It seems like a hundred years ago. But it was only last year. I can’t forget it. There I am, at a restaurant. I am playing Christmas music on an accordion with a band. There is no virus, no social distancing, and everyone is happy. I am out and about in public. What a notion.
I play accordion because my granddaddy played it before me. This instrument is in my lineage. And it’s in our history as a civilized race. Thus, I believe that as long as we have young accordionists, there is still hope for humanity.
A few children approach our stage.
“WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENT IS THAT?” asks the redhead.
“It’s an accordion,” I say.
“WOW! IT’S SO HUGE AND DORKY LOOKING!”
“That’s not very nice…”
“IT SOUNDS LIKE A DYING TOAD!”
“NO,” says another. “IT SOUNDS LIKE AN ANIMAL GETTING RUN OVER BY A CAR!”
“Hey kid,” I say. “Santa told me you’re getting nothing but underwear and deodorant this year.”
This kind of accordion shaming is nothing new. I’ve been ridiculed since my childhood. I have heard all the classic jokes.
Such as: What do you call a successful accordionist? A guy whose wife has two jobs.
Or: What are the first words an accordionist says after he knocks on your door? “Pizza delivery.”
But I don’t care. When I play accordion, I play for my mother’s father—the man who fought in Europe, and won a Purple Heart for his valiance. He was a farmer, a storyteller, a wood carver, a musician who could sing in Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Cajun. And when he played “Lady of Spain,” it was magic.
Of course all this accordion business can be embarrassing to admit at, say, dinner parties. Like a party I was at a few years ago. The attorney sipping gin remarked: “I’m learning guitar, I got one for my birthday this year.”
“Yeah,” added the thoracic surgeon. “I played a little saxophone in high-school band.”
“Well,” I said. “I play the accordion.”
They laughed softly. Then, one man handed me his glass and said, “I’ll take a refill on this gin.”
No. People prefer guitarists. A guitarist can walk into a crowded party and females will hurl themselves at him.
An accordionist walks into a room, and suddenly a snowbird named Ethel is attached to his arm, talking about her grandkids in Sheboygan.
Even so, I am what I am. I started playing accordion because my family was funadamentaliat, and every Saturday night from my infancy we watched what all evangelicals watched. “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of any show that features 38 guys who all look like your father’s dentist, singing for an hour about Hawaii. But there was, however, one thing I liked.
Myron Floren. The gentle Dakotan would appear on the screen, wearing a 120-bass PANaccordion, and I would almost mess my britches. He would play “Tico Tico” at a lightning fast tempo. His hair was greased with industrial cement, his teeth were porcelain, he was a god.
One Christmas, my parents got me a small 12-bass accordion. I would lock myself in my bedroom and practice “La Valse de la Belle” for hours.
Then, I would apply an entire can of my father’s pomade before going to baseball practice.
When I became a better accordionist, I entered the fourth-grade talent show. I played “Cajun Surprise,” followed by “Louisiana Joe.” I played superbly.
I expected applause. Or at the very least, a key to the city. But when I finished, the audience made no noise.
A man in the front row mumbled, “What’s all that sticky junk in your hair?”
I almost gave up the instrument for good. But my granddaddy told me that I couldn’t.
“If you don’t play the accordion,” he said. “Then pretty soon mankind won’t have any accordions left. The world is depending on you, son.”
So with that kind of responsibility on my shoulders I started taking gigs. My first professional gig was a funeral. I was 14. They paid me 10 bucks. I’ll never forget it.
It was a Pentecostal service. The preacher asked me to play something mournful. So, I played “Peace in the Valley.”
One woman started crying, then another. And when the preacher’s baritone voice began singing with me, I almost forgot which song I was playing.
Since then, I have played my accordion for all kinds of occasions. Cajun soirées, country dances, beer festivals, Polka parties, quinciñeras, weddings, funerals, and one used car auction. And I have met interesting people along the way.
Like the 9-year-old boy that day I was telling you about, when playing with my band, who visited the restaurant stage while I was squeezing out “Jumbalaya.”
“Hey, I like your accordion,” he said. “It looks really old.”
“It is old.”
“I play accordion, too,” the kid explained.
And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Will you play something for me?” I asked.
He agreed. I removed the instrument and handed it to him. The accordion was almost as big as he was. He strapped it to his chest and played a melody so sweet it made my heart hurt. He got a standing ovation—which almost never happens to accordionists.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” I asked.
“My grandpa taught me,” he said.
Even in these troubled times there’s still hope for the human race.
Mike Bone - December 2, 2020 6:45 am
“A gentleman is someone that can play the accordion, but doesn’t.” – Tom Waits
Robert Taylor - December 2, 2020 7:01 am
That!! Was a beaut!! Keep’em up!!
Gordon Hall - December 2, 2020 7:08 am
Does the talent always skip a generation or are fathers too embarrassed to teach their sons because of the scorn they had to endure? Don’t mind me; I have the musical ability of a paper bag, so I’m rather envious of that which you do have.
Linda P Douglas - December 2, 2020 7:56 am
This brought back lots of memories for me. My sister and I both took accordion lessons back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. We were in a band with around 30 other accordion players. We even went to contests at the Illinois State Fair. Fun times. Thanks for making me smile.
Melanie - December 2, 2020 8:19 am
Where can we listen to your music?
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - December 2, 2020 10:08 am
When I was a tiny kid, pre Civil War, our church, The First Baptist Church of Shannon, would have baptisms at a little pond in our community. There would be a couple of accordion players along with singers. Been so long ago it doesn’t even seem real. The instrument seemed so huge & complicated to me.
Thanks for sparking this memory.
I also watched a lot of Well back then but it was by force. I always thought of it as punishment. What did we do wrong this time?
Merry Christmas to y’all & the dog’s.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - December 2, 2020 10:10 am
Welk, not Well. 😱
Curtis lee Zeitelhack - December 2, 2020 10:22 am
Yes. There is hope. I keep clinging to it, but I don’t play the accordion. My cousin Hans plays beautifully. He is 94.
Nancy T Rogers - December 2, 2020 10:28 am
I bought a beautiful accordion at the Salvation Army, my musically talented son wants to learn how to play it.
Leigh Amiot - December 2, 2020 10:43 am
If we (any combination of my late father-in-law’s seven kids and their spouses) would beg, my father-in-law would play the “piano accordion” for us, most often a polka. He preferred to play the organ, and was self-taught on a number of musical instruments. As far as I know, he didn’t read music. He, who looked a bit like actor Will Geer’s character, Grandpa Zebulun Walton, would stand and play in the doorway of a small living room, seemingly not as confident on the accordion as the organ, yet in my estimation he played the accordion equally as well once he shook off the rust. My father-in-law has been gone for twenty-two years, but your essay, Sean, has him alive and well in my memories, playing The Clarinet Polka. Thank you for that, and I’m so glad to hear of two more generations carrying this unique talent forward.
Lavenda - December 2, 2020 10:49 am
Wow..cool story. Thumbs up Mr Dietrich!
Camilla Stambaugh - December 2, 2020 11:08 am
I’ve always immensely disliked the accordion- until now ❤️
Ann - December 2, 2020 11:36 am
This is so sweet…and reassuring
Karen Erwin-Brown - December 2, 2020 12:35 pm
Lawrence Welk show helped me know what an accordion is. My family was Methodist but it was a religion to watch LW. and of course, Bonanza on Sunday night.
Susan - December 2, 2020 1:23 pm
Great story. My Aunt played the accordion also. Your story brought back beautiful memories. Thanks
Don Simms - December 2, 2020 1:27 pm
I play accordian. My dad hing one around my neck when I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to ditch it for something cool. Moose Lodge recitals weren’t “cool”. It did give me a love for music, though, and a little basic theory. I don’t own one any more, but I’ll bet I could still do a Slovenian wedding, if I needed a gig. I now have a few guitars. One girl. I love your stuff. Keep doing it. Tell Jamie thanks for the kind email.
Richard - December 2, 2020 1:32 pm
I think Accordion Crimes is the best book Annie Proulx wrote.
Beth - December 2, 2020 1:44 pm
Sean, we lived in Bavaria, Germany from 1988 to 1991 and were blessed to have German friends who took us to all kinds of gasthaus’ where accordions were the showcase. Loved, LOVED, loved it. So many good memories and this brought back some. Keep playing, my friend….🪗🪗
Perri Williamson - December 2, 2020 1:50 pm
Have you seen this?
Jan - December 2, 2020 1:55 pm
Great story! So good to know that traditions continue even in the year 2020!
Patricia Gibson - December 2, 2020 2:31 pm
Wonderful story and I love the accordion
Helene Mewborn - December 2, 2020 2:41 pm
Remember, Braves Hall of Fame Pitcher, John Smoltz, is a proud accodion player! And I remember Myron with admiration, too!!
We don’t hear them played much anymore. That’s a shame!
So, keep playing every chance you get!!!
jondragonfly - December 2, 2020 2:55 pm
“A guitarist can walk into a crowded party and females will hurl themselves at him.”
There is an apocryphal story that this is the very reason that Jimmy Buffet learned to play the guitar.
Becky - December 2, 2020 2:58 pm
Love the video link Perri sent. Do you have any videos from your early days? Would love to see them. I’ll bet your talent show performance was stellar!
John Skelton - December 2, 2020 3:41 pm
Yes, I played the accordion, too. When I was around 12 years old my mother asked if I wanted to try playing an instrument. I thought I did, but had no idea what to play. She pulled out her old accordion and had me try it.
I went on to play for several years after that. I even went to a music school that taught it and several other instruments. We had monthly recitals for the parents but also so the owner could judge how well the teachers were doing.
I could play by ear, so my music teacher would have to play the song first so I could get an idea of how it went. I could also pick out a song from a record and write out the notes. For all that, I simply could not get the hang of using the left hand buttons.
Eventually dropped it when I got older, but picked up the hammered dulcimer after seeing it at Silver Dollar City in Branson.
Laurence w church - December 2, 2020 4:14 pm
Almost every morning I read what you posted the evening before and I am encouraged.
elizabethroosje - December 2, 2020 4:19 pm
loved this! and I love your eye for a good story! and how you bring your memories alive in words!
Jenny Young - December 2, 2020 4:28 pm
Oh…I wish I knew someone who played the accordion so I could send this to them!
Christina - December 2, 2020 4:37 pm
Yes there is! I remember people playing the accordion in the streets of Argentina as others danced the tango… there is something mesmerizing about those notes that brings deep sentiments to life.
Eddy - December 2, 2020 4:46 pm
Lawrence Welk and his cast brings back such warm memories! Lori and I would spend Saturday nights over with our Grandparents until I was 13. The show had usually started by the time we got there. Of course none of my friends ever confessed to watching it. I was in jr high band and played trumpet so I found his orchestra awesome! Also, my Grandfather was a retired band director and I was blessed to be around a musical environment early. I’m 61 now and it wasn’t until a few years ago I started finding more people my age that watched. PBS used to carry reruns here in Mississippi, but I’ve not seen any in a while. We love Y’all and healing prayers for Mother Mary.
Christina - December 2, 2020 4:51 pm
Yes there is. I remember old men playing the accordion on the streets of Buenos Aires while others danced the tango. There’s something mesmerizing about that music that bring deep sentiments to life.
Nena - December 2, 2020 5:08 pm
For several years my neighbors were Jo-El Sonnier and Anthony Burger. That stuff happens in Nashville/Franklin. 🎼
BJ - December 2, 2020 5:29 pm
Making us smile
Linda Moon - December 2, 2020 5:55 pm
The notion of being out and about with you (accordion or no accordion) is a good one for me, especially at Christmastime. I had no lineage for my accordion-playing days…just a single mom raising young me very well, making sure I was never deprived of LIFE’s offerings. Thank you Mother Dietrich and Granddaddy for the heritage of Sean’s accordion business! P.S: I listened to “La Valse de la Belle” and loved it!!
Sue - December 2, 2020 6:32 pm
Love, love, love this. And Ah yes, Lawrence Welk every Saturday night as we got washed and curled and ready for Sunday School and Church. Love you writing.
Carol Filipow Pigg - December 2, 2020 9:43 pm
Accordions. My Dad’s best friend played for us, when the foursome would gather once or twice a year. The friends lived 1,000 miles apart, or whatever a kid thought was the distance from Indiana and Massachusetts was in the 1950’s to the 60’s. The guy worked for Johnson & Johnson, and always brought us cleaning supplies. To me, the best was Glass Wax.
Every Christmas we applied Glass Wax on windows. I don’t know if you can find the stencils anymore. Now I’ll be on the search for both, since we have an eight foot glass storm door. Maybe I’ll search for Myron Floyd on Alexa. My parents met at the Aragon Hotel, or maybe the Ballroom, dancing to Lawrence Welk and his band during WWII. Myron was probably too young to perform back then. Then, I’ll remember the best days of my life.
I played accordion because I had a crush on my older brother’s teacher. Or, I tried to.
Thanks for the Ah-one, ah-two memories.
Brenda - December 3, 2020 12:44 am
Happy post! Brought back memories of the Pulaski parades and polka dances in Delaware County, PA. They were always fun for a German girl. Thanks and keep on playing 👍
Teresa Blankenship - December 3, 2020 2:13 pm
From a mama of a red head that left this earth way to soon. You are a special person. Thank you for making me smile ❤️
Suzanne Cahill - December 3, 2020 5:33 pm
One of my best friends in high school played accordion. I remember the first time I saw her play in front of an audience- she had a smile on her face that lit up the room. I’m not sure about the accordion, but 50 years that smile is still there, and still radiant.
Chasity Davis Ritter - December 4, 2020 3:12 pm
When I go to a funeral I know to keep a tissue close by. One of these days I’m going to learn to do that when I read your blog. I don’t care what it is funny or sad or deep they all get me right in the feels!! Never stop being you or sharing with us the way you do. Love to you and Jamie and the four leggers this holiday season and always.
Heather Miller - December 5, 2020 3:18 pm
I understand your story, and lived every word. I grew up with a beloved mother who was an accomplished pianist who taught piano, voice, and violin. I had to do something.
I was a mediocre pianist, couldn’t sing well, never could play violin, and was asked to leave ballet and tap classes because, as the instructor told my mother, “it’s just a waste of money.”
HOWEVER, I was entranced with the accordian! I, too, loved Myron Florian, and wanted to play just like him. Mother was thrilled when I actually practiced and played well. I have a picture of myself and three other students in a recital. Sickest looking kids behind massive accordions. One tall skinny boy, three girls.
I once earned $6 fir playing three hours at the opening of a little store. Accordian long gone, but every once in awhile, maybe twice a year, I watch Lawrence Welk and just wait in anticipation for Myron. Funny, I never noticed the hair, now will have something new to see.
LIVE your columns, which many times make me cry. Nit this one.
Julie - December 29, 2020 3:38 pm
Ahh yes, Myron Floren, “the Happy Norwegian!” Loved watching him on the Welk show for many years! Your column never disappoints in creating new memories, and/or recalling old ones❣️ Thank you, Sean…I picture Myron and his accordion entertaining his fellow “Heaven’s Angels’🙏✝️😇