About 8(ish) years ago, I bought an accordion to play with my band, The Fuzzy Lemons. I used it for two songs – a cajun-esque song about smelly feet, and a song about pirates. I also eventually used it to play “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in one of my birthday shows.
My recollection is that I spent about $1,200 on it and, as I had no idea how to play it when I bought it, I also bought the first few books of the Palmer Hughes accordion course, and a dvd about how to play blues accordion.
I didn’t get too far with the self-directed lessons, and after I left the band (exactly 7 years ago yesterday), I basically packed the accordion away. I would bust it out occasionally and try to master one of the songs in the Palmer Hughes course, or play my pirate song, but mostly it sat, untouched.
I thought maybe it’s time to sell the instrument and use that cash to buy, oh, I don’t know… groceries or something. But I couldn’t let it go. I kept thinking how cool it would be to bust out an accordion and not only be able to plink out a tune or two, but to actually PLAY IT WELL.
Music has always been a part of my life… I took piano lessons as a kid, I spent hundreds of hours recording songs on a 4-track in high school, I’ve played in a couple bands along the way, I play guitar in my shows, I’ve written and recorded songs that actually get played on streaming services and result in a residual check of about $9.14 a year from ASCAP.
But I’ve never loved performing music. I’m always nervous. I’m always afraid I’m going to make a mistake, hit a sour note. I cringe when I hear recordings of my voice. Unlike with acting and my children’s entertainment, I’ve never felt in control when I’m performing music live.
I have a deep love of music, but am terrified of sharing it. Never in my life have I felt comfortable letting go in the moment of a musical performance.
I remember freezing up at a piano recital when I was about 10 years old. A piece I had been working on for months, just – POOF! – gone from memory. Total blank in front of about 100 people. Scarred for life.
I remember making eye contact and connecting with an audience member at a Fuzzy Lemons concert and – POOF! – blanking again. Lost my place in the music, hit the wrong chord. I broke eye contact and felt my face flush with embarrassment.
So, while I have this great love of creating music, there is an equal amount of fear that accompanies it. And I suspect the way to get over that fear is just to practice more and more and more so that each piece is so deeply ingrained in me, it just flows in performance without me having to think about it.
That’s the thing… I don’t want to have to think about the music as I’m performing it, I just want to let go and be free to express what’s in my soul. I want to ENJOY performing music.
When I ponder looking back on life from my death bed, that’s the only thing that sticks out as something I might regret. Being too afraid, too lazy to realize that potential – to be on stage, joyfully sharing music, to have a positive impact, and be able to make a living with music.
I listen to guitar solos in rock songs and I suspect I might, if I just practiced enough, be able to play that. I watch videos of amazing accordion players on youtube, and I wonder if I could ever get close to that level.
So… anyway. I had this accordion which mostly remained in its case, and I figured it was time to either learn to play it for reals, or sell it and give up that dream.
It turns out, fatefully, that our neighbor is an accordionist. And not only is he an accordionist, he is a ringer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, joining them when they need an accordionist. What are the chances of that? I’m interested in learning, and just down the street is a world class accordion player.
I sent him a note, “Hey – do you do lessons? I’d like to learn the accordion.”
He responds, “Okay, sure. Let’s do it.”
So last summer, still not 100% convinced that it was going to stick, we started lessons. And while it felt uncomfortable and weird and frustrating at first, within six months I’ve made some progress. And, more importantly, not only have I made progress, but I’ve become hooked on the accordion.
I can’t really explain it. It just feels right. I can’t play very well, I make tons of mistakes, I am driving my family crazy playing the same 6 pieces over and over and over, but I love it. I have great confidence that before long I will be using this instrument for good in the world.
I make time almost every day to practice, and I am definitely seeing the results of that practice. The more results I see, the more inspired I am to practice. It feeds on itself. I have reached the point where I’m pondering ways to adjust my daily routine to add more practice time.
So… I have a good feeling about this. A couple months ago, an old friend wrote and said that she had an accordion that nobody was using, and would I like to have it?
Yes, yes I would. It was her grandmother’s accordion, a nice student model Scandalli in good condition. I have loved playing it (it’s a 120 bass, whereas my original accordion is a much smaller 48 bass), and yesterday I took it to the Italo-American Accordion Company in Oak Lawn for tuning and service.
They did the basics, got it tuned up, and explained that to solve all the glitches would cost more than the instrument is worth. So… some of the “character” will remain, but it sounds lovely and is a great instrument on which to practice and learn.
As I chatted with the manager, I mentioned that I do kid shows and will be starting shows for seniors in March. Her face lit up and she said that there are a couple accordionists in the area who do senior centers as their full time gig.
So… on many levels this feels like the right track for me.