People far and wide send me accordion jokes, memes, etc. People far and wide wonder why I don’t ROFL. Here is my attempt to answer while being as nice and grateful as the truth permits.

  • Let me ask you: How much do you laugh at the 647th time someone tells you the same joke?
    • I am an accordion player. I’m not famous and I haven’t been playing accordion that long, but by now even people who have long known me as a piano player, an organ player, or a singer know that I also play accordion. When you hear an accordion joke or see a fun accordion meme, it’s pretty natural to think your accordion-player friend will appreciate it so you eagerly share it with them. The thing is, because this urge is so natural, chances are good that 646 people before you have also shared that same thing with the same person. When you hear an accordion joke that’s new to you, I’m willing to bet money it isn’t new to me. So even if it was funny the first ten times, it might not be all that funny for me now. That chicken has crossed the road long ago.
  • Accordion jokes play to a side of accordion culture that I am not in love with.
    • Especially in the U.S. (less so in some other countries) and even among people who know good music can be made with an accordion, the instrument is seen as a gimmick, a stage prop, a laughing stock, a fashion accessory. That’s all fine in a way, and it’s good to have a sense of humor about everything, especially about oneself. But:
    • Especially in the U.S. (less so in some other countries) and even among people who know good music can be made with an accordion, there is a pattern of low musical expectations around the instrument. The U.S. public is mostly unaware of what an accordion can sound like and what kinds of music it’s good for. It’s easy for people to assume that someone playing accordion on stage, on TV, on the radio, on YouTube with a lot of views, etc., must be a good player of the instrument but it’s not so: a great many accordion teachers and most people famous for playing the accordion don’t actually play the instrument very well.
    • Of course the above two problems perpetuate each other in a vicious cycle. When the public sees the accordion as a gimmick, it makes space for entertainers whose skill sets lie elsewhere (such as brilliant satire, hilarious fashion, etc.) to be seen as great. They may be great at something and they may be accordionists, but quite often they are far from being great accordionists and even farther from being good or great musicians. I celebrate everyone’s right to exist and play at whatever skill level they have, but I wish public appreciation would give accordionists starting out a better sense of whom to emulate if they want to develop on the instrument.

I embrace anyone undertaking to play accordion at any level. Everyone has been a beginner and we all have imperfect skills. But as with any instrument, I more appreciate when players are trying to understand how to make their instrument and their skills serve music in a way that creates beauty and excitement and emotion of some kind, and who are trying to get better at it.

Anyway, there’s more I could say and I surely should have organized these thoughts better than I’ve done, but maybe you get the idea.

Here are some things I listen for in an accordion player, and that I am trying to learn to do better myself:

  • How much of the instrument do they try to play? Are they using their left hand? If so, is there any variety, or is it just oom-pah?
  • Are they using only clashy, clangy, jangly, out-of-tune, stereotypical sounds, or are they also using other sounds such as single reeds and dry tunings in a way that adds variety, tension, and release?
  • As with any instrument, are they using dynamics?
  • Are all the notes blurred together in an unarticulated smear of wheeze, or are the notes intentionally begun and ended with consciously chosen space played between them?
  • As with any instrument, is there appropriate use of rhythm and time and pulse?
  • If they are playing in a group, are they interacting musically with the other members of the group?