Play Accordion On Your iPhone

Apple is previewing a new version of iPhone software today, but I’m guessing they won’t include any accordion-related applications. Fortunately, Markus Palmanto has filled the void with Accordio — a new app that simulates a five-row chromatic button accordion on your iPhone or iPod Touch. I’ve been playing with it and, even though I’m a piano accordion guy, it’s surprisingly responsive and easy to hit the buttons. You can switch between common button layouts (B, C, G) and display the names of the buttons if, like me, you’re still learning your way around a chromatic keyboard. Here’s an impressive demonstration:

Looks like a fun way to practice on the go, or to entertain yourself while your accordion is in the shop. You can download Accordio for $3.99 (or €2.99) from the App Store. Or if you act fast, I have a few free download codes to give away — leave a comment or message me on Twitter to get one. (Update: Sorry, all the codes have been claimed.)

Giant Accordion on the Loose?

Bruce at Accordion Noir forwarded us a strange Russian news article about a “Monster-Accordion” that will be unveiled at the Kremlin in April. The instrument will be the centerpiece of a celebration of the accordion’s 100th birthday:

“Precise dimensions of giant accordion remain unknown, but according to the art director of the holiday concert the height of the instrument will be several meters. To make the instrument sound two people will draw bellows and several people will push keys of the instrument.”

“Several meters” high? I wonder if this giant accordion is related to this one built by Giancarlo Francenella in Castlefidardo, Italy. That accordion — which is more than 3 meters tall and 2 meters wide — requires two people to play it, one on the keys and another to push the bellows. (Sounds like the punchlinke to a “how many accordionists does it take to screw in a lightbulb” joke…) If you want to see it in action, the accordion was recently transported to the Tate Modern in London for an exhibition and will be there through April 26th.

The Big Squeeze Accordion Throwdown

Big SqueezeAre you ready to put your squeezebox skills to the test? Texas Folklife is looking for the most amazing young accordion players in Texas and Louisiana for its annual Big Squeeze accordion contest. You could win cash, a trip for two to play in Germany (courtesy of Hohner), and a day of recording at SugarHill Studios in Houston. Finalists will battle it out before a huge crowd on June 6th at the 20th Annual Accordion Kings & Queens festival. Contestants must be age 25 or younger and the entry deadline is March 1st; check the Texas Folklife site for details.

Give Your Squeeze a Squeeze

Can’t think of anything romantic to do for Valentine’s Day? Why not give your main squeeze an accordion serenade? If you lack the bellows to do it yourself and you live in San Francisco, accordionist Tom Torriglia is offering to “Give Your Squeeze a Squeeze” on your behalf. An accordion player wil be dispatched to your loved one’s home, restaurant, office or wherever to play a romantic or fun love song for that special valentine. Each “Squeeze” costs $100 with 20% of that being donated to the San Francisco-based non-profit, Music in Schools Today. Remember, nothing says I love you like the accordion.

Afghanistan, An Accordion Journey

When journalist Gregory Warner took his accordion to Afghanistan, he hoped the music would help him where his phrasebook failed. The instrument turned out to be a better ambassador than he ever imagined.

His fantastic video, “Afghanistan: An Accordion Journey”, shows how his music helped bridge the gap between foreigner and natives by recalling Afghanistan’s own accordion hero, Ahmad Zahir. (Thirty years after his death, Zahir is still Afghanistan’s most popular and enduring musical icon.) I particularly love the scene where Warner performs Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” for a cheering Afghan crowd. Is there any culture where the accordion doesn’t fit in?

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Polka Fans Rejoice: Blob’s Park Returns

Blob's ParkAll too often, we find ourselves writing about polka hotspots right as they’re about to close. So it’s a nice change of pace to report that, after being closed for a year, Maryland polka landmark Blob’s Park will re-open Wednesday night with a New Year’s Eve dinner/dance. Max Blob’s Bavarian Biergarten (aka “Blob’s Park”) first opened in Jessup in 1933 and was a center for polka dances until last December when owner John Eggrel retired and the land was earmarked for development. Now Max Eggrel, great-nephew of founder Max Blob and brother of John, has leased the land and is hoping to keep the place open for at least three more years. Great news for Maryland polka fans — now get out there and dance!

Lars Hollmer Passes Away

Lars HollmerSome sad holiday news to share: Swedish accordionist and Accordion Tribe member Lars Hollmer passed away on Christmas Day. I know he had been sick for some time; earlier this year, Seattle accordionist Amy Denio took Hollmer’s place on Accordion Tribe’s European tour.

Known for his improvisational and avant-garde work on accordion and keyboards, Hollmer was part of the pioneering Swedish prog rock group Samla Mammas Manna (and its subsequent offshoots) and collaborated with numerous artists over the course of his 40 years in music. Most of his recordings were made at his unique home and studio outside Uppsala, Sweden, called “The Chickenhouse.” One of my favorite Hollmer songs is “Boeves Psalm,” written around 1977 and dedicated to an uncle of Hollmer’s who had just passed away. There’s an all-accordion version on the first Accordion Tribe album, but I just can’t resist this beautiful orchestral arrangement.

(Thanks to Lauralee for passing the news along.)

2009 Grammy Nominees Announced

It’s that time of year again. The nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards were announced yesterday and, as usual, accordions dominated at least two categories. First up, the nominees for Best Polka Album:

It’s many of the same nominees we’ve seen in previous years including LynnMarie, Walter Ostanek and, of course, 17-time winner Jimmy Sturr. But I’m excited to see conjunto legend Paulino Bernal in the mix this year; he’s certainly long overdue for this recognition.

This is the second year for the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album award; here are the nominees:

Meanwhile, our daughter’s favorite album — Here Come the 123s by They Might Be Giants — was nominated for Best Musical Album For Children. It’s certainly been played enough at our house to earn some sort of award.

We’ll post clips and reviews of many of these albums between now and the awards ceremony, which takes place February 8th in Los Angeles.

From Siberia to Wisconsin

Sergei BelkinYesterday’s Chicago Tribune had a fascinating profile of Sergei Belkin, a Russian accordion virtuoso now living in Wisconsin as a machine polisher in an industrial pump factory. Belkin grew up in Siberia and studied at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory but, after a long journey that took him from Siberia to Nome and now Wisconsin, he gave up the accordion shortly after reaching the U.S. Since returning to the instrument two years ago, though, he’s been wowing audiences and fellow musicians alike:

“Teri Forscher, a flutist who has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony, heard him a few weeks ago. ‘It was extraordinary… I mean it was really, really jaw-dropping. When you see Sergei play, you assume he must be some kind of international star.'”

Instead, though, he spends most of his time at a factory job that has already contributed to a permanent soreness in his left shoulder and elbow that affects his playing. His story is a compelling one, and underscores how there are no guarantees, even if you have incredible talent.

The article includes a sidebar called “5 Questions on Accordions”, with answers to such burning questions as “Did any great composers write for the accordion?” and “What kinds of music can the accordion play?” Of course, if you’re reading this, you already know the answers. Smarty pants.

Let’s Polka in the Palo Alto Weekly

The Saccheri FamilyWe often link to profiles of accordionists in newspapers around the globe, but today we’re linking to something a bit closer to home. In our own house, actually. This weekend’s issue of the Palo Alto Weekly has a very flattering cover story on our family and how accordion music brought Anna and I together (and inspired this site):

“Fast forward to 2003… A girl named Anna messaged Saccheri on Friendster. She said she liked accordions too, that she’d been playing since high school. After exchanging a few e-mails, the couple started dating. The end of the story is the stuff of fairy tales: They’re now living happily ever after in accordion-playing bliss with their 6-month-old daughter Sarah in a little house near the Stanford campus.”

Thanks to Jill Kimball, Marjan Sadoughi, Karla Kane, and everyone else at the Weekly for the excellent article!

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