Ernst Gloe

The Cotati Accordion Festival’s 1992 Honorary Director
Patriarch, Visionary, Musician

by Peter DiBono

BORN IN OMAHA, NEBRASKA, OF German parents, Ernst Otto Christian Gloe demonstrated an early and natural love for music – particularly accordion music. “The warm tones of the accordion and the feeling of being able to be inside the tone,” began a lifelong love affair with his beloved instrument. No event or person in Ernst’s early years can be singled out as the reason for his profound love of music. He recalls, however, that very early on, the listening to music caused intense stirrings deep within him.

Mother, Marta Ernst Gloe, was not musical, but appeared in local musical productions. His father, Hans, a skilled wood craftsman, also loved music but was not a musician. When Ernst expressed an interest in learning to play the accordion, it was his father who built the accordion on which he first began his study. The three subsequent accordions used by Ernst to continue his studies, and throughout his career, were all hand made by his father.

Formal music instruction was begun at age eleven. Since no accordion teachers were available in Omaha, Ernst’s first music lessons were with an Italian violinist, Maestro Mazzeri. The teacher imparted a sound basis in music theory and harmony as it could be applied with the right hand, treble keyboard. However, knowledge of the left hand, the bass keyboard, Ernst Gloe and a labyrinth to Mezzari, was a puzzle which Ernst had to learn for himself. Undaunted, he slowly began deciphering the maze of buttons and soon was providing chordal accompaniments to the melodies played by his right hand. This humble beginning has yielded one of the preeminent and recognized authorities of bass keyboard in the accordion world.

Progress was made very quickly and soon Ernst was the highlight of family gatherings and neighborhood parties. Local talent contests were regular fare and Ernst was the perennial favorite amazing the judges with his impressive technique and seeming mastery of his instrument. The repertoire of German and Italian folk music and the popular “accordionistic” pieces played by young Ernst Gloe “did not satisfy” his inner need for musical expression. He wanted to play the music of the masters – the classicists, and especially the contemporary composers. The possibilities of the accordion were limitless, he thought, and with this youthful curiosity and enthusiasm, he began what would become a lifelong quest discovering and expanding the frontiers of musical expression as played on an accordion.

His parents’ selfless devotion to the needs of the aspiring musician led to the decision in 1928 to leave Omaha. They had learned that San Francisco was becoming the West Coast center of accordion manufacture and activity in the United States. It was hoped that Ernst could study under the fabled accordion virtuoso, Anthony Galla-Rini, who resided there. After settling in Alameda, an interview was arranged with Maestro Galla-Rini, alas, his performance schedule precluded commitment. All was not lost however, Maestro Galla Rini recommended and endorsed Mr. Angelo Cagnazzo as a fine accordionist who might be available as a teacher for Ernst.

Mr. Cagnazzo required of Ernst countless thousands of repetitions of scale, arpeggio, and dexterity exercises which resulted in a technical ability paralleled by a few, but surpassed by none. It is thought that Ernst’s absolute refusal to accept an other-than-perfect performance from himself, or his students, was engendered as a result of his study with Mr. Cagnazzo. Ernst Gloe, the promising student, would emerge from the teen years as the consummate artist, an earned reputation he humble carried throughout his career. Seeking, a broader musical base to effectuate his desire to compose and arrange, Ernst then sought out the next level of instruction, the university. Only two institutions of international stature existed in the United States; both enjoyed equal prominence among music scholars – the Julliard School of Music and the Eastman School of Music. The reason is not recalled, but Ernst chose The Eastman School Music in New York. Unfortunately this hallowed institution was not so willing to choose Ernst. The written application submitted by Ernst was summarily rejected. The idea of an accordionist, majoring in the accordion, at such an esteemed institution was deemed outrageous. Happily, a friend and noted composer from Los Angeles intervened and Ernst, after reapplication and audition, was admitted.

Ernst relates the story of first meeting his private teacher at Eastman. The man’s name was Ormay, a fine pianist and conductor. Instrument in hand, Ernst went to the room assigned for his lesson. Professor Ormay, upon entering the room and seeing the accordion, was so visibly upset that Ernst feared he would be ejected bodily. The professor regained his composure eventually and Ernst played for him. Convinced that the young candidate was a serious musician, lessons began. The two became fast friends. Serious music was the regiment at Eastman however, none was available for the accordion commercially. As a result, whatever pieces were assigned for study had to be transcribed by the student from piano, harpsichord, or other printed music. The additional burden of this arduous work consumed much scarce time.

It was, however, a most valuable experience because through it Ernst learned the inner intricacies of the accordion – knowledge which would serve him well for the entirety of his career. The four years required to attain the Bachelor of Arts in Music degree helped mature and further refine the musical sensibilities of Ernst Gloe.

As fate would have it, the year was 1942 when Ernst entered the Army. He applied to the Armed Force Orchestra and was assigned to report for training as a weatherman. He attained the rank of Top Sergeant, but confirmation was delayed until his last month of service. “They probably did that to avoid giving me the extra pay,” he says with a chuckle.

After the war, Ernst acquired the prized Master of Arts, Music degree and appropriate teaching credentials from UC Berkeley. He was busy the following years, teaching and performing in San Francisco. He taught at: San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco and California State University at Hayward where he remained for over twenty years.

Ernst Gloe retired eight years ago to a gentlemen’s horse ranch in Windsor, Sonoma County, where he lives with Sherry, his wife of many years. His parents owned and lived on the property for twenty-eight years before their passing. He loves looking out across the acres of vineyard land surrounding his and hopes never to see it developed. His health has taken the spring from his step, but his smile, sharp wit, and passion for his beloved accordion are as ever. He teaches privately on a limited basis and is beginning work on a book to explain the theory of accordion as he has discovered it.

In recognition of his lifelong contribution to the arts, and especially the accordion, we are deeply honored to celebrate Mr. Ernst Gloe as the 1992 Honorary Director of this, The 2nd Annual Cotati Accordion Festival.

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