What’s On the Calendar?

Now that we have a newborn, I have (a little) more justification for staying up all night working on our accordion events calendar. I’ve added a couple new features, including:

Best of all, we currently have almost 300 events listed on the calendar! But we know we’re still only scratching the surface, so if you know of an accordion concert, club meeting, or workshop in your area, tell us about it!

Quick Links: High-Tech Edition

After posting about the mysterious pianaccord earlier this week, I ran across some more examples of cutting-edge accordion technology:

  • Roland FR-2 V-Accordion
    Roland unveiled their latest MIDI accordions, the FR-2 and FR-2b, at last month’s NAMM Show in Anaheim. Their biggest advantage over other Roland digital accordions is weight — each are about 10 lbs. lighter than the FR-7.
  • South Branch Inventor Presents Twinkling Accordion
    Newfoundlander Wallace Gale has modified his Hohner Corona so that each time a button is pressed, a corresponding light illuminates. Much cooler than the battery-powered Christmas lights I used to attach to my accordion.
  • Big Accordion Worked With Pedals
    Reader S.A. Heistand pointed out this possible precursor to the pianaccord — shown here in a December 1933 issue of Popular Science. It’s basically an accordion set up so you can play while sitting down and manipulate the bellows using foot pedals.

Cymbal Monkey Faux Pas

I know how the monkey in this comic feels, showing up with an accordion and having everyone stare at you in horror. A few polkas or a quick rendition of “Rock and Roll All Nite” usually changes the mood, though. (Thanks David!)

Johnny Vadnal Passes Away

Legendary Cleveland-style polka band leader and accordionist Johnny Vadnal passed away yesterday at the age of 84. Vadnal was the first polka band leader to have his own major market television show, performing every Sunday afternoon on WEWS Channel 5 in Cleveland from 1949 to 1961. In 1949, Vadnal won the title of “Cleveland’s Polka King” in a vote held by a local radio station.

A prolific songwriter, Vadnal penned such polka classics as “Yes, My Dear”, “No Beer on Sunday”, “Wayside Polka” and many others. Here’s Johnny and his band performing one of his later hits — written for his wife — “My Alice Waltz”:

Campaigns Get Musical in Texas

With so much riding on next week’s Democratic primary in Texas, it’s no surprise the Obama and Clinton campaigns are pulling out all the stops to court Hispanic voters in the Lone Star State. In the past week, both campaigns have turned to music as a vehicle for getting out the vote.

First, the Obama campaign released a song and video called “Viva Obama!” that (literally) sings the praises of Barack Obama to a catchy mariachi beat supplied by Mariachi Aguilas de Mexico. Today, the Clinton campaign released an accordion-infused cumbia called “Hillary, Hillary Clinton”, written and performed by Walter Suhr and the Mango Punch. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the song will be played at rallies, parties and other campaign events across Texas.

Who knows, maybe one of these songs will become the next “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”

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The Mysterious Pianaccord

Robotti PianaccordMore than a year ago, I wrote about a strange stand-up accordion that I found on eBay. I couldn’t find much information about it online, but there appeared to be a handful of them lurking around the country. This week, I got wind of another one: a Robotti Pianaccord that Bill Horton is selling on eBay. Here’s his description:

“It was passed down to me by my Italian grandfather. Unfortunately, he passed away before I got the story on it. Mine is fully functional, and I have enjoyed playing it… I have 2 names on mine. One is Robotti, the other is Pianaccord. I have not been able to find a whole lot of info on these at all… I contacted an appraiser from the antiques roadshow, and he said that the only one he had ever come across was bought by one of his friends as a decorative piece.”

Does anyone out there know more about the history behind these instruments? Are they all made by the same person? (This one has a “Robotti” nameplate, but the ones we saw previously said “Bonvicini”.) Leave a comment if you have any experience with one of these “stand-up” accordions.

Accordion Gets Its Day in Seattle

If you’re in Seattle this weekend, swing by the Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle) and check out the Northwest Accordion Society’s annual Day of the Accordion festival. According to organizer Bonnie Birch, the event started 15 years ago as a way for the society to showcase the skills and music of the instrument they love:

“For many years, people made fun of the accordion, but we wanted to show what can be done on the accordion… I think making fun of the accordion is on its way out. People are realizing you can play serious music on it.”

The festival features nonstop accordion entertainment on the main stage, as well as free workshops and lessons (they’ll provide the accordions) throughout the afternoon. There will also be a “Rising Star Stage” to showcase students and the afternoon will culminate in a big jam session open to all.

Ace Your Test With Accordion Flashcards

Accordion Flash CardsLike many accordion players, Bill Funkhouser came to the accordion from the piano and figured, “It has a piano keyboard… how hard could it be?” And then, like many accordion players, he struggled to master the layout of buttons on the bass side of his accordion.

So to help others making the same transition from piano to accordion, Bill came up with a novel study aid: Accordion Flashcards. Much like those old cards you used to cram for finals, these cards quiz you on the layout of basses and chords in the Stradella bass button system. The cards currently come in two varieties: a 12 bass set ($7.95) and a standard set ($12.95). Check out this sample card and start studying:

Klucevsek and Bern: Dueling Accordions

Guy Klucevsek and Alan BernGuy Klucevsek and Alan Bern have long been in the vanguard of contemporary accordion music; Klucevsek with his background in classical and (often whimsical) avant-garde music and Bern with his work in world music, particularly the jazz/klezmer ensemble Brave Old World. Last year, the pair released their second album together, Notefalls; I don’t have it yet, but I’ve long been a fan of their 2001 release, Accordance. In a recent interview, Klucevsek explains his attraction to the sound of accordions playing together:

“The accordions are never exactly in tune with each other. It’s a little raw and — I don’t know if ugly’s the right word — a little dirty… It’s always going to have a little bit of dirt on it when you have more than one accordion, and the dirt in music is what I really find interesting.”

Klucevsek and Bern will be playing a handful of shows together on the East Coast over the next two weeks, starting with a performance in Philadelphia on Friday night. Check our calendar for more information.

Quick Links: Profiles in Courage

Maybe it’s a testament to the joy they spread, but newspapers love talking about accordion players. It seems like I stumble across a glowing feature on a local accordionist almost every day. Here are a few I found this week:

  • Steve Albini and the Accordion: That’s AmorĂ©
    The Marin Independent Journal profiles Steve Albini, a singer/accordionist with a penchant for Italian tunes. After a brief career detour (he joined the priesthood), Albini now plays clubs and restaurants throughout the Bay Area.
  • Musician Played for a Hungry Crowd
    Unfortunately, some of the profiles are obituaries, as is the case with this tribute to Barto Ungaretti, a popular strolling accordionist at the Italian Village restaurant in Chicago. Regulars would often request him to come in and play even on his nights off. “We’d always rev him up, give him a little more amaretto… Especially on those cold nights.”
  • It’s Happy Music
    Elba, Nebraska, recently held it’s annual “Kolache Shoot-Out” and where there are kolaches, there’s polka music. The soundtrack was provided by the Friends Czech Band, featuring 75-year-old Eddie Stepanek on accordion.

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