I began playing the accordion, at the urging of my mother, at the age of nine. We lived in Albany, Oregon at the time, and we traveled to nearby Corvallis for lessons from Tommy Leonard. Two years later we moved to Portland where I began taking lessons from Joe Baccelieri, then switched to Eileen Hagen when Joe entered the seminary.
My first state accordion contest, in 1959, was interesting. I played Espana Cani for the judge, Charles Magnante. At the end of the competition, Magnante chose one person to receive a 3-hour (or maybe it was 6-hour) private lesson, and much to the delight of my instructors, I was awarded that prize. Throughout my high school years I played with a very talented group, known as the “Techniques,” that played in contests and entertained throughout the Portland area. One of the members, Jonas Nordwall, later switched to the organ and became highly rated on that instrument. A second, Judy Cervetto, pursued an academic career in music and taught at a local community college. As a senior in high school, the Eileen Hagen School of Accordion made a 3000 mile train trip to New York for the national Accordion Association competition. I remember receiving a first place award in the solo division for my performance of Concerto in A by Pietro Deiro. Our symphony and quintet also received first places for Scheherezade and Barber of Seville, respectively. While visiting the Petosa factory in Seattle in 2004, I noticed that Joe still had the picture of the Techniques on the wall, which was an advertising photo that Petosa used in the early 60s.
That was pretty much the end of my formal accordion career until recently. As much as I enjoyed the accordion, I admit to enjoying the sport of tennis even more. I was able to receive a tennis scholarship to the University of Portland, and as a psychology major I then received a scholarship to the Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado. Upon receiving the Ph.D. in Social Psychology, I accepted a teaching position at the newly inaugurated State College in Bakersfield, California, where I remained until my retirement. I enjoyed a long career as professor, department chair, and director of assessment and teaching until retiring completely from teaching in 2005. I also have been able to remain active in tennis through the present time. I coached the CSUB men’s tennis team, taught many hundreds of players, published an article on tennis, and have won local and national tournaments.
Back to the accordion. During my 30-year teaching career, I continued to play the accordion, usually with a dance trio (drums, horn, and me with a midi or electronic accordion). Naturally, I had to learn to play a walking bass, to back a lead instrument, and to take the lead for choruses. Overall, though, I’d have to say that until my retirement, the accordion took fourth place among my teaching, family, and tennis interests.
Upon retirement, I first joined a newly formed quartet that played mostly jazz. This group included a bass player, which meant I no longer had to worry about bass lines, and could concentrate on right-hand chords and improvisation. However, jobs were scarce, the personnel changed, and I decided to embark on a solo career. This led to the creation of a home-produced demo CD which I would drop off at some of the local sites, such as retirement homes. Fortunately, that provided the foot-in-the door to play for various groups, and the reaction has been so positive that I typically have 2-4 gigs per week, which is all that I really want.
There are other contributors to my decision to go solo. First, I finally purchased a quality instrument, the Petosa 1100 midi, which made it much more enjoyable to play. I already had a Solton MS-40, which works well as a sound generator, but the big change was getting a wireless unit along with the Bose PAS speakers. I was now free from the midi umbilical cord, and could roam about at will. The Bose speakers fill almost any size room with clear sound, and I was able to enjoy the full dynamic range of this great instrument.
A second factor contributing to my soloing was the desire to play a full range of tunes. Instead of exclusively playing dance music or jazz on gigs, I now play some classical or semi-classical, fox trots, swing, show tunes, Tex-Mex, Scandinavian, Italian, German, French, Irish, Russian, Hungarian, Latin, and even an occasional Zydeco. And, except when playing requests, I can pretty much decide what to play.
Sometimes I still play with a trio for dances, and occasionally I’ll play as a duo with a talented drummer. When I’m able to book a duo, that is usually my choice.
When playing for dances I would sit and play for three or four hours. Now I often stand for as long as two hours, and when I finish I feel as tired as when I play a tough tennis match. But because of the reactions and involvement of the audiences, I also feel the same exhilaration that I experience in tennis or in teaching a good class. And I even get paid a fair amount for doing something I love.
So, that brings me to the present. My identity is changing from that of a professor and tennis player to an accordionist, and I’d have to say it’s been a nice trip so far. I still have much to learn. I’m increasing my repertoire by an average of 3-5 tunes per week, and can draw on a list of close to 500 tunes that I can play without music. I am also constantly working to improve my musicianship—improving my reading ability, knowledge of scales, listening ability, and making acquaintances with other accordionists.
|Richard is a Roland FR-7X Virtual Accordion artist. He has recorded an extensive library of Videos on YouTube featuring the FR-7X and includes helpful tutorials. Richard is in contact with Roland users all over the world. Click on the link below to tune into his channel, and while there, why not become one of his subscribers!
You can hear samples of various styles by clicking the tunes below, which I recorded with a simple 2-track Roland BR-8 recorder. Unfortunately, the combo wasn't with me during these sessions, so they were produced entirely on my midi accordion. Because the accordion can simultaneously produce two treble parts, a bass line, and chords, it is well suited for use as a 4-part midi controller, while at the same time producing the traditional accordion acoustic sounds.
Electronic + Acoustic: I use a Ketron MS-40 sound generator for all of the electronic sounds, and my Petosa AM-1100 Midi is both a midi controller and an exceptionally fine acoustic accordion.
Besame Mucho (One of my favorites. Musette accordion switch for the acoustic part.)
Autumn Leaves (Another favorite. Nice, jazzy beat.Clarinet accordion switch for the acoustic vamping.)
Always on My Mind (Nice blending of electronic nylon guitar sound with the acoustic accordion.)
Undecided (Very up-tempo version of an old standard.)
Route 66 (I splurged with 2 electronic and 2 acoustic tracks for this song.)
Acoustic Only: This is the "traditional" accordion sound played on my Petosa AM-1100 accordion.
Sound of Music (Medley: "Edelweiss," "Sound of Music," "My Favorite Things")
Over the Rainbow (Bassoon and Clarinet Accordion Reeds)
Swedish Waltzes (Fast waltzes, fun to play.)
Beer Barrel Polka (A toe-tapper)
Czardas (The most classical of the selections here.)
De Colores (Tex-Mex style)
Malaguena (A very popular semi-classical piece.)
Electronic Only: For the electronic sounds I use a Ketron sound generator connected via midi to my accordion.
Mame (For this I used electronically produced horns, organ, strings, and harmonica.)
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