A Hawk and a Hacksaw

A Hawk and a Hacksaw
uploaded by OtterFreak
The Wordless Music Series is devoted to the idea that the “worlds of classical and contemporary instrumental music… share more in common than conventional thinking might suggest.” Each concert brings rock and classical musicans together in an intimate setting in hopes of introducing fans of each to music they might not otherwise discover.

Last week’s concert in New York City included New Mexico duo A Hawk and a Hacksaw, which features violinist Heather Trost and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Barnes on accordion and percussion (often simultaneously). Leaning heavily on accordion, violin, and brass, their music definitely has a Balkan/klezmer feel, but never really sounds traditional. They remind me a little of DeVotchKa, but more intimate-sounding and less dramatic.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw released their third album, The Way the Wind Blows, just last month. Check out the first track, “Song for Joseph”:

Camp AccordionLand 2007 Announced

Bay Area accordionists, mark your calendars: Camp AccordionLand 2007 is set for August 10-12, 2007. Organized by East Bay accordion teacher Henri Ducharme, Camp AccordionLand is a weekend full of workshops, ensemble playing, and jam sessions at beautiful Tilden Park in Berkeley, California.

The camp welcomes accordionists of all skill levels and the workshops cover both technique and repertoire. Some of the workshops tentatively scheduled for 2007 include Cumbias, Tex-Mex, Greek Music, French Musette, Gypsy Music, Intermediate Bellows and Phrasing, Advanced Bass Technique, and much more. Next year’s camp will also include a number of activities geared towards kids; we gotta start ’em young!

Keep an eye on Henri’s site over the coming months as more details (including pricing) are finalized. Anna and I attended Camp AccordionLand this past August and had a fantastic time. We’ll definitely be back next year and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a fun-filled weekend with fellow accordion enthusiasts.

The Fast Fingers of Liam O’Connor

Liam O'Connor photoRemember our post about last week’s attempt to set the Guinness World Record for fastest accordion player? Thanks to the Irish Post we’ve discovered that the accordionist was Irish button box virtuoso Liam O’Connor. Liam rose to fame as a featured musician with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, and has also recorded three albums with vocalist Lisa Aherne.

According to his site, Liam set the record for “Fastest Fingers in the World” by playing an amazing 11.64 notes per second under the watchful eyes of Guinness judges. The record-breaking tune was the venerable classic, “Tico Tico”.

Unfortunately, Liam’s site doesn’t have any sound clips, so we can only wonder what his fast fingers sound like. Leave a comment if you know where we can find clips of Liam’s music online.

Interview with Jimmy Sturr

Few musicians, polka or otherwise, can match the success that Jimmy Sturr has enjoyed over the course of his career. He has recorded over 100 albums, plays over 150 dates a year, and — to the consternation of some in the polka community — has dominated the polka category at the Grammy Awards, winning 15 times in 20 years.

We had a chance to talk with Jimmy in San Francisco last month before he headed to Polkapalooza Reno.

How did you first get into polka music? What drew you in?

Well, I’ve lived in a little town all my life called Florida, New York, and we probably grow at least 30% of the nation’s onions — we’re the Onion Capital of the World. A lot of people from Europe, especially Polish people, came over to work on what we call the “black dirt”, and brought their traditions with them — one of which was their music. The high school dances and weddings all had polka bands, the radio stations played polkas everyday… that’s how I grew up and fell in love with the music.

When did you start your first band?

I started out at 11 years old and had a five piece band. My very first job was playing for the PTA and the only reason I got to play was because my mother was the president! (laughs) There were a couple of other polka bands in the area and, if they were booked, people would come to us — only because we were the only ones left. Eventually, we moved up that ladder.

What bands inspired you when you were first starting out?

There were bands on the East Coast — guys you’ve never heard of, most of whom are passed away now. You know, everyone’s heard of Frankie Yankovic, but I don’t really play that style. Whereas that Cleveland style really featured the accordion, the East Coast bands featured trumpets and saxophones more (of course, everyone still had an accordion). And those are the bands I grew up on; bands like Frank Wojnarowski, Ray Henry, Gene Wisniewski, the Harmony Bells Orchestra, and the Connecticut Twins Orchestra.

Alaska Button Box Gang

I don’t normally condone gangs — though I do enjoy the choreography of the Sharks and Jets — but I’ve finally found a gang I can fully support: the Alaska Button Box Gang.

Based in Anchorage, this dedicated group of button box enthusiasts performs regularly for non-profits and schools, as well as at the Anchorage Saturday Market, the library and other organizations and occasions. The gang has recorded three albums and their repertoire includes traditional Slovenian, German and Polish accordion music as well as songs written by members of the group. They also have occasional rumbles with a rival piano accordion gang from Juneau.

Fellow Alaskans should check the gang’s website for upcoming performances, while those of us in the lower 48 can look forward to their appearance at next summer’s SNPJ Slovenefest in Enon Valley, PA.

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The Golden Age of Polka Videos

Not everyone is lucky enough to live somewhere where polka bands play live every weekend. So for those of us outside of the Midwest/East Coast “polka belt”, sites like Polka Videos are a fantastic way to see what we’re missing. Set up by Michelle Genrich, president of the Polka America Corporation, Polka Videos includes high-quality footage of bands like the Polka Family Band, Stas Golonka and his Chicago Masters, The Music Connection, and others.

Meanwhile, over on YouTube, Thad Seaver has been posting an impressive collection of polka videos himself. Featured bands include Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push, Dynabrass, Brave Combo, and more. Of course, these videos are no substitute for going out and supporting your local polka bands, but they sure help pass the time between shows!

Sunday Funnies: Ballard Street

Figuring musicians get away with stuff the rest of us don't, Bob takes up music.

From this morning’s paper: a character in Ballard Street decides to take up the accordion. (Thanks, David.)

World’s Fastest Accordion Player?

Photo of man who attempted Guinness Record for fastest accordionWhen you were a kid, did you ever spend a Saturday trying to set the Guinness World Record for “Longest Time Balancing a Broom on Your Chin”? Okay, maybe that was just me. But this past Thursday, aspiring record holders around the world attempted everything from Largest Tea Party to Most Rattlesnakes Held in Mouth during Guinness World Records Day.

Buried deep in news stories about the event, though, was a line about someone in Dublin, Ireland, attempting to become the world’s fastest accordion player. I haven’t been able to track down much information about the attempt other than the photo above, and that the attempt took place at an Eason’s bookstore. Anyone know who this guy is? And how exactly do you measure such a feat? Most notes per minute? Do you have to play a particular song or can you just flail aimlessly? Is it easier to play fast on a button box or a piano accordion? So many questions!

Flickr Find: Wurstfest Photos

Classic Texas Accordion
uploaded by -Dons
While I can’t to make it to this year’s Wurstfest, I can live vicariously through this excellent slideshow I found on Flickr. For a minute, I thought I was actually in New Braunfels, TX — listening to the accordions and tubas, watching the dancers in their authentic German garb, and eating all of that tasty, tasty sausage. Mmm…

NE Accordion Festival in Minneapolis

This Friday and Saturday is the 9th annual NE Accordion Festival in Minneapolis, MN (the “NE” stands for “NorthEast” Minneapolis). This two-day festival has it all: concerts, workshops, jams, dances, and a massed band event (called the “Squeez-in Orchestra”) in which all attendees, regardless of skill level, are invited to participate. Performers include Twin Cities favorites Dan Newton, Machinery Hill, Hank Thunander, Orkestar Bez Ime, and many more. There’ll be a festival preview Friday morning on KFAI Radio in Minneapolis, so even if you can’t make it to the festival you can still listen online.

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