Murl Allen Sanders’ Accordion Concerto #2

There aren’t nearly enough classical works written for accordion these days, but Seattle accordionist Murl Allen Sanders is changing that. An accordionist, pianist, composer, and teacher, Sanders has worked with a variety of artists ranging from Chuck Berry to the Von Trapp Children. His Accordion Concerto #1 had a world premiere in June 2003 with Orchestra Seattle.

Supported by a grant from the City of Seattle’s Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Sanders recently completed his Accordion Concerto #2, which he performed with Orchestra Seattle under the direction of George Shangrow. Here’s one movement — “Andante” — from that performance:

Sammy Thomas Reaches the Top

Sammy ThomasFrom the Top is a weekly radio show on NPR that showcases America’s top young classical musicians, aged 9 to 18. A couple weeks ago, the show featured 18-year-old U.S. National Accordion champion, Sammy Thomas. Classically trained since the age of ten, Sammy has played at many of the top accordion festivals (Cotati, Las Vegas) and is preparing to compete in this year’s Coupe Mondiale in Washington, DC.

You can listen to the ten-minute clip of Sammy’s appearance on the NPR website. It begins with a brief interview (his least favorite accordion genre: polka), followed by his excellent performance of “Chopin’s Nightmare”:

This Week in Accordion: Festival Fever

From Vegas to Virginia, this week is all about festivals — accordion festivals, polka festivals, Cajun festivals — you name it, we’ve got it on the calendar. Here are some highlights:

  • Las Vegas International Accordion Convention (Mon-Thu in Las Vegas, NV)
    For four days, Vegas becomes the accordion capital of the world as hundreds of accordionists participate in master classes and workshops (“Left Hand Latin Rhythms”, anyone?) and enjoy concerts by headliners Tony Lovello, Art Van Damme, Walter Ostanek, and more.
  • Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration (Thu-Sun in Leavenworth, WA)
    Is Vegas too glitzy for you? Head north to the Bavarian village in Leavenworth for their 16th annual accordion festival. There’ll be competitions, workshops, concerts, and even an accordion parade down Leavenworth’s main drag on Saturday afternoon.
  • Polish Fest (Fri-Sun in Milwaukee, WI)
    The biggest names in polka, including three of last year’s Grammy nominees (Jimmy Sturr, Eddie Blazonczyk, and Lenny Gomulka), take the stage at the 26th annual Milwaukee Polka Fest.
  • Long Beach Bayou Festival (Fri-Sun in Long Beach, CA)
    Bourbon Street moves west this weekend, with performances by C.J. Chenier, Geno Delafose, nine-year-old Guyland Leday, and many more.

And there’s more, including the Polka Spree by the Sea in New Jersey, Bayou Boogaloo in Virginia, and Ironworld Polkafest in Minnesota.

If there’s an accordion festival in your neighborhood and it’s not on our calendar, let us know!

Quick Links: June 14, 2007

Mumlers Accordion Dog T-Shirt

Mumlers T-Shirt Accordions are clearly on the minds of hip t-shirt designers these days. One of my coworkers pointed me towards this unique accordion dog shirt ($16) for San Jose indie band, The Mumlers. In addition to peddling cute shirts, they play catchy, folky tunes on unlikely instruments such as the toy piano, stand-up bass, french horn and, of course, accordion.

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My Big Fat Accordion Wedding

Here’s the feel-good accordion story of the year: Toronto’s own “Accordion Guy”, Joey deVilla, answered a Craigslist ad from a couple who needed witnesses at their Toronto City Hall wedding ceremony. The result is a heartwarming tale of love, accordions, and the kindness of strangers — with a sweet solo accordion rendition of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” (see video) as the soundtrack.

Amidst all the coverage this story has gotten in blogs over the past couple days, I really like this inspirational quote that Joey posted on Metafilter:

“I would suggest that all of you find your ‘accordion’ — that thing that makes you try out life’s little detours — and use it to practice your own random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. The rewards are astonishing.”

Great advice — even for those of us whose ‘accordion’ is, well, an accordion.

Guy Klucevsek Ekes Out a Living

Guy KlucevsekThere’s an interesting Wall Street Journal piece today on one of our favorite artists: composer/accordionist Guy Klucevsek. The profile covers his diverse career, including his compositions, soundtrack work, and involvement in Accordion Tribe. But it focuses on how difficult it is for even an accomplished player like Klucevsek to find steady, rewarding work, particularly in the United States:

“During my 40s, I was starting to make a living… During my 50s, I was able to make one. Now I’m 60, and it’s borderline… I’m loath to complain… because I chose the path myself, and I knew what it was like when I chose it. I’m lucky I’ve been able to do it for this long.”

Klucevsek, for instance, played in the orchestra pit for six performances of Kurt Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” at last month’s Spoleto Festival in order to book a solo recital at the festival. (The Journal likened it to “paying Tiger Woods to compete in a miniature golf tournament.”) His American concert schedule is very light this year, but he will be performing this Sunday during the Accordionology festival at Barbes in Brooklyn, New York.

Quick Links: June 11, 2007

  • My Punk Heart: Polkaphobia |
    An inspiring story of overcoming polkaphobia in America’s heartland at the Sugar Creek Slavic Festival. “Despite our ignorance we had caught onto the key essence of polka: ridiculous, wreck-loose, unabashed fun.”
  • Brownsville accordionist brings home state title
    Juan Longoria Jr. won the Big Squeeze contest at the Accordion Kings and Queens Concert earlier this month. “I want the younger generation like myself to not forget their roots… we need to remember where this music comes from and keep it alive.”
  • Weird Monkey « Crazy Can be a Good Thing
    Cute story about a boy who won a radio station contest to meet Weird Al. He got front row seats, backstage passes, AND Al even signed his accordion. (Be sure to watch the video where Al tries to figure out the boy’s button accordion.)
  • Northern California Pirate Festival
    Arr! There’s a pirate festival in Vallejo this weekend, complete with maritime musicians & magicians, seafaring singers, pirate re-enactors, cannon battles, swordfighters, and crews of miscreants. Expect accordions and sea shanties. Much better than Pirate Master!

This Week in Accordion: Accordionology

Highlights from this week’s accordion calendar:

  • Accordionology (Fri-Sun in Brooklyn, NY)
    Barbès hosts a three-day festival for our “much maligned instrument” with an eclectic lineup that includes Guy Klucevsek, One Ring Zero, the Will Holshouser Trio, Alec Redfearn and the Eyesores, and many more.
  • Zydeco/Cajun Grammy Celebration (Wed in Lafayette, LA)
    Celebrate the creation of the newest Grammy category with a party at the Grant Street Dance Hall.
  • Shuswap Lake Accordion Festival (Fri-Sun in Sorrento, BC, Canada)
    Three days of jam sessions, solos and duets, bands and dancing on the banks of Shuswap Lake in British Columbia. Beautiful music, beautiful surroundings… what more could you ask for?

On a technical note, I’ve fixed the calendar to better handle multi-day events (like festivals). If you have an accordion-related concert, festival, or meeting to share, tell us about it!

Dale Wise’s Accordions for Kids

Dale Wise with a studentLast month, the Washington Post Magazine had a glowing feature on Virginia accordion teacher Dale Wise. Three years ago, Wise started Accordions for Kids, a program designed to introduce a younger generation to the accordion.

Accordions for Kids is essentially a no-risk trial program for eight to twelve-year-old accordion students. Each student is loaned a 12-bass accordion and study materials (music stand, sheet music, etc.) and receives 10 weeks of lessons with a teacher free of charge. At the end of the program, the student performs in a recital and then decides (along with with his/her parents, of course) whether to continue. Children usually love it — and are oblivious to any stigma associated with accordion playing — but parents often need convincing:

“There’s some selling that has to be done… But this accordion thing is going to happen, one way or the other. How big it becomes is just a matter of how much energy we got.”

Accordions for Kids has been so successful that Wise has recruited teachers nationwide to participate. I absolutely love the idea and hope it continues to spread. Maybe one day we’ll have a nation of “accordion moms,” loading minivans full of accordions and shuttling them to lessons and recitals…

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