Something is missing

The RecitalDespite my lack of natural musical ability, I began the painful and joyous experience of learning to play the accordion about seven and a half years ago. It’s been a sick addiction ever since. And from the moment I started squeezing the bellows, my dog Sunny was by my side.

She dug accordion music. Seriously.

She would be blissfully napping upstairs and the instant I hit the first few chords, I’d hear that familiar click clack of doggy nails as she raced down the stairs. Seconds later she’d be lying by my feet. Then after a while, when she’d had enough, she’d gently put her paw on my thigh and give me the look that it was time to put the squeeze box away. Once, while walking her (something we did twice a day, every day, for nearly 13 years), I heard the strains of accordion music in the distance–hardly a daily occurrence in Richmond, Virginia. She took off in hot pursuit. I, of course, had no choice but to follow.

She dragged me up some rather steep steps to the front porch of a row house, where I was forced to give an awkward hello to the barefooted dude playing accordion. “Hi there! Pay no attention to us. We just accidentally walked 12 feet up your front steps from the sidewalk way down below to to say hey.” I explained to him that my dog liked accordion music and he thought that was cool. Sunny and I both sat there for a good while and listened. That was a good day–one of so many with her.

My husband and I lost our remarkable dog to rapidly spreading liver cancer just 3 weeks ago. Because I loved her so very much, I knew her eventual loss would be heart wrenching. I had no idea just how much it would actually hurt.

To help me process my grief and allow me to focus not on her death but on the immense joy she brought to my life, I created a slideshow of her adventures. My choice would have been to accompany these photos with the music of John Hiatt and his oh so fabulous song, Just My Dog and Me. But since his copyright lawyers would have been quick to snatch that up from YouTube, I used recordings of me playing music (and some music of my friends) as a soundtrack instead. Sunny would dig the fact that it’s mostly accordion.

Please forgive my woefully inadequate sound editing in iMovie. I’m still learning.

Accordions rule but accordion-loving dogs rule more.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace.
—Milan Kundera

Sunny is really a person in a dog suit. And one day I’m going to find the zipper. 

– Andy Swartz

In search of a soundproof practice booth.

practice blog post pic

My typical expression when I’m learning a new song and no chocolate is available.

I loathe envy those people who sit in front of sheet music they’ve never seen before and whiz right through the song, seamlessly sight-reading every note. You guys suck are impressive. Sure, you might slow down during a few tricky measures or hit a clunker every now and then, but at least you play a recognizable tune. When I’m learning a new song, the music sounds about as enjoyable as the soundtrack from Eraserhead.

I hate learning a new song. Truth be told, my husband and dog aren’t wild about it either. What I do love is the part when I can finally play it without people and pets fleeing the room. Thankfully, there is a way to get from the craptastic part to the kick-ass great part–it’s called practice. It ain’t fun, but it works. In fact, it works really really really well. Almost like magic. Well, if magic were boring and tedious and repetitious and painful to your brain and required endless quantities of chocolate.

Recently, I learned to play that beautiful old Neopolitan song, “Santa Lucia.” Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly a quick study. My fingers felt flabby and awkward. For a very long time the sounds I was making didn’t sound even remotely like a song. Fortunately, on the night I was about to chuck the music (and the accordion) across the room, I was chatting with some accordion pals of mine who reminded me to take it slow. Really slow. As in one or two measures at a time.

That was really good advice. Rather than playing the song from the beginning (which I already sort of knew) to the end, and just replaying the bad parts over and over, they told me to skip the parts I already knew and jump right to the crappy spots. I did that. And sometimes that meant playing two measures for 20 minutes. Once I could play them flawlessly, I was able to add another measure and try playing all three of them together. Then when I could play those flawlessly, I could add another one. And so on, and so on, and so on. I thought it would never end but eventually it did. And eventually the song didn’t suck.

I decided to tape my suffering and humiliation for the blog, in hopes that it might inspire even one poor schmuck like me out there to keep on plugging. Practice really does work. Here’s proof. Warning: the early part of this video is slightly less painful than a root canal. By a dentist looking to determine whether it’s safe.

Keep the faith.

Mood Music

accordion and dogsOn Easter Sunday, my friend Sara Adduci snapped this kick-ass pic. It is, without a doubt, my favorite picture of me playing the accordion ever. Thank you, Sara. :-)

She subsequently posted it on Facebook. Some of the comments were as funny as the picture, so I figured I should share the love (so to speak). Enjoy.



“Damn accordion will do it every time.”

“Lady and the Tramp, after the spaghetti dinner?”

“Were you playing Teddy Pendergrass?”

Now there’s a polka!”

“Putting the poke in polka.”

“This may be the best pic of anyone playing the accordion ever.”

“You totally made my day!”

Bahahahahahahahahahaha. What were you playing to inspire such behavior?!”

“Wait, you know how to play Beyonce’s Drunk in Love!?”

“The dogs must have thought you were playing a poke-ya instead of a polka!”

“Or maybe they thought you were playing Hope You Poke Me instead of the Hokey Pokey.

Ha! Now go out and enjoy some accordion music. But please, behave responsibly.

Accordions rule.

Best. Vacation. Ever.

And one summer…at accordion camp…. :)

So through the wonders of social media, I was able to snag an invite to a kick-ass, week-long private party that I shall forever more refer to as accordion camp. I’ll never fully understand how I wrangled this much sought after invite, but I will be endlessly grateful to the accordion gods (and my new BFF James) for making it so.

Picture this: a small vacation home on Cape Cod filled with friendly, funny, and fun musical folk. Add to that a solid week (morning, noon, and night) of hearing the strains of accordion (and occasionally trumpet and flute) music so beautiful that it nearly made me weep. Seriously—I heard jigs or waltzes while I was brushing my teeth or drinking my coffee.

But it wasn’t just the music…it was the people who made it. It felt less like a random collection of folks who loosely knew each other, than it did a group of dear friends who had liked and known each other for a very long time.

Crazy good it was.

But so were the skill levels of most of the folks there. If you’re me, the problem with playing (or trying to play) with folks that good is that you’re inclined to throw your accordion in the depths of your closet and never retrieve it again. I mean, why bother? The other alternative is to learn from the generous and talented souls you have recently become acquainted with and work your ass off to become a better player. I chose the latter.

I came late to this rodeo. I’m almost 52, and I didn’t pick up an accordion until I was 46. But I love it more than I can say, and much as I would sometimes like to, I can’t put it down—not for any length of time anyway. I plan to take full advantage of the talents of my fabulous new friends. I’ll do what they say, I’ll listen to who they tell me to, and I’ll practice every day. And I’m pretty sure I’ll get better. It’s just like tennis or or golf or softball or any sport for that matter. If you force yourself to play with someone far better than yourself, it will smart for a while and you’ll miss the ball and feel like a doofus, but eventually you’ll get better. Truly, you will.

This video montage gives you a tiny taste of the quality folks I hung out with all week. These are the people I learned from. I adore them.

My very talented accordion husband, Barry (not to be confused with my actual husband, Joe) also came to the party with me. He was so inspired by the magic that he composed a theme song within 48 hours after he arrived home.

In summary—just make a point to play with other people. You don’t have to get invited to a kick-ass private party on the Cape to play with other people, although I’m ridiculously delighted that I did— Thanks again, accordion gods (and James!). Just call up some musical friends and invite them over to your house.

Have fun making music with others, and keep getting better. We’ll do it together.

Accordions rule.

Gnomies Rule

gnomes and accordionsA few weekends ago I flew to Atlanta to participate in a gnome march.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re terribly jealous of my A-list life. But trust me, it’s not without its aggravations– like having to endure an extra pat down as well as a thorough search of my carry-on bag. For whatever reason, small accordions, gnome salt and pepper shakers, and pointy red hats are viewed as suspicious. I know. I was puzzled by this as well. But I digress.

The gnome march is just one of the krewes (but no doubt the BEST one) in this crazy-fun parade that occurs every April during the Inman Park Festival in Atlanta. Trust me, you’ll want to be a part of it.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a short taste of the gnome-errific madness.

So what does this have to do with an accordion blog? For those of you who don’t know, the accordion is the instrument of choice for your average garden gnome. Seriously. Look around. If a gnome isn’t holding a rake or a hoe, it’s likely he’s squeezing an accordion with his chubby little hands.

Next year, not only do I intend to return to the gnome parade, but I plan to bring my full-sized accordion with me and play it as I march. And I invite my other gnome-loving, accordion- playing friends to do the same. Just think of it. We could have our own kick-ass sub-krewe of polka-playing gnomes nestled within the other marching gnomes, the bridesmaid’s dresses and the Marching Abominables .

It don’t get better than that, gnomie.