Yes, you read the headline correctly — since 1989, June has been designated as National Accordion Awareness Month. Chances are, if you’ve ever been around an accordion, it’s difficult to not be aware of it; the instruments (and its many variants) are unique in both physicality and timbre. So why a whole month dedicated to them?
While the accordion is commonly known to listeners, many might not be aware of the instrument's versatility and its role in the world of classical music. With June quickly coming to a close, it's time to strap on a squeezebox and celebrate National Accordion Awareness Month like a pro:
1. Get To Know The Instrument
Technically speaking, the accordion is a free-reed aerophone, meaning that sound is produced when air (in the case of the accordion, from the bellows) flows past vibrating reeds.
While free reed instruments have been around for centuries — the Chinese sheng is one example that has been around since the second millennium BCE — the accordion as it is recognized today first appeared in the 1820s and has developed since.
And there are many different kinds. The button diatonic accordion is the most popular worldwide, and nearly every culture has its own version, adapted and tuned to suit its regional music. The piano accordion is perhaps most familiar to Western audiences and gets its name from the piano-like keyboard in the right-hand section of the instrument.
Accordions have been long-associated with folk music traditions, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that it began to be taken seriously as a concert instrument. With an increased focus on advanced pedagogy, support for original works by notable composers, and refinements to the playing capabilities of the instrument, the accordion became increasingly popular in classical concert halls.
2. Listen To A Classic, Reimagined On Accordion
When in the right hands, the accordion can bring a new perspective to some of classical music’s most beloved works. Listen to Philippe Thuriot play Bach’s Goldberg Variation, No. 1 in the Antwerp Central Railway Station, and then hear Milan Řehák’s chilly rendition of Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons.
3. Travel The [Accordion] World
From Czech polkas to French café music to Mexican conjunto ensembles, instruments in the accordion family have spanned both geography and genre.
The Argentine Nuevo tango, revolutionized by composer and instrumentalist Astor Piazzolla, is another worldly style centered around a free reed squeezebox — this time the bandoneon. As a bandoneon virtuoso, Piazzolla incorporated both elements of jazz and classical into the traditional tango.
Here is Piazzolla’s piece Adiós Nonino for orchestra and bandoneon, with the composer himself as the featured soloist.
4. Hear Music From An American Accordionist-Composer
American composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros was always a forward-thinker. In the 1950s and 1960s she studied composition, explored electroacoustic improvisation and founded and co-directed the San Francisco Tape Music Center. With her concept of Deep Listening (which also served as the name of her experimental recording ensemble and non-profit institute), Oliveros supported the advance of creative listening and inventive music making.
Oliveros’s A Love Song for accordion, voice and bass trombone exemplifies her meditative approach to environmental improvisation, and her love of experimenting in highly resonant spaces. She passed away in November 2016.
5. Go Local
Many incredible local musicians have performed at Nashville Public Radio, including two of Nashville’s finest accordion players.
Earlier this year on Live in Studio C, Jeff Taylor joined guitarist Jonathan Sargent in playing several of Sargent’s original compositions.
In January, Jeff Lisenby performed a program with Matt Davich and Emily Nelson that included selections from Fiddler on the Roof and Turandot, as well as an original tango by Lisenby.