Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

February 14, 2014

Accordion Attraction: Old time instrument comes back

TRAVERSE CITY — Can you pat your head and rub your tummy?

Pat VanDeventer’s sharp nod assumes the affirmative. Then you can play the accordion.

VanDeventer has every confidence in the two students before her, who really couldn’t be more different from each other.

Mary Ransom took up the accordion in her ’60s. The quiet retiree from Interlochen is a beginner, still plugging away at her “om pah pah" on a cherry red "practice" accordion.

“I almost quit. It’s so difficult. You’re essentially playing three instruments at once the piano with one hand, chords with the other, plus you're pumping.”

But VanDeventer’s advice to “give it two months and decide,” hit the mark. Ransom now feels like she is making progress and is slowly falling in accordion love.

Jack Capper, 13, is already a goner. The elaborately-haired hipster plays with his grandpa and is in it for the long haul an apt term considering his accordion's girth.

Accordions range from 10-30 pounds. A standard accordion has 120 bass buttons for chords. The bellows connects the keyboard box to the bass chord button box and controls sound and volume. The weight comes from the number of wooden reeds needed for the octaves. Capper’s enormous blue beast is close to four octaves and dwarfs the slight teen. He found it online.

Accordion popularity expands and contracts just like the instrument's signature bellows, and these days, “it’s on its way back,” VanDeventer said.

Enthusiasts can grab a base model for as little as $300 or could splurge and spend more than $3,000 for high-end versions.

“People love it,” VanDeventer said. “It’s just the way it sounds – it makes people want to get up and dance.”

VanDeventer, a Traverse City native, is a beloved regular on the senior center circuit. A wedding party wearing zoot suits and vintage dresses recently hired her to gig at the nuptials, playing all songs, even “The Wedding March,” on the accordion. She is a lively, uplifting player, a consummate performer of head tilts, flapping elbows and a smile that gives away none of the tremendous focus required to do three things at once. She started playing the accordion at six after falling under its spell at the county fair, she said.

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