Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Accordion Universe

I don't understand why some musical instruments strike people as funny. If you dropped an accordion and a banjo off the Empire State Building, which would hit the ground first? Who cares? What's the difference between an accordion and a chainsaw? You can tune a chainsaw. That's the spirit of this article: Accordionists in D.C.: They Aim To Squeeze by Joshua Zumbrun, Washington Post Staff Writer (Saturday, August 18, 2007).

Despite the mockery, it's good to see the accordion get a little attention and respect.

Imagine a universe exactly like ours in every way but for a lone exception: There is only one type of music. Accordion music.

This week, such parallel universes have collided.

The rift in the cosmic fabric could be found at the Holiday Inn Commonwealth Ballroom in Old Town Alexandria, site of the 60th annual Coupe Mondiale, the World Cup of accordion competitions for younger players.

In Accordion Universe, all music is powered by the swaying bellows pulling air in, pushing it out. There's the familiar oompa-oompa-oompa of polka everywhere, yes, but the instruments also can play whimsical pop and mournful ballads. All types of music, in fact, with the soft drone of the keyboard being pushed to and fro.

The scene at the hotel on Tuesday night for the competition's opening performance is much like any international gathering. A melange of languages wafts through the lobby; bags droop below the eyes of jet-lagged travelers. But our universe ends and this universe begins as someone pushes a birdcage bellman's cart through the doors; it's laden not with suitcases but a pile of accordion cases. At the end of the hallway, accordionists are practicing a difficult riff. And in the rooms, strains of accordion jazz and accordion pop and accordion polka mix with spoken French and Chinese and Danish.

"The soundtrack of life is full of accordions," says Faithe Deffner, the U.S. delegate to, and vice president of, the Confederation of International Accordionists, which stages the Coupe Mondiale every year. "People don't see accordions very much, but they're always in commercials, television, movies."


Brett said...

I have loved accordion music in its various forms for years: zydeco, polka, norteƱo, tango (well, bandoneon). Have you read Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes?

Rebecca Clayton said...

I'm an Annie Proulx fan, so of course I bought a copy as soon as it came out. Accordion Crimes is my least favorite of hers. The density of gruesome deaths and misfortunes per chapter is a little too high for me. I get her point, that the American immigrant experience was difficult and dangerous, but most people died from infectious or chronic diseases, not horrific accidents.

Sherry said...

I love cajun accordion but not Lawrence-Welk style. But then L.W. can make dull any number of exciting musical instruments.

Brett said...

Agreed about Accordion Crimes. I think I'd blocked out the gore. But I liked the conceit of an instrument that ties together different plot lines.

Larry said...

I agree with your opinion of the Proulx novel, but it was nice to see some novelistic squeezebox press.

I owned a nice French button accordion for about two years, but I sold it to an enthusiast in New Hampshire this summer. It became clear to me that learning the concertina and the accordion simultaneously was not within my capabilities, so I decided to stick with my concertina.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Concertina, Larry? I had no idea...

Sherry, I am a Myron Floren--Lawrence Welk fan, although it's the hardcore dance music, not the pop music of the day fluff that I like.