Badass Accordion Gloves

Guess who’s got himself a pair of badass accordion gloves?

IMG_6037

As a knitter, I feel like I should have something on hand (see what I did there?) to show people. Almost like a sample or something, like credentials, as if I need to prove that I’m not lying about knitting (because that’s totally what you would lie about to be cool, right?). However, as a person married to a knitter, my hats and scarves have all been provided by Sara. “Oh, did you knit your hat?” they ask. “Well, no. I mean, I could have. I do knit hats, sometimes, but not this *particular* hat…”

No, I needed something of my own.

And hey, if you’re going to go custom, go all the way custom, am I right?

IMG_6047

So I made myself some “convertible” gloves, that can transform from fingerless gloves into mittens with the flip of a flap. There are even little flaps for the thumbs!

IMG_6048

As I was picking out the pattern for the gloves, I saw some with embroidery on the knuckles, and I knew I wanted to do that. But what message to put? Something badass, something awesome, something uniquely me, and something no one else would ever have in a million years.

IMG_6039
IMG_6035

Look, I’ve even got a picture of me working on my mittens in Costa Rica. Mittens! In Costa Rica!

2015_03_17_1088

Now, I will admit, knitting these mittens has taken all the time that I would normally use to practice the accordion. But, hey! Now that I have the accoutrements, fame and fortune can’t be far behind, can they? If nothing else, at least I’m prepared for some winter busking.

IMG_6051

Advertisements

And now, a duet

And now, for your enjoyment, a beautiful piano and accordion duet.

Because nothing says “Spring!” like “Jingle Bells”:

(Special thanks to our videographer, Oliver!)

My First Gig

Evie’s school always has a summer festival, just before the end of the year. An email was sent out in preparation, and it included this sentence:

We also need musicians to play for the cake-walk – if anyone plays guitar, banjo or (my first choice) accordion please let me know.

My first impression was to wonder if Evie had somehow put her teacher up to this. As an accordion player, I think it is safe to say that your services are very rarely asked for, much less begged for. On one hand, I seemed WAY under qualified to play for someone. On the other hand, it seemed very unlikely they would find another accordion player, and it seemed like I just *couldn’t* ignore an email like that.

When I got to school on Monday morning, I cornered the teacher. “I have to ask you a question; why specifically an accordion for the cake walk?”

She laughed. “It’s just such a fun instrument, so much more fun than a guitar! My uncle used to play and we would just sit out on the porch and listen. We always had a good time.”

I couldn’t deny her those reasons. “Well, it turns out that I actually play accordion…”

And so, I soon found myself playing the pied piper to hordes of kids around a cake walk.

2013_06_01_9999_13

Maybe it wasn’t quite so simple as it sounds. I was really reluctant to agree, and there was a little arm twisting involved. I really just couldn’t imagine playing my limited repertoire of beginner songs for anybody. But they had an answer for each of my excuses; “They’re only kids, they won’t know any better!” “They just get their cake and leave, nobody’s going to hear more than a few songs!” and “Even a bad accordion is better than a boring old guitar!”

I picked my 7 best “tunes” (calling them songs would be hopelessly optimistic) and practiced nothing but those 7 until I had them cold. Even still, I would usually make a mistake or two each time through. Even worse, the tunes were usually only 15 seconds or so, which meant I would have to loop them to get a good length. With only 7 songs, this would mean an endless repetition that would be sure to drive any adult who was stuck listening absolutely crazy.

2013_06_01_9999_15

To my relief and amazement, it actually went way better than I could have guessed.

First off, I never really felt nervous. I kept expecting to feel nervous, and I joked about being nervous, because that’s what you do, but I never felt even the least bit of dread or butterflies. I guess I truly and finally have transcended the ability to embarrass myself in public.

Second off, I didn’t think about how loud and chaotic the whole place was. I assumed the sound would carry through the whole place, until all the adults were fighting to bury their heads under pillows and whatnot. In fact, it was barely loud enough to cover the cake walk area. This was definitely the first time I wished my accordion could be louder.

Finally, I think perhaps I didn’t give myself, or the accordion in general, enough credit. I made very few mistakes (again, these were very simple songs). Also, I think the accordion is a fantastic instrument in terms of making you look good. Despite what you may have heard about the accordion, it is hard to strike a sour note. Even basic proficiency like mine sounds grand and impressive, and most people don’t know enough about accordion to know that what I was playing was pretty simple. And lastly, for a cake walk, 15 – 30 second songs are actually pretty appropriate. Even if I knew a lot more songs, I still might have stuck to the same selection. Simple ditties just worked better, and this was one of the few times and places where “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was not only appropriate, but appreciated!

2013_06_01_9999_19

I ended up only playing 5 of my 7 songs because I didn’t trust playing the other two without looking at the sheet music and it was a little too windy for that. On the upside, I looked way cooler just playing off the top of my head, but on the downside, it did really start to get repetitive towards the end. There were maybe 30 or so cakes, so I played each song a dozen or so times (remember, I was playing them twice around each time). Yeah, I could have used a few more songs.

We had started off doing it musical chairs style, but we quickly realized that would take too long. However, because we had started that way, all the kids were convinced they had to dart for a chair the second the music stopped, despite there being enough chairs for every kid. This meant that if I ever hesitated or made even the slightest mistake, all the kids would immediately dive for a chair, thoroughly highlighting my mistake.

All in all, I thought it went really well. At least nobody was mocking me openly. Later, someone even told me I had done well, and he had seen me “showing off” by playing with only one hand. I took that for a sign that I had successfully hoodwinked them into thinking I was much better than I actually was, “showing off” rather than “displaying a tremendous lack of ability and creativity”. And really, what better to strive for in life?

Accordion Update

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my accordion on the blog. That’s mostly because there hasn’t been much to report.

Periodically, I would get it out and noodle around on it, but not very often and increasingly less and less. Usually it was far enough between times that I was mostly just struggling to maintain what I knew, not really improving. It was obvious that what I needed was practice time, but learning anything (particularly an instrument) is an exercise in frustration and futility, and requires a lot of persistence.

Last Halloween, a friend introduced me to a neighbor who was also learning to play accordion. It seemed a shame that two accordion players would live so close together and not meet up. Through a series of mishaps, it took some time to actually make it happen, but eventually we did meet up a few times to play.

This was the motivation I needed.

As I suspected, what I really needed was practice time. Actually playing the accordion in front of someone else was very motivational to not suck. And even now, when we’re not meeting anymore, I’ve still managed to practice a good 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week. And it’s amazing how much of a difference that makes!

There’s really only one accordion book, the Palmer Hughes Accordion Course. I’ve had this book since day one, but I never got into it. The whole thing seems so cheesy, with stupid, childlike illustrations accompanying stupid, childlike songs. It’s sort of a shame, though, because now that I’m really going through it, it’s actually a really good course!

I think part of it, though, was hearing the songs played by someone who could actually play them properly made them seem less silly. Listening to him play, I was like, “Hey, that actually sounds like a real song.!”

Each song in the book adds an additional skill, and the difficulty increases pretty quickly. As soon as you master one song, the next one piles another level of difficulty on top. I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me awhile to get “Mary had a little lamb” since they used a jazzed-up version to work on your two hands doing two different things at the same time. So even though the song is simple, the concepts weren’t! It seems like each new song make me go, “Oh man, I can’t do that *at all*.”

Nothing is more motivational than actually seeing progress. I know playing the first 3 or 4 songs in an introductory book is nothing to brag about, but it’s a long shot better than nothing and getting easier all the time!

Accordion Set List

So I haven’t gotten much practice in lately, but I’m developing a list of songs that are on my “must have” list for my accordion repertoire. They are, in no particular order:

They last one was chosen because I wanted to learn something that was sort of New Orleans style (zydeco), and I figured that would fit the bill. It also happens to be my high school fight song.

The first song I learned, and the only song I can play reliably, is Happy Birthday. I know a good chunk of Hava Nagila, but that’s only the keyboard side, I don’t know the bass. I’m also making a little progress on the keyboard part of the Pennsylvania Polka.

I think it would also be nice to learn Funiculi Funicula and Au Champs Elysees, because I’ve heard these played many times on accordion by street buskers, and both have some meaning to me (the first was sort of an inside joke on our Italy trip and the second was from our Paris trip).

So what am I missing? Any critical accordion hits that I must learn? Maybe something by Weird Al? (And yes, I am aware that it is traditional to learn Lady of Spain, but I don’t really know it or have any reason to learn it.)

Accordion vs. Guitar

I remember one time my friends Jeremy and Chris were arguing about which is harder to learn how to play, the piano or the guitar. The argument basically went like this:

  • The piano is easier, because someone with no knowledge whatsoever of the piano can sit down and pick out a tune. You can’t do that on guitar.
  • The guitar is easier, because after you learn a few basic chords, you can play the vast majority of most songs.

Now that I am making some meager attempt to learn the accordion, I have discovered that they were both right! They are two totally different instruments, that both have their own advantages as far as ease of learning go. Keep in mind that I am less than a beginner when it comes to the accordion, so take my opinions with a grain of salt!

Advantage Guitar

  • Usually with guitar, you only play the rhythm part. You might learn a couple of little tidbits of picking here or there, particularly intros to songs, but during the song you usually only play the part that is sort of background, and then sing the melody. On accordion, you have to play both, simultaneously.
  • For guitar, any song you can ever think of is available online, for free. I assumed it would be the same for the accordion. Not so! It is very, very difficult to find free music for songs. Usually you have to purchase a book containing sheet music. The other downside to this is that I usually check out 2 or 3 guitar versions of a song and pick and choose what I like about each (there are always many different ways to play any song). I don’t think I will be getting 2 or 3 versions of a song if I have to pay for each one.
  • Guitar has a special, condensed way of designating how to play, called tab (or tablature) which is very easy to learn. For the accordion, you more or less have to learn to read sheet music. I haven’t looked at sheet music since 4th grade band. I am literally starting at square 1.
  • On a guitar, you have two actions to perform: playing the chords with one hand, and strumming with the other hand. On the accordion, you also have to play with two hands, but in addition you need to work the bellows. 2 is easier than 3.

Advantage Accordion

  • Like my friend said, with the piano you can sit down and pick out a song. The first time I picked up the accordion, I could play *something* (even if it was Three Blind Mice). There’s no way you could sit down and figure out a tune on guitar.
  • With the accordion, there are no hurt fingers! To really practice the guitar, you have to expect painful finger tips until you build up your callouses. If you play infrequently, like I do, your callouses go away, and your playing time is usually limited by how much pain you can handle in your fingers. It seems kind of crazy when I say it like that, but it’s true.
  • On the accordion, there are no sour notes. Nobody will believe me on this, but it’s true! The only sounds you can make are coming through tuned reeds. When you hit the G-chord button, you get a G-chord. On the guitar, you get rattling strings, badly formed chords, misplaced fingers. All sorts of hazards.
  • Any piano training is useful. I didn’t happen to have any, but if you already know how to play the piano, you could probably just start playing an accordion. I suppose there are other stringed instruments that you could know which would translate over into guitar, but the knowledge of these instruments is a lot less common than knowledge of piano.
Overall, in my limited experience so far, I believe the accordion is easier to learn how to play than the guitar, even including the extra stuff I have to learn, like how to read sheet music. But maybe I’ll change my mind as time goes along.

Christmas Extravaganza

We went to church on Christmas Eve, and Evie was really excited. However, we’re still struggling to find a Christmas service that both starts at a reasonable time, and is around an hour or so long. They tend to draaaaag. I understand, you want to get your big choir in, and read all the best readings, and have a Christmas play, etc., but it is very, very stressful to try to keep Evie entertained and quiet while all of this is going on. Especially when you factor in that you have to get there 30 minutes early if you want a seat.

There were still some good moments though, like Evie playing peekaboo with the president of the Cook County board, who sat right behind us. The big thing for Evie was singing Christmas music. Of course, she likes the more commercialized songs and the church ones tend toward the religious. She asked me if we were going to sing Deck the Halls and I was like, “I don’t think so honey.” She likes Hark the Herald Angel Sings, so I thought we might have a better chance with that. However, when we looked in the program, sure enough, Deck the Halls was on there! Who would have thought?

Of course, once we opened the door to Deck the Halls, as far as Evie was concerned, everything was fair game:

Evie: “Are we going to sing Santa Baby?”

Of course, Deck the Halls was at the end of the service and Evie didn’t quite make it. It was a big relief to me when she fell asleep, since I didn’t have to threaten her anymore, but I knew she would be disappointed that she missed it. The first question she asked when she woke up was, “Was it beautiful?” Then she made us all sing it when we got home in reenactment.

As far as the presents go, there were so many under the tree that the meager additions from Santa sort of went unnoticed. The presents I was most excited about were the balance bike, the sizable donations to college funds, the “my first bacon” from Uncle Nathan, and the beautiful, amazing doll house that Sara and Anna had when they were little (which Evie adores).

The bacon, in particular, has caused quite a stir. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said, “I’m bacon!” in the past few days. It was a present for Oliver, but Evie is the one who keeps playing with it.

Evie: “Mommy, shh! Bacon is sleeping!”

However, there were two presents that really take the cake.

Well, the first wasn’t technically even a present. For months now, Evie has insisted that the only thing she wanted for Christmas was a new bed upstairs where everyone else sleeps. Her bedroom is downstairs, by itself, and she’s terrified. It makes me feel pretty bad. So naturally she wants to sleep upstairs where everybody else is, and who could blame her? So, since Santa gave her a bed last year, she figured he’d be good for another one this year.

So my mom had a trundle bed she was willing to give up, so we got that to put into Oliver’s bedroom upstairs. We tried to make it very clear that it was not a Christmas present. It’s Oliver’s big boy bed in Oliver’s room, that he doesn’t mind sharing with her while he’s not using it. Her bed, and bedroom, remain downstairs.

For my part, the grand prize was my new accordion. I have really been wanting to learn how to play the accordion for some time now. I don’t know the first thing about it, but you know what they say: the first step is buying the accordion!

Something tells me you might hear a thing or two about the accordion on the blog in the future…