TV appearances over the past few weeks. If you miss those appearances, you can catch the video for “Jolly Lumberjack Polka” on YouTube.
After my last post about our most common email, I thought I’d highlight a cute email we received from a mother whose young sons have recently fallen in love with the accordion:
“My four and seven year old sons enjoy going to Oktoberfests and listening to the music, especially the accordion. We even purchased a CD at the last one and they listen to it everyday. Needless to say, they both put accordions on their Christmas lists. My four year old has decided he wants an accordion-themed party for his birthday; I am going to have a challenge finding accordion decor/favors, but will have fun searching! They also love dancing to polka music. They recently had friends over on a playdate and played polka music for them — it was pretty funny. It is priceless to see what interests your children develop!”
Sounds like these kids are on the right track. Do you have a young accordion aficionado in your family? Leave a comment and tell us an inspirational tale of your squeezebox lovin’ youngster.
For some reason, we find ourselves reading an awful lot of children’s books these days. So we’ll have to pick up a copy of Grandpa’s Magical Accordion, written by Jessica Cherie Errico and illustrated by Brenda Star. It’s the story of two children who, as their grandfather plays his accordion, are magically transported to the countries mentioned in the songs he plays. This picture book aimed at ages 5 to 9 includes a CD with narration and renditions of such accordion classics as “Roll Out The Barrel” and “Cielito Lindo.” Sounds like the perfect holiday gift for the little squeezers in your life.
The future of the accordion is now; at least, it is for these young accordion bands readers sent us after our post on a kids accordion band photo from the 1930s. Each of these bands is helping promote the accordion to a whole new generation.
Showstoppers Accordion Orchestra and Dancers Founded in 1970 and led by Rosita Lee Latulippe, the Showstoppers Orchestra give the students of the Latulippe’s music school the opportunity to travel and perform. Over the years, the band has performed across the country and even overseas; last year, they performed at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage during the Coupe Mondiale.
Tameside Junior Accordion Band Founded in 1992 by Betty Pollard, teaching and instruments are free for members of the Tameside Band, supporting their philosophy that money shouldn’t prevent children from learning music. The Band won the elementary group championship at this year’s UK Accordion Championships.
Cool Cats Accordion Band The Cool Cats are part of Terry Bell’s accordion and keyboard studio (United Teachers of Music) in Independence, Missouri. Playing everything from Bach to boogie, some of the band’s alumni have gone on to compete nationally and internationally.
I’m sure there are plenty of other young accordion bands and orchestras out there. If we left yours out, leave us a comment and let us know.
As we’ve seen before, I have a soft spot for these old photos of kids accordion bands. (This one apparently dates from around 1935.) But while these bands seemed to be a dime a dozen in those days, I’d really like to see photos of modern-day kids accordion bands. Anybody know of one?
Chris and I have had babies on the brain lately. There’s so much cool stuff out there for kids and babies nowadays! We love these “Squeeze Me” onesies featuring our favorite instrument on the front. Gotta get the kids interested in accordions young, I always say. And these onesies are extra cool because they’re made with organic cotton. This is definitely the must-have fashion item for the new baby in your life.
If you missed them the first time, more accordion-related clothing products that we’ve come across and posted about can be found here in our clothing category.