The accordion has always been a fringe instrument. Embraced by commoners across Europe in the 1800s, associated with ethnic minorities for generations, it’s hard to imagine the instrument ever enjoying a heyday — a time when a modern-day Jimmy Page might plaster the cover of Rolling Stone, hoisting a 40-pound, flame-decaled travel organ over his polka gut. The image isn’t quite front-page material.
But, Mayumi Miyaoka, a librarian and accordion enthusiast living in Brooklyn, is banking on the charms of the squeezebox to bring players and fans together. She recently launched the Brooklyn Accordion Club, a regular meetup where Brooklynites can meet fellow accordionists, share tips, and perform new pieces in front of a casual audience.
With roughly 25 players and fans in attendance, the club’s first meetup gathered in a cosy, carpeted meeting space above 61 Local, a bar in Borum Hill, Brooklyn, on February 10th.
Accordions are like a weird cross between a piano, harmonica, and a stenographer’s typewriter. They weigh as much as a small boulder, are about as comfortable as a backpack strapped to your chest filled with pots and pans, and require double duty from their players. Your right hand typically plays a melody on the accordion’s sideways keyboard, while your left hand feels along rows of black buttons, each producing a single note or full chord depending on the row. Because of the instrument’s boxy shape most players are completely blind to their left hand, playing merely by memorization and touch.
When played badly, the accordion can sound like an orchestra tunning up in three conflicting keys. But when played by a practiced professional, the reed instrument sounds oddly beautiful, like a creaking door tuned to play a sighing melody.
Like you might imagine, such an unwieldy and reluctantly melodious instrument attracts an odd assortment of characters strange enough to brave the beast (myself included).
Attending the meetup was Max Fass, also known as Max The Skiing Accordionist. Sporting an impressive beard and what looked like traditional heardgear from the Hun Empire, Max and his accompanist Jenny Luna serenaded the audience with rousing Macedonian folk tunes.
Phillip Racz, a young Brooklyn musician (and my old accordion teacher), played a twisting tango and swaying port song by Astor Piazzolla, an Argentinian composer from the mid 1900s.
The night’s curator, Mayumi Miyaoka, performed two stunning French-style waltzes, a baroque piece by Bach, and a mind-numbingly challenging composition by Handel called “Corrente.” One of the song’s trickiest sections had Mayumi’s right hand running an ascending scale along the keyboard while her hidden left hand breezed over an accompanying scale in the opposite direction, lightly squeezing buttons as if she were delivering a bari sax solo. This is like trying to scamper up a ladder with the left side of your body while your other half tries to scamper down. It ain’t easy.
Miyaoka plans to hold these meetups once every two months, but I’m hoping the good turnout and pleasant vibe kicks it up to a monthly event. If not in Brooklyn, where else can one hope to court enough accordion nerds eager to celebrate what is, essentially, the worlds only acoustic keytar? Plus if these sessions keep popping up, one of these times, I may work up the courage to play something.
“Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla
“Invierno Porteno” by Astor Piazzolla
“French Waltz” by Eric Satie
“Bach Invention #6” by Johann Sebastian Bach
“Under The Paris Sky” by Frank Marocco
“Corrente” by George Frederic Handel. Arranged by Dr. William Schimmel.
Jenny Luna & Max Fass
“Barno Oro” – Macedonian Folk Tune
“Ediye” – Macedonian Folk Tune
“Coban Kat” – Albanian Folk Tune