Maddalena Belfiore Passes Away

Maddalena BelfioreA legendary performer, teacher, and champion of the accordion, Maddalena Belfiore-Greco passed away last Friday. She began playing the accordion at age five and went on to study with some of the greatest accordion teachers, including Sanford Hertz, Charles Nunzio, Eugene Ettore, and Pietro Frosini. She eventually attended Julliard and, at age 17, gave a recital at Carnegie Hall.

Belfiore-Greco also authored several accordion technique books, including the Myron Floren Method books (in collaboration with Myron) and three seminal works on the bellows shake. In 1958, she opened the Belfiore Accordion School in her hometown of Kearny, NJ, and judged numerous international and national music competitions. In a recent interview, her advice to accordion students emphasized the importance of performing in public:

“Listen to your teacher, and very important – practice! You have to have goals. Also, what happens today (different from when I studied) is that no one has a chance to play any place. I used to play at all these Clubs and Organizations, and that doesn’t happen so much any more I feel… We used to play any place we could. It was all part of the teaching and learning process. Kids going out to play publicly is probably the best lesson they could ever learn!”

In 1971, after several years on the Board of Directors, Belfiore-Greco became the first female president of the American Accordionists’ Association. She was also a longtime officer in the prestigious Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA) and was instrumental in bringing the 2007 Couple Mondiale accordion competition to the United States.

To learn more about Maddalena Belfiore-Greco’s life and impact on the accordion world, check out the thorough obituary at Accordion USA, as well as the fantastic interview mentioned above, which was conducted just last year. It includes some incredible old photos and news clippings of the extraordinary life of this accordion legend.

Accordion T-Shirt at Threadless

Organ Deer by Daniel LimNeed some hip threads to wear to those summer accordion festivals we mentioned earlier?

The folks at Threadless have answered the call with a quirky new shirt called Deer Organ (designed by Daniel Lim), which depicts a young accordionist serenading a couple of deer. (Seems like accordions and deer, or at least accordion-playing reindeer, are a popular T-shirt theme these days.)

It’s definitely a conversation starter; and perhaps, finally a worthy replacement for that tattered “Myron Floren: 1982 World Tour” shirt you’re still wearing…

This Week in Accordion: Festival Season!

Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and, more importantly, the start of festival season: polka festivals, zydeco festivals, plain ol’ accordion festivals… the summer is filled with ’em! On tap this weekend:

  • National Button Accordion Festival (Fri-Sun in Yukon, OK)
    Bayans, chromatics, concertinas… oh my! Three days of nonstop jamming and dancing to button accordions. (Piano accordions welcome, too.)
  • USPA Festival and Convention (Fri-Sun in Independence, OH)
    The United States Polka Association hosts its annual bash with a huge lineup of polka bands (Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones, Polka Family, Dynabrass, and more) and an awards banquet to recognize outstanding achievements in the polka industry.
  • National Polka Festival (Fri-Sun in Ennis, TX)
    This is the largest Czech heritage festival in the United States, with authentic food, costumes, and polka dancing, as well as music by Brave Combo, Vrazel’s Polka Band, and others.
  • Simi Valley Cajun Creole Music Festival (Sat-Sun in Simi Valley, CA)
    One of the biggest Cajun festivals on the West Coast, featuring performances by Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, Pine Leaf Boys, Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble, and more.

And festivals aren’t the only things on our accordion calendar this week. DeVotchKa is playing a unique show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Murl Allen Sanders performs for both the Chicago and Milwaukee Accordion Clubs, and there’s a big Tejano-Conjunto and Cajun dance party in Austin with Mingo Saldivar and the Gulf Coast Playboys.

So much accordion, so little time!

Quick Links: May 20, 2007

  • the Bloodline
    Vincent Winterbourne’s blog devoted to “general, not-so-breaking news in the Tejano, Conjunto, and Norteño scenes in Texas.” A Texan version of Let’s Polka, really.
  • Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin
    Biography and photos of Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, the Louisiana accordion legend who passed away on Wednesday. Bois Sec was one of the first to bring rural Creole music to a worldwide audience.

A Hawk, a Hacksaw and Hun Hangar

A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangar EnsembleWe’ve mentioned A Hawk and a Hacksaw — the duo of accordionist/percussionist Jeremy Barnes (formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel) and violinist Heather Trost — here before. They play Eastern European-influenced gypsy/folk music and their latest album, When the Wind Blows was one of my favorites from last year.

Last November, Barnes traveled to Budapest and met a group of extraordinarily talented Hungarian folk musicians well-versed in a variety of musical styles including Serbian, Romanian, and Klezmer. The result of their collaboration is a new EP called A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble. It’s a vibrant collection, balancing driving, dance-worthy tunes with electic instrumentation, including pheonomenal cymbalom playing by Balázs Unger. (The cymbalom is a type of hammered dulcimer.)

The 8-song EP includes a bonus DVD with “An Introduction To A Hawk And A Hacksaw”, a documentary covering the band’s (practically) nonstop touring across Europe and the United States over the past two years. It’s also a limited edition run of 4,000, so grab it while you can, or pick up the digital version through iTunes.

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Quick Links: May 18, 2007

  • CD Baby: Guyland Leday: Be My Girlfriend
    Be My Girlfriend is the new album by nine-year-old zydeco prodigy, Guyland Leday, with “Zydeco Family and Friends.” The future of zydeco is here.
  • Flickr: Mom’s Accordion and Sheet Music
    Nice photos of someone’s mother’s old accordion and vintage sheet music collection. I “inherited” a collection like this several years ago and I recognize many of titles (like the “Sedlon Accordion Method”).
  • News & Star: Isaac is King of the Accordion
    Profile of Isaac Thompson, an eight-year-old accordion prodigy from Carlisle, UK. He started playing when he was five and has already won prizes at the National Accordion Championships. Start ’em young!

Trondheim Accordion Ensemble

The Norwegians clearly know how to do classical music right — with accordions! The Trondheim Accordion Ensemble aims to bring “youthful freshness and vibrant musical joy” to baroque music, as shown in this video of the group performing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Allegro.

Quick Links: May 15, 2007

Question for Button Accordionists

I have a question for the button accordionists out there: I am learning to play button accordion (after having played piano accordion for 15 years) and have been having a really hard time playing (remembering!) the correct button fingerings when I change the direction of air flow to my bellows. When beginners (like me) are learning a song, how do you recommend we go about it? Is it better to learn via rote memorization, breaking the song down into two-measure chunks — playing two measures with the bellows pulling out, then two measures pushing in? Or is there another method you prefer? Thanks in advance!

This Week in Accordion: Squeeze Box Night

What’s on the accordion calendar this week?

  • Squeeze Box Night (Tuesday in Monroe, WI)
    The first in a monthly series of informal accordion jam sessions at Turner Hall’s Ratskeller. Local accordionist Del Heins leads the session and will offer tips and advice for anyone who’s a bit rusty.
  • Tri Tip Trio (Tuesday in Berkeley, CA)
    Every Tuesday night at Ashkenaz, they host a Cajun/Zydeco dance party with a local band (Tri Tip Trio this week) and a pre-show dance lesson.
  • Smilin’ Scandinavians (Thursday in Seattle, WA)
    Led by accordionist Toby Hanson, Seattle’s #1 polka band invades the Leif Erikson Lodge #1.

Is there an upcoming squeezebox gathering in your area? Tell us about it!

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