I have always had great admiration for people who develop life long hobbies, whatever they may be. Of course, I am interested in musicians who have played the accordion for fifty or more years! What made you love the accordion so much that you still play it today. Any kind of accordion: keyboard, button, bayan, diatonic etc. For those of you who are wondering? YES! I am a proud member of the "50 plus Accordion Club"!
I am so very grateful to my parents for introducing me to the accordion which has had a lasting positive effect on me for my entire life! I cannot imagine a day without playing or listening to accordion music. I am sure that many of you also feel similarly. Tell me about it!!
I am working on a project to learn about the thoughts of people with life long commitment to the accordion. I am including an article about my findings in www.accordionusa.com news publications each month.
As AAA Secretary and Board member, I am also a promoter of the important series of articles by AAA Historian Joan Grauman about the history of AAA personalities and artists. I have long advocated that Joan Grauman, should also write about her life and after many conversations, Joan Grauman finally agreed. I am proud to call Joan Grauman a friend and applaud her stellar documentation of the AAA History. I am confident, you will enjoy Joan Graumans' "life-long love" of the accordion.
Rita Barnea, Editor USA Accordion News, AAA Secretary & Board member
My love affair with the accordion began the day I was born, almost 68 years ago. My handsome, Italian-as-they-come father played the accordion, and won competitions, from the time he was five years old. He played for me nightly.
He played Italian arias and folk melodies,as well as just about everything Magnante and Frosini composed. I loved it all: the melodies, the bellows, the gorgeous grille, the buttons, and especially the sound of the magical reeds. To this very day, my favorite musical sounds are those produced by accordion reeds!
The theme of my accordion memoirs is “Gratitude”. I am so grateful for the people in my life who paved the way for me to become an accordionist. Also, I am eternally grateful for the wonderful people I met through playing the accordion, many of whom have become my lifelong close friends. First and foremost, I want to thank my dear friend Rita Barnea for coming up with this terrific idea for us “old folks” to write about our lives with our beloved musical instrument!!
As I began to write and reflect back, it became quite apparent that if my cherished piano teacher, Shirley Boettner, didn’t live around the corner from us, I would never have been able to take private music lessons! My mother had no sense of direction and would not have been able to drive me anywhere for lessons. The saying, “Can’t get past the end of her nose” was inspired by my mother.
I wanted so much to play the accordion!! There was no accordion teacher in walking distance of my house, so I began to take piano lessons from sweet Shirley Boettner at the age of 6. Shirley encouraged me, pushed me lovingly, and in about a year, I was her star student. The shocking reality that I had talent, plus Shirley’s pride in my accomplishments, were the “shot in the arm” that I needed to keep practicing and to truly eventually love playing the piano.
— One of the most important gifts a music teacher can give to students is expressing a tremendous amount of pride and joy in their accomplishments. My teacher’s pride in my accomplishments inspired me to work harder. This, in turn, taught me a very important lesson: hard work pays off!
There were several moments in my childhood that truly made a difference in my musical life, and I am forever grateful for these moments. For one, my close friends were very supportive of my music and, from a very early age, all of them came to my piano recitals, as did several relatives. This was so special for me! For another, my elementary school music teacher was the best! Libby Crowley was so terrific that she inspired many of us to seek a career in music education. A sweet coincidence: both Shirley Boettner and Libby Crowley were warm, cheerful redheads. Stay tuned for yet another important redhead!
We moved to another community - a farm community - in Maryland when I was eleven years old. I missed my piano teacher so much! Soon, however, I found a new teacher. Virginia Lee Stiegler owned the Glenelg School of Music and was an excellent piano teacher. Coincidentally, Mrs. Stiegler was a warm and cheerful REDHEAD! She liked the way I played and offered me a job accompanying the Glenelg School of Music’s ballet school. I loved the ballet teacher and my job, which paid quite well! This job, that I held for several years, greatly helped me to pay for my college education. Thank you, Mrs. Stiegler!
When we moved, I befriended a girl whose socially active mom, Minnie Gibson, loved hearing me play the piano, and she encouraged me to play for her garden club events and fashion shows. I loved playing for these events! These jobs forced me to learn new music quickly. This greatly assisted in my becoming a better sight-reader. I am very grateful to Mrs. Gibson for these delightful opportunities and for her loving support! I played for both of her daughters’ weddings, which was the start of my part-time career as a wedding musician.
- Teachers: encourage your students to play for community events, family parties, weddings and dances. It broadens their repertoire, sparks self-confidence, and encourages them to work hard to learn new music. Seriously, hard work truly pays off!
At the age of fourteen, I discovered the world of international folk dance. A shy young woman came to our youth group and taught us a few folk dances from Israel. I LOVED these dances, and the music! The young teacher, Fern Eisner, took notice of my enthusiasm and abilities as a dancer, and took me under her wing. I became her babysitter (for years - I loved her children!), and I helped her to found an international folk dance group in the new community of Columbia, Maryland. Fern and I stayed close for 50 years until her sudden death in 2018. The dances and the hauntingly gorgeous music totally changed my life! What instrument can be heard in recordings of just about every folk culture? You got it: the accordion!!
After graduating from college with a degree in Music Education and Piano Performance, I borrowed my father’s accordion and, with the help of a few old Palmer-Hughes books that I picked up, I taught myself to play. I so wanted to play the Bulgarian and Macedonian music that I danced to, and the beautiful Irish jigs and reels that my good friend Dolly was dancing to - she was learning to become a step-dancer - so: I worked hard! Daily! Soon, I could play for dancers. I was absolutely THRILLED!! Finally, I was playing the instrument of my dreams: the accordion.
In 1979, I was asked to be the accordionist and dance partner for Morry Gelman, the leading Bavarian dance instructor in the US. Morry was so sweet and kind, and I learned so much from this enthusiastic, knowledgable man! Although I can thank Fern Eisner, Shirley Boettner, my father, Frank Marocco, Carmelo Pino, Faithe Deffner, Maddalena Belfiore, Linda Soley Reed, Joan C. Sommers and so many others for my musical opportunities through the decades, dear Morry Gelman was truly my “life mentor”. His love for all genres of music was so wonderfully infectious! However, one of the most endearing life lessons that Morry taught me through those joyous years we spent together was that “walking to a coffee shop for a great cup of coffee with friends” was one of life’s greatest enjoyments. This has stuck with me for decades. I miss you, my friend Morry! Thank you for giving me your daughter: my “sister” Nina Gelman Harris!! Nina and I have been great friends for 51 years!!
I must move quickly through this now, as my memoirs are getting too lengthy! The magical accordion brought me to the then new Balkan band “BAMCO”. We were a nine (and sometimes ten) piece group that specialized in the intricate and gorgeous folk dance music of Bulgaria and Macedonia. I was with BAMCO its entire 18 years of existence. We met weekly, enjoyed each other tremendously, and made a name for ourselves throughout the east coast of the US. Our two incredible wind musicians eventually moved to North Carolina and Belgium respectively, and we had to “call it a day”. It was a beautiful 18 years. Grateful, truly grateful!
During the years when I was performing constantly with BAMCO, I was frequently asked to create artwork for various folk events and festivals. My poster of “Free Reed Instruments” for a folk festival sparked the creation of my mail-order business of 25 years, SqueezinArt, which I owned with my ex-husband Dan Grauman (SqueezinArt 1994-2019). SqueezinArt featured my artwork on tee shirts, jewelry, stationary, Christmas ornaments, etc. SqueezinArt took us to the AAA festivals. Suddenly, at these events, I was considered an “accordionist” instead of just a “folk musician”. By 2006, I was asked to be on the AAA Governing Board. More on this soon….
In 2003, after a couple of decades of “almost accordion nonexistence” in the Baltimore- Washington area, two accordion clubs were suddenly formed, and I was asked to attend both - which I did. There was WMAS (Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society) and MAC (Maryland Accordion Club). Within a few months, I became the Vice-President and Music Director for WMAS. I thought that I had no time for anything new in my life. Then suddenly, WMAS was a huge and wonderful addition to my life! In September of 2004, I brought together ten accordionists from WMAS, and we created the “Potomac Accordion Ensemble”. Our ensemble performed at national accordion festivals and local events together until I left the Washington, DC area in 2018. I am deeply grateful to Karen and Luis Uribe, Mara Cherkasky, Lee Paulson, Peter DiGiovanni, JoAnn Pankow and so many other special friends in WMAS for their loving support during those years and beyond.
At one of the MAC meetings, a warm, funny and very talented older woman named “Mama Stella” Allison came and played her accordion for us. Wow, Stella’s smile and music lit up the whole room! Little did I know that day that this woman would totally change my life — and for her friendship and those incredible changes, I am eternally grateful!! Stella encouraged me to become her duet partner, and eventually I said “OK”. We had a great time together, practicing and preparing new music a couple of times a week from 2004 to 2008, when she had to stop playing for health reasons. Stella and I traveled in 2005 to Oregon to play in the Silver Falls Accordion Camp. There, I met a woman who would become my closest friend, Lynn Ewing, and I also met the internationally known jazz accordionist Frank Marocco.
Frank really enjoyed Stella and me, mostly because of Stella’s delightful sense of humor, and one day in the summer of 2006, I received a phone call from Frank. He wanted me to run an accordion camp for him. I was shocked and so honored! OK, I said: if my (then) husband Dan would handle all of the financial aspects, and if my close friends from the Silver Falls Camp would attend to create the “atmosphere” I wanted, then YES, I will do it!! All agreed, and the first Frank Marocco Accordion Event, held in January 2007 in Mesa, Arizona was a huge success. With the tremendous help from Mike Roche, Bruce Lawrie and Frank Petrilli, Dan and I held seven more fantastic camps, all in Mesa, Arizona. Many lifelong friendships were made at that camp, and I will cherish the memories of those years all of my days! It was a lot of hard work, but SO WORTH IT!!
Frank sadly passed away in early 2012. We held two more camps after his death, the last one featuring the world renowned accordionist and conductor Joan Cochran Sommers. The world renowned bayanist Stas Venglevski was our assistant music director at the camp for years. When Frank became ill, Stas took over as director for the last three camps. Frank, Joan and Stas were all absolutely delightful to work with. Each winter (camps were held in late January or mid-February) we had 60 accordionists, a percussionist, a bass player and around 30 spouses at our camps. To say that I am grateful for these years is a monumental understatement!!
After I retired as a camp director, the accordion still played an enormous role in my life and still does to this day. Highlights of my “life with my accordion” that immediately come to mind are:
- illustrating the book “An Accordion! What is THAT?” with my friends Karen Malan-Uribe (author) and Mary Tokarski (narrator and accordionist). (2008)
All of that said, the greatest memories are the times spent with my friends in the accordion world. We had some fantastic times together and, when my life became a struggle for a couple of years, it was four of my accordion friends, from all over the country, who called me daily - literally daily! They carried me through the dark tunnel back into the light, and I am eternally grateful for them! Two of these cherished friends have sadly passed away: Lynn Ewing (2019) and Lou Coppola (2020).
Two years ago, I remarried and have moved from Maryland to Colorado - and I am so grateful for this wonderful man, Dr. William (Bill) Morse!
Bill and I have performed as an accordion duo here in Colorado where he has been a conductor, professor of music, and performer for several decades. Bill retired as Principal Conductor of the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra on May 8. We are excited about having more time to spend with our families, our good friends and, of course: our accordions!!
Upcoming EventsSunday Afternoon Accordion Celebration! Sunday, September 10, 2023 - 12:00 noon Famee Furlane Club: 2008 127th Street, College Point, NY 11356. Details at: Breaking News
2023 AAA 85th Anniversary Festival Daily Reports
July 12-16, 2023
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