A waft of the indescribable (or an instrument of the people)
Recently, I have been listening to the Podcast Everything Accordion in which the interviewer Ghenadie Rotari asks each of his guests to tell the listener why they started playing the accordion. Each time I hear the question I reflect on how I would respond. In fact, two moments come to mind. The first is of going with my parents to Lamberti Bros Music shop on Victoria street in Melbourne, of climbing the stairs and entering a room full of amazing instruments. Accordions of all shapes, sizes and colours lined the walls, carefully placed on shelves so that the keys, buttons joined by bellows, faced outward, inviting all who entered to wonder at their magnificent designs and patterns. The second is of taking my first piano accordion out of its case and being enveloped in the indescribable waft of new accordion. Maybe a breeze of distant Castelfidardo? I wonder? Maybe a sigh of the future, of Eisteddfod halls, of family road trips to Adelaide and Sydney so that I could compete, of touring to Montreux with an ensemble, or Berlin. Maybe an air of exotic places; Samarkand and Kazan, St Petersburg.
A key is not simply black or white.
At a concert recently, an audience member, in passing, described the accordion as ‘a common instrument, although one not seen so often these days.’ I replied that it is an instrument of the people. On further reflection, I decided that that is true. It can be found in so many cultures and genres; from Finland to Brazil and from China to Ireland and on to the Middle East. The accordion in all it marvellous guises can be found nearly anywhere. There are accordion marching bands and accordion ensembles including orchestras, accordions for street corners and accordions for restaurants and weddings and all sorts of gatherings. It is indeed an instrument of the people.
And yet it is something else as well. Its plaintive, haunting melodies, and chords, its breathless hint of something just beyond one’s grasp, in Bach, and Vivaldi, Berio and Oliveros.
I wonder what my 6-year-old self would have thought if I could travel back in time and explain that one day I would be an advocate for the accordion. That I would be a representative of the Accordion Society of Australia. That in 2022, my future self would be traveling to Christchurch, Toronto, Castelfidardo and Zurich to connect with other advocates as well as, all these years later, still practicing and studying. And teaching as well. I think I would have been excited!
So yes, to this day a waft of the indescribable is almost certainly the smell that shrouds the accordion as it is lifted, straps, bellows and buttons to once again transport player and audience somewhere distant. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Post script from Canada.
So, I'm currently in Toronto for month practicing and studying with Joseph Macerollo. While it would be more aesthetically pleasing to post a photo of this wonderful city, the fact of the matter is that this is what I see most days. This is the view as I sit with my beloved Giulietti unravelling whatever latest realisation Joe has unleashed. It's deeply challenging and rewarding work that feels as though I am slowly (sometimes very slowly) coming to a closer understanding of the accordion and my musical relationship with it.