Tag Archives: Squeezebox

Accordion jokes

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Jokes about accordions often involve their destruction. (The difference between an accordion and an onion: People shed tears when they chop up an onion.) Presumably this is due to their sound. (The difference between an accordion and a macaw: One makes, loud, obnoxious squawks; the other is a bird.)

Indeed, the very presence of the instrument is counted as a misfortune. (A man had to park on the street, and he left his accordion on the back seat. When he returned, he was shocked to see that one of the car’s back windows was smashed, and there were now two accordions on the back seat.)

But the sound of the accordion is identical to that of the reed organ once found in genteel parlors; the instrument’s true fault is its lower-class associations, often involving marginalized ethnic groups and non-mainstream music.

This according to “Accordion jokes: A folklorist’s view” by Richard March, an essay included in The accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, polka, tango, zydeco, and more! (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012 pp. 39–43).

Above, Gary Larson’s classic meditation on accordions in the afterlife. Below, “Werid Al” Yankovic discusses the misfortunes of accordion ownership.

Related article: Viola jokes

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The female accordion

The first concertinas to arrive in County Clare, Ireland, were inexpensive German instruments, a far cry from the elegant parlor instrument invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829 and popularized among the social elite of Victorian England. They were disseminated by traveling peddlers and local and more distant shops—and probably by maritime traffic, given Clare’s position at the mouth of the Shannon estuary, the last port of call for tall ships about to cross the Atlantic.

By the end of the nineteenth century the concertina had all but replaced the uilleann pipes in popularity there, and Clare had already developed a reputation as a treasure-trove of concertina music and the home of some of the instrument’s finest players. After its completion in 1892 the West Clare Railway carried concertinas into formerly inaccessible rural areas, and before World War II the instrument became particularly popular among women musicians, earning it the nickname bean-cháirdin (female accordion).

This according to “Clare: Heartland of the Irish concertina” by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (Papers of the International Concertina Association III [2006] pp. 1–19). Above, Ó hAllmhuráin learns a tune from the 101-year-old Clare concertina player Molly Carthy in 1997. Below, the Clare concertina player Kate McNamara plays two reels: Sergeant Early’s dream and The plough and the stars.

BONUS: Read about the gendering of another traditional Irish instrument in The female harp.

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Concertina library

Concertina library: Digital reference collection for concertinas is an online collection of English, Anglo, and duet concertina resources, with entries ranging from research-based articles to instruction manuals, sheet music, and organological studies. Created by the computer scientist and concertina player Robert Gaskins, the library aims to compile and index all of the writings by leading authors on concertina matters, making them available to the public for free.

Above: Marie Lachenal with her concertina, ca. 1885.

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Carlo Minasi

Carlo Minasi (1817–91) was a London-based pianist and concertina player who also taught both instruments, a prolific composer and arranger for the concertina and other instruments, the author of 21 instrumental tutors (13 for the concertina), and a talented inventor. He produced 42 albums of songs and tunes—22 for the English concertina, 10 for the German concertina, and 10 for general use—and he obtained patents on concertinas of his own design and on several specific improvements. He also patented improvements in firearm and furniture design, as well as one for a poultry incubator.

Despite his accomplishments, Minasi is not profiled in any of the standard music encyclopedias; as far as we know, the only comprehensive source for information about him is Randall C. Merris’s Carlo Minasi: Composer, arranger, and teacher, concertina and piano in Papers of the International Concertina Association volume 6 (2009), pp. 17–45.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Romantic era