The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Reminiscences of a Pioneer Accordionist

By J.M. Elcoate,
Rock Creek, Ohio

This article was reprinted in its entirety from the May 1949 issue of Accordion World (New York).

I was greatly interested in Bill Palmer's "Open Letter to American Accordion Manufacturers" in your Sept. 1948 issue. To date, to my surprise, there has been no answer, published by you.

Before writing further I wish to state that the manufacturers did not invent these improvements, mentioned by Palmer. The manufacturers carried out the instructions of Pietro Deiro who is credited with most of original ideas regarding the slide switches and treble keyboard. Fifty years or more ago, they had slides aplenty, tremolos and what have you on button accordions. These slides operated by knobs on top of the instrument. Mr. Deiro improved the method of moving these slides.

Forty years later or more ago they had in Italy, Germany, and other European countries, piano keys on accordions. They were short narrow keys and the keyboard was in line with the back of the instrument. Pietro had one built to his ideas, with the keyboard at an angle toward the player's body. He appeared before the public with it, for the first time in San Francisco in the Washington Square theater, year 1909. He also had the keys widened and lengthened which interested pianists.

Now we approach those interesting, comparatively easy, but alas sadly looking in efficiency those Stradella Bass systems. Mr. Guido Deiro appeared in 1910 at Toronto, Ontario. In the display case outside the theater, was among other photos of his, a photo of an accordion with 8 rows on bass side, 22 buttons or pistons each row. Presume there were four rows single bass, and 4 rows chords. Obtaining his accordion manufacturer's address, I contacted them in San Francisco. The Guerrini Bros. Co. answered me and stated that nobody used the chromatic, or complete scale bass any more as they only made the instrument heavier. How much heavier they did not state. I have greatly regretted that I did not press the matter, but at that time the price was prohibitive to me. The added basses however cost $50 extra. The added weight is one reason why the Stradella as it is stays with us.

Another reason is quite simple. Sales the manufacturers figure as follows: Why should we worry our brains to alter the basses when we know that for every single order for the improved article we will get at least 1,000 orders for the standard. Don't forget, Oompa players are at least 1,000 to against virtuoso and maestros.

Might I say that any new ideas must come from the accordionists themselves. The easy Stradella system is widely boasted and if a person, who never before saw an accordion, were to believe the ad in a well known Mail Order catalog, he would almost believe he could put on an accordion and in half an hour be playing Rondo Capriccioso or some other intricate composition, exclusively on the basses. The slogan is "Learn the Accordion. The basses are childishly simple and easy to master." Why the makers will not even make standard the three row, minor bass accordion for fear the seven rows would scare prospective students. Persons with short fingers have a terrible time mastering smooth chromatic or semi chromatic runs on the fundamentals and counterbasses alone.

Pietro in an early method (Pagani Bros.) states decisively those who possess an instrument having three rows of basses enjoy advantage of making the execution easier by choosing the most suitable positions. How many students today know this? 99 out of 100 students do not even know the name of the standard system. Piersanti of Chicago featured in a 1919 catalog an accordion that had such a collection of slides switches, reeds, and tremolos, that they had to put a leg on it, also if you please, a motor inside the bellows to help the player. A player surely needed plenty help there.

Torio and Figli in New York featured in 1919 an accordion that "by moving a lever on the bass side isolated notes could be played."

Then there is the Luttbeg bass system of Soprani, have you seen anyone play it? It has a range of 2.5 octaves, piano keys on the bass side, of course individual chords must be formed and at the same time the wrist and palm of the hand must manipulate the air.

If Mr. Palmer contacts Mr. Guido Deiro of Los Angeles, or Guerrini Co. in San Francisco, they will, I am sure, be glad to tell them about their chromatic or complete scale bass.

I have a record of GallaRini playing LightCavalry Overture and he most definitely has a full 8 note bass octave on his accordion. That is one composition among many others that it is impossible to properly play on out present standard, 7 note octave Stradella.

In closing might I mention the fact that in case the extra weight of a complete scale bass discourages Mr. Palmer, it is not so terribly necessary to stand up to play before and audience. Guido Deiro when acknowledged the world's greatest, played his opening number seated. As for me, I don't care if a virtuoso stands or lies down, all I ask is that he plays.

The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. staff gratefully acknowledges volunteer Benjamin Lang who assisted in the production of this article, as well as Stanley Darrow and the comprehensive American Accordion Musicological Society library.

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