An Historic Free-Reeds Collection

It’s been awhile since we’ve mentioned it, but if you’re into the history of free-reed instruments, is a treasure trove of research, photos, sheet music, and much more. A perfect example is Stephen Chambers’ excellent “Annotated Catalogue of Historic European Free-Reed lnstruments from my Private Collection.” From Æolinas and mouth organs to the earliest accordions and concertinas, the collection includes fascinating photos and descriptions of these instruments that paved the way for the accordions we play today.

An Annotated Catalogue of Historic European Free-Reed lnstruments

Torch Passed at Art’s Concertina Bar

Art AltenburgArt’s Concertina Bar in Milwaukee is a polka institution. Billed as the “only Concertina Bar in the U.S.A.,” the walls are lined with concertinas and memorabilia, there are live bands and dances every weekend, and the affable Art Altenburg presides over it all, posing for photos with tourists and squeezing out the occasional tune on the concertina.

Art’s been trying to sell his business, though, so he can spend more time with his ailing mother. After a long search, he’s finally found a buyer: Andy Kochanski is taking over later this month and, thankfully, will be keeping the music that Art’s place is known for alive. Art’s Concertina Bar will become Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall and Andy will even allow accordions in (Art had strict concertina-only rules):

“It’s open to people and musicians who just love polka music… I’m going to do as much as I can for the polka community.”

Meanwhile, the 78-year-old Art still has dreams of his own to pursue:

“I’ll probably go chasing women, do a little playing, and do a little traveling.”

Sounds like a plan to me! There’s a farewell party for Art planned for next Saturday night, October 13, on his last night in business. Get there early and roll out the barrel one more time with a polka legend.

Coveting the Chemnitzer Concertina

Chemnitzer ConcertinaI know, I know… we already have enough accordions around the house, but I’ve always been attracted to the chemnitzer concertina, “polka music’s workhorse”. There’s just something about those ornately-decorated square boxes and their distinctive tones that have always appealed to me. Maybe one day, when we start the “Let’s Polka” polka band, I’ll pick one up.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been combing through the voluminous concertina resources at They have a huge library of chemnitzer concertina sheet music and an extensive database of concertina musicians (everyone from Rudy Adams to Jack “Zimmy” Zimmerman). If you haven’t heard a chemnitzer concertina in the wild, there’s also a collection of MP3s. Even if you’re just a concertina wannabe like me, it’s worth checking out.

Concertina Bowl Saturday

The Super Bowl is still a week away, but concertina fans are gearing up for their big event this weekend — the 29th annual Concertina Bowl in Blaine, MN. It’ll be twelve hours of dancing and listening to nonstop concertina music, including an appearance by Wisconsin’s “Concertina Kid” Gary Brueggen.

Minnesota Public Radio did a feature on the Concertina Bowl today, focusing on concertina makers Bob Novak and Michael Smieja. Each year, they build a handful of custom-order concertinas that use a soft, quiet action designed by Smieja. (I love the plexiglass version that shows the concertina’s inner workings.) You can listen to the full segment (with music!) on the MPR website:

Build Your Own MIDI Concertina

A MIDI controller shaped like a Hayden Duet Concertina

Paul Everett always wanted to play a Hayden Duet concertina, but new instruments can cost thousands of dollars and used ones are nearly impossible to find. So he did what anyone else would do: he built his own.

The result isn’t really a concertina — there are no bellows, reeds, or valves — it’s a MIDI keyboard with buttons arranged according to the Hayden Duet system. It’s no substitute for a real concertina, but it looks like a useful little practice gadget.

Check out Paul’s site for more photos and details, as well as some useful links if you’re interested in building your own MIDI device.

[Found via MAKE: Blog]

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A Trip to the Concertina Factory

Ever wonder how a concertina is made? Wonder no more after watching this old newsreel (circa 1961) chronicling the work of craftsmen at the Wheatstone concertina factory in Islington, London.

See how workers fit valves, prepare bellows, and file reeds for tuning; all while following in the footsteps of Sir Charles Wheatstone, who invented the English concertina in 1844. The narrator notes that the concertina is the “only musical instrument ever invented by an Englishman; but then, music is the food of love, and Englishmen are reputedly bad lovers.” Ouch.

If you’re interested in concertina history or instruction, be sure to visit They have a great library of articles ranging from fingering charts to discussions of serial numbers in early Wheatstone ledgers. There are also some lively discussion forums at