Ask Dick Albreski nearly anything about accordions, and he will know the answer.
Based on nearly 70 years of performing, teaching and repairing accordions, the Oklahoma City musician can explain proper technique and care for the instrument, where the best ones are made (Italy), music that can be played on the accordion (any kind), and prices ($400 to nearly $12,000).
Just don’t bother telling him an accordion joke.
“I don’t care for accordion jokes,” he said. “I take the accordion very seriously.”
Albreski, 76, is one of more than 100 accordion enthusiasts in Oklahoma City.
Fourteen years ago, he and seven other musicians formed the Oklahoma Accordion Club, a group dedicated to helping its members improve their playing and to advancing appreciation for the sometimes-maligned instrument.
The club now has about 60 members who meet monthly — to rehearse, conduct business and listen to their fellow accordionists play.
The most recent club meeting served as a dress rehearsal for their annual showcase concert set for next month in Norman.
Barbara Duer, the group’s president, said the concert will feature club members in accordion solos, duets, trios and quartets.
“We had standing room only last year, and we are expecting a good crowd again this year,” she said.
In and out of popularity
Duer, 71, said she grew up in Pennsylvania, where the accordion was popular, and began playing when she was 10. She said she stopped playing several years ago when the instrument fell out of popularity, turning to the classical guitar.
In its heyday, she said, the accordion was widely accepted as a performance instrument, its popularity enhanced by bandleader Lawrence Welk and his long-running television show that featured accordion virtuoso Myron Floren.
Duer thinks the instrument is gaining acceptance again, and she is happy she decided to resume playing. Particularly appealing to her is Klezmer music, the Jewish folk music of eastern Europe in which the accordion is a staple instrument.
“Every country in the world has the accordion in its music,” Duer said. “You can play any type of music on it. With an accordion, you have an entire orchestra.”
A nursing instructor at Rose State College, Duer said the local accordion club has value beyond music.
“It has been a new social group for me,” she said.
‘Something you hug’
Albreski performs throughout Oklahoma and several other states.
“I have been playing since I was 6,” he said. “It’s something I really enjoy.
“It’s intimate,” he said of the boxy instrument that has a piano-like keyboard, bellows and chord and bass note buttons. “It’s something you hug with both hands.”
Albreski worked for more than 35 years as a hospital equipment salesman and didn’t play much during that time. Faced with retirement, however, he said he was “sad for about five minutes.”
“Then I picked up the accordion, and I’ve been playing ever since. I retired to the accordion.”
Bob Mansfield, 74, of Norman, is one of the accordion club’s co-founders. He began playing at age 7 and plays daily.
“I like everything about it,” Mansfield said. “I can’t get away from it.”
While modern accordions produce their sound digitally, using either battery power or electricity, Mansfield says he prefers the acoustic models that have no amplification.
Albreski said in addition to the approximately 60 members of the local accordion club, he is aware of about 60 more accordionists in the metro area who aren’t club members.
The accordion is simple to learn, Albreski said. “It’s just a matter of remembering where the buttons are.”
Maggie Abel, 65, is club secretary. She began taking accordion lessons about three years ago.
“It feels like a part of you, sitting on your lap,” she said. She has played several times at retirement homes and said the instrument nearly always draws a crowd.
“People drift into the room when they hear the music, because it’s an instrument people don’t hear much anymore,” she said.
Club historian Karen West has been a member about 10 years and is a member of the Accordionaires orchestra that will be featured at the Norman concert. She said club meetings give members a chance to hear advanced players and gain confidence by performing.
West, 66, said she started playing when she was about 14. She also plays piano and organ but is drawn to the accordion because of its expressive qualities.
“It takes me to new realms of expression,” she said.
The free, two-hour concert will be at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Norman Depot, 200 S Jones Ave. in Norman.
The Oklahoma Accordion Club meets at 3:30 p.m. on the second Sunday of every month at Messiah Lutheran Church, 3600 Northwest Expressway. Membership is open to all ages, and visitors are welcome.
The club’s principal performing orchestra, the Accordionaires, rehearses at 2 p.m. on the same days.
For more information about the club, call 721-0564 or go to www. okaccordions.com.
Did you know?
The Chinese Cheng, which was introduced to Europe in 1777, is generally credited with being the musical instrument that initiated the ideas used to develop the accordion. Development of what was to become the modern accordion began in the early 1800s. Accordion manufacturing began in the 1860s.
Sound is produced by air compressed by a series of hand-operated bellows and flowing across metal reeds that usually are held in place by beeswax and resin. Accordions can have two, three and four sets of reeds. A piano-like keyboard is played with the right hand, while the left hand operates bass note and chord buttons while the arms compress and expand the bellows.
Some, known as free-bass accordions, produce notes with buttons rather than keys.
Accordions vary in weight from 15 to 30 pounds and come in a variety of color patterns and exterior designs.
To learn more
For more information about accordions, go to the Accordions Worldwide website at www.accordions.com.