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

Accordion Adventures with the River City Brass Band

by Henry Doktorski
copyright 1996

Note: The following series of letters were written for the Usenet newsgroup for accordionists:

September 21, 1996
Subject: For Classical Accordion Lovers

Dear Friends,

I was just practicing the Galla-Rini Accordion Concerto No. 1 for my concerts next month with the River City Brass Band and thought some of you might like to know how these events happen.

It started one morning back in March (was it that long ago?) when I received a call from River City Brass Band music director Dennis Colwell inviting me to be a guest soloist for their six October concerts. Although I had never heard the group personally, I had heard many wonderful things about them and read a lot about them in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The RCBB is a professional symphonic brass ensemble, performing some fifty concerts a year. I said it sounded interesting and we met at a cafe near my home to discuss it.

Dennis explained that he heard me several times on WQED-FM and thought the accordion might make a nice addition to the RCBB October concerts, which had the theme of "Eastern Europe." He was very apologetic, as if I would be offended by his associating the accordion with Eastern Europe. Not at all! being of Polish descent, I thought it was a great idea.

Dennis asked me about repertoire; he wanted one symphonic work that featured accordion and also some popular works. I suggested the Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5 but he said that the RCBB just played it a few concerts ago. Then I suggested Monti's Czardas, which he thought was a good idea. He borrowed my arrangement by Charles Nunzio to take home and rewrite for symphonic brass orchestra. Dennis also wanted a polka to use as an encore piece; something just for fun.

Regarding the more serious work: I said that I knew of two or three Eastern European pieces for accordion and orchestra which might be suitable; a three movement concerto by the Russian composer/accordionist Tchaikin and two multi-movement suites by the Finnish composer/accordionist Veikko Ahvenainen: "Autumn Suite" and "Karelian Pictures." (Since then I have discovered several more, but those three were all I knew about at the time.)

Dennis asked me to send him a cassette tape with the works so he could listen to them and decide which one to program. Although I had a recording of the Ahvenainen pieces, I had none of the Tchaikin, so I posted a request on and found someone who said they would send me a cassette copy of the album, since it was long out of print. All well and good. I sent off the tape to Dennis and forgot about it.

Then during the first week of September, I looked at my calendar and realized that there was less than one month until our first rehearsal and we still hadn't decided on repertoire! I left a message on Dennis' answering machine reminding him about our concert. Shortly after, I received a message from him apologizing that he still hadn't listened to the tape; he had been tied up all summer with other pressing matters!

Several days later, I received another phone call from Dennis; he finally listened to the tape and wanted to know if I had the score to "Autumn Suite." He had to get to work immediately commissioning an arranger to adapt the piece for brass orchestra.

"No," I replied, but I did have a business card which Veikko Ahvenainen gave me when I met him several years ago. On the card was a phone number with a Finland country code. Dennis called the number, and spoke to someone who knew enough English to say that Mr. Ahvenainen was out of town!

Time was running short, so Dennis asked me to find something else, immediately! I got on the phone myself and spoke long-distance to Peter Soave in Michigan and Stanley Darrow in New Jersey who suggested various pieces by Eastern European composers. Stanley had the score to a suite by A. Walter which he insisted would be "perfect." It had nice folk melodies, charming orchestrations, popular appeal, etc. He would send it to Dennis via express mail just as soon as he could find it in his huge library of accordion works.

Unfortunately, my relief was short-lived as I found out the next day that Stanley could not find the Walter suite! He said an accordion scholar (whose name I won't mention!) was doing some research several months before, poking around in Stanley's library and the scholar messed everything up! Stanley assured me, however, that he knew the piece was there somewhere, but would take several days before he could make the time to search for it.

Dennis nearly flipped when I gave him this news! He said, "Don't you have anything we can start orchestrating immediately?" I had a tattered piano score to "Concerto #1 in Gm" by Anthony Galla-Rini, but I mentioned that Galla-Rini wasn't Eastern European; he was Italian! Dennis said, "I don't care! We need to start working today if we're going to be ready for the concerts! Do you have a tape?" I said "No, just the score." He asked, "Is it any good? Have you heard it?" I said, "I haven't heard the concerto, but people whom I respect said the Galla-Rini was a good piece; easily accessible for the general public."

We made an appointment that afternoon. Dennis looked at the score and picked the final movement, marked "Tarantella." He wished that we could do the entire Galla-Rini concerto, but there was going to be barely enough time to orchestrate and write the parts for one movement, let alone three!

So far we had the Galla-Rini Tarantella, the Monti Czardas and the polka encore. We still needed something else, so Dennis asked me if I could play a solo piece between the Galla-Rini and the Monti, something with a little slower tempo, about five minutes. I said I would find something.

After arriving home, I plowed through my stacks of music and discovered a charming piece: "Variations on a Ukrainian Theme" from book ten of the Palmer-Hughes series. I decided that I could learn it (and the Galla-Rini) in the two weeks before the first rehearsal.

I've been practicing only a couple hours daily; stopping when my back starts hurting. [Two months earlier I had a herniated disc, and I hadn't completely recovered yet.] The Ukrainian Variations are terrific, and the Galla-Rini is really a lot of fun; it ends with a four-voice fugue based on the theme of the Tarantella, with the accordion introducing the fugue subject.

I'll be lucky to learn all of this and have it memorized in time, but that's show biz! One of my retired friends in West Virginia (Mike Westbury) was a professional radio/TV studio musician, arranger, band leader in New York City, and told me many stories about recording sessions: the musicians sitting down for a radio recording session five minutes before the down-beat time, and finding no music on their stands! Then with about one minute to spare, a copyist would rush into the studio and start passing out hand-copied sheet music to the musicians - with the ink still wet on the paper!

Hope you enjoy these stories about the (mis) adventures of a concert accordion performer! Lot's of surprises. I just hope the surprises are over! All I need to hear is that the publisher refused permission for the RCBB to re-write the Galla-Rini for brass orchestra! What then? We'd have to find another piece. Keep your fingers crossed, gang!

I'll write again after the first rehearsal, October 3rd.


October 4, 1996

Dear Friends,

Just had the first rehearsal with the River City Brass Band at Carnegie Hall in Homestead, PA and wanted to share a few things with you. It's always a real thrill for me to play with great ensemble and last night was no exception.

According to my usual custom, I arrived with about one minute to spare before the rehearsal started. (I've got to started leaving home earlier; this worrying whether I'll get there on time while driving through city traffic has got to stop!) All the musicians were already on stage. There were 28 musicians plus conductor; 25 brass players: one soprano cornet, nine Bb cornets, one flugelhorn, three french horns, two english-bore baritones, two euphoniums, two tenor and one bass trombone, four tubas and three percussionists.

The musicians were looking at their parts for the first time, as the conductor, Dennis Colwell, had just received the scores about five minutes before the rehearsal, when the arranger/orchestrators - Joe Campus and Drew Fennel - brought them to the hall. We started with the Galla-Rini Tarantella - third movement from his Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra in Gm and was I surprised! Such a full, delicious sound from the band. I was impressed with the deep tone of the kettledrums and tubas, and even the other instruments; baritones, trumpets, cornets, etc.

On the other hand, my accordion, not having the large resonating chambers that many other instruments have, at first felt thin and weak in tone compared to the other instruments, but after a few moments I became comfortable with it's own sound properties, in contrast with the orchestra. The accordion and brass band really do work well together, except for the mezzo-forte and forte sections, where the accordion is completely drowned out.

It was surprising to hear the orchestra parts to the Galla-Rini concerto. I had practiced it for some time, but it was exciting to put it all together. Galla-Rini has orchestrated his concerto with great skill. It is wonderful to hear how the accordion is sometimes pitted against the orchestra, sometimes blended in with the orchestra and sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestra! Anyway, my hat is off to Mr. Galla-Rini. Such a wonderful Tarantella.

It begins with an orchestral introduction of 16 measures which begins surprisingly enough on the dominant! The accordion enters with the tutti orchestra and both play the principal theme of the movement for four bars. Then the orchestra drops back in force while the accordion plays the second half of the theme. Very nice writing.

The piece is constructed in five parts, with several subsections. Following is an analysis of the form.

1 Statement of principal themes (allegro vivace) m. 1 - m. 130
2 Statement of secondary themes (allegro moderato) m. 131 - 190
3 Fugue in four parts (allegro vivace) m. 191 - 262
4 Recapitulation of principal theme (allegro vivace) m. 192 - 290
5 Coda - (molto vivace) m. 291 - 324

I've decided that I have to memorize it. The music stand slightly obliterates the audiences view of the accordion and there is not enough room on stage to put it completely to my right. Without music, I will also be able to have more eye contact with the audience, and I'll be able to see the conductor better also.

The band members, all professional musicians, were great sight-readers, and played remarkably well. We first ran through the piece, then stopped and worked out the tempos, and the parts with the tempo changes. The conductor was very respectful of my wishes and followed all of my suggestions. Then we ran through the work once or twice more.

It was obvious that the accordion needed to be amplified; although the balance was good in the piano passages, it was completely overwhelmed in the mezzo forte and louder sections. Dennis introduced me to a trumpet player, who would also be managing the sound and suggested we talk during intermission.

Next was Czardas by Vittorio Monti. Although I thought this would be more straightforward than the Galla-Rini, it turned out to be time-consuming because the arranger did not follow all my directions regarding orchestration. At the end of the accordion cadenza in the introduction, I asked that the band play an A7 chord. They took about thirty sections to decide which voicings to use. Then during the slow declamation section, I asked that the orchestra tacet during an accordion solo. At other places, I asked that the orchestra play the chords at the cadences. The rest of the piece was very well orchestrated, with interesting syncopations during the vivace sections. After figuring out what we were doing, we played through the piece maybe two or three times, each time, making more suggestions.

My part of the rehearsal ended with our encore piece, which happened to be the Pittsburgh Steelers theme song: The Pennsylvania Polka! "Is the key of F alright?" asked Dennis. "Sure!" I replied, eager to see the music. "Well, let's go!" said the conductor as he lifted his baton. "Wait a minute!" I exclaimed. "Where's my music?"

"Music? I thought all accordion players knew the Pennsylvania Polka!" joked Dennis. Although all the band members had music, I was expected to play without music!

"You'll know what to do, let's go!" and he gave the band the down beat!

Anyway, it was lot's of fun. There was an introduction, then the tune, then a modulation to Bb, then another tune which I didn't know (apparently the second part of the polka) then another modulation and return to the main theme, then a short coda. We played through it twice while I diddled around playing fancy-sounding arpeggios during the A sections and bellow-shaking chords during the B section. They loved it! "See, I knew you'd know what to play!" said Dennis at the end of the rehearsal as the orchestra members applauded.

I don't mind improvising. It's actually a lot of fun!

The rehearsal went very well, and we confirmed the time of the dress rehearsal run-though next Tuesday. I thought "What a wonderful time! Everything is just going perfectly! I'm extremely pleased. These concerts are going to be terrific! Maybe I'll even be able to sell a bunch of CDs and cassettes during intermission!"

But then, during my conversation with the sound man, my worst fears materialized! They were going to use a guitar amp for my accordion! I wanted a state-of-the-art PA system! The accordion is notoriously difficult to amplify. How could I get a decent sound from a guitar amp?

I said, "Why not use a PA system?"

"It won't work. First, the audience will not like the sound of the accordion coming from all over the front of the stage. It is better if the sound is coming from one point on stage. Second, we are playing six different concerts in six different halls, and a PA system is too much to lug around. Third, we don't have a person who can sit in the hall and adjust monitors, I'm sitting on stage playing trumpet, so it is better if you do it yourself from your own amplifier. Besides, each hall has different acoustics, so it's better if you're responsible for your own instrument."

"Yikes!" I thought! "I hate the sound of the accordion from a guitar amp!"

"We'll give you two microphones, as you requested; one for the right and and one for the left hand, but I can tell you, there is going to be trouble because the band is so loud and we don't want the mikes picking up the band. "

"There goes my left hand mike!" I thought. "There is no sense even trying to use one, since the left hand moves around so much in and out, pumping the bellows. I'll never be able to get the left hand mike close enough to eliminate the sound of the band."

"You don't happen to have internal pick-ups, do you?"

"Oh, no!" I thought, "the worst! I do have pickups in my accordion, but only the right hand, since the left hand broke years ago. Not only that, but I hate internal pickups. They not as good as first-class microphones,; they make the accordion sound tinny, give it a shrill, harsh tone, due to being so closely situated to the reeds."

"Anyway, I'll bring the amp and the mikes on Tuesday. You can adjust the tone controls and volume however you like!"

"Great!" I thought, "How am I supposed to know if the balance is any good without actually sitting in the audience and hearing it?"

My mind raced back to two concerts I attended of the Washington Chamber Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in March which featured accordion. Do you remember my review? The performer used a keyboard amplifier which I thought made the accordion sound muffled, dull and devoid of character. In my opinion, the bass and treble manuals were not always balanced properly. Sometimes, I even thought the accordion was too loud, at one time drowning out a tenor - who, incidentally, was singing without amplification.

There is a saying, "What goes around, comes around," and Christ said, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." Now my own criticisms were coming back to me; I was going to be in the same situation (no - a worse situation, because I would be playing in six different halls each with six different acoustic properties) as the person I so severely blasted seven months ago! Isn't that amazing! Who says there's no justice in the universe?

Anyway, after thinking about it for some time, I'm going to make sure that the RCBB rents a good keyboard amplifier and not a guitar amplifier. In addition, I'm thinking of fixing my left hand pickup, or perhaps purchasing an entirely new set. After all, my pickups in that accordion are at least 25 years old! I should probably get a newer set! I think I'll give Mario Mosti a call. Maybe he's got something I can install before Tuesday! If you have another suggestion, write me immediately!

I'll write more after our Tuesday rehearsal.

Best wishes, dear friends!


October 9, 1996

Dear Friends,

Last night was my final rehearsal with the River City Brass Band before our concerts begin on Thursday. During the weekend I made several calls to see if I could get good pickups installed on my accordion, and finally decided to forget the whole thing! Whatever the RCBB decides to do will be fine with me!

I was not disappointed. They produced what seemed to be a good keyboard amplifier and two decent microphones. The amp was positioned directly in front of me on the edge of the stage to eliminate feedback and the sound-man/ trumpet player sat in the audience for some time while I played with and without the band until he was convinced that the sound was perfect. Equalization controls were set at zero for both mikes, volume controls at six. From where I sat, the tone sounded fine, although I am extremely curious to hear what it sounds like in the audience! Somethings one just isn't supposed to know, I guess.

I decided to memorize everything, which was easier than I thought. All you have to do is play through the pieces several dozen times! I anticipate no memory lapses; my fingers seem to know the music, but of course, anything's possible during a live concert!

Rehearsal went smoothly. I'm still impressed with the band. Such beautiful sound; I especially love the sound of four tubas, four baritones & euphoniums and three trombones.

I've decided to play for my solo piece "Oblivion" by Astor Piazzolla instead of "Variations on a Ukrainian Theme" by Palmer-Hughes. The latter piece has just too much virtuosic fireworks displays; it's too much like the Galla-Rini and Monti pieces in that regard. The Piazzolla, on the other hand, has a gentle plaintive melody, which has a much nicer contrast than the Ukrainian medley.

Wish me luck! I hope to see some of you at the concerts October 10, 11, 12, 13, 17 and 19.


October 10, 1996

Dear Friends,

Yesterday received a couple phone calls from friends who said that they heard my name mentioned on two local FM radio stations who were promoting the River City Brass Band concerts. One friend who listens to the local classical station, WQED-FM, was very pleased by the announcements, but another friend who listens to the local jazz/progressive station, WDUQ-FM was not pleased at all!

She said, "They butchered your name! The announcer stumbled over the pronunciation and said something like ' guest accordionist, uhh.... uhhh... Henry Dorky-storky!' I'm going to complain to the station right away!"

I replied, "Hey, don't bother! Those guys at the radio station don't know you from Adam; if you want to be effective, call the publicity director for the River City Brass Band and complain to him. They're the ones who are paying the radio station big bucks to pronounce my name right!"

A few minutes later my friend called me back, "Well, I just talked to the RCBB publicity director and he said that he also heard that commercial yesterday. He was shocked and immediately called the radio station to make sure the DJs knew the correct pronunciation! He told me, "If you happen to talk to Mr. Doktorski, please tell him that the problem was taken care of yesterday!"

That's what a guy gets for having a nice Polish name and not changing it! Hey, I can't complain; my name is a lot easier for Americans to pronounce than a lot of other Polish names. I could have been born into the Przybylski (pronounced Pshibellski) family! Imagine trying to pronounce the name "Chopin" if you never heard it before! (Choppin')

I've got to remember that one: Henry Dorky-storky; it's a killer! I tell you, if you are an accordionist, it sure pays to have a sense of humor!


October 14, 1996

Dear Friends,

Just finished my fourth concert with the River City Brass Band yesterday afternoon. It's really been exciting. Here's a brief summary:

    Thursday night: Carnegie Hall in Homestead, PA
    Friday night: Carson Middle School on Northside
    Saturday night: Carnegie Hall in Oakland (my parents came to this one)
    Sunday afternoon: Baldwin High School

Two more to go:

    Thursday night: Gateway High School, Monroeville
    Saturday night: Palace Theater, Greensburg


    Galla-Rini: Tarantella from "Concerto no. 1"
    Astor Piazzolla: Oblivion (solo)
    Monti: Czardas
    Encore: Pennsylvania Polka

There was a nice photo and half-page article by the entertainment editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review promoting the concerts. Here are some highlights from the article:

    "Accordionist Henry Doktorski knows his instrument sometimes has the image of being only the heart and soul of polka parties, but he isn't offended. 'I thought the same way once,' he said. But that was before he discovered the accordion can do more than convey the music of polka king Jimmy Sturr. It finds its way through the folk music of every part of Europe, through bistros in Paris, cajun gatherings and even pieces of virtuosity for accordion and symphony orchestra.

    "My main interest seven years ago was classical music," Doktorski said. "I discovered a sub-cult of classical accordion players and since then learned that there have been thousands of classical pieces composed for the instrument, including 200 concerti."

    ..... "I was just stunned at the virtuosity of this guy,' conductor Dennis Colwell said about Doktorski. That virtuosity has developed over 33 years, even if it took a few changes in direction. Doktorski started playing when he was seven, but when he went to high school, he discovered that it wasn't too 'in' to be an accordion player. He switched to organ and played in rock bands, but he got tired of that and began to study classical piano in college. .... Years later, he was serving as organist for a Hare Krishna congregation in West Virginia when he regained his interest in the accordion.... While he is not upset at the lack of appreciation of the accordion, he said he is trying to broaden thinking about it." etc. etc.

Our opening concert was surprisingly well attended. Of all the halls, this one seemed to have the most beautiful acoustics. Nice reverberation. Was somewhat nervous for a couple hours before the first three concerts. (By the time we played the fourth concert, I was so used to the routine that I couldn't care less about being nervous!) However, as soon as I stepped on stage, the jitters disappeared! (Funny, I NEVER get nervous when I play other types of music, like wedding receptions, parties, dances, etc. Perhaps the degree of precision of classical concerts make me more nervous - there is much less room to cover your mistakes. Never-the-less, all the performance went well and I was extremely pleased.

The conductor, Dennis Colwell, introduced me before my entrance on stage - I personally think his glowing words are too flowery, but I guess the audience likes to think that they're in the presence of a great world-wide luminary!

I walk on to the audience applause, sit down, adjust the microphone positions and nod to the conductor. We play the Galla-Rini and I acknowledge the applause. Then I walk to the conductor's mike and begin my speaking routine, which pretty much developed spontaneously.

    "Thank you! Many people are surprised to hear the accordion is used in classical music, and frankly so was I when I was first introduced to it a few years ago! This is not surprising, however; the instrument is very young compared to most orchestral instruments. It was born on May 6, 1829 (audience chuckles) and it's birth certificate was a patent by it's inventor, Cyrill Demian! (More chuckles)

    "However, the first accordions were only about this big (hold my hands up to show a tiny instrument the size of a small kitten) and only could play a few notes. It took nearly one hundred years for the accordion to develop into a sophisticated instrument which could play in all keys.

    "The first classical piece for accordion was written by the German composer Hugo Herrmann in 1927. Since then there have been thousands of pieces written for it, including 200 concerti.

    "Sometimes people ask me how I started playing accordion. I tell them that when I was seven years old, a music teacher knocked on our door giving free musical aptitude tests for children. My mother said, 'Oh, I think my son has some talent.' I passed the test.... actually, I think every child who took the test passed.... (audience chuckles)

    "The music teacher said, 'Your son has definite talent! I think you should enroll him in my music school; and if you sign up today, the first lesson is free!' (Audience laughs)

    "He asked my parents, 'What instrument do you want him to play?' They asked, 'What instruments do you teach?' He said, 'piano,' they said, 'no.' He said, 'guitar,' they said 'no.' He said 'saxophone,' they said, 'no.' He said 'drums,' and they said 'Nooooo!!!" (Audience laughs) Then he said, 'accordion,' and my parents said 'Yes!'

    "Anyway, I think instead of asking how I started playing accordion, people should ask me why I am still playing it!" (audience laughter)

Next I play the accordion solo, "Oblivion" by Astor Piazzolla. I turn the mikes off for this one. No sense distorting the sound of the accordion when I'm not playing with the band.

After the Piazzolla is finished, I begin my last spiel at the mike: "There's one thing I forgot to mention.... (I speak very slowly) During intermission, if you walk into the lobby you'll find a table with some really terrific CDs and cassettes!" (Audience laughs) There are two that deserve special mention. One is a Christmas album by the River City Brass Band, and the other is a Christmas album by...." I stop speaking, smile and point to myself. (Audience cracks up.)

Then we play the Czardas by Monti and conclude with the Pennsylvania Polka.

Then I rush out to the lobby to autograph CDs and cassettes. It's really a blast; quite satisfying to have dozens of people say how much they enjoyed your concert, how much they love the accordion, women hugging you, holding your hand, etc. even if they don't buy your CDs!

There is only one small problem - nearly 100 percent of the woman at these concerts are old enough to be my mother; they're all between 60 and 80 years old! Where are all the 25 to 40 year old women? Don't they come to accordion concerts?

I noticed a similar phenomenon when I played for the California accordion clubs, although I admit, there were a few young people in attendance in San Francisco. I wonder, suppose I really get serious about accordion and start to play concerts all over the world.... I can tell that I'm not going to get many dates by concertizing!

Sometimes I wonder: am I playing the wrong instrument? Maybe I should be playing piano or guitar! Guitarists don't seem to have any problem attracting beautiful babes. I wonder why?

But perhaps this is particular to the United States. Is the classical accordion more popular with younger audiences in Europe? I'd like to hear from our European friends about this.

Maybe it's just classical music audiences. Symphony concerts are famous for drawing an elderly crowd, but I've noticed at the symphony concerts there are always some younger people, students, etc.

Got any ideas, friends? I would like to hear your comments about this one!


October 22, 1996

Dear Friends,

Well, the concerts with the River City Brass Band are over and done with, and I've just about returned to normal -- normal for me, that is. Thought I'd finish the concluding chapter of my story.

The last two concerts went well. Thursday night at Gateway High School in Monroeville was a snap. It seems that the fourth and fifth concerts, I just plain forgot to get nervous. The sixth night, for some reason, I was nervous again. I can't figure it out!

One interesting thing happened after the last concert in Greensburg, PA. I was standing around in the lobby during intermission, chatting with people and autographing programs, CDs and cassettes, when who should appear in front of me but the cutest thirty-something-year-old woman I have seen in a long time! I was completely taken aback, since this was the LAST thing I expected to see at an accordion concert -- a woman less than sixty years of age.

She didn't say a word, just kinda looked at me with a really sweet starry-eyed smile and held out her CD for me to autograph. I noticed her hand was very pretty and she was dressed very attractively. I stammered something like, "Uh... uh... Hi! errr.... uh.... I guess you want me to .... uh.... sign this?" She shyly smiled, batting her long beautiful eyelids, and nodded her head.

"Ulp!" I swallowed. "Uh... what am I supposed to do?" I thought. "Oh yeah!" I remembered, "Sign my name!"

While I was trying very hard to scribble my name on her CD, I was thinking, "Uh.... I wonder if she's married? I wonder if she's got a steady boyfriend? I wonder if she'll tell me her name?" I thought, "Gee, I would like to talk to her a bit, maybe ask her out, but there are so many people standing around here in line waiting their turn...." And then in an instant, I had signed the CD and handed it back to her, and then, before I could blink my eye, she disappeared completely into the surging crowd of senior citizens, gone forever. At the same moment, a riot of white-haired ladies attacked me, jostling me and thrusting out their CDs and cassettes for me to autograph.

I felt like shouting, "Wait, Miss! Come back!" and running after the beautiful mystery woman, but I simply stood there like a stupid fool, smiling and joking with the old ladies and autographing their CDs.

Afterwards, I felt like kicking myself, "What an idiot! You turd-brain! Opportunity knocks only once, and you blew it!"

When I got home, I remembered a story which was told to me by my first piano teacher, a man who had studied with a student of a student of Franz Liszt. If I remember correctly, the story was about Anton Rubinstein, or some other famous pianist, who was a great ladies man. Here is the story:

    After each recital, Rubinstein would wait backstage, shaking hands and signing autographs for his many fans. Yet, he would constantly glance toward the waiting queue of admirers. If he saw an attractive unaccompanied woman standing in line, he would surreptitiously break off one of his coat buttons and conceal it in his hand. When the lady of his fancy finally arrived to congratulate him, Rubinstein would "accidentally" drop the button and exclaim, "Oh my! I seemed to have lost a button from my coat." While picking up the button from the floor, he would ask, "By any chance, Miss, do you know how to sew?"

    The woman would invariably reply with great eagerness, "Oh yes, Mr. Rubinstein, most certainly I can fix your button for you and I would be honored to do so!" Whereupon Rubinstein would state matter-of-factly, "Thank you, my dear! I truly appreciate your kindness. Please meet me here after everyone has left and I will personally escort you to my hotel room where you can repair my coat at your leisure."

One thing I'll say, Rubenstein was smooth!

I thought, "Will this tactic work for me?" However, after a little reflection, I decided that it wouldn't, because today's modern liberated woman don't bother to learn demeaning domestic skills like sewing, cooking, etc. They're much too busy competing with men to become powerful, successful and wealthy. If I broke my button at a concert, I'd probably have to go home and fix it myself!

Dear friends, have you any good ideas about what I should have done and what I should do in the future?

Looking forward to your replies.


Readers' Letters:

Subject: Concert-goer demographics

Henry Doktorski wrote: "There is only one small problem - nearly 100 percent of the woman at these concerts are old enough to be my mother; they're all between 60 and 80 years old! Where are all the 25 to 40 year old women? Don't they come to accordion concerts?"

Good question, Henry.

Well, I did, once... I went to see Myron Floren play in Manchester, NH (about 30 miles from my house). I was about 30 at the time and I recall looking around the theater trying to find one person... just ONE PERSON... somewhere near my age. Finally I found one... she was a nurse, and she was pushing a fellow in a wheelchair.

A bit nerve-wracking, I have to admit... particularly since many of these older folks were staring at me as if they thought I might be some kind of infiltrator, spy or potential heckler (none of the above!!). I'd come alone, so I didn't even have anyone with me to "validate" me.

By the way, it was a phenomenal concert!! But next time I think I'll come in disguise, wearing my granny's wig and orthopedic shoes... take a closer look at some of those "older women", Henry, at your next show; some of 'em might just be "youngsters" trying to slip in unnoticed! :-)

Joyce E. Ashcroft
St. Paul's School - Advanced Studies Program
Concord, NH 03301


Consider yourself lucky that you did not meet the woman. There is a report due out in the next New England Journal of Medicine that shows a high correlation between accordion groupies and AIDS.

Alan Engle
New Orleans, LA

Dear Henry,

Just be yourself. You showed her a real person and if she is also real, she'll show up in your life again. If not, you will always be able to enjoy the anticipation...and, the sweet memory of that moment. Isn't life wonderful?


From: (Steven J. Duray)
Subject: "Who was that Lady?"


I don't see what harm it would have been to make small talk along the lines of commenting on how the accordion has not been used often in rock etc. Maybe the Lady would have made pleasant conversation which might be continued over dinner, perhaps?

I'm glad I'm married.

With kindest regards,

Steven J. Duray, Ph.D.
Division of Biological Materials
Northwestern University

Subject: Attractive Fans.

Someone famous... now long forgotten by everyone... once said that he attempts to seduce all the lovely females that he meets, and hopes for a 5% success rate.

But, "humor" aside, simply announcing during a performance that you are single and sincere may get excellent results. For example, say, "If, someday, I meet a lady who enjoys nature walks and quiet evenings by a fire, this is the kind of music I'll play for her."

On the other hand, you spend so much time at your work and at your computer that I wonder if you have time for such distractions.

Pete Gibbons
Ithaca New York

From: (Don Nichols)
Subject: Attractive Fans.

You could have added your phone number to the autograph, which would indicate that you would like to talk to her more. Whatever else came would be up to her, of course. Good luck


Subject: Re: For Classical Accordion Lovers

henry, don't despair! After my Film Festival gig this weekend I had several young female admirers (in their twenties, a little young for you but fine for me) waiting for me after the show. Unfortunately I had to run back to Seattle with the rest of my band and equipment-it was 2am and I had to play in Seattle at 11am. You'll get another chance-I'm sure of it. Now, if only I didn't have to go back to Seattle that night... :)

Toby Hanson
Seattle, Washington

For Classical Potential Lovers


I may not know much about accordions, nor play very well, but when it comes to missed opportunities for a relationship, I have amassed a heap of experience. Fortunately, I am finely situated now and only reminisce about the sweet sadness of those missed opportunities. One benefit was that it made my (guitar) music more passionate.

Here is what you should have done: Tell her that you have another CD in the works and would like to personally send her one when it is released. Then get her name and address and send her an invitation to your next performance. Or send her a draft recording of some of your most appropriate music. Oh, the possibilities are endless and so classically romantic.

Hope you see her again!


From: (BrainJunky)
Date: 24 Oct 1996 13:22:27 -0400

For pete's sake. She's just a human like you or me(?).

Use this approach

You: So, are you enjoying the show?
Her: Yes, I really like your playing
You: Thanks, It means a lot to me. It's my passion. Is your husband enjoying the show?
Her: Well, I'm not married...
You: Your boyfriend then?
Her: No boyfriend either....
You: A smart and beautiful (flattery ALWAYS helps) person like yourself should have someone to go with to these shows.
Her: [blushes]
You: Look, I've go to go back and play now. But, afterwards, would you like to get some coffee, maybe dinner if you've not eaten, yet.
Her: Yes, I'd love to. (romantic accordion music in background)

See, simple, honest, direct. No fancy lies or schemes.

Anyway, just my advice. But, then again, been married 7 years to a woman I met while blowing harp for a blues band.....


From: "Donald B. Larson"

I like Rob's "approach" honest and direct. Also it's interesting how Rob met his wife -- blowing harp for a blues band. I met my wife (Flamin' Cajun' Susan) at an accordion dance -- Cajun' Zydeco to Frog Legs and Queen Ida.

She and I both play accordion and our initial conversations (we talked and danced together at three of these dances over the course of about 6 months before we began dating) were often about the dancing or the music -- and our shared interest in accordions. Our first date was getting together to play our boxes at her apartment!

Goes to show... just sharing your interests, desires, goals, etc. early on in an acquaintance or friendship can sometimes spark a romance. It won't happen every time, though, keep trying with single women you meet. Susan was definitely not the first single woman I ever flirted with and talked with in my life -- but my patience paid off -- I have a wife I'm very happy to be married to.

Date: 23 Oct 1996 23:00:38 -0400
From: (Stv231)

Sorry to disappoint you, Henry, but it's not appropriate when you let the world in on your love life and desiring some chick you saw at a gig. That story belongs in another part of the internet where others can get their kicks from it.

>And then in an instant, I had signed the CD
>and handed it back to her, and then,
>before I could blink my eye, she disappeared completely
>into the surging crowd of senior citizens, gone forever.

Maybe she caught that staring 'gleam' in your eye and made a mad dash away from you.


From: wrote:

>Sorry to disappoint you, Henry, but it's not appropriate when you let
>the world in on your love life and desiring some chick you saw at a
>gig. That story belongs in another part of the internet where others
>can get their kicks from it.

And it is not appropriate to send what should have been a private note to Henry with a full snipping of the entire conversation.

In any case if you had followed the full string of replies you would have realized that this had to do with an accordion performance that Henry has been documenting over a period of time....and many of us are very interested in hearing about it and the anecdotes.


Author's Epilogue

March 18, 1998

Dear Friends,

A year and a half has passed since I played those six concerts with the River City Brass Band and I never did find that cute girl in the audience. Oh, well. . . . Chalk that one up to experience.

However, during the AAA festival Bach!/ Vegas!/ Dog! in New York City last August, while I was selling books and CDs after my performance, a really dynamite-looking classical accordion-loving babe shyly walked up to me and whispered, "Excuse me, Mr. Doktorski? will you please autograph your CD for me? I would be thrilled!"

To make a long story short, after the reception was over, I saw her again as she was leaving the concert hall and I politely asked the young lady if I might have the honor of escorting her back to her hotel, since walking home alone after dark on New York City streets can be dangerous for a beautiful single woman such as herself.

She smiled with a gleam in her eye and replied, "Would you? Oh, thank you soooo much!"

Now, seven months later, we are still seeing each other (in fact, we're getting engaged!) and she's planning on moving to Pittsburgh. Thanks, you guys, for all your helpful advice! I put it to good use!

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