Accordion Concert at Phillipston Bazaar

  • Four of the six accordian players: (left to right) Art Richard, Jane French, Bernie Nowak, Dan Mackowiak Contributed photo

  • Jane French, 9, playing the accordian. Contributed photo

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/10/2022 4:29:39 PM
Modified: 7/10/2022 4:29:23 PM

Do you want an uplifting experience? If you do, come to Phillipston on Saturday, July 16 for a step-back-in-time experience — an accordion concert on the common.

The golden age of accordions was from 1950 to 1980, and then guitars with rock and roll music became popular. But, a group of the people, who played the accordion during its golden age have gotten together to enjoy and bring back the happy sounds of that era. One of them is Phillipston’s Jane French.

Learning about the intricacies of constructing an accordion has given me great respect for that instrument, the people who invented it and the people who play it. It’s very complex — really, the design of a genius — and even in this day of mechanization, much of its construction requires handwork. Most of us just see the piano-type keyboard and are fascinated watching the players move the accordion folds in and out as they make music.

The outside of the instrument shows the keyboard for playing the tune and buttons on the other side for playing the base chords. The part in the middle with the folds that open and close is called the bellows, which suck in and blow out air. That air passes over reeds, which look to me like metal tongue depressors. The first row of reeds is used when the bellows open out, and the second row is activated when the instrument closes in. These reeds play the notes.

Having an understanding of the instrument’s complex workings helps us appreciate how fortunate we are to have the Central Mass. Accordion Club come to Phillipston.

Bernie Nowak of Spencer started playing the instrument at age 10 and took lessons for seven years. Then, with college, work and family, he stopped playing until 2004, when he and his wife went to a Scandinavian dance that played the music he had loved playing on the accordion. It motivated him to take up his instrument again. He met four other accordion players at the dance and suggested they form a club. They did, and that club grew to 18 members. They played for events and dances all over New England. Now, sadly, many of those golden age players cannot play anymore. They are down to six active members, but their playing is still in demand.

Nowak selects the music he feels would be good for the audience and sends it to the members of the club so they can prepare for the event. He has picked mostly American music for the Phillipston concert — familiar polkas, waltzes, patriotic songs and some favorites from other countries. Nowak said, “The accordion brings music to life. It’s upbeat happy music.”

Club members come from central Massachusetts and Connecticut towns.

French started playing when she was 5. Her family had a TV, an early one with a very small screen. She said, “I loved the Lawrence Welk Show. Myron Florian played the accordion on the show. I wouldn’t miss it. My mother told me that I got so excited that I shook all over when I watched him play.”

So, they bought her a little toy accordion. French told them, “I don’t want a toy one, I want a real one.” So they bought her a small real one, and she started taking lessons. Her first performance was playing for her kindergarten graduation. She took lessons for eight years and played at school functions and in Georginne’s Accordion Band in Gardner. When she was 9, she performed in a TV program. At age 12, she got a lady’s model accordion that had more playing functions.

In recent years, a new opportunity came along. In 2015, she met Nowak at a Scandinavian Club event, and when he learned she was an accordion player, he invited her to join their accordion club. She joined and has enjoyed playing ever since.

French plays the organ and piano at the Congregational Church of Phillipston. She never took lessons on those instruments — “just picked them up.” But her first love is the accordion, which came in handy when outdoor services were held during COVID-19.

The free concert on July 16, sponsored by the Cultural Council, will begin on the common at 4:30 p.m., following the all-day bazaar event which begins at 10 a.m. on the common with games, loads of jewelry, hundreds of books including many vintage ones, a coffee can auction, good food, and a huge flea market just down the road at the Transfer Station.

Chicken BBQ

The church’s traditional chicken barbeque will be served from 5 to 6 p.m. Call Peter Haley at 978-697-0891 if you would like tickets for it.

Occasional columnist Carole Gariepy of Phillipston has written seven books.

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