The Cotati Accordion Festival’s 2008 Honorary Director
A journey of 3,500 miles, lasting over forty years can take you full circle.
My accordion journey started in Connecticut in 1950 where I took my first lessons from one of the east coast’s most renowned accordion maestros, Rudy Molinaro. I remained under Rudy’s instruction for the next ten years. This was a time of my life that was full of many great musical experiences and memories.
Studying with Rudy was far more than just a one-hour lesson. Serious students had their lessons during the week, attended ensemble workshops on Sundays and dedicated their summer months to practice sessions that ran eight hours a day.
The training was comprehensive and demanding, but the result was a number of highly trained and accomplished accordion orchestras and soloists. The students performed at such renowned venues as the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, as well as Town Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Music competitions in New York and Chicago twice a year were a regular test of our skill and composure. I am very proud to have been a member of these groups.
All of this training brought me to college at the age of seventeen where I found out that they had no degree for the accordion. Boy was I glad I had taken all those accordion lessons. I was now required to sit behind a piano as well as immerse myself in all of the band instruments while studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education.
I graduated and accepted a teaching position for the state of Connecticut. It was my responsibility to develop an instrumental music program to teach developmentally-disabled persons to play all the various band instruments. These groups performed in schools and civic events in Chicago and New York.
After thirteen years I moved on to a position in Westchester County teaching juvenile delinquents. These children were placed in school by the courts. Boy, was I ever glad those kids liked music.
In 1990 I decided to move to California where I had heard that the accordion was enjoying a renewed popularity.
I had the good fortune to move to Petaluma, a few block away from “accordion central” in Sonoma County; Volpi’s Italian Restaurant. I dropped by one night and was immediately embraced by the local accordion community. Long lasting friendships lead me to be included in the formation of several events and organizations.
I am very proud to be a founding member of the Accordion Club of the Redwoods, and was consulted as part of the team that founded the Cotati Accordion Festival.
The highlight of my career came in 2001 when I was asked to accompany Luciano Pavarotti in his performance in Sacramento. The memories of that night will last me all of my days.
I currently enjoy teaching music in my studio in Petaluma, repairing the occasional accordion, and playing professionally for parties and public events.
So, you see, coming to California has helped me come full circle as an accordion player.
Thank you to the fine folks at the Cotati Accordion Festival for the honor and privilege of being selected as the Honorary Director of the festival this year. You’ve made the trip well worth it.
— Bart Beninco