The Musician

Anyway, not long ago, I was playing accordion at a Cajun music concert. I saw a man in the audience who kept smiling at me. There was something about him. He stood beside the plywood stage, eyes on me.

This is stupid. I can’t believe I’m telling you this. But last night, our band was on stage. Lights were flashing. People were dancing. The tune was “Hey Good Lookin’.” My buddy, Doug, was singing.

And I was squeezing an accordion.

So there. I’ve finally said it. I play accordion.

For years I’ve been pretending to be an average civilian, sometimes even flat-out denying that I own a thirty-two bass Weltmeister, but it’s time to admit the truth:

I play the lamest instrument ever conceived—with the exception of the bassoon.

I started playing as a boy. Before me, my grandfather played. Back in Granddaddy’s day, the accordion was not just “an” instrument, it was “the” American instrument. The accordion caused ladies to swoon, men to fall into jealous rages, and caused international spies to jump through glass ballroom windows.

Once upon a time, the accordion was exotic and elegant. You could watch primetime television and see stately gentlemen like Myron Floren, grinning at the camera, wearing a four-hundred-pound apparatus strapped to his chest.

But times have changed. Most folks don’t even know who Myron Floren is.

Today, accordion-playing ranks on the “lameness scale” somewhere between identity-theft and dentistry.

Anyway, not long ago, I was playing accordion at a Cajun music concert. I saw a man in the audience who kept smiling at me. There was something about him. He stood beside the plywood stage, eyes on me.

He was white-haired and used a walker. His daughter was beside him. After the show, he approached me.

“I used to play the accordion,” he said.

His whole body was shaking from Parkinson’s.

The man went on, “I played when I was in the Army. Started with piano, but I wanted to be like Myron Floren, so when we were in Germany, I bought one.”

He taught himself to play. He’d stay up until the wee hours, practicing with a radio.

“I was good,” he said. “I was never as good as I thought I was, but good.”

As it happens, I’m not a good accordionist. Not at all. In fact, I once played for a nursing home. A woman in her late-eighties borrowed my accordion and played “Tico Tico” at lightning speed.

When she finished, she patted my shoulder and said, “Keep practicing, sweetie.”

So the old man and I became friends right away. He and his daughter followed me into the parking lot that night after the show.

He told me all about himself. About growing up poor in Tennessee. About the first and only woman he ever loved—his deceased wife.

She was the same woman he played for almost every evening. Songs like “Lady of Spain,” “O Sole Mio, and “La Vie En Rose”

“Those were her favorite songs,” he told me.

As it happens, “La Vie En Rose,” was one of the first songs I ever learned. When I told him that, he got excited and said, “Oh! Would you play it?”

“Right now?” I said.

“Please?”

So I removed Old Ugly from her case. I strapped her to my chest the same way my granddaddy once did. The same way lots of men like him did. They were a generation of men who fought wars in Europe, earned Purple Hearts, and watched Ed Sullivan or Lawrence Welk when they weren’t changing their own oil.

I played “La Vie En Rose” in the parking lot and made a lot of mistakes. But he was a generous audience.

I could see him through the corner of my eye, he was singing in French. Then, he wiped his eyes.

He shook my hand. He thanked me, then said, “One day, I hope to play that song again for my best girl.”

His daughter hugged me. We exchanged addresses. Then, they were gone.

We kept in touch some. He even sent me birthday cards—we accordionists have to stick together. He read all my books.

Anyway, I got an email today. It said that last night, around eight in the evening, a man you’ve never met closed his eyes and didn’t reopen them. He was Old America. He was a father, a husband, and a musician.

And right now he’s playing for his best girl again.

Please don’t tell anyone I play accordion.

57 comments

  1. Beth Reed - June 27, 2018 7:46 am

    Sean I think that the accordian is not lame. I believe that the sound is beautiful. Great story. Hug’s to you and the sweet man that is playing for his best girl. Beth xx

    Reply
  2. Kathy - June 27, 2018 8:31 am

    Your secret is safe with me, Sean! 🤫

    Reply
  3. Toni Tucker Locke - June 27, 2018 8:34 am

    My husband’s family has a musician, too! I was taught by my mom master pianist to appreciate ALL forms of music. Your form has an honored tradition and it is portable. Thanks for sharing–always.

    Reply
  4. CaroG87 - June 27, 2018 9:59 am

    Oh my….. where did those onion-chopping ninjas come from???

    Reply
  5. Barb - June 27, 2018 10:58 am

    You tell the sweetest stories, Sean Dietrich. Amusing and alluring from the first sentence to the last. You skillfully make me chuckle and tug at the heartstrings all within a short space. That’s another instrument you play well . . . Heartstrings!

    Reply
    • Jessi C. - June 27, 2018 4:06 pm

      Ha- true story! I often have to avoid reading Sean’s stories at work and in public :’ )

      Reply
  6. 5KClay - June 27, 2018 11:02 am

    My first grade teacher played accordion and I love the instrument! A band called Post Modern Jukebox is making the instrument cool again!
    And, as always Sean, you have written well. Your comment on men who watched television and changed their own oil summed up a generation that is slowly leaving us. Great men with strong wives that we need to (like you) get to know before they’re gone.

    Reply
  7. Amanda Faye - June 27, 2018 11:13 am

    Really? That sounds a lot like “please don’t throw me in that briar patch!”. I guess I’m telling everybody:-) How can a person not smile when they hear the accordion?

    Reply
  8. MaryJane Breaux - June 27, 2018 11:30 am

    Cher Bebe, never apologize for making the world more beautiful through your words and music. It is a rare individual that breathes ordinary air and exhales pure love. I live for love. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jean - June 28, 2018 2:31 pm

      Beautiful statement.

      Reply
  9. Barbara Pope - June 27, 2018 11:32 am

    Just another one of your gifts to share and touch hearts or bring joy.

    Reply
  10. Harriet - June 27, 2018 11:57 am

    My 97-year-old Mother played her accordion until her arthritic shoulders wouldn’t allow her to anymore. She still plays the piano though. Thank you for carrying on Myron’s and others legacies, Sean. Keep churning out good words and happy tunes.

    Reply
  11. Ellen - June 27, 2018 12:00 pm

    You brought me back to watching my mother open her accordion case. Lined in royal blue velvet, it held that magical instrument that made my mother look like a beautiful young girl, full of life, who had dreams and fun and rocked those keys. Thanks, Sean, for capturing her soul. I love to start my day with you…

    Reply
  12. Jan Williams - June 27, 2018 12:36 pm

    Is there a schedule of where you and/or your band willl be playing?

    Reply
  13. Matt Fuqua - June 27, 2018 12:39 pm

    My wife’s name is Pam. BP (before Pam) I dated a girl whose father was a champion accordion player. Not just any accordion, but a button box accordion. He died while we were dating. Had I married get, those championship button box accordions would have been mind. I made the right choice marrying Pam!

    Reply
  14. Connie Havard Ryland - June 27, 2018 12:49 pm

    And just like that I’m crying at work. If you can play a musical instrument, you have a talent. I don’t care what it is. Music is a common thread among us all. It ties up our memories and brings us joy or sorrow or peace. Play on.

    Reply
  15. Debra - June 27, 2018 1:01 pm

    Dear Sean,

    I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your writing! You always take me to places I’ve been, and introduce me to people I know well, and remind me of how things used to be and ought to be still. I am proud that you call Alabama home. I am even MORE proud when you write, “ROLL TIDE!!!!!!!”.

    I have to tell you, however, that with this entry, you made one mistake: The bassoon is NOT a lame instrument. Just think, you wouldn’t have Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown without the bassoon!

    I played the bassoon for years. I began after I had started with the violin, went on to the flute, took private piano lessons while playing these instruments, then decided I wanted to try the bassoon. It is called the “clown” of the orchestra – and for good reason. It DOES sound funny. However, in the right hands, it can bring a song to life, just like a fiddle or a banjo does with bluegrass.

    Don’t think I’m saying this out of a desire to just “respond” to a post for recognition. I come from a long line of musicians. My great-grandfather used to play the banjo. My grandmother played the cello. My great uncle played the banjo and piano. They all were great vocalists as well. My mother sang. My father still tries. My older brother plays the standing bass and the bass guitar. He sings bass as well. My younger brother majored in music at Troy and plays pretty much everything. In our family group, he sang baritone. I sang alto, and our mother sang soprano. You see, we grew up singing in church, to the point where, in my teens, I LOATHED it in the most loathsome way possible, as teenaged girls tend to do. Now, I love nothing more than singing, and had we not had to rent my bassoon (they are quite expensive), I would still be playing it.

    So, please, if you would, don’t call it lame. At one point in my life, it gave me purpose and drive. These are two things that allude me at times these days. Yes, I have a 3 year old granddaughter that we just adopted because we lost our daughter, so there’s a purpose. It’s a purpose that keeps me alive while I’m still being treated for breast cancer that I was diagnosed with just months after losing my daughter. It’s a purpose that keeps me going when we lost my mother right after I had my first chemo treatment. However, music, no matter the instrument, no matter who’s voice, is a joyful noise that makes my heart happy. No instrument is lame. Nor the musician!

    Thank you for reading this, Sean. Have a wonderful day! Oh! And ROLL TIDE!!!!!!!
    Debra

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - June 30, 2018 1:28 am

      Amen! Debra! Praying for your health and family! You are a strong, wonderful woman!

      Reply
  16. Jeff Corkran - June 27, 2018 1:08 pm

    I’m revealing my age a bit here, but I do know who Myron Floren was. When I was a kid, my dad never missed the Lawrence Welk show. You keep writing and I’ll keep reading — I love your tales.

    Reply
  17. kyra - June 27, 2018 1:43 pm

    Oh my. Music touches us at our deepest core. This is the second time this week a story about music has brought me to tears. (First was a tribute to the conductor of a small orchestra who had died). Thanks, Sean. And the accordion is NOT lame.

    Reply
  18. Laura - June 27, 2018 1:54 pm

    Sean, I won’t lie and say the accordion is my favorite instrument, but I watched as it was played on Lawrence Welk show. AND, more importantly, my now deceased grandfather played it (he called it his squeeze box). He also played the fiddle and guitar at barn dances. He was left handed so he played differently than most folks. You cannot imagine my excitement when we had a left handed guitar player join our church band.. Silly, I know but it brought back such memories. I’ll bet Granddaddy is playing with your friend up in heaven now for their best girls.

    Reply
  19. Marthajane Cassidey - June 27, 2018 2:22 pm

    I hope he is, too. Great column, great way to start my day!

    Reply
  20. Janet - June 27, 2018 2:32 pm

    Memories of my dad, who would be 102 if he were still with us, flooded over me as I read this. He is the reason I know who Myron Floren was. Thank you for reminding me. Keep playing that accordion. Someday it will be hip again.

    Reply
  21. Jacque Kochak - June 27, 2018 2:52 pm

    I love this.

    Reply
    • Jacque Kochak - June 27, 2018 2:53 pm

      But I absolutely hated Lawrence Welk when I was a little girl!

      Reply
  22. Charlu Kent - June 27, 2018 2:53 pm

    I love the accordion. Right up there with the banjo! I’m a flute player n recorder on occasion. My boys love jazz a trumpet 🎺 n French Horn. My dad n mom gave the love of reading music n animals 💙🐭❤️😎

    Reply
  23. Ann - June 27, 2018 3:13 pm

    But I hope one day if I’m lucky enough to hear you speak, you might play La Vie en Rose on your accordion. It is my all time favorite song. And my father was a soldier through and through and he loved Lawrence Welk. You’re not a real man if you don’t have a soft heart for things of beauty.

    Reply
  24. Jessi C. - June 27, 2018 4:12 pm

    My grandmother played the accordion! She also played the organ and sang in clubs during the 40s and 50s, where she met my granddaddy. Later on in life, she’d still occasionally bust out the accordion or play a snappy tune on the organ–they were strange and wonderful talents!

    La Vie en Rose- one of my favorites, too. I hope he’s playing for his best girl…

    Reply
  25. Shelton Armour - June 27, 2018 4:32 pm

    I can’t play anything but love music. I’ve got no ear for tuning and I tried bass and guitar once each but I didn’t get anywhere with either. Consider yourself blessed.

    Reply
  26. Ruthe Short - June 27, 2018 4:55 pm

    What a precious story; thank you for generously sharing! I am 69, and grew up mesmerized by the accordionists. My parents and then I faithfully watched Lawrence Welk. May God bless you and your music( talent that God has given you can’t be lame).

    Reply
  27. Gayle E Blake - June 27, 2018 4:58 pm

    Very few people also remember that I played the accordion when a mere pip-squeak of a girl. I’m not sure why, but the pull of the accordion was strong for me and I kept reminding my mom how much I NEEDED an accordion to play. I have no memory of how she came across this instrument for me…but I got it for my 12th birthday. It was pre-loved (used)…or course…and what I remember even today is that smell that emanated from the huge case with the purple lining when you opened it. It captivated me and somehow seemed to offer a whole new world of playing and listening enjoyment. Unfortunately my love affair with said accordion lasted about a year and I no longer even recall what happened to it. Hopefully it was passed to another little girl with eager eyes and fingers itching to play the ooompapa machine (as my brother called it!). Thanks for sharing your story…and NO…we were never lame! Accordion players rule!

    Reply
  28. Bob - June 27, 2018 5:49 pm

    WOW!!! When I was five, (1951) mother would carry me to West Gadsden to take accordion lessons. Mrs. Eileen Steele had moved to Gadsden from Pennsylvania with her husband. I would take a private lesson once a week and then she had accordion band practice one a week. I took lessons until I was 16-17. By that age it was not kool to be an accordion player.

    The family watched Laurence Welk every week. Welk was not a real accordion player, he didn’t play the bass notes in the left hand. Myron Floren was a REAL accordionist. I played Tico Tico, Lady of Spain, etc. It just so happened God gave me a good music ear and I was pretty good. My band director at Gadsden even had me play a solo at half-time with the band, used a microphone and all. The song was Alley Cat.

    I still have my accordion – it is a full key board and 128 bass note (left hand). I haven’t played it in years. Probably was too much information but I am old enough now I can admit I was an accordion player.

    Reply
  29. Larry - June 27, 2018 6:36 pm

    Summer of ‘73; Myron had a few hours in Williston, ND. Drove him over to the old folks home, never forget the joy in their eyes. Great guy-sounds like you’re ok too.

    Reply
  30. Kimalyn Ford - June 27, 2018 6:36 pm

    Today is my parent’s wedding anniversary. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning. I calculated the year, then smiled thinking of them celebrating 54 years together. 45 on earth together, 7 separated and 2 reunited in heaven!! Thanks for the stories that paint pictures in our minds!! Reunions and Anniversaries!!!

    Reply
  31. Ellouise Pennington - June 27, 2018 6:39 pm

    I bet you play a mean accordion. Good for you! Your talent is a gift from God. What you do with it is your gift to God. Don’t know who said it first, but I believe it’s true

    Reply
  32. Richard Cotton - June 27, 2018 7:15 pm

    Better to admit to playing the accordion, than to admit to watching Lawrence Welk. Oh, wait, I think you just did with the Myron Floren reference…. (Seriously, I enjoy each and everyone of your posts.)

    Reply
  33. Jo Brooks - June 27, 2018 7:26 pm

    Ha ha – I played the accordion too! I don’t think I could play anything now, but back in the day I got to go to a Myron Floren concert and play along with him. Not on stage with him, mind you. I was sitting in the audience along with all the other budding accordion players. We all played along!

    Reply
  34. Sue - June 27, 2018 7:33 pm

    Every Sat nite our local PBS station plays an old Lawrence Welk program. Narrated by some of the “old” stars, Joann, Norma, Bobby….hey great accordionists just keep squeezing along.

    Reply
  35. Harry - June 27, 2018 7:52 pm

    Bravo! Simply Bravo!

    Reply
  36. Deena - June 27, 2018 11:11 pm

    I love have these precious old souls find you and you are able to share their stories with all of us. I look forward to meeting you every day in your writings.

    Reply
  37. Sylvia Holt - June 27, 2018 11:19 pm

    I’m so old I remember all those songs and LawrenceWelk Show on our early TV. You should be proud that you are able to preserve a bit of American history. You could play for me anytime.

    Reply
  38. Donna - June 28, 2018 12:22 am

    I love listenng to someone play the accordian. Must be old fashioned but I always have. I also love reading your stories everyday. So nice to read about a good life.

    Reply
  39. Joyce Jay Mills - June 28, 2018 1:39 am

    Great story as usual I have never cared for the accordion music but like everything else after reading your “Life Accounts” I view people and see life beyond first take and look deeper*~*

    Reply
  40. Pamela McEachern - June 28, 2018 1:58 am

    Beautiful story, may I suggest you give “OLD UGLY” a proper name. I would nominate her to be Norma Zimmer, another beautiful lady and friend of Myron Floren!
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  41. Merry - June 28, 2018 1:59 am

    Love your stories – you talk about the best of America.

    Reply
  42. Esteban - June 28, 2018 2:47 am

    Someone once said that if they play harps in heaven they play accordions in hell. Have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. I never heard Mr Floren play but I have heard Piazzolla. He plays badoneon which is a close cousin to the accordion. Piazzolla is the past, present, and future of cool. Get a chance, listen.

    Reply
  43. Jack Darnell - June 28, 2018 2:52 am

    That accordion My sister just passed away. I am the last of the family, she had no children and lived in our home. We are living in the motor home. Looking thru her ‘stuff’ I cannot find THE accordion. In 1952 she won a statewide talent contest playing that instrument. She went on to be a secretary and finally in her late 70s became a singer, her life long dream. She even played the accordion with the band on occasion. HOW can an accordion disappear? I found jher uke, autoharp and snare drum and cymbals. Any idea where an accordion would hide?

    Hey, enjoyed the entry…

    Reply
  44. Kathy Burgess - June 28, 2018 4:36 am

    Look, do not be complaining about playing the accordian. I can’t even play a kazoo. I think it is great because I love all kinds of music.
    Your story was wonderful. Sorry you lost your friend and music companion. But now he gets to play for his sweetie everynight. Going to Heaven is my #1 objective in this life. When I arrive, God will hand me a violin and I will play classical or fiddle bluegrass. Thinking big, don’t care much for the kazoo. Want to her your band before I get there, though.

    Reply
  45. Anne Trawick - June 28, 2018 6:57 am

    Home run!

    Reply
  46. Jean - June 28, 2018 2:26 pm

    While in Montreal this past week-end, I heard an array of romantic French songs played on an accordian by a nice looking young man in the subway or train station. Reminded me of Maurice Chevalier’s music. Keep on playing!

    Reply
  47. Lisa - June 28, 2018 3:27 pm

    My childhood nextdoor neighbor played the accordion! Lawrence Well was a regular weekly show for us, and Myron Floren was awesome. But I mainly watched because iwanted time BE Janet Lennon 🙂

    Reply
    • Lisa - June 28, 2018 3:30 pm

      Wanted *to Be Janet Lennon.

      Reply
  48. Jody - June 28, 2018 7:54 pm

    Attended an Octoberfest event in New Braunfels Texas MANY years ago. Myron Floren was the headliner. Great show. Great accordion!!

    Reply
  49. Laurel Wimbish - June 29, 2018 12:23 pm

    I too played the accordion as a kid for 10 years. My parents thought I too would be like Myron Florin on Lawrence Well. Didn’t play again but I took up the violin at age 60 and enjoyed learning it…not good but I have fun with it…funniest story…I played/practiced with 5 other students. One was 8 one 15 one 16 and a chello player who was around 50. The 8 year old raised her hand after the first practice and told the teacher she didn’t know she was going to practice with old people. I looked at her and said…are you talking about me? We all laughed…good story you told.

    Reply
  50. June - June 29, 2018 8:54 pm

    No doubt they are happy to be together again.

    Reply
  51. joyce luker - July 3, 2018 11:32 pm

    Sweet!!

    Reply
  52. Sara larsen - July 6, 2018 2:44 pm

    Well, I see that I am not alone in keeping my accordion playing a secret. I have used it more than once when pressed for an unusual fact about myself. I took accordion as a young teen because my much older brother had taken and we owned the. Instrument. I only took for one year Not my calling or gift.In fact, As several have commented, I don’t really even like the accordion. And of coarse we watched Lawrence Welk .
    Enough said. Thanks for your stories .

    Reply

Leave a Reply