Back when I was a ninth grader – which was a few years before the invention of the wheel – I wrote a paper on Russian composer Pitor Illyich Tchaikovsky for my English class. I don’t remember much about it, except for two things. One was asking my father what “homosexual” meant (what can I say? We were innocent. There was no internet. He told me to ask my mother). The other was a tale about young Pitor so afflicted with an “ear worm” melody in his head that he cried to his governess, “Make it stop! Make the music go away!”
Whether or not young Pitor was able to flush the tune from his mind and start work on the 1812 Overture is not the issue here. It’s just that I know exactly how he suffered. Ever since I bought my first used accordion four years ago, I’ve wrestled with an ear worm.
But my particular worm isn’t a tune. It’s a sound. It’s the sound that led me, like the children of Hamelin, to follow the ‘cordeen in the first place. And the sound wouldn’t go away. It’s that plaintive, melancholy, break-your-heart sound – the sound of longing, summer nights, lost loves, temps perdu, and failure to invest in Apple at $16 a share. It’s required by law in any song mentioning Paris. And I longed to reproduce it with my own playing.
Of course, at the time I bought my first ‘cordeen – a Hohner Verdi Ia with no registers — I didn’t know what to call the sound, even though the Verdi kind-of-sort-of approximated it. But the sound it made was never satisfying – rather than fill me with regret over that desperate first crush, The Girl of My High School Dreams, it only made me reflect that she was too short for me, and it never would have gone anywhere.
It wasn’t until I bought my third used ‘cordeen ( the 2nd one was a big mistake — see Episode IV:Accordion Lust) that I had an instrument with any identified registers, and it wasn’t until I decided to move the 3rd one to our vacation home (after all, an accordion took up way too much room in the trunk…) and went out to buy a better box that I acquired an accordion with a switch labeled “Musette” at all.
Let me explain. To get a true musette, you see, you need a ‘cordeen with three middle-range, or “M” reeds: an LMMM[iii]. If you remember from Episode 1, to make a musette sound the three M reeds need to be slightly out of tune with each other. The uninitiated might think that would produce a barely tolerable, fingernails-across-the -blackboard screech. But au contraire, mon ami– the “triple musette” sounds like a fine French cabernet, with notes of currants and cherry and a hint of candied violet with a smooth, silky finish. And maybe some nice cheese.
But if the Noble didn’t offer a triple musette, why did I even consider it, let alone buy it?
Well, I got totally seduced by its two lovely sounding tone chambers; it was a good buy; it sounded way better than the instrument I wanted to use as a trade-in; and Liberty Bellows didn’t have a comparable used LMMM model in my price range at the moment.
The intelligent thing would have been to hold on to box #3 until what I really wanted showed up in the store. But on the virtue of its tone chambers and a logic-defying Urge to Upgrade, I went ahead and bought it.
I will not comment on how often in my life I’ve chosen the intelligent thing.
I took the Noble home, dutifully attended my lessons, practiced (almost) daily, and in time improved so much that I achieved mediocrity. And almost every day, I went to the Liberty Bellows website and gazed longingly at the LMMM instruments that gradually arrived for sale. The used ones were priced less than my Noble, and I assumed they were of lesser quality or condition. The new ones were priced beyond any conceivable marital tolerance. I looked, and I longed.
But then….one day… almost a year later…there it was on the website! A very high quality, barely used Beltuna LMMM priced just within the limits of affordability and still under manufacturer warranty!
Beltuna! A top brand! Did I dare? Lead me not into temptation……
It wasn’t a full-sized instrument: it only had 96 bass buttons rather than the standard 120 and 37 treble keys rather than my current 41. I asked Dallas about that – he thought a 96 might be a good idea for me, as it wasn’t too often that I played up in the keyboard or in weird keys like D# — sacrificing a few esoteric bass notes and a couple of top notes wouldn’t present a problem. And what’s more, it was significantly lighter than my 25lb. Noble – something my rapidly aging body would appreciate.
There was only one problem, and it was a big one: convincing my wife that I needed another replacement accordion. After all, I had used the “this is the last accordion I’ll ever need” line before I bought the Noble. And before I bought the Petosa. And before I bought the Camerano. And before I bought the Hohner.
I had a sneaking feeling the line had lost its effectiveness.
There had to be a way to convince her that a new accordion was somehow a necessity – something without which life as we know it might irrevocably shatter. But what?
That December night, as we sat in the family room watching a particularly sappy Hallmark Christmas movie, Ma in her nightgown and I in my cap, perched with my iPad there snug on my lap, I casually opened the Liberty Bellows web page.
“Oh,” I remarked ever-so-off-handedly. “I see Liberty Bellows has a used Beltuna LMMM ‘cordeen for sale.“ And then, with a tone of utter nonchalant indifference, “Oh, isn’t that a good price…”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been looking for?” she replied.
I sighed an “I’m not really sighing” sigh.
“Well, yeah, sort of, “I admitted. “But it’s not anything I’m actively pursuing now.”
My nose grew about four inches. She didn’t notice.
“I think you should get it. Why don’t you buy it?”
Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?????
She tells me all the time that I don’t listen to her. I was afraid this was a horrible example.
“What did you say?” I asked, incredulous.
“I said you should buy it. Drive down to Liberty Bellows and get it. It’ll be your Christmas, Chanukah, and birthday present.”
There is a God.
OK, think about this, Steve.This is a major moment in your ‘cordeen life. Don’t do anything stupid.
Ever since I ditched my original Verdi 1A, I’ve had a 120 bass accordion. Do I really want to switch to a 96 bass instrument, or am I just letting lust get the better of me, as lust has an eminently successful way of doing…? Anxiety rose like a too-rich dinner.
It’s a Beltuna. Gee, I’d love to have a Beltuna. And Dallas said a 96 would be fine…but he doesn’t play one. Why didn’t he play one? What if I all of a sudden wanted that high D# and didn’t have it? It’s a great buy. It’s still expensive. I’m retired – can I justify this? But it’s a Beltuna!
It was Sunday. Liberty Bellows wouldn’t open until Tuesday. I had time. I would make a Smart Decision for once. I had resources. The Internet. I posted to The Accordion Friends Facebook group. The Wisdom of Crowds would guide me.
Friends — I need a little advice (or reassurance). I am a 69-year old “intermediate level” amateur accordionist who is looking seriously at moving from a 120 bass instrument to a 96 bass instrument. Has anyone done the same and regretted it? Or do you think it won’t matter to me or has advantages, and I should go for it?
I love Facebook, even if by now they know how often I cut my toenails. By Monday afternoon I had 12 responses. The Wisdom of Crowds told me to go for it, indeed. A 96 would be fine. I went to bed Monday night already hearing the plaintive tones of the Beltuna dancing in my head. The ear worm would be gone tomorrow. One up on you, Tchaikovsky…..
The trip from my house to Center City Philadelphia is a highly variable experience. On those rare days when the Schuylkill Expressway gods have been appeased by a recent accident, it can take as few as 45 minutes. But that particular Tuesday morning, the gods were decidedly unhappy and demanded the sacrifice of a Plymouth. It took me well over an hour to get there, hoping every moment that someone hadn’t arrived earlier and snatched the ‘cordeen from my grasp.
Liberty Bellows opened at 10:00am. I arrived at an agonizingly late 10:14. Mike, the owner, assured me that the instrument was still there. I gazed around expectantly, looking at the rows and rows of accordions on the display shelves. He asked Dustin, the sales guy you may remember from previous episodes, to fetch the Beltuna for me, and he ushered me up to the second-floor demo room.
As I sat there, surrounded by spanking new Rolands and Scandallis and Saltarellis, Dustin came in and gingerly handed me the prize.
It had a kind of brown and black color. I had known that from the photos on the web site, of course, and it looked pretty good there; yet when I strapped into it, I felt like I was wearing a large, slightly burned brownie. Well, no big deal. Its color wasn’t the reason I was buying it.
But as I moved my fingers to the keyboard, I thought …wow…this is awfully small for me…..
OK, what did you expect, Steve? Your Noble has a 19.25-inch keyboard – this instrument has 40 fewer buttons and five fewer keys, so why would it be the same size? This is a 17.5” keyboard. You just need to get used to it. With Dustin’s help I fiddled with the straps, trying to make it feel more comfortable.
And then came the moment of truth. I pressed the musette register – ready to wallow in the genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, three-reed, more-French-than-Maurice Chevalier-triple musette sound.
I played a few notes.
And I didn’t like it at all.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t like the sound! It didn’t match my ear worm in the slightest!
I tried other registers, and the result was the same. Whatever I played sounded…well…not as I expected it would, and for once it wasn’t my playing that was the issue. I had heard the online demo, and it had been fine, but live? It just wasn’t there.
It was too small. It was too brown. It didn’t sound like I hoped. I played for another ten minutes, but it didn’t feel or sound any better to me. I was crushed. It was not the instrument of my dreams, after all.
“Maybe you just don’t like the sound of a Beltuna?” Dustin offered.
Beltunas are first-class instruments. It had to be me. Must be I have a tin ear, lousy with unrealistic, spiteful worms. I looked down at the odd-feeling instrument strapped to my chest and sighed.
And then I looked up again. And right there on the wall of new instruments facing me was a brand-new 120 button Scandalli. And one of its register switches bore the tell-tale three dots in the center of a circle – a true musette.
I looked at Dustin. “Just for comparison’s sake,” I asked him casually, “can I try playing that Scandalli over there?”
He agreed. I slid out of the Beltuna and strapped into the Scandalli. I pressed the register and played a few notes.
It sang to me.
It sang of moonlit evenings on the Pont Saint-Michele and Monet and Picasso’s blue period and a long forgotten first kiss (summer music camp, 1964). And when I switched registers it was My Yiddishe Momma andTum Balalaika and the holiday smell of my grandmother’s kitchen…It was brand-new. It would be too much money.
“You don’t suppose Mike will sell me this one at the same price, do you?”
Dustin looked dubious. “I’ll ask, “he replied.
He left the room, and I ran my fingers over the full keyboard and felt the satisfying heft of the larger instrument on my lap – still a full pound lighter than my Noble. I didn’t hold out much hope. But It would be nice, wouldn’t it?
“Mike says yes.”
I couldn’t believe it! It was going to be mine – my first brand-new ‘cordeen ever!
We hurried downstairs, I handed over my trade-in, and we completed the transaction. I gulped nervously at the price on the receipt, but I didn’t regret it for a moment.
The Schuylkill Expressway gods were in no better mood when I returned home – it took a full hour and a half to go the twenty-eight miles. But when I took the Scandalli out of its elegant case and strapped it on, admiring its glossy newness and gleaming grill and played for the rest of the afternoon, listening to its Super Durall reeds sing (whatever Super Durall reeds are), I was in ‘Cordeen Heaven.
Oh, I still played as poorly as I ever did. But the ear worm was gone, conquered at last. And I played poorly so beautifully.
I played a tune for my wife. She said, “That really sounds lovely.” It was a rare compliment on my playing, even though I figured she was referring to the sound and not the performance.
I beamed. I thanked her for her generosity in agreeing to the purchase. And hand over heart, I solemnly reassured her.
“This is the last accordion I’ll ever need.”
[i]‘Noble’ is the brand, not its moral character.
[ii]LMMH means one low pitched reed, two middle-tone reeds, and one more highly pitched reed, all for the treble. The bass has reeds of its own. See Episode I.
[iii]You can also get a best-of-both-worlds LMMMH, but they tend to be very expensive and weigh as much as a Buick.
Copyright © 2018, Stephen A. Hirsch