Washington, D.C., became the accordion capital of the world for one week in mid-August [Aug 13-18] when top players came to compete for the Coupe Mondiale, the World Cup of accordionists. The event attracted plenty of other accordion players as well.
Accordionists of all ages and skill levels came for the annual gathering, not just to compete, but also to celebrate an instrument that Helmi Harrington, who has an accordion studio and museum in Wisconsin, says almost anyone can play. "It is a very easy instrument to learn on a preliminary basis. Most people can teach themselves how to play a bit."
And, says Frank Busso, who teaches accordion in New York, they’re likely to have fun doing it. "You know when somebody mentions the accordion, there is a smile on their face, because it’s a fun instrument."
To show Washingtonians just how fun the accordion can be, Busso brought some accordionists to the National Mall to perform a patriotic march by John Phillip Sousa. They were only a fraction of the hundreds who came to Washington from around the world for the events surrounding the Coupe Mondiale.
"We just have a lot of people who love the accordion," says Faithe Deffner, vice president of the International Confederation of Accordionists and host of this year’s Coupe Mondiale. "It’s been 26 years since the last time they were with us in the United States, so for us it’s quite an auspicious event."
It was also a serious one for the 70 musicians who came from 25 nations to compete in six different categories. Top players were invited to take the stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Deffner says much of the music they performed is not usually associated with the instrument, at least not here in the United States. "We’re playing a lot of very classical and significant music," she noted. "A lot of it has been written specifically for the accordion, and is therefore not known."
A new composition was commissioned specifically for the 60th Coupe Mondiale and the World Accordion Orchestra, which was made up of 160 accordionists. The performed Leonard Stack’s tone poem, Lest We Forget, which Stack describes as his first composition for the instrument.
For young players, like 13-year-old Andrew Janocha, the ability to see so many talented accordionists in one place was inspiring. "It gives you a feeling of what you can be doing in the future," he says.
Amy Jo Sawyer is living the dream to which many young accordionists aspire. She plays with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the city’s opera company.
Sawyer says seeing so many young people playing accordion makes her hopeful about the instrument’s future, "because if the youth don’t play it, pretty soon there will be no one playing accordion."
A world without accordions is difficult to imagine at the 60th Annual Coupe Mondiale.