The (Cajun) Kids are Alright

Passing the baton to a younger generation has been difficult for polka, but Cajun music is having no such problem. Spinner writes about the current youth movement in Cajun/Creole music, noting the proliferation of young bands and musicians in the Lafayette (Louisiana) area. Some, like accordionist Kristi Guillory of Bonsoir, Catin, were drawn together through summertime Cajun French immersion programs held in Nova Scotia (home of their ancestors). Others, like accordionist Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys, had to move away to realize the importance of their Cajun heritage.

The result is a new golden age of Cajun music, led by a tightly knit group of young musicians who gather regularly to jam, watch each other’s shows, and keep the traditions alive. Here’s a clip from one of those bands, the all-female Bonsoir, Catin:

The Twilight of Nebraska Polka

Today’s New York Times has a great article (“A Rural Dance Tradition in Twilight”) on the slow decline of polka in Nebraska. The piece explores polka’s place in Midwestern culture — “a music with little commercial viability but a strong social function” — and looks at the fans and musicians keeping the tradition alive. While the dwindling farming population plays a role in polka’s wane, some enthusiasts, like 68-year-old Darlene Kliment, blame themselves for not doing more to encourage the younger generation:

“It’s our generation’s fault… When we were growing up, our parents would take us to the dances. We’d fall asleep on the side of the stage, or in the booths. But then when our generation grew up, we got baby sitters.”

Of course, Nebraska isn’t alone; the same story is playing out in communities across the Midwest and East Coast. As the older, polka-loving generation fades, who will take their place on the dance floor?

Be sure to check out the excellent audio slideshow that accompanies the article. It includes photos from a polka dance at the Starlite Ballroom in Wahoo, as well as brief interviews with local Nebraska polka fans and musicians.

How to Build a Hohner Corona

Hohner Corona AssemblyOver on the Reyes Accordions forum, I found some excellent photos taken by Peter Unbehauen during a recent trip to the Hohner accordion factory in Trossingen, Germany. (Some readers may remember his photo tour of the Hohner factory from last year.) Among his latest photos are shots of the building and assembly of Hohner Corona accordions. It’s fascinating to see that the process is still done almost completely by hand — from molding the celluloid to assembling the reed blocks to the final tuning.

Peter has also scanned the entire Hohner spare parts catalog. While you can only get instruments from a dealer, you can order nearly any spare/replacement part imaginable directly from the Hohner factory in Germany. So next time you need a pair of accordion bellow nail pliers, you know where to go.

Accordion Inspired Architecture

As the tryptophan-induced Thanksgiving haze wears off, I thought I’d share a couple examples of accordion-inspired architecture that I’d run across recently. The first comes from Buenos Aires, where the city has just dedicated a new monument to tango music in the shape of a giant steel bandoneon. The tango has long been an integral part of Argentinian culture and this monument joins statues and plaques in Buenos Aires honoring tango legends like Carlos Gardel, Osvaldo Pugliese and Astor Piazzolla.

Bandoneon Monument in Buenos Aires

The second isn’t reality (yet), but is a design by London architect Ken Shuttleworth for a 10-story accordion-shaped building that will border Christopher Wren’s Monument to The Great Fire Of London. The building’s rooftop garden will double as a sundial, using the shadow from Wren’s Monument to indicate the time.

Accordion Building in London

My favorite piece of accordion architecture, though, is still the old San Francisco accordion school — Theodore School of Music on Union Street — with its entire second floor shaped like an accordion.

Theodore School of Music, San Francisco

Quick Links: November 21, 2007

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1998 AMA Accordion Medley

I didn’t watch the American Music Awards last night because I know they’ll never top the 1998 show, which featured a one-of-a-kind, all-star accordion performance by Those Darn Accordions, Dick Contino, Weird Al, and Drew Carey. The accordion supergroup performed a medley of American Music Award winners of the past 25 years, from “Billie Jean” to “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Update: Thanks to Dick Clark’s copyright police, it looks like the clip is no longer available. Trust us, it was great!

Mika Väyrynen Performing Petrushka

I’ve never played a bayan (Russian chromatic accordion), but I’m consistently blown away by the bayan virtuosos I’ve seen and heard. A Metafilter post on Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka led me to this excellent clip of Finnish accordionist (and 1989 Coupe Mondiale winner) Mika Väyrynen performing a selection from the ballet. It really shows how, in the right hands, one accordion can sound like an entire orchestra.

Shirts for Squeezebox Fans

We’re hoping to have some Let’s Polka shirts available in time for the holidays but, in the meantime, here are a few shirts for the accordionist looking to spruce up their wardrobe:

Of course, the problem with these clever shirts is that no one can see them if you’re wearing an accordion, too. I guess the perfect shirt for an accordionist would be one with the design printed on the back.

Accordion Hero (For Real)

That Accordion Hero video game spoof has been making the rounds again this week, even popping up on Wired News yesterday. And while it still isn’t real (sadly), there’s a clever guy who has actually created his own functional Accordion Hero video game. He basically took a small toy accordion and rigged it up as a controller for a freeware Guitar Hero clone for the PC. As an accordionist and Guitar Hero addict, I’d LOVE to play this. Especially if the playlist includes some Guy Klucevsek or Chango Spasiuk.

[Found via Global Nerdy]

WWII Veteran Remembers His Accordions

As Americans remember those who served their country on this Veterans Day, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a feature on World War II veterans sharing their stories for a collection of oral histories called An Honor to Serve. One of the stories comes from John Martino, a veteran who brought his accordion while landing on Omaha Beach, fought his way across Europe, and eventually captured Hitler’s accordion:

“Martino ‘captured’ Hitler’s Hohner accordion when the Nazi Reich was defeated in 1945. ‘I had about 21 accordions over there… A lot of them got shot up, and this is the only one that made it home with me. This thing is history. It has to be 85, 90 years old.'”

Martino still has the accordion — a Hohner Verdi IIIB that he found in Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden, Germany — which will be donated to the military museum at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

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