HADDON TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Who says the accordion went out of style?
Certainly not Joanna Darrow. She and her husband Stanley have operated the Acme Accordion School for nearly 70 years here in the Westmont section of Haddon Township.
Somewhere between Weird Al Yankovic and Lawrence Welk there must be a sweet spot for the accordion. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a throwback to yesteryear or the coolest thing since streaming TV. Any way you slice it, the sounds that cascade out of the two-hand, wind-and-reed instrument invented in Europe in the early 1800s is timeless.
“We got through the dark times,” Joanna told NJ.com (http://bit.ly/2gy8ooR). “At one time there were accordion schools in just about every town around here. They all closed up. My husband was so dedicated.”
Stanley, 87, is not as active as he once was. He sat quietly during a recent evening rehearsal of the school’s accordion club band. Not even a rousing rendition of the pop-rock hit “The Final Countdown” stirred him much from his perch near a corner of the rehearsal room.
Yet, his presence was felt. Joanna, who joined the school in 1964, shortly after her marriage to Stanley, points to years of memorabilia on the walls of the one-story building with an attached home in which they live. Just about every inch is filled with newspaper clippings, posters, and yes, accordions, documenting their nearly 70 years as brand ambassadors. They even outlasted the accordion manufacturing company for which they named the business, Acme.
Joanna still teaches students and straps on the hulking instrument, which can weigh up to 23 pounds. The most popular models her students and band members play have 41 keys in the same order and octave as a piano. With built-in registers, the instruments can match a piano’s 88 key-octave range. Her students range in age from 8 to 75.
The accordion’s heyday in American popular culture was likely in the 1950s and early 60s at the dawn of television. Variety shows featured Welk and his fellow accordion soloist Myron Floren, also known for his Disco Polka album in 1977. But accordions were soon being drowned out by electrified guitars and keyboards which quite literally blew away acoustic instruments.
But accordions never really went away in New Jersey. Large populations of European immigrants settled in this area over the past century and kept the music and the instrument alive.
“I play because my father said I would play it,” said Carol Comegno, a veteran newspaper reporter and longtime member of the accordion-school band. “He always wanted to play an instrument and never had the opportunity as an immigrant and he wanted me to have that opportunity. He said I had to start with the accordion, and if I wanted to go on to something else, that was up to me.”
She never did.
Sarah Kaufman found the accordion a different way. In fact, it appears to have found her.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that the diner I love is right across the street, I may have never found this,” said Kaufman, an attorney and child advocate. “I saw ‘Acme Accordion School.’ How can you not just go in and find out what was going on?”
Joanna said business is as good as it has been in years. She said she frequently gets calls from Philadelphia string bands made famous by the city’s Mummer’s New Year’s Day parade, who are always on the look out for accordion players.
Some of the school’s band members travel from Dover, Delaware and Abington, Pennsylvania weekly for practices, driving up to an hour and a half, to play their squeeze boxes.
The tradition lives on, as do Joanna and Stanley.
Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com