15 Years of Full Moon Pickin’

One of the most “Nashville” things you can do in Nashville–the Full Moon Pickin’ Party–is celebrating its 15-year anniversary this summer. The event series, held on weekends in the summertime whenever there’s a full moon (or close enough to it), features:

  • Three top-notch bluegrass acts entertaining on the main stage all evening. Bring a blanket, plop down on the grass, and enjoy!
  • Up to four beers included in the $25 price of adult admission! Plenty of water and soft drinks for designated drivers and other non-imbibers.
  • Food trucks galore for when you get hungry.
  • You can bring an instrument and join in on the many impromptu bluegrass/roots jam circles that wind up forming under trees and near the barn.
  • Plus you’re raising funds for the Warner Parks system and all the educational programs and projects held there.

But the really great thing about the Pickin’ Parties? If you do show up to jam with a bluegrass instrument, admission is sharply discounted to only $10. (And yes, that sill comes with four beers!)

Note that the discount specifically applies to bluegrass instruments. Obviously they want to keep things bluegrass-focused and are trying to discourage djembes and didgeridoos. Nor do they want people brining in their old plastic recorder from grade school just to get a beer discount. Makes sense.

But it does raise the potentially sticky question:  What is a “bluegrass instrument” anyway? Turns out they actually provide a list:

  • Guitars
  • Mandolins
  • Banjos
  • Fiddles & Bass Fiddles
  • Lap Steels
  • Dobros
  • Dulcimers
  • Autoharp
  • Accordions
  • Harmonica Sets (minimum 5 piece)

Wait a minute… did I just see accordion on that list? Bluegrass accordion! Is that even a thing?

Well it is. Mostly due to this woman: Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester:

Sally Ann Forrester

She was the first “non-boy” member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and she played accordion with them on tour and on several records in the ’40s.

Bluegrass purists might argue the point, but as far as I’m concerned, if Bill Monroe let an accordion in the band, then it by-golly counts!

I’m thankful that the folks behind the Full Moon Pickin’ Parties dug into their bluegrass history and have made their event accordion-friendly!

Bella Notte

Wedding season rolls on! This past weekend I had the pleasure of playing accordion during an Italian-themed reception dinner.

Never mind the fact that my accordions are all German and that I myself am about as Italian as a haggis… When you’re strolling among tables of pasta and red wine while playing classic Italian songs like “That’s Amore“, “Volare“, “O Sole Mio“, and “Funiculì, Funiculà“, you can’t help but get caught up in the spirit of it all!

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“Black Beauty” (a full-sized accordion that I usually play sitting down) and “Red Baron” (a smaller and lighter one I use for strolling) await their turn to be played.

It’s Wedding Season!

Look closely (on the right) and you’ll find yours truly warming up in the shade.

May marks the beginning of wedding season, even for accordion players! I was able to kick things off in style with a beautiful wedding at the Old Natchez Country Club.

Tuning UpEven better, I was joined by this violinist I just so happen to know–my wife Anne Landis Jetton.

We were asked to play the prelude music, the ceremony itself, plus the cocktail hour afterward.

These sorts of job are always a lot of fun, because it gave us the opportunity to play everything from Beethoven to Dean Martin, with some French waltzes and Argentine tangos thrown in for good measure.

The AV Department

Another successful gig for “The AV Department”. (A for accordion, V for violin!)

Happy Birthday Bach!

330 years ago today, Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany. During his own lifetime, he was renowned as a organist, teacher, and… well, that was about it. It wasn’t until about 50 years after his death that his popularity and influence as a composer to begin to slowly grow.

Bach PortraitWhich is crazy if you think about. That would be like people today considering Paul McCartney to be merely a good bass player, with it taking until, say, the year 2100 before anyone started to think “Hmmm… you know these songs of his are pretty good too!”

But can you play Bach’s music on the accordion?

Absolutely! For example, there’s a nice, intermediate-level arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in Gary Meisner’s Light Classical Pieces For Accordion. You’ll find an arrangement of the famous “Toccata in D Minor” in Book Eight of the Palmer-Hughes accordion method.

Palmer-Hughes also published an entire standalone book of accordion arrangements of Bach’s music. (That’s my own copy opened up in the background of this website’s banner image!) Busso Music still sells reprints of the book, divided into three volumes, but used originals sometimes crop up on eBay now and then.

Ah, but should you play Bach on the accordion?

I would imagine that there are some classical purists who would deem the lowly accordion–an instrument perhaps better-known for polkas and barn dances–unworthy of the sublime music of Johann Sebastian Bach, not to mention woefully historically inaccurate. To which I can only answer with some words from Dr. Palmer himself:

J. S. Bach wrote as much music for the accordion as he did for the piano! Neither instrument was in use in Bach’s era.

Bach was not as particular about which instruments played his music as a few modern Bach enthusiasts are. He placed his stamp of approval firmly and indelibly on the art of transcription.

He transcribed the Orchestral Concerti of Vivaldi for organ and harpsichord solos. He rewrote his own compositions for all conceivable instruments and combinations of instruments in existence in his day. He simplified them so his children could play them.

He transcribed his own vocal works for organ, his organ works for string quartets, and even made a flute solo out of one of them. I cannot believe that the Old Master himself would have objected to accordion arrangements of some of his works.

So there you have it! Feel free to celebrate one of this planet’s greatest composers by listening to some of his music played on accordion, or better yet, by playing some of it yourself!

Happy March 11th!

Pop quiz: What do these famous squeezebox players have in common?

Master of “champagne music” Lawerence Welk:

Five-time Grammy winner and Tex-Mex music legend Flaco Jiménez:

Pioneering Tango composer/performer Astor Piazzolla:

It turns out that three of the biggest names in the accordion world all share a birthday: March 11th.

(Well, Piazzolla plays a bandoneon, which is technically not an accordion. Both instruments are considered “free reed aerophones” though, so close enough to still make it a weird coincidence.)

Oh, and March 11th is my birthday too! Not that I expect to live up to such a daunting legacy, but it certainly gives me a reason to keep practicing…

Accordion Lesson Announcements

I’m pleased to announce two exciting developments for 2015…

First, I am now accepting credit and debit cards as payment for accordion lessons! I’m using the Square reader and smartphone software that many of you may already be familiar with. One swipe, a quick signature with your finger on the screen, and you’re all set. It can even immediately email you a receipt if you choose. So no more worrying about bringing your checkbook or hitting the ATM on the way to your lesson!

Second, for new, beginning students in 2015, I am now including a free copy of Book One of the Palmer-Hughes Accordion Course with your first lesson!

Palmer-Hughes Book 1

This book is the best in the business and the one I always start students with. But it’s impossible to find it for sale anywhere here in Nashville. In the past, that meant that you had to order it online and wait for delivery while we muddled through the first few lessons without a proper method book.

But I’ve decided to keep a stack of these books on hand so that I can just give one to you the moment you sit down for your first lesson, as my way of saying “thank you” for choosing me as your new accordion teacher.

I’m hoping that these two changes will make things a little bit easier for both my existing students and for those out there who have (wisely) made a resolution to learn to play accordion in 2015!

Free Accordion Sheet Music: Auld Lang Syne

Let’s face it, if you’re an accordion player, this is that time of year when you might be called upon to play “Auld Lang Syne”.

Maybe you’ll be at a New Year’s party. Or perhaps at a Burns Night supper. Or maybe you live Bedford Falls where, inexplicably, they sing the song on Christmas Eve…

(Seriously… what is up with that?)

In any case, I’m here with three free arrangements of Auld Lang Syne for accordion to help you out. There should be something here for every playing level:

  • Beginner Version — If you’ve made it through most of Palmer-Hughes Book One, this shouldn’t be too much trouble for you.
  • Basic Version — A gussied-up version of the above, adding in some 7th chords and minor chords. Suitable for those who are at least toward the end of Palmer-Hughes Book Two.
  • Advanced Version — I’ve thrown in some jazzier left-hand chords, some of which use chord combining. You’ll need to be well-aquainted with the counter-bass row. The right hand gets a bit fancy during the chorus, but nothing too bad.

Best wishes for a happy and music-filled holiday season!

An Interview with an Accordionist

Last night’s broadcast of the radio program “Fresh Air” featured a wonderful interview with New York accordionist Will Holshouser. If you missed it, you can listen to the whole thing over at NPR (or even skim over the transcript if that’s more your style).

As is typical for host Terry Gross, she goes beyond a mere “let’s plug your new album” interview and has Holshouser give an audio tour/demonstration of the instrument, as well as delve into the history of French Musette and other accordion folk traditions.

I especially liked how Gross led with a confession of her own accordion “attitude adjustment”:

When I was growing up, I thought of the accordion as a pretty corny and annoying instrument. Accordion meant “The Lawrence Welk Show,” bad bar mitzvah bands and–worse yet–my father’s accordion lessons. But I wish I still had my father’s accordion because I now realize what a remarkable instrument it is.

 

What Does an Accordion Cost?

If you’re interested in learning the accordion, one of the first questions you’re likely to have is “how much is an accordion anyway?”

Well… it depends.

Accordions come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, ages, conditions, and levels of quality, which leads to a pretty wide ranges of prices. That said, I’ve come up with a handy rule-of-thumb that will get you in the ballpark:

Jeff’s Law of Accordion Prices:  Take what you already know about cars and divide it by ten.

What’s a new car cost these days? Maybe $14,000 to $20,000 for a compact car or entry-level sedan? Something like $30,000 to $50,000 for the next step up? Over $100,000 for something really nice and luxurious?

Just divide those car prices by ten to get roughly-equivalent accordion prices. $1,400 to $2,000 will get you on the road with a decent, brand-new accordion from, say, Hohner’s “Bravo” line (the Hyundai Accents of the accordion world). A step up from that, such as a full-sized Weltmeister, will put you in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. The high-end brands such as Pigini, Borsini, Petosa, Beltuna, etc., will be over $5,000 new, and often even in the five-figures.

Caption

Buying a brand-new accordion priced under $400 would therefore be like buying a Yugo.

Okay, so how about a used accordion? The same ten-to-one ratio applies. Buying a $300-$500 used accordion is similar to buying a $3,000 to $5,000 used car. It’ll get you from point A to point B, but probably not in comfort or style. Still, it might not be a bad choice for a “new driver”, especially if you don’t mind the occasional repair bill.

That $100 squeezebox at the yard sale? Like a $1,000 used car, only mechanics should buy it. Expect major problems that will cost a lot to fix if you can’t do them yourself.

Kiddin’ Around at Nashville’s Musician’s Corner

Kidsville Marquee

One of the great things about Nashville is how the city really embraces its “Music City” identity. Case in point is Centennial Park’s “Musician’s Corner”.

Inspired by London’s Speaker’s Corner, it’s an free event occurring each week in the spring and fall that presents a diverse bill of music to the community. Add in food trucks, a beer garden, local artisans selling their wares, activities for kids (and even for dogs!), and you’ve got yourself a great way for the whole family to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to appear at their “Kidsville” tent to play and demonstrate the accordion. I even brought one of my old, broken accordions, so I should show everyone what the “guts” of an accordion looked like, and how everything worked inside.

Kidsville Table

Accordion Demo

Safe Parking

Three cop cars nearby? Yeah, I think it’s safe to leave my accordions in the car this time…

Afterward I got to sit back in the shade and enjoy a couple of hours of great music on the main stage from the likes of Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, The Brothers Comatose, and Over the Rhine.

All in all, not a bad way to spend the weekend!

 

Update: Here are some more pix from the day, courtesy of photographer Jon Karr.