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Introduction helena simonett When my grandfather would reach for his button accordion, a pre–World War I Schwyzerörgeli (“little Swiss organ”), his grandchildren would gather at his feet and listen. I marveled how his calloused fingers could run so effortlessly up and downthekeyboardandproducethismagicsonoroustone:hemadehisinstrument purrlikeacatsleepingonthestovebench.Ialsorememberthebellowschanging color, showing beautiful wallpaper when pulled apart, and the alpine flowers that decorated the wooden frame. But I began to detest this sound of my childhood, andmoregenerally Swiss folk music,whenI enteredmyadolescentyears.Idon’t think I ever knew, or wanted to know, the reason for my rejection—the music was just old-fashioned and corny. Not so with Tex-Mex or New Tango, though! I fell in love with Flaco Jiménez, with his shiny gold crown exposed by his wide smile andenergeticaccordionplaying,afterseeingthedocumentaryfilm Polka:Rootsof Mexican Accordion Playing on the Borderline between South Texas and North Mexico, produced by the Dutch anthropologist Robert Boonzajer Flaes and filmmaker Marteen Rens in 1986. Boonzajar Flaes, who taught visual anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, cunningly juxtaposes Jiménez and Austrian accordionists trying to play each other’s polka styles (after listening to a tape), with the former—of course—much more successful than the latter. While I discovered an arrayofnew“worldmusics”(manyofwhichfeaturetheaccordionprominently,I have to point out), some young people from my part of the country thought Swiss folkwascoolandbegantofullyembrace“ethnic”music—atrendthatgrewafterthe mid-1980sandinthe1990s.Yetweallcamefullcircle:“folkaccordionists”such asPareglish’sMarkusFlückigerplayeverythingfrom“urchig”(originalSwiss)to Finnish,Irish,Chinese,andklezmer;myownSchwyzerörgeliisatarm’sdistance as I edit this volume. This volume is, in a way, my “coming out of the closet,” a 2 helena simonett way of dealing with my own ambivalence regarding the instrument that carries so many memories. Throughout its history, the accordion, like no other instrument, has spurred intensereactions.Whyisitthatthisobjectissodearlylovedbypeoplesaroundthe world and so intensely hated at the same time by others? Is it the physical object itself—thatpleatedcardboardcontainedbyasquarewoodenbox?Isitthesound— that rough tone rich in upper harmonics with a noise-to-sound ratio higher than the European (classical) norm? Is it the repertoire—the low aesthetic value of polkasandotherludicrousdancetunesassociatedwith“beer,brats,andbellies”? Or is it the locales where the accordion found a home—the German taverns, the American dancehalls, the Argentine brothels, and all the other places of dubious moral standing? The accordion worlds are far too complex for a plain answer to these questions , but maybe one first response can be found in a Garfield cartoon by Jim Davis. Jon explains to his cat: “The accordion is my life, Garfield. You know why? Because I have soul!” To which Garfield replies nonchalantly: “No, Jon. You have an accordion.” People are drawn to the sound of the accordion because it strikes a chord inside ; it triggers remembrance even though there may be no actual accordion experiences to which to relate. The sounding accordion elicits “imaginary worlds of memory, tradition, and community”—or what Marion Jacobson (in chapter 14 of this volume) describes, in an allusion to Raymond Williams with regard to the contemporary accordionist William Schimmel’s experimental sound work, as a “structure of feeling.” But if culture indeed would be understood as a “structure offeeling”livedand experienced by the vast majorityofpeopleinagivensociety, and not as “high culture” and “low culture,” concepts inherited by a premodern class society, one wonders why the accordion has so passionately been ridiculed and rejected. Richard March (chapter 2 of this volume) concludes that perpetuated sociological factors play an important role in the instrument’s perception as “unsophisticated,” “simple,” and “low-class.”1 The Marvel Box Thegeniusoftheaccordionliesinitsinnerworkings.Accordionshavethousands ofminisculepiecesthatmustbeintheirproperplace:metaltongues,rivets,nails, screws, washers, springs, buttons, wooden hammers, bits of felt, leather, cloth, cardboard, and so forth. Each instrument is a mechanical marvel, a small masterpieceofmechanicalingenuitydevelopedandperfectedinthenineteenthcen tury .Theinstrument’sverynamereflectstheuniqueandrevolutionaryfeatureby which, through the handing of one key or button, a full chord resounds—derived 3 Introduction fromtheolderGermanwordAccord(chord).Aclosedsystemthatsoundsharmoniously , the accordion prevents disharmonious playing. Tuning is not necessary, andnopreviousmusicalknowledgeisrequiredtosqueezeoutaplainmelodywith some harmonizing chords. Tounderstandhowsoundisproducedontheaccordion,sometechnicalinformationwillbenecessary (seealsotheglossary).Assuggestedbytheinstrument’s widespread nickname “squeezebox,” pulling and pushing the bellows generates airflow that is directed on reeds by depressing buttons or keys that raise palettes. Thesounditselfisproducedbyfreereeds,steeltonguesthatarerivetedtoametal reedplatewithtwoslotsofthesamesizeasthereeds.Onereedisattachedoneach sideoftheplate,andaleathertapcoverstheoppositesidetoeachreedtoprevent airfromenteringandactuatingthereed.Ifthepairofreedsisidentical,thesame pitch will sound on either push or pull; this principle is called “uni-sonor” (used in the piano accordion and certain concertinas). If the reeds are of different size orthickness,eachbuttonactuatestwodifferentpitches,oneonbellowspushand the other on pull; this is called “bi-sonor” (used in diatonic accordions). Sets of reed plates are fixed on wooden reed blocks that are mounted on the palette board in alignment...


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