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News arrow Features arrow OREGON COASTAL ACCORDIAN CLUB: REVIVING AN OLD ART

OREGON COASTAL ACCORDIAN CLUB: REVIVING AN OLD ART Print E-mail
February 28, 2002 11:00 pm
David Braun and his teacher, Nancy Pettet, play duet. ().
David Braun and his teacher, Nancy Pettet, play duet. ().

Walking up to the door of Nancy Pettets house in Harbor, one is welcomed by the sound of joyous, rhythmic button box music.

Come in! she hollers. Inside shes sitting on a bench in flashy pants and a blouse of sparkling gold and black. A smile lights up her face as her fingers work the chords and the bellows sway in and out with the music.

This is how you welcome someone in Slovenia, she shouts above the music. If they know youre coming, this is how they greet you, she said.

And joy is what she brings to her job (and her hobby, she adds) as the head of the Oregon Coastal Accordion Club. Pettet said she got her courage a little more than a year ago and formed the club along with Evelyn Fallert.

I dont play well, I really dont, she said. But she and Fallert, who had been practicing together, wanted to share what they knew with others. And they wanted to be able to play with fellow accordion lovers and bring accordion music to Brookings.

But four years ago when she moved here from Carmel, Calif., Pettet was a long way from being able to teach. She only played Slovenian music on her button box.

You cant find American music for the button box, she said. She would have to learn to play a piano accordion to be able to play the American music that people were always asking for.

A button box is a musical instrument that was invented before the accordion. It goes back almost a thousand years to a cheng a musical instrument in China, Pettet said.

Its a lot like a harmonica. In fact, she said, The rest of Europe calls them a harmonica. It has buttons on both sides, unlike the accordion which has piano-like keys on one side and buttons on the other.

Things began falling into place for Pettet when a friend wrote how lucky she was to live near Dennis Classick. She discovered the accomplished accordion player lived in Rogue River. Classick, who Pettet said has the oldest continuously run accordion club in Oregon, (16 years), invited her to his home.

The visit turned into three days and three nights with Classick and his wife, Pat. He gave me an accordion (to learn to play), he gave me music that was rearranged for beginners, Pettet said. He and his wife were so instrumental in encouraging me.

It was through his club that she met Fallert. She and Fallert practiced weekly together for several years with Classick teaching, encouraging and giving her volumes of rewritten music. He arranges wonderful folk music so beginners and intermediates can play it, Pettet said.

Their club first met at the Sea Dreamer Inn, a bed and breakfast on McVay Lane. Pettet had performed there for a Christmas open house, and the owner wanted to do something to thank her. When the club outgrew the inn, Pettet thought of a large room at Southwestern Oregon Community College where she was attending a class.

Because it is a teaching club, they were able to meet there as a community education class.

My class is different from other clubs that just get together and jam, said Pettet. We stress memorizing, performing, techniques, and encourage learning new material and playing in groups.

The class meets the fourth Saturday of each month from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Pettet still plays her button box as well as the accordion. All her students have accordions. She said shed be willing to teach button box if a pupil came along.

Most of the class members are retired, the oldest being Oliver Wormsbecker, 88. But she has two devoted accordion players who are 10 and 11. Sarah and David Braun, respectively, have been playing for about 18 months. They get lessons five days a week from their grandmother, Fallert. They also take lessons twice a month from a man in Crescent City.

The class music director is Karen Warwick, a registered nurse from Williams, near Grants Pass. She was 3 years old when she began playing.

My mom and dad watched Lawrence Welk on TV and Myron Floron came out and he played his accordion and did his bit, she remembered. For some unknown reason I felt I could do that.

She finally talked her skeptical parents into getting her accordion lessons. She has gone on to play for about 40 years, and enjoys entertaining. One of the two people she performs with is a yodeler from Germany named Margot Turell. Recently, she played at a Baptist church in Grants Pass for 80 to 100 people. She was amused that they wanted the Beer Barrel Polka.

Everybody wants that song, she said.

Warwick said when she plays her accordion she is released from everything going on around her.

The accordion is special because it has bellows that breathe like your lungs, she said. So when you play a note, you breathe of yourself.

Pettet explained why she thinks the accordion and the button box fell out of favor in the 1960s and came to be looked upon as corny and old-fashioned.

The day the Beatles went on the Ed Sullivan Show every kid went home and said, Mom, I want a guitar. That was the day the accordion died.

Warwick added that before the Beatles, they were still selling the accordion door-to-door like the Fuller Brush man. If you bought the accordion, you got so many lessons free.

A recent article by Rona Marech in the San Francisco Chronicle attempts to explain the instruments rebirth. To begin with, some people who fondly remember the accordion from its heyday are now retirement age and have time to noodle around on their old instruments. Their children who ruthlessly dismissed everything they considered their parents bag have grown up and grown out of that mind-set.

Pettet said people want music that has more than three lyrics per song, music they feel like humming to; they want the songs of days gone by.

She encourages diverse musical instruments as a back-up to the accordion players.

By inviting other musicians, that affords diversity in performances, she said. Thats what were learning at the college, is performing with others.

Carl Rovainan, a retired professor of physiology, brings his banjo and bouzouki to the classes. He said the bouzouki is popularized in Greek taverns and its like a long mandolin. He also performs with the Old Time Gospel Singing group in Crescent City on his banjo. His satisfaction comes from playing informal music.

Pettet has two things she wants for the class: More old time music to play and more instruments. She said shed like more violins, a drummer, fiddle players. Im looking for a marimba player, and zither or keyboard.

The excitement for me is to find that accordion player out there who has not played for 35 plus years and still has their accordion, Pettet said. I took it up at 60. I learned late in life they could learn late in life.

Matt Sciulli, retired from chauffeuring astronauts for Rockwell, could fit that description. His father was a talented accordion player, and Sciulli was fascinated with his dads instrument. He started taking lessons at the age of 9, but his father couldnt continue paying for the lessons. He fell away from it for many years. When he finally picked it up again, he couldnt remember how to read music. He played the few songs he knew from memory.

For years Ive been trying to find a teacher, Sciulli said. He found one in Crescent City, and then discovered the Oregon Coastal Accordion Club. He enjoys playing for people, including his church. It relaxes me and gives me initiative to compose songs, he said.

Pettet is grateful to Classick for all he has done to further her accordion playing.

He sat and played with me, and he gave me confidence, she said. Thats what I want to return to the community. Thats the basis of my club.

 

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