Defending the Squeezebox

An open letter to Irene Haskins of the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune:

Dear Irene,

As an avid accordionist, I read your recent piece, “Accordion out of tune with popular tastes”, with great interest. However, there are a couple small things I’d like to clear up:

First, you say that the accordion “was not designed to rest on the chest of any girl with more than a 34A bust,” and describe the only female accordion player you know as so flat-chested “she and her husband often go to one of those topless beaches and pass themselves off as brothers.” You may be surprised to learn that there are, in fact, many, many, many women (including my wife) who manage to reconcile their passion for accordion playing with their ample bosoms. There’s even an entire band of them!

Second, you pine nostalgically for Lawrence Welk (“the last of a dying breed”) by saying he “gave the accordion what it had never had — respectability.” Now I’m a bigger Welk fan than anyone my age, but even I admit his music played a large role in cementing the accordion’s “uncool” reputation in the minds of many Americans. Do you really think more “champagne music” would draw young people to the accordion?

And finally, we get to the heart of your piece:

“I?m worried, especially after hearing that even the Polka Belt?s supply of accordionists is dwindling; the veterans are dying out and not being replaced. We should all be worried… where are the accordion players of tomorrow coming from?”

I’ll admit, Irene, when I see photos of accordion gatherings where the average age of attendees is somewhere north of 70, I get a little worried too. But then I turn on the radio and hear the vibrant sounds of tejano and conjunto music from nearly every other station on the dial. Or I’ll take in the gypsy cool of Devotchka, dance to the creole/zydeco of Keith Frank, or raise a glass to the way the accordion drives the rowdy drinking songs of Flogging Molly. Or I’ll go to a local Punk Accordion Workshop and hear thirty people squeezing their way through a Ramones song. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — I’m constantly amazed at the vibrant and diverse accordion sounds emanating from all over the world.

Now don’t get me wrong, there still a long way to go before our nation’s accordion teachers are overrun with kids clamoring for lessons. (Then again, I’ve seen small children go nuts for the accordion player in the Wiggles, so maybe we’re not that far off.) But the accordion is a resilient instrument, and despite all the flack it’s gotten over the past forty years, the tide is starting to turn. And the best, I think, is yet to come.

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