Accordion Gift Guide 2009

Maybe you braved the crowds on Black Friday. Or maybe you stayed home and ate Thanksgiving leftovers. Either way, Christmas is less than a month away and you still need a gift for that accordion lover in your life. Don’t worry, we’re here to help with our annual Accordion Gift Guide — a roundup of books, music, videos, and other goodies that will look great in any accordion player’s Christmas stocking.

The new Roland FR-7x V-Accordion has had tech-savvy accordionists drooling since its introduction a few months ago. Improving on its predecessor, the already-popular FR-7, the new model features more sounds, faster response and higher sensitivity, and a USB port for playback and recording.

Tedrow ConcertinaPrefer the feel and sound of a classic, acoustic instrument? Check out the handmade concertinas built by Bob Tedrow of Homewood Music. More than just instruments, Bob’s concertinas are practically works of art, proudly billed as “150 years behind the times.” The waiting list for his concertinas is currently several months long, so act now if you want one by next Christmas.

There’s a good chance, though, you’re shopping for someone who already has an accordion and what they really need is a lesson or two. (Not that you’d ever say that out loud…) A pair of Texas accordion teachers have great accordion lesson DVDs: for piano accordionists, try Debra Peters’ blues/rock accordion DVDs, while button accordionists will enjoy Sheila Lee’s DVD for beginners playing the GCF button accordion. I haven’t seen the full video yet, but I’ve also been impressed by clips of British accordionist Murray Grainger’s new DVD, Accordion: Mastering the Art.

Brave Combo: Christmas PresentFor holiday music, accordion-style, Brave Combo has just released a live holiday album called Christmas Present, a nice companion to their earlier releases Holiday! and It’s Christmas, Man. Their polka arrangement of “Must Be Santa” was borrowed by Bob Dylan for his new Christmas album, Christmas Heart, which features the accordion playing of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo.

Lighting a menorah instead of a Christmas tree? Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah, an album of Guthrie’s lyrics put to music by the Klezmatics, is a couple years old but still a great choice for a boisterous Hanukkah celebration.

The holidays are fun, but they can be stressful, too; after weeks of shopping, traveling, and dealing with family, who hasn’t felt like locking themselves in the bedroom with a good book? We’ve got options there, too. Blair Kilpatrick’s Accordion Dreams, is a heartwarming tale of her transformative obsession with Cajun and Creole music. For a more historical perspective, Ryan Brasseaux’s Cajun Breakdown is one of the most thoroughly researched histories of Cajun music ever published.

Mi Música shirtNeed something to wear when you aren’t carrying an accordion? In addition to producing fantastic collections of folk music from around the world, Smithsonian Folkways has neat t-shirts, too, including this accordion-themed design. There are some great shirts on Etsy, too — this stenciled accordion shirt and the cheeky “Instruments of War”, which shows an accordion amidst a sea of weapons (club, axe, banjo).

One of our favorite products of the past year is Elena Erber’s nifty accordion backstraps. Anna and I have been using them for a few months now and they’re comfortable, easy to adjust and great for your back. We’re also big fans of the annual Bay Area Accordion Babes Pin-Up calendar. It’s accompanied by a CD of folk, jazz, gypsy, goth, and pop accordion, just in case the eye candy isn’t enough for you.

Want more ideas? Check out our 2008 Accordion Gift Guide or browse our other shopping-related posts. And if you find other great accordion-related gifts out there, leave a comment and let us know!

Learning to Play Accordion

We’ve been seeing a lot of encouraging signs that the accordion is gaining popularity — one of which is a sharp increase in emails from people who want to learn how to play the accordion. Even better, we keep finding new resources to help them get started. Here are a few we’ve uncovered recently…

Accordion lesson books have always been a popular topic on our site and recently I’ve had a couple accordion teachers recommend a relatively new series from Santorella Publications. Written by Jay Latulippe, Santorella’s three book series isn’t as deep as the venerable Palmer-Hughes series (which has ten), but it includes more contemporary styles and each book comes with a companion CD. Santorella also publishes two diatonic button accordion lesson books (also with CDs) by Henry Doktorski.

Books are great, but working directly with an accordion teacher is even better. For those who can’t find a local teacher, Duane Schnur’s online accordion lessons may be the next best thing. Recently retired, Duane taught accordion for nearly forty years and has decided to “give something back” in the form of these free downloadable lessons. There are forty-six lessons available so far; each includes a PDF with sheet music and an MP3 of Duane leading the lesson.

For visual learners, the rise of YouTube has made it incredibly easy to find and share lesson videos online. For instance, I’ve always struggled with the bellows shake, but thanks to this video from Australian accordionist Dave Evans, I’m well on my way to becoming the next Dick Contino.

Finally, readers may have noticed the link to Debra Peters’ The ABC’s of Accordion Basics lesson DVDs on our site. We’ll do a full review of her DVDs in a future post, but if you’re looking for an introduction to rock and blues accordion, there’s no better place to start.

Have you come across a particularly good accordion lesson book, video, or other learning aid recently? Leave a comment and let us know.

Blair Kilpatrick Answers More Questions

Accordion DreamsToday we’re closing the book, so to speak, on our Q&A series with Blair Kilpatrick, author of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music. In her last set of responses, Blair discusses her accordion collection, the SF Bay Area Cajun/Zydeco scene, and her dream “accordion lunch.”

If you could have lunch with the accordion player of your choice, who would it be and why?

That’s a difficult one. There are two Louisiana legends from the past I’d love to meet: Creole accordionist Amédée Ardoin (1896-1941) and Cajun accordionist Iry LeJeune (1928-1955). Iry, who recorded much of the core Cajun repertoire, was heavily influenced by Amedée, so I imagine they’d enjoy getting together. That would be a wonderful fantasy lunch—even though I’d have a hard time keeping up, since the conversation would be all in French.

But if I had to choose, I’d share one more meal with Creole accordionist Danny Poullard, my friend and teacher, who died in April of 2001. He was the guiding spirit of the Bay Area’s Cajun-zydeco scene. He gave away his music so freely—he had weekly jam sessions at his house, and he was so proud of his many protégé’s who went on to play in bands of their own. He also taught at music camps all over the country. My band was the final one to be shaped by his garage jam sessions. He even suggested our name, Sauce Piquante. He heard us perform as a full band just once, five days before he died.

So I’d love to bring him back to let him know how things are going—and to tell him he’s not forgotten. I hope he’d like my book. So much of Accordion Dreams is about my time with Danny. He was a tough but loving mentor—so I’m sure he’d offer a few tips about my accordion playing—and maybe even about the book, too!

Blair Kilpatrick Answers Your Questions

Blair KilpatrickRecently, we asked readers to send in their questions for Blair Kilpatrick, author of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music. Thanks to everyone who responded — and congratulations to Mister Anchovy, who won our drawing for a free copy of the book. Today, in her first set of responses, Blair describes how she was drawn to the accordion and the musical life that she and her husband share.

What inspired you to choose the accordion, as opposed to another Cajun instrument?

Good question. But I never did choose the accordion. It chose me.

It came to me in a dream. Literally. A series of recurring dreams, strange and vivid. I was at one with the instrument, almost dancing with it. It felt like the accordion was playing me. I’d wake up in the morning with the sensation still lingering in my hands. This was peculiar, since I wasn’t a musician and had no memory of ever laying my hands on an accordion.

My unlikely passion for Cajun music had begun on a birthday trip to New Orleans, when I heard some recorded music — it was a Beausoleil tape — on a swamp tour. After that, I became consumed with the sound: buying up cassette tapes, listening constantly, going to monthly dances put on by Chicago’s one and only homegrown Cajun band. After nine months of listening, dancing, and dreaming music, I finally gave in: I had to find an accordion.

So it didn’t feel like a choice or decision — it was more like succumbing to a consuming passion. A sensible person would have stuck to Cajun dancing, or maybe picked up the guitar or triangle as a first instrument. (Later on, I did learn to play them both, along with some very basic fiddle.)

After the fact, I’ve tried to analyze what it is about the particular sound of the Cajun accordion that appeals so strongly to me. My first teacher at music camp, a very young Steve Riley, described it this way: loud and crude. It is, in some ways. Cajun accordion also has a very percussive quality, because of the inherent nature of a single row diatonic instrument. It’s like the wild skirl of the bagpipes or the wail of a blues harmonica — it moves you. Or it doesn’t.

More recently, I’ve begun to suspect the accordion resonated so strongly for me because of my Slovenian roots, which were mostly discounted when I was growing up. But that’s another story.

Ask Blair Kilpatrick Contest

Blair KilpatrickDo you have a question for Blair Kilpatrick, author of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music? Would you like to win a free, signed copy of her book? Read on!

Blair has kindly offered to answer a handful of questions from our readers about her story, her music, or whatever else sparks your curiosity. Just submit your question here before next Monday (January 26th) and we’ll forward your questions to Blair for her to answer in a future post. Then we’ll choose one lucky, random question-asker and they’ll receive a free, signed copy of her excellent new book.

In the meantime, Bay Area accordion aficionados can catch Blair at one of these upcoming author events:

In addition to a reading, book signing, and Q&A, these events will also include live Cajun-Creole music.

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Blair Kilpatrick’s Accordion Dreams

Accordion DreamsI love hearing stories of how people fell in love with the accordion, so I’m really looking forward to Blair Kilpatrick’s new book, Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music. Kilpatrick was a happily settled psychologist, wife, and mother when a trip to New Orleans sparked a passion for Cajun music and the accordion. Today, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area — the largest Cajun/zydeco scene outside of Louisiana — and plays accordion in her own Cajun-Creole band, Sauce Piquante.

The book details Kilpatrick’s pursuit of her unlikely obsession with Cajun culture and the accordion, from the Chicago’s Cajun dance scene to a folk music camp in West Virginia and trips to Louisiana and even France. But it’s really about embracing new experiences and how you can chase your dreams at any age.

“… I moved the bellows just a little, my finger depressing a single white button, one of the low notes on the treble side. I bent my ear close. There—I heard it! A throaty whisper that promised to turn into the real thing once I really let go. I could already picture it, and I could practically feel it: bellows pumping, air rushing, all four reeds vibrating in the thrilling growl and wail of a Cajun accordion in full voice. The accordion of my dreams.”

If you live in the Bay Area, there’ll be a release/dance party for the book on February 10th at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. The event will include a reading, book signing, and a performance by Sauce Piquante.

2008 Accordion Gift Guide

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift? Want to help our nation’s beleaguered retailers and stimulate the economy? Never fear: Let’s Polka’s 2008 Accordion Gift Guide is here! We’ve got music, books, DVDs, and more for the accordion aficionados on your list — and for those folks you’re looking to convert to the squeezin’ side.

Grandpa’s Magical Accordion

Grandpa's Magical AccordionFor some reason, we find ourselves reading an awful lot of children’s books these days. So we’ll have to pick up a copy of Grandpa’s Magical Accordion, written by Jessica Cherie Errico and illustrated by Brenda Star. It’s the story of two children who, as their grandfather plays his accordion, are magically transported to the countries mentioned in the songs he plays. This picture book aimed at ages 5 to 9 includes a CD with narration and renditions of such accordion classics as “Roll Out The Barrel” and “Cielito Lindo.” Sounds like the perfect holiday gift for the little squeezers in your life.

Book Review: Sights by Susanna Vance

There aren’t many young adult novels involving accordions, but Bruce Triggs found one. Bruce — co-host of the excellent Accordion Noir radio show in Vancouver — penned this book review for Let’s Polka:

Sights by Susanna VanceI picked up Susanna Vance’s book Sights, because the (hardback) cover is of a girl playing accordion. I was literally on my way to the Vancouver (BC) Accordion Circle, where I was quick to show it off.

Sights tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who’s had what’s euphemistically called a “tough” childhood, moving to a new school and making friends with some other outcasts and forming a band. She plays accordion… they rock… cool! I wanted her to be a big Johnny Grande fan (accordionist with Bill Haley and the Comets), but he isn’t mentioned.

I was really impressed with the “sound” of the narrator (whose name is Baby Girl). Without telling where she is from, she gives a really consistent rural USA sound to the book. I’ve lived a lot of places in America, and she sounded kind of Okie/Appalachian. I’m not sure where she’s from, but it’s really nice.

It has grimmer aspects than Victoria Miles’ Magnifico, the other teen book I know with accordion content. People should be aware that it deals matter-of-factly with subjects like child abuse and adolescent sexuality, but I do recommend it. (I similarly have to remember to tell people that Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes is kinda violent, which I overlook in the richness of it all.)

There are elements of fantasy in the story’s vision of 1950’s USA. I wouldn’t call it realistic; even the violence is rather odd. But if you’re prepared (by reading this), you should be in for a swell time.

You can listen to Accordion Noir, co-hosted by Bruce Triggs and Rowan Lipkovitz, every Friday night on CFRO CO-OP Radio, 102.7 FM in Vancouver, or download episodes online at

The Octonauts

Captain Barnacles Bear playing accordionI recently came across a children’s book called The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade, by Meomi. I was delighted to find out that the main character, Captain Barnacles Bear, plays the accordion!

Check it out to see how the Captain and the Octonauts save the Sea of Shade. (I’ll give you a hint: the Captain’s accordion is involved!) This is a great book for kids. And definitely a great last-minute holiday gift for your favorite accordion-loving kid-at-heart, too!

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