The Fast Fingers of Liam O’Connor

Liam O'Connor photoRemember our post about last week’s attempt to set the Guinness World Record for fastest accordion player? Thanks to the Irish Post we’ve discovered that the accordionist was Irish button box virtuoso Liam O’Connor. Liam rose to fame as a featured musician with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, and has also recorded three albums with vocalist Lisa Aherne.

According to his site, Liam set the record for “Fastest Fingers in the World” by playing an amazing 11.64 notes per second under the watchful eyes of Guinness judges. The record-breaking tune was the venerable classic, “Tico Tico”.

Unfortunately, Liam’s site doesn’t have any sound clips, so we can only wonder what his fast fingers sound like. Leave a comment if you know where we can find clips of Liam’s music online.

World’s Fastest Accordion Player?

Photo of man who attempted Guinness Record for fastest accordionWhen you were a kid, did you ever spend a Saturday trying to set the Guinness World Record for “Longest Time Balancing a Broom on Your Chin”? Okay, maybe that was just me. But this past Thursday, aspiring record holders around the world attempted everything from Largest Tea Party to Most Rattlesnakes Held in Mouth during Guinness World Records Day.

Buried deep in news stories about the event, though, was a line about someone in Dublin, Ireland, attempting to become the world’s fastest accordion player. I haven’t been able to track down much information about the attempt other than the photo above, and that the attempt took place at an Eason’s bookstore. Anyone know who this guy is? And how exactly do you measure such a feat? Most notes per minute? Do you have to play a particular song or can you just flail aimlessly? Is it easier to play fast on a button box or a piano accordion? So many questions!

Go Solo With NaSoAlMo

Always wanted to write and record your own album, but find yourself scared away by the time and effort involved? NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) is for you. Inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) — an annual event where aspiring writers attempt to write a novel in just thirty days — the idea behind NaSoAlMo is to let loose, silence your internal critic, and just do it.

The rules are pretty simple: albums should be at least 29:09 long (same as the first Ramones album) and, like that album, can include one cover song. Anyone who finishes their album by November 30 is a winner. Anna is taking part in this year’s NaSoAlMo and has already started work on a couple tunes today, so hopefully we’ll have an album of original accordion music to share by the end of the month. Go Anna go!

For more on NaSoAlMo, check out this fun NPR piece from last year.

Italian Family Festa in San Jose

Why not spend the weekend with the Italian family you never had? The Italian American Heritage Foundation’s 26th annual Italian Family Festa is happening this Friday through Sunday at Santana Row in San Jose, CA. There’ll be ample accordion entertainment, including performances by squeezebox legend Dick Contino, as well as the Silicon Valley Accordion Society. And like any good Italian festival, there’ll be plenty of food, a grape stomping contest, a tarantella dance contest, and a bocce ball court. We’ll be there Saturday, so say ‘hi’ and — assuming our faces aren’t stuffed with cannoli — we’ll give you some Let’s Polka stickers.

I Won the Grand Prize!

History was made last Sunday at the Cotati Accordion Festival. I won the grand prize in the raffle: a brand new Hohner Corona button accordion!

Now, I’m a piano accordionist, but I had always wanted to learn button accordion. After initially pricing them, I realized I couldn’t afford one. So, for years, I had been eyeing them longingly, unsuccessfully searching eBay for deals, and hoping that some day I could get one.

Fast-forward to the Cotati Accordion Festival. Shortly after Chris and I arrived, there was an announcement: “Buy your raffle tickets for the Hohner Corona button accordion!” and I knew right away that I had to take a chance. Chris, knowing I’ve always wanted a button accordion, encouraged me to go buy a few tickets. I got 6 tickets for $5. What a deal! I was really excited. I felt lucky.

Chris and I walked around, browsing the accordions for sale. I mentioned that I wanted to check out some button accordions and he said “Don’t buy one. You might win the one in the raffle!”

And he was right! When they announced my name as the winner, I was completely stunned! I ran up to the stage and showed them my tickets. I couldn’t believe I won! I was ecstatic! When I looked back into the crowd, I saw Chris practically rolling on the ground with laughter. The kind and helpful Cotati Accordion Festival folks said “Congratulations!” and boxed up the accordion for me. Chris took a photo.

After much squeeing, I showed my new win to some people and was introduced to a potential new teacher. Chris helped me carry the squeezebox out to the car and we drove home to show everyone. I think my mom was the most blown away by my great luck. We took it out of the gig bag and saw that they included straps and a lesson book. Awesome!

I’ve been doing the lessons and just having a great time trying to play. I love my new accordion. It is a really cool, unique color, and it sounds really good! So I have just been thrilled to have won it.

Many, many thanks to the folks at the Cotati Accordion Festival, and to Hohner, who donated the accordion!

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Let’s Polka Sticker Giveaway #1

What’s black and white and red all over? The first batch of Let’s Polka stickers! They’re bright, shiny vinyl and they’ll look fantastic on your accordion case, music stand, bumper, laptop, newborn baby, or wherever you enjoy sticking your stickers. Best of all, we’re giving them out absolutely free — all you need to do is tell us a story.

Here’s what you do: Write a comment on this post telling us who or what got you interested in the accordion. Was it the sound of a strolling accordionist at a sidewalk cafe in Paris? An Oktoberfest gone wild? A Weird Al rock and roll polka medley? Tell us your story (be as brief or long-winded as you please) and we’ll follow up via email and send you a handful of stickers. It’s that easy!

And if the stickers weren’t enough, one lucky (randomly-chosen) commenter will also receive a copy of the new Corner Laughers album mentioned earlier today. So what are you waiting for? Get free stuff!

American Accordionists Association Festival

It’s been a busy week for the folks who keep up with the accordion festival circuit. Yesterday, the American Accordionists Association’s 2006 Competition and Festival got underway in Buffalo, NY. There will be competitions (solos, duets, polka, and more), gala concerts each night, and, of course, a group trip to Niagara Falls. Not to mention the highly anticipated group performance of “Beer Barrel Polka.” (Really! Get the sheet music here.)

There was something on the festival’s schedule, though, that caught my eye. Which of these workshops doesn’t quite fit?

  • Beginning Harmony for Overworked Part-time Accordionists
  • Keeping Your Accordion Club Alive
  • The Art of the Bellows Shake
  • Estate Planning & Charitable Giving

They probably just want to make sure your accordion is taken care of — not stuffed in an attic or sold on eBay — after you’re gone.

Update: Here’s an article on the festival from Friday’s Buffalo News.

Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Championships

Right now, one of the largest accordion festivals in the world is in full swing up in beautiful British Columbia — the 32nd annual Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Championships (or KIOTAC, as it’s known). All this week, accordionists are squaring off in such categories as old time, diatonic, light classical, popular music, and jazz. In case you’re wondering what qualifies as “old time” accordion, here’s the rule book definition:

“For the purpose of these competitions, ‘old-time’ shall refer to the manner and style in which the selection was written or is being played, not to the selection’s age or ethnic origin. Old-time music is fittingly described as the style and tempo that has been predominantly and successfully used for dancing the polka, waltz and schottische throughout a broad cross-section of Western Canadian communities during the past century.”

But it’s not all cutthroat competition — there are also featured performances from Bernadette Conlon, Murl Allen Sanders, the Ulster Accordion Band, and more. And just to give you an idea of how big this festival is: last year, they broke the Guinness Record for the largest accordion ensemble, with 644 accordionists playing together. 644! (Kinda puts the old Accordion Invasion to shame.)

Happy Accordion Awareness Month!

Just in case it isn’t already marked in bold on your calendar, June is National Accordion Awareness Month! Accordion Awareness Month is the brainchild of Bay Area accordionist Tom Torriglia (who also helped make the accordion the official instrument of San Francisco back in 1990). It’s the perfect excuse to pull that ol’ squeezebox out of your closet and make your neighbors, um, “aware” of its existence.

To kick off this important month, the 16th annual San Francisco Accordion Festival will be held this Sunday, June 4th, at the Cannery at Fisherman’s Wharf. The event is free, runs from noon to 6pm, and features some of our favorite accordion-flavored performers, including Those Darn Accordions, Big Lou’s Polka Casserole, Conjunto Romero, Bella Ciao, Culann’s Hounds, Kielbasia, and the San Francisco Accordion Orchestra. As mentioned previously, the festival features the San Francisco Main Squeeze Pageant, a contest to crown the most talented (and colorful) accordion player in town.

We’re planning to be there on Sunday, so if you see us (probably not wearing lederhosen), come up and give us a big squeeze!

San Francisco Main Squeeze Pageant

Tom Torriglia wanted us to spread the word about the 16th Annual San Francisco Accordion Festival — Saturday, June 4th from noon to 6pm at the Cannery (at Fisherman’s Wharf). It’s a fun, free event held to celebrate National Accordion Awareness Month, with numerous accordion-based bands performing and a raffle to raise money for Music in Schools Today.

One of the festival highlights is the Main Squeeze Pageant, where contestants are judged based on talent, costume, and the answer to the question “Why should you be San Francisco’s Main Squeeze?” Last year’s winner, Kielbasia, wowed the crowd with her spunky “Pierogi Polka.” To enter this year?s pageant, contact Tom and start working on your costume!

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