Accordion Teachers Weigh In …
STUDENT STAGE FOR 2019
By Sheri Mignano Crawford, Student Stage Coordinator
Talent! We all talk about it. We all want to think we have it or that our kids exhibit it. And we all still wonder about its origins—where does it come from? Teachers are often credited. But can anyone really teach it? Students are often congratulated when it is exhibited at an astonishing young age. Mozart is certainly a perfect example. The truth is, talent has always involved hard work, an investment of time, and frankly speaking, money. Beyond that, the crucial element is to find a good teacher—the right one for the student accordionist. The perfect pairing of student to teacher can make the difference.
It requires an extra effort for students to find a teacher whose primary (never mind exclusive) instrument is the accordion. Students may not find the accordion offered in public school curriculum or even readily available to rent or buy. Besides those obstacles, for a few decades, the accordion was so maligned; and it was often considered an illegitimate musical instrument, classified as a folk instrument similar to a mandolin. Students want to be cool and the accordion has not always projected that image. It is a physically demanding musical instrument that may require strength to even carry it to a music lesson.
Yet, here it is in all its beautiful manifestations! A world-class instrument that many people still play, many enjoy listening to, and a few excel at its virtuosic capacity. For more than a century after its introduction on the West Coast, virtually every town in the San Francisco bay area sprouted accordion studios. Some accordion teachers such as the teenager Guido Boccaleoni taught his teenaged peers to play. Today’s teachers have maintained the studio tradition. We are fortunate to have accordion instructors with music degrees and credentials. These teachers maintain a private lesson schedule and take their responsibilities very seriously. Among that list are Bart Beninco, Bruno Cerri, David Chelini, Lin Lee, Lindy Mantova, Dan Cooper, Joan Traverso, and Marjorie Konrad. Some of these teachers contributed to this article and were eager to participate. All of them are deeply committed to teaching and are concerned about the future of teaching accordion.
Most teachers who replied seem to be in agreement that “teacher preparation” is essential to a student’s success. Today’s teachers come well-equipped for the challenges. Bruno Cerri assesses physical and emotional parameters such as “control over the bellows” “fluency in scales” and evidence of “personal satisfaction in playing.” Many teachers reply on periodic recitals to demonstrate a level of achievement; many agreed that “informal performances” with family, friends, or though church and social functions can be beneficial to a student’s continued progress, and ultimate success. While technique books and lesson plans organize a student in the direction of “consistent improvement”, teachers may also assess their students’ progress by observing their level of enthusiasm. Marjorie Konrad and others pointed to “steady growth” as a good indicator as to whether the student will continue with the instrument into adulthood.
Another seasoned teacher, Lindy Mantova, measures a student’s future success and progress using “sheet music literacy” as criteria. Is the student playing at the expected “level of their ability”? To be able to read bass and treble clefs with ease can create the fork in the road. When young accordionists choose to play by ear, and rely on using rote procedural memory, and do not study the accordion literature, they may quickly head in the direction of being an adult “hobbyist.” This is a perfectly fine choice and provides a lifetime of fun, pure entertainment, and pleasure; however it imposes certain limitations on potential development and musical versatility. Dave Chelini notes that “self-confidence and knowledge gained through performance could propel them to a higher level.” But even if they don’t take that path, adults can still have a lifetime of enjoyment. Some students may become “closet accordionists” and that’s fine too as long as they find pleasure in what they are doing and can enjoy their musical abilities.
When I grew up taking accordion lessons, there were competitions, annual reviews, enormous summer festival stages, required recitals, and mandatory participation in accordion bands with the arrangement divided into several distinct parts. The pressure was on to perform or else! Today, competitions are not as actively promoted or supported. One organization holds its annual convention with these activities on the agenda. The ATG (Accordionists and Teachers Guild) still holds competitions (age-related, junior, adult hobbyist, semi-professional, digital, virtuoso, jazz categories etc.) with a required payment for the applicant’s acceptance. Winning can mean you are a ‘champion” but without enough entries in certain categories, it would seem that ‘competition’ does not factor into modern accordion conventions as much as they used to.
Without as many open competitions, where does that leave a young accordionist? The Cotati Accordion Festival Board of Directors debuted its “Student Stage” in 2015. It encourages all accordion students to feel comfortable in a performance venue. This student stage is an opportunity for anyone studying the accordion up to age 18 and/or still in high school. Students are required to prepare and to present several songs in a recital format. The festival encourages teachers to prepare students and provide a recommendation with a list of pieces. All students whose status of enrollment is verified by a teacher may submit an application to perform on the new Cotati Accordion Festival’s Student Stage. Our hope is to minimize the stress, create a warm, welcoming ambiance with supportive teachers, parents, friends, family, and festival attendees.
The Student Stage is inside the Social Hall of the Church of the Oaks, just a few hundred yards from the South entrance. The Social Hall is conveniently located at the intersection of W. Sierra Ave. and Page Street (just down from the Polka Tent). Doors open c. 9:30AM and close at 12N. To sign up, students should apply for a slot. Once accepted, arrive at the social hall 15 minutes before you play. All materials must arrive and be postmarked no later than June 30th. Email your application, teacher’s letter of recommendation with verification of student status, and your tentative playlist to the Student Stage Coordinator, Sheri Mignano Crawford. Zighi@Sonic.net. A three-person panel has been selected to review and award the scholarship. The Student Stage recipient will be announced from the Main Stage on Sunday.
Please send application, teacher’s letter and proposed playlist to Student Stage Coordinator
Sheri Mignano Crawford, P.O. Box 2704 Petaluma, CA 94953-2704
A post-script to my festival readers:
Many of the teachers interviewed for this article are of retirement age. Will there be accordion teachers or students attending the Cotati Accordion Festival in 2040 when (we hope) it celebrates its 50th anniversary? If the answer comes from the current teachers, then it is a positive YES! After a lifetime of devotion to teaching the accordion, it is even more crucial for those who are fond of the instrument’s compact versatility to actively support the continuation of this legacy. Invest in the future by sponsoring the Student Stage. Contact the Student Stage Coordinator Sheri Mignano Crawford about how your business can play an active role in the “Future Stars of the Accordion.”