News / USA

Accordion's Distinctive Sound Attracts Fans

After years in decline, instrument enjoys a surge in popularity

Students take a break from a week-long accordion competition to perform on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in August 2007.
Students take a break from a week-long accordion competition to perform on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in August 2007.
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June Soh

About half a century ago, the accordion was a very popular musical instrument around the world. Though it fell into a decline for several decades, the instrument has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years - with accordion music festivals, competitions and clubs popping up across the United States.  

One group of accordion players is trying to bring the instrument back in the Washington, D.C. area. The Potomac Ensemble gets together regularly to rehearse for upcoming performances. The musicians are all members of the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society, which is celebrating its eighth birthday. 

Joan Grauman, vice president of the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society, performs with other accordion players during a celebration of the group's 8th anniversary.
Joan Grauman, vice president of the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society, performs with other accordion players during a celebration of the group's 8th anniversary.

"In the first meeting or so, there were a handful of people," says Joan Grauman, vice president of the society. "But word spread quickly and we were surprised how many accordionists and former accordionists were in the area who started joining us on a monthly basis."

According to Grauman, the club now has about 70 members - very few of whom are professional musicians. "Many, many of the people who come to our club either quit for 30, 40 years and started playing again."

Yimeng Huang, 54, from China, is one of those. She played the accordion as a teenager back in China.

"I had never heard or touched an accordion all these years until three years ago I found this club," she says. "So I joined and it is just fun to see all these accordionists in one room. I just love it. I like the sound of it."

Grauman is also a historian for the American Accordionists’ Association. She says the accordion was, perhaps, a bit too popular in the 1950s and 60s.

"Every child was playing the accordion, playing the same few pieces of music. That didn’t help things," she says. "Then many feel that the Beatles created the situation for young people where they just wanted to play guitar rather than accordion. Rock music really came into being and it just sort of took interest from the accordion."

But in recent years, she says, with accordion festivals, competitions and clubs appearing across the country, the instrument has seen an upswing in popularity.   

Frank Busso, one of the few professionals in the society, plays accordion with the U.S. Air Force Band. He has a theory about the instrument's newfound popularity.

"I would attribute that to the accordion being seen and especially heard more and more these days whether that is in a TV commercial, in a television program, movie sound tracks, on the radio," he says. "I think youngsters are hearing that sound and say that is the sound I want to create."

Busso also thinks the Internet has a lot to do with it.

"I think YouTube is wonderful. There are so many wonderful performers and wonderful recordings of concerts that are available for the public to see for free. And it is a great way to see what the accordion can do."    

Busso, who also runs a music school, has students ranging in age from young children to retirees. Mark Nejako started taking lessons over a year ago.  A graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, he works as a research associate at a bio-science company.

"Every evening I usually sit down with the accordion. It has been a great stress reliever for me," says Najako. "After a hard day of work and trying to escape from reality, I always turn to this and it brings me great joy and happiness."

Busso believes the accordion’s versatility allows it to be incorporated into any genre of music - be it pop, rock, classical, jazz or show tunes. He expects to be hearing more of the instrument's distinctive sound as its popularity grows across the globe.

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