Interview with Sergiy Turchyn, Jam Tent Raffle Winner 2021
Sheri Mignano Crawford, CASS Coordinator & Interviewer
The Cotati Accordion Student Scholarships (CASS) program began in 2014. Fundraising has mainly included private donations and support through our Friday evening concert at the Church of the Oaks. In 2019 we began to manage the Jam Tent where we sell accordions and accordion-related ephemera. All proceeds go toward student scholarships. We invite everyone to stop by to listen and to enjoy lots of fun playing with others during the festival!
Last year’s raffle was won by a Ukrainian-born accordionist Sergiy Turchyn who arrived in the United States in 2011 when he transferred from a Ukrainian university to attend Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio as a sophomore. His musical journey from his birthplace of Kharkiv to Cotati provides a glimpse into how learning to play the accordion became an important way to keep his heart strings in the country he loves while living far from family and friends. His story is about how accordion music can unite the world and bring joy through its universal appeal. While introduced to the sounds of the accordion at an early age, he brought his knowledge and love of the accordion with him to America.
How did you hear accordion music being played while growing up in Ukraine?
My family members did not play accordion. However, accordion music is very common in Ukraine, it was widely used in cartoons, pop music, movies, and it’s extremely common to see accordion players busking on the streets (even in freezing cold temperature). When I was in a summer camp, we had an accordion player accompany us singing some songs.
I did have music in my childhood though. My family had a piano, although it was not used much and I did not want to learn it as well, so we ended up selling it later. My mom occasionally played guitar. When I was young, my parents introduced me to classical music. They say that I used to remember all the instruments in an orchestra and their relative positions. There is a remaining drawing of a “music composition” I drew at 7 years old (it doesn’t make sense musically but shows that I did somehow see sheet music and wanted to draw it).
Then, in 2011, several months before I came to the US, I suddenly gained a lot of interest in music again out of nowhere. We had a basic electronic keyboard for years and one day I randomly decided to learn some film music on it, which resulted in my practicing for 8 hours straight that day. Thus, I began my piano journey, taking piano lessons here and there, as well as composing my own music and learning music theory.
Did anyone in your family or any relatives play accordion? If so, what kind of accordion?
My cousin, who is 7 years younger than me, started learning accordion when he attended an academy of music in Ukraine for about 7 years. He played a simple Soviet 3 row LM Bayan, a very common type of accordion in Ukraine.
Many children in Ukraine attend independently operated music schools as a complement to regular academic school; separate activities at various locations with music-trained teachers. Most students (including my cousin) end their musical studies after completing the fundamental of music school, but those inspired to pursue a professional music career explore more at higher institutions such as conservatories. When I would return to visit Ukraine, I always played around with his accordion, learning some simple songs, and knew that one day I wanted to learn it myself because I enjoyed the sound of the instrument, it was easy to start with, and has some similarities to piano as a keyboard instrument. They learn both music theory and the instrument of their choice, giving performances every semester.
With my piano playing, I first learned it by myself which was a big mistake in retrospect, as I did not learn proper technique and was playing music well beyond my ability. (I had bought a Chopin etude book after 3 months of playing piano fully intending to play them). In Cleveland, I started taking private lessons but quickly realized my mistakes thanks to my teacher’s feedback.
When I started learning accordion, I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake and started taking lessons as soon as I got the instrument. I used an internship paycheck to purchase an accordion.
While advancing in his accordion skills and searching for an accordion, Sergiy graduated in 2017 with a B.S. & a M.S. in computer science. Then, he began his search for a career path in Silicon Valley.
I have always naturally enjoyed computers and technology and since early childhood, I was good at math. My expertise in computer science brought me to the Bay Area right after graduation; I also wanted to buy a simple, three-rowed “Garmon”, a popular Russian unisonoric diatonic accordion; instead, what I received was a diatonic Hohner Panther. Soon, I found it very frustrating that each key played a different note depending on whether the bellows were being pushed or pulled. In addition, some keys proved to be muted, and I found that there were not enough keys for the music I want to play. I did the best I could and just composed my own music but quickly lost interest after a couple months.
In San Jose, he initially began his studies with Valdet Jakubovic, who owns an Accordion Repair Shop in San Jose; then, he went on to study with Mike Zampiceni, his current teacher. He learned to balance his day job with all the challenges he encountered as he pursued his love of the accordion. How Did Covid-19 impact your life?
During Covid-19, my office building was closed for more than a year and the piano that I used for practicing was inaccessible. This hiatus presented me with the opportunity to finally learn accordion properly. I was extremely lucky to find Mr. Jakubovic where I could rent an accordion to test and evaluate different types. I learned about the various tunings, switches, and sizes. I bought an accordion suitable to me and one that would be versatile but also great for Eastern European folk music, French waltzes, and tangos and more. So much music to play!
The accordion is a very approachable instrument just like a piano, I could easily learn a simple song in minutes after picking up the instrument for the first time. It is also more portable and easier for traveling. Even though I have been playing piano for more than 10 years, most of my family in Ukraine has never heard me play piano in person because it’s so hard to find a piano there. On my last trip home, I brought my accordion with me without any issues.
Of course, in 2022 “home” has become problematic, and for now, it seems, your current Bay Area home provides you with a few accordion clubs and contact with lots of accordion players, too. How did you learn about the Cotati Accordion Festival?
I saw the festival mentioned on a Russian accordion forum as one of someone’s favorite festivals, but for some reason I thought it was located somewhere in Europe. Then, Mr. Zampiceni told me he would be performing in Cotati and that’s when I realized that it’s right here in California. I attended the Cotati Accordion Festival in 2021 for the first time and I enjoyed meeting so many accordion enthusiasts and professional accordionists as well as amateurs.
What were your general feelings and reactions about the players, the music you heard, and the general ambience of the festival?
I like the variety of music. Usually when I go to a concert, I get to listen to classical music for 2 hours. On another day I might go to a restaurant and hear jazz but at the Cotati festival I could listen to very different and diverse musical styles on the same day. Classical, jazz, electronic, and many other genres. It’s hard to get bored at the festival!
Tell us about winning the raffle for the accordion giveaway in 2021? Why did you enter?
It was fun to discuss the accordion with so many musicians. Of course, I was extremely lucky to win an accordion in a raffle and take it home with me. I have never won in raffles before, and this was a prize I actually wanted to have.
How can I say no to a new accordion? Accordions are all different and there is always room for having multiple instruments for various reasons. Maybe I could win an accordion with a nice musette tuning or a dry-tuned more classical sounding accordion. Maybe I could win a small portable accordion that I can take with me when traveling. I could also have a second accordion to leave in another location so that I have an instrument to play when I visit. In the worst case I can always just take it apart, see what it’s made of, and learn some basic accordion repair skills.
In conclusion, Sergiy has found a musical instrument that serves so many purposes in his life. He plans on coming to the 2022 festival to see old friends, maybe enter another raffle and he anticipates having a wonderful weekend listening to the accordion in all its magnificent splendor.
Thank you Sergiy and best wishes to you as you pursue you love of the accordion. SMC
Interviewer notes: This year’s accordion raffle will be held at 4:30P on Sunday. Come by earl to purchase your tickets at the Jam Tent. Survey the donated accordions that are for sale and those available for the raffle. All proceeds go to student scholarships. Check the souvenir program schedule for last minute changes.
Coincidences to happen in life. I donated my childhood accordion, a Marco D’Oro, manufactured by Giulietti to the Jam Tent Scholarship Raffle. Sergiy wont it! Of course, it has been quite satisfying to see him playing it and enjoying it. In fact, the accordion has returned to its original “home” in San Jose where it originally was played by me more than 60 years ago. It’s been cared for and will now provide Sergiy with even more decades of pleasure and joy.
There was no in-person festival in 2020; however, last year’s weren’t enough of a coincidence, the 2019 raffle was won by a First Responder who battled the 2017 Tubb fires, losing his home, including his accordion. That accordion happened to be donated by my sister, Anjali Crawford, who also plays accordion. Old accordions for new homes!!