The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.: Readers' Letters

The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.

Readers' Letters
Suggestions, Comments, Criticisms!

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From: Chris Lim
Subject: Hi... I am a Sheng Performer.
Date: Tue, 2 Dec 2003

Dear Henry Doktorski,

I am a Sheng Performer in Singapore. I regularly visits Classical Free-reed and I should say that the information in the website is very informative and it further increased my knowledge on free-reed instruments.

By the way, I have used one of your Sheng picture in my website but I have acknowledged your website and put a link back to your site. I hope you don't mind.

By the way, I have a request. Can you add my website URL to your "performers' directory" or "links" section? Thanks !


Chris Lim
Sheng Performer
Website - Tunes of the Sheng

From: Fcurbelo1@_____
Subject: Uruguayan Accordion Music
Date: Mon, 3 Nov 2003 12:58:46 EST

Hello, my name is Jose' Curbelo, I live in Minneapolis , Minnesota. I did an independent documentation and oral history project in Uruguay of people who play traditional accordion music. There are around 200 hours of music and interviews. I focused mainly on the two-row diatonic but I interviewed piano accordion and bandoneon players too. It was conducted from 2001-2003. I am seeking funding to edit and produce this material and place it in the National School of Music in Montevideo, Uruguay.

If you are able please give me some contacts that you would suggest could help me in this project. My phone # is: (612) 729-2817, my e-mail is:, and my address is: 2536 30th Ave., So., Mpls, MN 55406

Thank you very much.



From: Hugh McKenzie
Subject: Garmohska
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003


I found your website and was very interested.

Recently I and a friend acquired garmoshkas from Russia. I have not been able to find out much information on the garmoshka or any online resources. All I have been able to determine is that it is a chromatic button box in the Key of A. Do you know where I would be able to find out more information and possibly even some online resources ?

Thank you very much.

Hugh McKenzie

From: Rose Marie Kinder
Subject: history of the harmonica
Date: Wed, 1 Oct 2003

Dear Henry Doktorski,

I'm a retired English professor (Central Missouri State University), author of Sweet Angel Band, an amateur musician, and a docent at our local Historical Society. In a coming musical performance, I would like to use some your site's information on the history of the harmonica. We'll be playing and singing most of the time, but when we do have occasion to discuss our instruments, we like to provide good information. Your article is really fine. I would credit you and the source, of course.


Rose Marie Kinder

From: "N.J.O.van Uden"
Subject: A shy hello from Holland.
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003

Dear mister Doktorski,

with the Dutch equivalent of "no guts, no glory" in mind I write you this email. I still find myself surprised by the fact that it is so easy to contact a celebrated accordion performer such as yourself, still I intend to profit from the possibilities of this modern medium to its fullest. But let me first introduce myself before I fire a salvo of questions on you.

My name is Niek van Uden, nineteen springs young, and as you might have guessed by now, I am an accordion student. I live in Breda, the Netherlands(or Holland as you might call it) and study the accordion at the conservatory of Tilburg. Just having entered the second year of this education program, I get more and more the feeling that I'm like a young child entering the world of the Big Accordionist. Suddenly we're asked to perform chamber music, write cv's etc. etc. But like any young child, I'm trying to face these challenges with eagerness and curiosity at school, while expanding my view of the accordion world at home.

It was during one of these 'expansion expeditions' a few years ago I stumbled upon both you personal homepage and that of "The Classical Free-Reed Inc.". Since then I've been here on and off, and every time I'm surprised by the amount of information you have readily available to anyone with an internet connection. To a young and eager accordionist such as myself, I now realise its like discovering a long forgotten treasure.

Because of your apparent enthusiastic work for the accordion world in general I write this email to you. The information you host on your website is rather valuable, I know of no project comparable in both size and contents. The Netherlands only have a few magazines that publish accordion related material, and because one hadn't published any issue lately, I made a phonecall to the editor. It appears that they have a shortage of material to publish and low response from "the field". I proposed that conservatory students, who frequently visit concerts, masterclasses, festivals etc. should write for the magazine, thus making it ready to publish again. At the same time I remembered the amount of information you have on your webpage. I know you feel it coming by now, but I sincerely wonder wether it's possible to re-publish some of the contents which is available on the Free-Reed's website in the Prof'Acc (Professional Accordionist) as the magazine. I know that a lot of details have to be worked out when you actually decide to do such a thing, but I'm in the first place curious wether you think anything positive about the idea, or decide against it altogether. I hope you might be able to help to revive this magazine.

I had a lot more questions in mind when I started writing this email, but due to the length of text I've already written I'll save those for a hopefully next time. If you would be able to respond some time in your no doubt busy schedule, I would be very grateful.

yours sincerely and humbly,

Niek van Uden

From: Ann-Elise Koerntjes
Subject: Copy right of articles
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2003


My name is Ann-Elise Koerntjes and I am the publicity officer of the Victorian Branch of the Accordion Society of Australia. I am an avid admirer of your website and wish to congratulate you on creating such a comprehensive reference for enthusiastic performers and music lovers alike.

I would love to be able to reuse some of your articles in the monthly newsletter and quarterly accordion review which all members receive. All articles would be properly cited with the author, web page and site clearly listed. Readers would also be strongly encouraged to view the site for themselves. The reason I would like to reproduce information instead of mentioning the website alone is because many of our senior members do not have access to the internet and would probably be too afraid to try even if they did!

The article of particular interest is "The Accordion: A Back Breaker" If you could let me know if we would be able to use any of your articles I would be very grateful. Thank you for your time and for your generous gift to the accordion world,

Ann-Elise Koerntjes

From: "Gelfert, Andy"
Subject: Information Inquiry
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003


You website is very informative. However could you please help me. I have spent hours upon hours attempting to find out what type of accordion would have been used just prior to, and during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Could you please tell me specifically what accordion, type, country of manufacture, name (maker), style, tuning, and anything else you can. I am a civil war reenactor and would like to play a period instrument, or an instrument with the construction of the accordions during that time.

If you have pictures please send them. If you have websites for me to get this information please also send them. Any and all information, or tidbits of information is greatly appreciated, even if it is a contact to the next person who might know. Thank you in advance,


Dear Andy,

I have already done a little research on this. Please see "The Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon" at which is a review I wrote of the 1843 book by Elias Howe, Jr. which includes

The illustration of the semi-toned accordion is detailed and clearly shows the placement of the keys, pallets, valves, bellows and ornamental filigree. It is significant to note that the instrument Howe wrote for had no left-hand buttons or keys. Only the right hand played the notes.

I believe this is the type of accordion which was played during the Civil War. Sincerely,

Henry Doktorski, founder
The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.

Dear Henry, I am so excited!

Thank you so much for taking time to answer my email. The book is great, and clears up some things, however there are a few basic questions I have. Considering I would like to either get an instrument (to play) which was popular during the civil war or get a reproduction of such an instrument, I would like to know: 1) Are the type of instruments of which Elias Howe wrote, around to purchase today, and where (eBay, auctions, etc.? 3) Are there reproductions of this type of instrument I can purchase, and where? 4) I saw a Busson instrument (a Flutina?) which looked a little like this on eBay recently, but I did not bid on it. Would this be the type of instrument you are talking about?

Since the date of the writing of the book is pre-civil war, combined with the fact of other information/inquiries I have made (primary information coming from Mr. Gérard Dole), I have been told that the 10 button (or 10 key (lever)) accordion (with 2 LH bass buttons) is what was commonly used, both French, and German.

This is evidenced by the attached picture (also courtesy Mr. Dole) which is a tintype of a US Civil War soldier with a rather large German 10 key (same function as a 10 button) diatonic accordion. He also has a civil war picture of a French accordion being held by a Union soldier. He recommended me playing a modern instrument such as the Hohner 10 button diatonic.

With this in mind, and considering the time between the book you reviewed and the civil war itself: 1) Do you think that the 10 button/key diatonic accordion was popular during the civil war? 2) Do the reproductions of the 10 button diatonic accordion of today come close to the construction, sound, etc. of the civil war instrument? 3) How were the reeds tune? dry? (the modern Cajun accordions are tuned differently, correct)? 4) The civil war period instruments would only have had one (set) of reeds, correct? 5) Are there reasons why not to use the modern day reproductions?

I can't tell you how much I appreciate your help. You mentioned that the instruments of which Howe wrote did not have any LH buttons (except for the air valve, I assume). Why was that? Do you think that by the time the French and German instruments of which Mr. Dole speaks were being used the two "spoons" were popular? Thank you so very much. I look forward to hearing from you again. God bless you.


Dear Andy, You certainly have lots of questions! most of which unfortunately I cannot answer. I tend to agree with the conclusions of Mr. Gérard Dole and I suspect the 10-button German would be the instrument for you to get. Regarding the sound, I believe 19th-century instruments had brass reeds. I believe modern instruments use steel reeds. I have heard that the steel reeds are stronger, brighter and louder. The brass instruments I have heard are softer & mellower. This should not make any difference unless you are going to record an album of Civil War music with period instruments, in such case you might want to find a museum piece to play, if you can find one in tune and in good condition.

I am nearly certain that accordions in the mid-19th-century had two sets of reeds. Maybe more. I have seen some instruments at the accordion museum in Superior Wisconsin. Some date from the 1830s. You might want to contact Helmi Harrington as she is the curator of the museum. Her email address is but don't hold your breath waiting for a reply as I found she is notoriously loath to check her email regularly! Her museum also has a website at The Duluth newspaper printed an article about her at


Henry Doktorski, founder
The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.


I wanted to update you on the following before you respond to this email .I just found out the following information from the executive director of the national civil war medical museum (he is also a musician and historian) about the picture I sent attached to the prior email: "The image you sent is not from the 1860's but is a soldier with an 1880's cap and coat. Although there are Civil War era Tintypes, they are very rare as the ambrotype photographic method was much more in use. This photo is probably from about 1885 are later." This perhaps would explain why the accordion is so big, and may change other things also

Thank you

God bless you


From: Ritabelll@______
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003 13:41:52 EDT

Dear Henry,

It was good to see you in Chicago [during the Accordionists & Teachers Guild Festival June 28 & 29]. Actually, it was my first ATG Festival and I also joined the organization. The entire festival was informative, entertaining and a great deal of fun!! The programs were varied and I only wish they could have been taped for TV so the world could see the versatility of the accordion. Especially significant was the Saturday evening concert which featured The Concord Chamber Orchestra from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

First Kevin Friedrich, VP of ATG and President of the CIA gave the USA premiere{on piano accordion} of "Gem of the Kaipara for Accordion Soloist, Strings, and Percussion" by Gary Daverne with Gary as conductor. Kevin introduced the selection and not a person moved during the performance! A long standing ovation occurred at the end!

Then, Lidia Kaminska, another virtuoso accordionist , performed"Concerto Classico for Accordion Soloist and Orchestra"by Bronislaw Kazimierz Przybylski with Janet Millard as conductor., Another standing ovation.

To conclude the program, Stas Venglevski, the new President of the ATG played "Concerto No.2 in e minor for Accordion Soloist and Orchestra" by Anthony Galla-Rini. Again, a standing ovation and all of them, very well deserved. My only wish would have been to see more people in attendance at this historic concert.

The first part of the program was equally wonderful with Joan Summers conducting the ATG Festival Accordion Orchestra in Rhapsodia Andalusia and the All American Hometown Band. Janet Millard conducted "Omaggio a Pietro by Frosini. Gary Daverne enchanted all as he conducted his composition "Pocket Overture" and "Beatle Magic".

The Friday evening program included accordion greats such as Mirco Patarini, John Simkus and Friends, Jeff Lisenby and Friends, and Frank Marocco. Thursdays program included the UMKC Community Accordion Orchestra, Guy Vivier, Joanna and Stanley Darrow, Tony Lovello, Betty Simon, Igor Zavadsky and John Simkus and Stas Venglevski.

Joan Sommers received great applause and appreciation for her efforts in creating a most memorable musical event! I encourage all readers to think about attending any future accordion events whether they be ATG or AAA sponsored. You can always find an aspect of the accordion that you like or even discover a new type of music to play or listen to!

My next performance will be at the AAA Workshop run by Bill Schimmel at the end of August. I will also be performing November 15 for the Florida Accordion Association Smash which will be held in Orlando this year.

Next year's AAA Festival will begin July 7 in Boston.!! Readers can find out more on the American Accordionists Association . com website

Rita Davidson
Orange, New Jersey

From: Wright Michael:
Subject: The Sheng & the Jew's harp
Date: Tue, 20 May 2003 13:48:29 +0100

Dear Henry,

I've been searching the web with regard to references on the history of the Sheng and came up with your 'The Classical Free-Reed, Inc' site. I am tracing the history of the Jew's harp, and there is a theory that it began as a bamboo instrument in the Far East, travelling West via the Roman trade routes. The clue appears to be the shape of the bamboo reed - the Vietnam/Laos Tongs looking like larger versions of the bamboo reeds of the Sheng. Do you have a view on this or have you come across any historical material that might give credence to the theory?

Any guidance would be appreciated.


Michael Wright
Oxford, UK

From: Pat Missin
Subject: Re: The Sheng & the Jew's harp
Date: Tue, 03 Jun 2003

Regarding the letter from Michael Wright, for what it's worth I speculate on the connection between plucked idiophones (or mouth resonated lamellophones, or whatever you want to call them!) and free reeds on this page:

All the best,

-- Pat.

Mon, 17 Feb 2003
Marca Registrada Hohner ----Accordian

Dear Henry:

I am a music teacher in Virginia. I had come to Maryland for the weekend and I am presently caught in a snow storm with a dear old friend; to pass the time she brought out some very old instruments played by some of her family, now long gone. She brought out an instrument that I found particularly interesting. She said that her late husband's father had played it in the early years of their marriage. I was so fascinated by this instrument I played around with it for a while and I found that the noted seem to be a third apart. It also seems that the note you play as you draw the billows apart is the same note that you play on the next button as you push it together. As you can see I am excited and babbling on. I have spent a good part of today trying to find someone or a website that could shed some light on the subject of exactly what I am dealing with and where I might find some music so that I might teach myself how to accomplish this extrodinary and beautiful instument. Besides it's beauty it has a wonderfully big sound for such a small instrument. Just before I found your website I found a website under the first three words that I typed as the subject. This site came up under the words Trekharmonika - e'e'nrijer Hohner. However the website was in German or some other language that I do not read but they had a picture of the exact instument except this one is much more exquiste looking. Let me discribe it for you.

The instrument is a little bit larger that a womans purse. Probably about 4-5 inches deep and about 12 inches tall and about 7 inches wide. The only words on this instrument are "Made in Germany"--therfore I know that it was made before the war,---and the three word I mentioned earlier at the top of the e-mail. It looks to be made of wood and it is all black and gold. on the right side ot the instrument there are 4 white buttons. There is a long leather strap that the hand goes under, this strap is still covered withthe original plastic. There is a small white button on the side that changes the dynamic level--or so it seemed to. It also made it easier to press and draw.

The left side ot the instrument has what appears to be a small leather loop for I'm guessing the thumb as well as 10 small white buttons. The bellows are orange with gold tape of some sort along the edges. It truly is beautiful!!!! It is in most excellent condition. I was wondering what exactly this instument is called, about how much this instrument would be worth and where I might be able to find music for it.

Thank you so much for your time. I hope you can help me with this wonderful find!!

Sincerly,-------- Madeline Turner

Dear Madeline,

Thank you for your letter and I'm glad you didn't venture out on the roads! I had to dig myself out when I got stuck on the road in front of my house.

Sounds like you found a diatonic accordion. Perhaps similar to the first patent (1829). I believe Hohner began building accordions in 1901. Doesn't it play the full diatonic scale when pulling in and out? You mentioned thirds.


Henry Doktorski, founder
The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.

From: Marj at
Subject: Accordion Music
Date: Sat, 08 Feb 2003

Hello. I just read your review of Yuri Kazakov's disc containing the finale of Chaikin's concerto No.1. I play the Chaikin Sonata No.1 which I very much like and I am trying to track down the music for both of the Chaikin concertos. Do you have any idea where I can order them?

Similarly, I have been trying to track down the music for The Rubaiyat by Alan Hovanhess. Since he wrote a piece for you, I figure that maybe you have a line on contacting him. I thought that the on-line cuts from your California CD were great and I would like to order a copy. You can expect a check from me in the mail...I don't give out my credit card over the 'net.

I play a Victoria accordion also. It is a custom made one - not for me, I got it slightly used - but it has 8 rows in the bass yielding an extra octave lower than conventional accordions, as well as some extras on the right hand. I think Victoria is the finest accordion maker today.

I will bookmark your site and look forward to more offerings in the future. Thanks for your assistance on this.

Dear Marj,

Thank you for your letter. Alan Hovhaness passed away some years ago, but you can borrow a copy of his score of the Rubaiyat, as I did, by writing the publisher, C.F. Peters.



From: Scott Alexander
Subject: Basil Fomeen and Nick Hope on the Victor Record Company label in 1928
Date: Fri, 07 Feb 2003


I'm writing and article about the history of Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" and I wanted to verify a fact. On your web page you mentions a 1928 recording of Rhapsody in Blue by Basil Fomeen and Nick Hope (Fomeen Bros.) on the Victor label. I'm unable to find anything about that record other than a few mentions of it on accordion sites on the web. Do you happen to know the Victor record number or anything else about it? Has this recording ever been reissued?

By the way, your statement "The only other recording of the Rhapsody available at this time was the Victor two-record set of George Gershwin with the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra" appears to be inaccurate. There were several versions of Rhapsody recorded in 1927. You can listen to some of them here:

Thank You For Your Time,

Scott Alexander
The Red Hot Jazz Archive

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your letter. I gleaned much of the information from that article from Accordion World magazines. However, I personally listened to the Fomeen/Hope recording at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Unfortunately I did not think at the time to write down the record number. I'm sure the LOC will give you that information. There is one employee there, an archivist I believe, George Kipper, who is also an accordion aficionado.



Renata Strumia wrote:
I enjoyed very much your history of chromatic harmonica in the article "A Short History of the Free-Reed Instruments in Classical Music". It is well done and very interesting. I would like to call your attention on one of the greatest living classical harmonica players in the world: Willi Burger. He is German but he was born and lives in Italy. I send you a biography of Willi Burger and a link:
Like Douglas Tate, who died recently, he is also a technician of harmonica. In fact, chromatic harmonica "Amadeus", Hohner top model, was designed by him.
Warm regards,
R. Strumia

For letters prior to January 2003, see:

Readers' Letters: 2002
Readers' Letters: 2001
Readers' Letters: 2000
Readers' Letters: 1999
Readers' Letters: 1997 & 1998

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