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The Accordion in the Americas

The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More!

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 344
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    The Accordion in the Americas
    Book Description:

    An invention of the Industrial Revolution, the accordion provided the less affluent with an inexpensive, loud, portable, and durable "one-man-orchestra" capable of producing melody, harmony, and bass all at once. Imported from Europe into the Americas, the accordion with its distinctive sound became a part of the aural landscape for millions of people but proved to be divisive: while the accordion formed an integral part of working-class musical expression, bourgeois commentators often derided it as vulgar and tasteless._x000B__x000B_This rich collection considers the accordion and its myriad forms, from the concertina, button accordion, and piano accordion familiar in European and North American music to the exotic-sounding South American bandoneón and the sanfoninha. Capturing the instrument's spread and adaptation to many different cultures in North and South America, contributors illuminate how the accordion factored into power struggles over aesthetic values between elites and working-class people who often were members of immigrant and/or marginalized ethnic communities. Specific histories and cultural contexts discussed include the accordion in Brazil, Argentine tango, accordion traditions in Colombia, cross-border accordion culture between Mexico and Texas, Cajun and Creole identity, working-class culture near Lake Superior, the virtuoso Italian-American and Klezmer accordions, Native American dance music, and American avant-garde. _x000B__x000B_Contributors are María Susana Azzi, Egberto Bermúdez, Mark DeWitt, Joshua Horowitz, Sydney Hutchinson, Marion Jacobson, James P. Leary, Megwen Loveless, Richard March, Cathy Ragland, Helena Simonett, Jared Snyder, Janet L. Sturman, and Christine F. Zinni.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09432-3
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vii])
  3. [Map]
    (pp. [viii]-[viii])
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    When my grandfather would reach for his button accordion, a pre–World War I Schwyzerörgeli (“little Swiss organ”), his grandchildren would gather at his feet and listen. I marveled how his calloused fingers could run so effortlessly up and down the keyboard and produce this magic sonorous tone: he made his instrument purr like a cat sleeping on the stove bench. I also remember the bellows changing color, showing beautiful wallpaper when pulled apart, and the alpine flowers that decorated the wooden frame. But I began to detest this sound of my childhood, and more generally Swiss folk music, when...

  5. 1 From Old World to New Shores
    (pp. 19-38)

    In his article on immigrant, folk, and regional American musics, Philip Bohlman engages the accordion for commenting on territorial transgressions. The instrument’s popular appeal, he holds, was mainly due to its “adaptability and its ability to respond to a wide range of musical demands in the changing cultural contexts” of the New World.¹ Despite its malleability, the accordion remained an emblematic immigrant instrument, a symbol of the working-class people, throughout the twentieth century. Yet the accordion has challenged and transgressed its social associations many times during its relatively short history of nearly two hundred years. During the first decades after...

  6. 2 Accordion Jokes: A Folklorist’s View
    (pp. 39-43)

    People tell jokes almost everywhere, and as a folklorist trained in the 1970s, tape recorder in hand, I collected them at parties, at work, and in taverns. Of course, nowadays the joke tellers are more active than ever at collecting jokes themselves, using the Internet. I Googled “accordion jokes” and quickly found several versions of the preceding jokes. Jokes denigrating the accordion and a few other musical instruments seem to be widespread. The common theme of such jokes is that they express an intense hostility to the accordion—it ought to be smashed, chopped up, or burned. Owning an accordion...

  7. 3 From Chanky-Chank to Yankee Chanks: The Cajun Accordion as Identity Symbol
    (pp. 44-65)

    The diatonic button accordion has been played by musicians the world over, but it has attained a uniquely prominent status in Louisiana Cajun culture. Over the decades, this one particular type of accordion has served as a tabula rasa onto which have been projected changing views of Cajun music and the status of Cajun ethnic identity.

    When we talk about the Cajun accordion, what do we mean? We could be referring to an instrument made by a Cajun accordion maker, of which there are several, and how these instruments differ from other accordions. We might also be thinking of a...

  8. 4 ’Garde ici et ’garde lá-bas: Creole Accordion in Louisiana
    (pp. 66-86)

    Any effort to trace the history and development of Louisiana Creole accordion must first take on the task of defining the term “Creole” in the context of Louisiana. It may seem a simple task: take Mark DeWitt’s definition for Cajun accordion in the previous chapter, and what does not fall under Cajun is Creole. However, Creole is too layered and nuanced a term for such a simple definition. Derived from the Portuguese crioulo, it once simply meant “native-born,” as in a crop such as Creole garlic or Creole tomatoes, or in delineating between immigrants and those born in Louisiana. After...

  9. 5 “Tejano and Proud”: Regional Accordion Traditions of South Texas and the Border Region
    (pp. 87-111)

    At the 1993 Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio, the pioneering accordionist Narciso Martínez did not perform as he had done almost every year since the first festival in 1982. His death in June 1992 marked for many conjunto musicians and enthusiasts the end of an era in the history of Mexican American music in Texas. And though the entire festival in 1993 was dedicated to the memory of Martínez, it continued on as it had in the past. The raíces (roots) night in which Martínez had been featured continued to celebrate the influence of conjunto’s pioneers as it had...

  10. 6 Preserving Territory: The Changing Language of the Accordion in Tohono O’odham Waila Music
    (pp. 112-135)

    Waila music, like the poetry of the Tohono O’odham poet, linguist, and distinguished professor Ofelia Zepeda, is plain and direct, yet evocative and invigorating. The accordion and saxophone entwine like the dancers and celestial bodies that Zepeda calls to mind. Such simplicity belies its power. Connection—between people and music, language and instrumental performance, and music and memory—lies at the heart of the story of the accordion in waila music.

    For the Tohono O’odham, the indigenous people of southern Arizona formerly known as Papagos,¹ the accordion is not a native instrument. It arrived by way of Texas and northern...

  11. 7 Accordions and Working-Class Culture along Lake Superior’s South Shore
    (pp. 136-155)

    In the winter of 1981, Bruno Synkula of Ashland, Wisconsin—a house-party musician and maintenance worker born in 1919 to Polish immigrant parents—told me that he learned to play button accordion as a kid from an Italian neighbor, a disabled “ore puncher” who had toiled atop a dock jutting into Lake Superior to push iron ore from bottom-opening rail cars into the holds of Great Lakes vessels. One of Synkula’s favorite tunes, “Livet i Finnskogarna” (Life in the Finnish Woods), is a Swedish waltz associated with Finns that he first heard in the aftermath of a turkey shoot at...

  12. 8 Play Me a Tarantella, a Polka, or Jazz: Italian Americans and the Currency of Piano-Accordion Music
    (pp. 156-177)

    In 1971, Roxy and Nellie Caccamise traveled from the small town of Batavia, New York, to Bruge, Belgium. Pioneers of the piano accordion in upstate New York, they had been selected to represent the American Accordion Association at the World Championship competition. Among the competitors was one of their students, John Torcello. Like other first-and second-generation Italian American accordionists, the group from western New York first heard the strains of accordion music at neighborhood gatherings of friends and relatives. Unlike earlier generations, Torcello was able to develop a wide-ranging repertoire of Italian folk and classical music, American popular music, and...

  13. 9 The Klezmer Accordion: An Outsider among Outsiders
    (pp. 178-198)

    There are many Jewish musical cultures spread across the world today, yet klezmer, the instrumental music of the Eastern European Jews, enjoys almost universal popularity.¹ It is generally accepted that clarinet and violin are traditional klezmer instruments, as defined by the instrumental parameters of recorded documentation from the earliest years. The “klezmer revival” has encouraged modern-day klezmer musicians to learn the style of their Old World predecessors by studying the vast corpus of 78 rpm discs still available. Because most of the recordings made in the United States between 1915 and 1942 feature clarinet as the lead instrument, it is...

  14. 10 Beyond Vallenato: The Accordion Traditions in Colombia
    (pp. 199-232)

    The accordion¹ is considered to be at the core of vallenato style and sound, and vallenato itself is undoubtedly the most widely recognized Colombian popular music genre in and outside Colombia since Carlos Vives’s stunning success with his 1994 pop-fusion album Clásicos de la Provincia (Classics of the Province).² The Costeño singer had made a name for himself nationally in 1991 starring in Escalona, a popular telenovela (soap opera) about the life of the vallenato composer Rafael Escalona (1927–2009). Viewed by millions, the telenovela further cemented the perception of vallenato as Colombia’s foremost accordion music—a claim made by...

  15. 11 “A Hellish Instrument”: The Story of the Tango Bandoneón
    (pp. 233-248)

    Argentina’s most popular music genre, the tango, had already enjoyed a long history before the bandoneón became its quintessential instrument. Known as a danceable music genre, tango involves everything from poetry, song, gesture, and narrative to philosophy and ethical values. During the late nineteenth century, it was a vehicle that accelerated cultural integration, weaving aesthetic and other cultural features from African, South American, and European societies in the Río de la Plata area: mainly the port cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay. Gauchos (fierce and nomadic horsemen of the Pampas of mixed Spanish and Indian descent), criollos (native-born...

  16. 12 No ma’ se oye el fuinfuán: The Noisy Accordion in the Dominican Republic
    (pp. 249-267)

    Merengue is widely recognized as the national music of the Dominican Republic, its most popular and best-known export. Originally a representative of the country’s northern Cibao region, this music and dance became a national symbol, first in reaction to the United States’s occupation of the country in 1916–24, and then, more permanently, under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (1930–61). Because of its symbolic centrality, merengue has been the subject of much debate in the public sphere, a debate that seems to grow in intensity whenever migration and/or economic crises threaten traditional urban class hierarchies or understandings of Dominicanness....

  17. 13 Between the Folds of Luiz Gonzaga’s Sanfona: Forró Music in Brazil
    (pp. 268-294)

    Though Brazil is perhaps better known for its hot and sultry samba rhythms, its sun-kissed beaches, and the delicate swing of its bossa nova, it also has a longstanding accordion tradition spanning most of the twentieth century that plays an important role in the story of its popular music and its sense of nationalism. The accordion was brought to Brazilian shores in the last decades of the nineteenth century and soon became a popular instrument on which to interpret foreign tangos, boleros, schottisches, waltzes, and mazurkas in the elite salons of the bigger cities.

    Still, though popular even through the...

  18. 14 The Accordion in New Scores: Paradigms of Authorship and Identity in William Schimmel’s Musical “Realities”
    (pp. 295-314)

    The American composer and accordionist William Schimmel (b. 1946) has composed four thousand works over a twenty-year period, none of them original. In fact, all of them are based, thematically and structurally, on the works of other composers. Works that reference other composers—A Rossini Reality, Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy, Fantasy in Long Hair, and Tantric Bartok—are not transcriptions or fantasies in the conventional romantic sense of that term, nor do they represent conventionally modernist techniques of collage.¹ Rather, as Schimmel has explained them, they constitute “musical realities” that do not depend principally on conventional relationships between the original and...

  19. Glossary
    (pp. 315-318)
  20. Contributors
    (pp. 319-322)
  21. Index
    (pp. 323-330)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-337)