Defending the Squeezebox

An open letter to Irene Haskins of the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune:

Dear Irene,

As an avid accordionist, I read your recent piece, “Accordion out of tune with popular tastes”, with great interest. However, there are a couple small things I’d like to clear up:

First, you say that the accordion “was not designed to rest on the chest of any girl with more than a 34A bust,” and describe the only female accordion player you know as so flat-chested “she and her husband often go to one of those topless beaches and pass themselves off as brothers.” You may be surprised to learn that there are, in fact, many, many, many women (including my wife) who manage to reconcile their passion for accordion playing with their ample bosoms. There’s even an entire band of them!

Second, you pine nostalgically for Lawrence Welk (“the last of a dying breed”) by saying he “gave the accordion what it had never had — respectability.” Now I’m a bigger Welk fan than anyone my age, but even I admit his music played a large role in cementing the accordion’s “uncool” reputation in the minds of many Americans. Do you really think more “champagne music” would draw young people to the accordion?

And finally, we get to the heart of your piece:

“I?m worried, especially after hearing that even the Polka Belt?s supply of accordionists is dwindling; the veterans are dying out and not being replaced. We should all be worried… where are the accordion players of tomorrow coming from?”

I’ll admit, Irene, when I see photos of accordion gatherings where the average age of attendees is somewhere north of 70, I get a little worried too. But then I turn on the radio and hear the vibrant sounds of tejano and conjunto music from nearly every other station on the dial. Or I’ll take in the gypsy cool of Devotchka, dance to the creole/zydeco of Keith Frank, or raise a glass to the way the accordion drives the rowdy drinking songs of Flogging Molly. Or I’ll go to a local Punk Accordion Workshop and hear thirty people squeezing their way through a Ramones song. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — I’m constantly amazed at the vibrant and diverse accordion sounds emanating from all over the world.

Now don’t get me wrong, there still a long way to go before our nation’s accordion teachers are overrun with kids clamoring for lessons. (Then again, I’ve seen small children go nuts for the accordion player in the Wiggles, so maybe we’re not that far off.) But the accordion is a resilient instrument, and despite all the flack it’s gotten over the past forty years, the tide is starting to turn. And the best, I think, is yet to come.


  1. Amen!

    I was just in New Orleans and picked up a CD by this guy, Accordion uncool? Not in Curley Taylor’s world.

    The article also laments the lack of xylophone players. Ms. Haskins is similarly off-base there. Just as the accordion world is more eclectic than ever today, interest in the marimba, cousin to the xylophone, is growing steadily. There are at least 63 Zimbabwean-style marimba bands curretly active in North America:

  2. Now that I’ve recently retired I can do some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do. One of those things is to learn to play the button box accordion. I have no particular style that I like (like them all) the Spanish music with its plaintiff and exuberant sounds all rolled into one, the Gypsy music that pulls at the heartstrings, Creole/Zydeco music with that vibrant beat, the Polka with its lighthearted thumping sound, all are inspiring.
    The sounds that are closest to the feelings of most of these authentic songs I believe comes from the accordion and the guitar, sometimes even the harpsichord. They revive an emotional urge that comes out of some subconscious awareness – – – in other words, a person can lose themselves to the feelings in the song. It is at these times that the sounds become just as important if not more important than the visual images.
    People have lost most of their ability to hear, and also to smell (as compared to most animals). The sounds of music in all the different modulations, overtones, volumes, reconnects us to an earlier stage in our evolution where the sounds of nature, in all its diversity were much more important than they are now and were and still are a major source of joy and also fear.
    Now if we could only transmit smells over the air waves like we can with sound and pictures. We would be using over half of our five senses.
    Not to be too philosophical but, I believe that arousing any or all of the senses that bring us to a place that we like, is an accomplishment and an important step to finding inner peace.

  3. Looking for a m or f accordian player for a celtic rock group out of Waterbury, Connecticut

    contact Tim.