Breaking the sound barrier

Breaking the sound barrier

30 June 2020

Welcome to my blog! It's been in the mental pipeline for for a while now so it's nice to finally get a few of my thoughts on paper, so to speak...

I have two main goals that I would like to achieve in writing about the accordion. Firstly, to bring my connection to the accordion to life in terms of an introduction and perspective that may be outside the experience of many non-musicians as well as musicians. Hence 'Breaking the Sound Barrier.' Secondly, to air my ideas, processes and discoveries as I continue to delve into and deepen my relationship and understanding of this quite remarkable and sometimes somewhat unusual musical instrument.

I've been playing the accordion for a long time. In fact, such a long time that I often no longer see or hear the instrument through the sometimes baffled eyes and ears of others. Although I'm sure this goes for anyone who spends lots of time on their craft and creative process, the accordion, along with a few select others (banjo, bagpipes, recorder) often occupies a special place in people's hearts and perception. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that they have their parent's or grandparent's accordion under their bed, or that every time they hear the accordion, they imagine that they are in Paris. At times it's a little predictable and mid-conversation I feel my mind starting to drift and yet, it reminds me that instruments such as the accordion can evoke a sense of nostalgia, of connection with the past. Who am I to complain if my music reconnects someone to their family or, just for a moment, transports them to the other side of the planet. It's just that for me, the instrument means so much more.

The instrument I perform and practice with for the vast majority of my time is an Italian made Giulietti. She was made sometime in the 1960s and has the scratches, cracks and bruises that reflect a life well lived. I decided to replace her a few years ago. After a great deal of research, and a trip to Castelfidardo (via Rome of course), I decided to purchase a Pigini. 12 months later, my new accordion arrived and I threw myself into the task of forging a relationship with this new instrument that felt so different in terms of it physicality as well as its layout and sound. I refused to take my old faithful out of her case for fear I would be overcome with a sense of longing for the instrument that had so delicately guided my musical journey for so many years. Much easier and safer to leave the case closed and continue working with the replacement. But as often is the case, new things, while seemingly shiny and efficient, are strangely lacking. Of course everything was new once so maybe it's to do with craft. Craft and history. All the same...something missing.

In mid 2019, I played a concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre with Eugene Ball and Ben Hanlon (Ball Hanlon Schulz) and an old accordion colleague (and by old I mean someone I met in my early teens) came to hear us perform. As is often the routine after MRC concerts, we retired to the bar next door to cool down. To debrief. This was one of those moments in which an important exchange and reconnection begins to unfold. We, and another accordionist (yes, three accordionists) sat and talked, and discussed, and looked to my upcoming trip to Toronto to study with Joseph Macerollo, and reminisced about my colleague's year in Toronto studying with the same teacher in 1984. This was that juncture at which past, present and future seem to meld and it was decided that my Pigini, while undeniably an excellent instrument, was not the one to take with me to Canada. And so, the following Monday morning I took my Giulietti out of her case and started playing. The feeling of joy for the permission I finally gave myself to be reunited with the instrument that had defined my direction and sound as a musician for so many years was immense.

It seems that sometimes the connection one has with a particular instrument of artistic expression is too precious to unravel.

And now my Pigini waits quietly in her case.