New Accordion School in Houston

Inspired by last week’s post about learning to play the accordion? You may be interested in a new accordion school in the Houston area called Houston Accordion Performers. The owners, Sheila Lee and Mark Ropel, have years of teaching experience and have studied with the likes of Willard Palmer and Anthony Galla-Rini. Shelia also recently produced an instructional DVD for GCF button accordion which is due out in September (watch a clip).

The school opened in June and has teachers giving lessons in chromatic, piano, and GCF diatonic button accordion. Sheila and Mark are promoting a “studio environment” with private, group, and band lessons, emphasizing styles like Tex-Mex, Norteño, Conjunto, Zydeco, and more. In addition to Sheila and Mark, the studio’s staff includes Mario Pedone and Ross Witte.

Houston Accordion Performers will hold an all-day celebration on September 12th to celebrate its grand opening. The day will start with the studio’s accordion band appearing in Houston’s Fiestas Patrias International Parade, followed by a concert back at the studio. Check our calendar for details and directions.

One Less Guitar, One More Accordion

If you think we work hard to promote the accordion, you should check out our Canadian cousins at Accordion Noir. They produce a weekly radio show devoted entirely to accordion music from around the world. They’ve also just created a great new bumper sticker to raise accordion awareness — one whose message may sound familiar to some bicyclists:

One Less Guitar

The stickers are narrow so they fit a bike’s tubes, but look equally fab on an accordion case, guitar case, hurdy-gurdy case… you name it. They’re currently available around Vancouver or you can email the guys to order one. The cost is just $1 and goes to support their awesome radio show, which is broadcast on CFRO Co-Op Radio (102.7 FM) in Vancouver. (You can also listen online and download episodes directly from their site.)

Billie Jean on Accordion

Like many other children of the 1980s, I spent last night listening to my old Michael Jackson albums and reminiscing about my childhood — the trip to the mall to buy Bad on cassette… borrowing one of grandma’s fancy gloves while practicing the moonwalk… okay, maybe that last one was just me.

Nestled among the classic Michael Jackson videos on YouTube, I found this clip of Montreal busker Scott Dunbar doing a fanastically funky one-man accordion band rendition of “Billie Jean.” All that’s missing is the glove.

Remembering Clyde Forsman (1915-2009)

Clyde ForsmanIn the spring of 1995, I was an eager college freshman doing what all young men dream of when they leave home: learning to play the accordion. I didn’t have a teacher or any lesson books, but I did have Those Darn Accordions’ album Squeeze This on cassette.

On the cover was Clyde Forsman, his octogenarian back covered with tattoos, smiling broadly and showing off his biceps while lifting an accordion. When people kidded me about playing the accordion, I showed them that album and made them listen to Clyde’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” — a stunning version that rendered all other covers futile. Clyde Forsman helped me prove that the accordion could be cool.

Clyde passed away Friday night at his home in San Francisco; he was 94. One of the founding members of Those Darn Accordions, he played with the band from 1989 to 2000 and was easily its most beloved member. He won over crowds with his charm, humor, and the way he would take off his shirt to reveal his fantastic tattoos before launching into “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” or the aforementioned “Fire.” An amazing entertainer and an incomparable accordion ambassador, he will be sorely missed.

The Polka Grammy Is No More

I was hoping for an Accordion Awareness Month filled with only positive stories; unfortunately, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had other ideas. Yesterday the Academy announced the elimination of the polka category from the Grammy Awards, wiping out one of polka’s few remaining venues for national exposure. Carl Finch, leader and accordionist for two-time Grammy winner Brave Combo, was understandably disappointed:

“It’s devastating… Polka is so misunderstood, you know, the butt of jokes. Having a polka category was the most important step to legitimacy that we could ever hope to achieve. To have that taken away, it’s like it was all for nothing.”

According to the Academy, the polka category was removed “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.” One official cited the declining number of entries (only 20 in 2006) as a deciding factor. That only five artists had won the award in its 24 years — including 18-time winner Jimmy Sturr — made the category appear even less competitive.

This is definitely tough news for the polka community, especially for those bands who enjoyed media attention at Grammy time. But ultimately, I don’t think there are any polka fans who love the music any less today than they did yesterday, and I doubt this will stop any of the hard-working polka bands who fill dance floors across the country from doing what they love most.

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Make An Accordion Awareness Month Pledge!

It’s June 1st and that can only mean one thing… it’s the start of Accordion Awareness Month! Established in 1989 by our pal Tom Torriglia — formerly of Those Darn Accordions, now with retro-Italiano band Bella Ciao — Accordion Awareness Month was created to spread the word about the accordion’s resurgence in popularity and to educate people about the accordion’s true musical potential. Basically, the same mission we’ve adopted at Let’s Polka, except we do it year-round!

This year, we want you — our humble, accordion-loving readers — to help promote the virtues of our favorite instrument. Sit on your porch and play some tunes for your neighbors, attend a show on our accordion event calendar, fill up your coworker’s iPod with Flaco Jimenez songs when he isn’t looking, tell all your friends about Let’s Polka… the possibilities are limitless. Me, I’m going to sit on my balcony every night, directly above a pizzeria, and serenade patrons.

To encourage you, we’re giving away over $100 worth of accordion-related goodies to readers who pledge to promote the accordion this month. To make your pledge, write a comment on this post and tell us how you plan to celebrate Accordion Awareness Month — doesn’t matter if it’s something small (making a YouTube video) or big (writing an accordion concerto). One lucky, randomly-chosen pledger will receive a prize package stuffed with accordion CDs, books, and more. Contents include:

You have until the end of Accordion Awareness Month to make your pledge, so get out there and become an accordion awareness ambassador!

Mass Accordions in NYC

Mass Accordions!Make Music New York is a unique festival of free concerts in public spaces throughout New York City, all on Sunday, June 21st, the first day of summer. Along with hundreds of individual concerts, this year’s MMNY includes a type of gathering called “Mass Appeal” where hundreds of musicians perform pieces written for a single instrument. And, you guessed it, there’ll be special event just for accordionists.

Accordionists of all shapes, sizes, and abilities are encouraged to join the accordion gathering at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. You can participate in the performance of a new piece by composer Bob Goldberg for the Famous Accordion Orchestra, in which visitors discover an “accordion forest.” Players are also invited to play-along to some old favorites with the NYC’s all-female Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra conducted by Walter Kuhr. See the listing on our calendar for more details, including RSVP information so they know how many squeezeboxes to expect.

Saved By His Accordion

I couldn’t pass up an article titled “Love for accordions even saved his life”, and this story of accordion player/repairman/collector Nic Schewtschenko doesn’t disappoint. During World War II, he and thousands of other Russians were rounded up and put in a camp outside Minsk by German soldiers. Fortunately for Schewtschenko, he had a talent that the Germans needed:

“After two days of no food, a German officer waded through the Russian captives, asking for someone who knew how to fix accordions. Apparently the soldiers had damaged theirs during drunken frolicking the night before… The Germans took him to a garage where he was fed, given time to recoup his strength, then put to work mending the accordion while many of his compatriots starved to death in the field.”

After the war, Schewtschenko moved to Canada where he owned a construction business and repaired accordions on the side. Today he’s 87 years old and, while he’s retired and in the process of selling most of the 60 accordions he has accumulated over the years, is still sought after for his accordion expertise.

MP3 Monday: Chango Spasiuk

Chango SpasiukYesterday’s New York Times had a rave review for a recent performance by Chango Spasiuk, one of our favorite Argentine accordionists. Spasiuk is best known as an innovator of chamamé, a folk music from northeast Argentina which blends native Guarani, Creole and European traditions. But Spasiuk’s music goes beyond the traditional, incorporating rock, jazz and even avant-garde references. He’s drawn comparisons to his fellow countryman, the legendary Astor Piazzolla, and indeed, Spasiuk may well be doing for chamamé what Piazzolla did for tango.

Quick Links: From Russia With Love

  • CBS News: Accordions in Russia
    CBS News goes to Russia and finds a culture that embraces the accordion, with virtuosos like Valery Kovtun selling out concerts and young students lining up for lessons. The segment includes an interview with jazz accordion legend Art Van Damme during a recent trip to Moscow.
  • The Russia Journal: Amassing Accordions
    The “most accordion-obsessed person in the former Soviet Union”, Alfred Mirek has collected thousands of accordions and accordion-related objects over the past fifty years. Mirek has compiled an accordion encyclopedia, created a classification chart, and maintains that the accordion really originated in Russia, not Germany. Part of his collection is currently on display as part of the Moscow City Museum.
  • Russian Garmoshka
    The garmoshka (or garmon) is a type of Russian button accordion. The standard button arrangment is known as “25×25”: 25 treble buttons in two rows and 25 bass buttons in three rows.

« Newer posts · Older posts »