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After-School Accordion Programs Coming to (or already in) Three Cities: Chicago, Collingswood, and Santa Barbara

Esther Lanting

For many years, the ATG has talked about how to grow the accordion world. One general idea discussed was bringing the accordion into school systems so that interest in the instrument could grow naturally and inspire a young group of musicians to expand the accordion world in the United States. Four board members have taken up the challenge to test this idea: Mary Ann Covone, Leah Stephens, Joanna Darrow and Gail Campanella. Read about their work below. 

CHICAGOLAND ACCORDION ACADEMY will begin an after-school accordion program in the Chicago Public Schools in April.  Leah Stephens, a student of Mary Ann Covone, and an ATG Board Member, is a full-time public school music educator in the Chicago Public School System.  Leah is very enthusiastic about teaching accordion to young students, so she presented the idea of an after-school accordion program to her school principal.   The principal was thrilled with the idea and sponsored Chicagoland Accordion Academy to become a vendor for the Chicago Public School System.   

Leah and Mary Ann have already met with several families who are interested in the program and anticipate an initial enrollment of about 8 students.  We hope this is the beginning of an accordion movement for children in Chicagoland!  A second school has already expressed interest and will likely begin an after-school accordion program in the Fall.  Students will be taught by Mayra Martinez (an accordion student of Mary Ann Covone and a recently retired Chicago Public School music teacher), Leah Stephens and Mary Ann Covone.  If you know of anyone who might like to donate some twelve bass accordions to the cause, we would be most grateful.  We have already received a donation of 10 Titan 12-bass accordions from an anonymous donor!  By the Fall, we hope to need at least twice that many beginner accordions!  (submitted by Mary Ann Covone, Director of Chicagoland Accordion Academy)

Joanna Darrow will be giving assemblies in five different Elementary Schools from the Collingswood Public School District in New Jersey to introduce students to the accordion. Following these programs, the children will be offered an opportunity to be a part of the Collingswood Schools Accordion Band.

Currently, Joanna is director of the Acme Accordion School in Westmont, New Jersey, where she and two other teachers lead ensembles, orchestras and private lessons every week.  Joanna serves on the ATG Board of Directors and is the ATG historian. (submitted by Joanna Darrow)

Gail Campanella has been working with the Harding Elementary School in Santa Barbara, California since September 2017. In 2018 a second school was added and in 2019 St. Raphael’s Catholic School wanted to have classes as well. Gail works with four volunteer teachers, and they have named their after-school program Concerto. They have developed a mission statement, and received great advice on giving group lessons from Brian Berlin in Houston, and ATG members Professor Joan Sommers had wonderful suggestions as did Gordon Kohl, Bev Fess, Lynn Ewing and others. 

Gail initially purchased a dozen 12-bass accordions and donated them to the accordion club in Santa Barbara. Once word got out that they were starting classes, donations began to come in from other sources, mainly folks who knew they would not be playing their accordion again and wished them to go to a good cause. 

Looking towards the future, they hope to purchase a few 48-bass accordions for those who are beyond 12-bass but not yet ready for 120-bass. They also are considering entering two students into competitions in Los Angeles next summer. They would like to develop a plan for their graduating sixth-graders i.e. letting Junior High Band and Jazz Band teachers know about these incoming students; and they are considering starting a Saturday morning program.  Gail serves on the ATG Board of Directors and the ATG Workshop Committee. (submitted by Gail Campanella)

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