A friend of mine recently asked me if I want to join him in forming a Klezmer group. He thought of me since I can play Jewish wedding songs on the piano. The catch was that I’d have to learn the accordion since traditional Klezmer music doesn’t use pianos or electric guitars (the two instruments I can play). It sounded like a quick fire challenge from Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” – “Today chefs, you will play Hava Nagilah using only an accordion and juniper berries”. I was up for the challenge and was able to borrow an old accordion from a co-worker’s father.
I opened the case and a concentrated mildew smell hit me like a ton of musty bricks. I was told the accordion was stored in a warehouse for a few years and might have endured some minor water damage (more like a few decades and the great flood). I had to air it out for a week before I could even get near it. When I finally was able to put it on, I realized how heavy it was. The first day after playing it, my neck and back muscles were quite sore despite the fact that I work out religiously (once a month at our local JCC fitness center). Ok – Let me explain how it works.
There is a keyboard like a piano on one side and 120 chord buttons on the other side. There are no labels or markings except for a rhinestone on one of the buttons, not that it matters since once you have it on, you can’t see anything. When you squeeze the accordion it makes sounds and more of the musty smell blows into your face. I downloaded some chord charts, but when I tried to practice in front of our bedroom mirror, everything looks backwards. Then I moved to the bathroom and tried playing with the mirrored medicine cabinet door opened and looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror; the perfect sweet spot; but it does get a bit cramped when I fully extend the accordion and our bathroom is too small to accommodate more than three people and would be a tight squeeze for band practice; one in the shower (playing bass), me standing in front of the mirror and the lucky clarinet player who get the room’s only seat. If I wear my bicycle helmet which has a rear view mirror clipped on each side, I can be mobile, but you look pretty strange just wearing an accordion let alone a bike helmet with dental mirrors clamped on it.
To overcome this problem, I now practice twice a week at the Men’s Warehouse at a local strip mall. They have a bank of tri-fold mirrors and if I stand on the pedestal; I can see a full 360 degree view of the accordion. And although they’re very accommodating, you do feel a bit obligated to buy something. So far I’ve purchased 2 suits, 5 pairs of slacks, and 4 dress shirts and matching neckties. Not only is it getting quite expensive but it’s a bit unnecessary as we have a casual dress policy at work.
Surprisingly, I am really enjoying the accordion. It’s got some great benefits:
When I play our piano or my electric guitar at home, my kids complain that it’s annoying and they run up to their rooms and close their doors. The good thing about the accordion is that it’s portable. I’m able to chase them around, while still playing and I get the satisfaction of annoying them for about 10 seconds longer before they slam their bedroom doors. It makes for some good quality family time.
During a recent storm we lost power for about 5 days. Friends of ours who weren’t affected by the storm invited us to stay with them. I told my wife and kids that I’d still be staying in our house to weather the storm like a captain staying with his ship. My family decided to stay with our friends. They said it was so they could have heat, hot water and TV, but I think they just didn’t want to spend 5 days in front of the fire listening to me practice the accordion.
After practicing one night at the Men’s Warehouse I put my accordion in my car and went to grab a few slices of Pizza. Upon returning to my car, I noticed it had been broken into. I looked in the back seat and saw two accordions.