Thursday, June 01, 2006

And the beat goes on

I seemed to awaken some longings for homegrown, do-it-yourself song and music when I came out of the closet with my accordion and shared some of my musical background. Thank you, readers, for the heartwarming comments.

Yes, I grew up with accordions and I'll share a secret: I think learning the bass (left-hand) side of the instrument actually gives a richer understanding of chord structure and theory than the piano. I transitioned to the foot pedals on organs so easily because my right brain was already set to "take the chord apart" and add my foot for a bass line. There’s also the touch of the instrument. Accordionists develop a different, softer style than pianists. You caress the keys more than hitting them. I like stroking things. The accordion is portable; the piano is not. It's a fun instrument and yet it's versatile too. There are virtuosos in jazz and even classical arenas. One of my male cousins is now in his 80s and the man can still play up a storm even with arthritis in his hands. He's my role model for senior jamming when the time comes!

My dad was a banjo man - four-string tenor and then electric tenor guitar. He made sweet music. We made sweet music together. He taught me a lot of the depression-era tunes, many of which were actually good foot-tapping music. Guess if you were working your way through the Great Depression, you had to keep up hope and write happy songs.

I still gravitate to the classics of the great pop composers: Gershwin, Kern, Porter and others who turned out some wonderful songs in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Their lyrics and melodies personified romance. The ‘50s brought new stylists and many lounge singers and crooners. Then the ‘60s produced those terrific Broadway musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Leonard Bernstein and more. Superstars were born – grand dames of the musical stage like Mary Martin, Julie Andrews and Barbra Streisand. I got to see Streisand, front row center, in “Funny Girl”. Wow! I just think the 1930s through the 1960s were the golden age of American songwriting. The songs really told a message and gave hope and inspiration. Wouldn’t it be loverly if we had a new generation of fine pop music like that again?

And then there were the polkas. This was a genre all to itself. Learning how to play a polka (meaning lots of notes, fancy bass work, and very fluid and fast keyboard runs) got you promoted to the front of the class. As I wrote before, the accordion was the poor man’s substitute for the more expensive piano. Yet it challenged the musician every bit as much. Chopin played the piano as a master; wonder what he would have done with a good, folksy polka on the accordion?

Recently, I began to get this crazy idea … move on up to the Berkshires and start a polka band of my own. Who knows? If Lawrence Welk didn’t hire me (and I have the letter to prove it), then I may just have to go out there on my own.

If I do, then all of you who have forgotten instruments in your closets or new dreams of music lessons for yourself or kids, will have to follow my lead. Double dare?!


Margaret said...

You're an inspiration, dear Mater. I have a confession. I play the violin. Well, kind of.

I have a few songs that I can play well enough to fool people into believing I'm quite good. But if you saw me try to read music you'd know the truth. Almost everything I know is self-taught, my posture is horrid and my bow work is completely inefficient. Any practiced violinist would be horrified. Yet, with a lot of pre-work I can make my violin sing. Maybe I should pull it out of the closet too. You'll be the first to know if I do.

geogirl said...

I didn't understand a word you just said.

So, that would be a pass on the whole playing an instrument thing.

I would definately come listen to your band though!

bee said...

Try some Celtic---come to the Famous Lambertville Sessions. (You're fairly close) or isn't there one at the Mermaid? I am seriously thinking of picking up the button box myself...

The Mater said...

margaret, don't over-criticize yourself right now. Music is healing to the spirit. After what you've been through, wouldn't it be a wonderful release of feelings and emotions? Just pick up and play what comes to you - it's only for your ears alone. Play!

bee, I've played some international music with a group nearby and also once did an Irish Center. Right now, I am recovering from a back problem so not lifting and hauling the squeezebox for the moment. I will return though. Thanks for the tip :>) Go for it! So you play the button-box - whole other instrument. Bet it's fun.

geo, you're on! Would you believe that Jenn asked me to play Pachelbel's Canon in D at her wedding? On the accordion! And I did!

Simon said...

Um, when playing the accordian, what do you do for the inevitable canon shots when playing Pachelbel's Canon in D? You don't want to know what I'm picturing, but you can probably guess.

And I can't come to join you. I just took trumpet for a few years in high school from a Chinese music teacher named, Mr. Ochoa, who tried to pass himself off as Irish. All I can do now is hum.

The Mater said...

"They also serve who only stand and hum."

Leave it to you, Simon, leave it to you. I suggest that you buy yourself an accordion and bicycle and explore the possibilities!

bee said...

Oh, Mater, I only wish about the button box. I am a guitar/bodhran/whistles high and low player, not to mention the inevitable singing. I'll be keeping an eye out for you at the sessions! (Double dog dare?!) /b

Jenn said...

Oh, the Canon on the accordion was SO GREAT! That was such a highlight of the day. Thanks, Mom! You make me wish I had kept taking organ lessons with Mrs. Farrow.

Debby said...

i read the whole post and the only thing i remember you saying is "i like stroking things."


The Mater said...

So much for my high-falutin' words of wisdom :>)

Really, Deb - listen up: I'm a grandmother and I play the accordion and organ; I loved "Sound of Music" and "My Fair Lady"; and I hope to inspire others to come out of the closet with their instruments!

You're making me LOL about the "stroking things"! We'll have to go have a beer and chat about life!

geogirl said...

Don't believe her for a minute Debby!!

You should see the presants she gets for mothers day!!!


The Mater said...

Geo, you're incorrigible! (I could barely spell that word!)

Sing along, all together now: "How do you solve a problem like the Mater?!"

LadySeduction said...

My dad is a banjo player too. One of my best memories of childhood are around his playing and then the only time my kids visited him he played for them and they LOVED it.

You said "stroking things"

I don't feel so bad about all you have read on my blog now!

pogonip said...

I'm a guitar player myself, just chords, very 70's folk style. And when it comes to stroking, I love to mention that I need a new G string (although it's usually the high E that goes!) But I just love my French cousins who talk about their rock band and one of them plays accordian. So, Mater Mia, think of yourself as a Euro rock star!

The Mater said...

Yay, Deb! Another banjo-playing daddy! Great that your kids heard him play.

pogonip, ROTFLOL at the "G-string" along with the stroking! Clever, very clever :>)

Yowza, I'm a Euro rock star. This is cool. Accordions have made a comeback - cajun in the southern states, French tangos (I guess they never lost popularity there) and these new rock and alternative and world-music bands. Great to see that happening.

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