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ATG Elections are Coming in May

Updated: Apr 29

Kenn Baert

It’s time to elect the ATG Executive Committee and Board Members.  

Per the ATG by-laws, every two years, we offer an election to elect the positions of President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, and Treasurer.  There are also 5 Board Member positions who are elected to the Board.  After the election, the new president appoints an Executive Secretary.  Note that all former ATG Presidents who have consistently participated in Board activities following their time served as president remain on the Board and do not require election.

In early May, you will receive an electronic ballot to cast your vote, and you will have eight days to return the ballot.  Below are statements from each of the candidates.  As an ATG member, you may vote for each Executing Committee position as well as up to 5 Board Member positions from the 10 on the ballot.

Here is a list of the candidates that will appear on the ballot. 

Below the list you will find a short biography/statement for each candidate:

President: Kenn Baert

First Vice President: Mary Ann Covone

Second Vice President: Leah Stephens

Treasurer: Susan Baert

ATG Board Members (in alphabetical order):

Dr. Michael Bridge

Gail Campanella

Joanna Darrow

Beverley Fess

Elena Fainshtein

Esther Lanting

Beatrice Makdah

Madalyn Neu

Paul Pasquali

Anthony Schulz

Past ATG Presidents Who Remain on the ATG Board (no election required):

Mary Ann Covone

Kevin Friedrich 

Liz Finch

Amy Jo Sawyer

Betty Jo Simon

Joan C. Sommers

Stas Venglevski

Candidate for ATG President: Kenn Baert

In 1974, I began my accordion studies in the second grade through a music program at St. Bavo School in Mishawaka, Indiana, under the direction of Gene Van.  I enrolled in private lessons and in 1983, as a student of Mary Ann VanPaemel, I won the Indiana State Virtuoso Championship. That same year, I was honored to perform at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York as a member of the Gene Van Virtuoso Ensemble, after the group won the American Accordionists’ Association (AAA) U.S. Virtuoso Championship.  I was also second runner-up in the AAA United States Virtuoso Championship.

After attending Marquette University and obtaining a degree in Computer Science, I did not touch my accordion again for nearly 20 years. I began playing again because of a Gene Van Accordion Orchestra Reunion which was held in 2008. In 2009, I started playing the Roland Digital V-Accordion and won the 2009 United States Roland V-Accordion Championship in Los Angeles, CA.

I married my wife, Susan in 1993 and we have 3 adult children, Andrew, Kathleen, and Kristin.  We recently became grandparents for the first time in August with the arrival of our granddaughter, Quinn.  We currently reside in Barrington Hills, Illinois. In 2014, I retired from my Principal Technical Architect position in Information Technology at AT&T.

I have spent 6 years total serving as an ATG Vice President and I have performed various rolls within the organization including maintaining the website, editing the bulletin, membership chairperson and most recently serving as the 2024 ATG festival planning committee chairperson. I feel that this experience has prepared me for the challenging roll of being your ATG President. Mary Ann Covone has taken the organization in exciting new directions and the membership has grown tremendously. I hope to continue searching for new ways to promote the accordion and provide educational opportunities to the members of the ATG.

Candidate for ATG First Vice-President: Mary Ann Covone

I have served as president of The Accordionists and Teachers Guild, International for the last four years dedicating much of my personal and professional time to the mission of ATG and the cause of the accordion. Due to a marvelous team effort and energy, ATG has implemented many new programs during my tenure and has more than tripled in membership. We have many more ideas to explore and accomplishments to achieve, and we have a ready and willing new leadership team prepared to serve and continue the great progress ATG has made over the last several years.  

I am seeking election to the position of First Vice-President, so that I can remain on the Executive Board and assist in making a smooth transition to the future leadership team. I would like to continue building the strong international relationships we have developed and provide counsel, as needed, to the new team!   

Candidate for ATG Second Vice-President: Leah Stephens

Leah Stephens is a dedicated and passionate accordionist with over fifteen years of experience in the field of music education. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Music Education from Florida Southern College, and after moving to the Chicago area, completed her Master's degree at Northwestern University. Leah is a student of Mary Ann Covone. 

As an educator, Leah has taught accordion to students of all ages and skill levels, inspiring them to develop a deeper appreciation for the instrument. She believes in the transformative power of music and is currently working to bring the accordion back to Chicago Public Schools.

It is with great enthusiasm that I announce my candidacy for the position of Second Vice President. As an active member of the ATG community, I am deeply invested in the continued growth and success of our organization. Education is the cornerstone of our guild's mission. I will work to continue the educational opportunities for accordionists of all ages and skill levels, including workshops, masterclasses, and online resources. The accordion is a versatile and dynamic instrument that deserves greater recognition. I will advocate for the accordion on both local and national levels, promoting its inclusion in music education curricula and advocating for more performance opportunities. I am deeply committed to serving our guild and advancing the interests of accordionists and educators worldwide. With your support, I am confident that together, we can continue to elevate the accordion and inspire future generations of musicians.Thank you for considering my candidacy.

Candidate for ATG Treasurer: Susan Baert

I would like to continue to serve the ATG. While not an accordion player myself, I have been involved with the ATG for many years. I have staffed the registration table and assembled registration materials for the annual festival for the last few years. I have also been heavily involved in the project to digitize the music from the Peter Giacalone collection.

I am running for the position of ATG treasurer. Retiring after more than 30 years working for a Fortune 100 company as a Lead Accountant, spending much of that time in Corporate Finance, I have now become a full-time volunteer. I enjoy giving my time to organizations where some of my job skills can assist in their mission. I was also the treasurer for a Boy Scout troop for more than 10 years during the time our son was involved. 

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Dr. Michael Bridge

Michael Bridge is a musical maverick. He’s a virtuoso performer on both the acoustic accordion and its 21st Century cousin, the digital accordion. His concerts capture the energy and panache of stadium rock with the elegance and discipline of chamber music.He’s won many competitions and was named one of CBC’s 30 under 30 classical musicians. He received his doctorate in accordion performance from the University of Toronto and was a Rebanks Fellow at the Glenn Gould School. He gives over 100 concerts a year as a soloist and as a member of Bridge & Wolak and Ladom Ensemble. He’s in high demand for masterclasses around the world. Dr. Bridge embraces a musical aesthetic that is alternatively irreverent, deadly serious, meticulously prepared and completely in-the-moment. He’s at home with classical, contemporary, jazz and folk music and has premiered 53 new works. Ultimately, he aims to make your world more bearable, beautiful and human—even if only for the length of a concert.

Michael has been chair of ATG’s Professional Development committee for two years.  This series has presented expert speakers including Dr. Noa Kageyama (Julliard), Prof. Marie-Andrée Joerger (France), Prof. Jelena Milojević (Canada), Prof. Emeritus Joan Cochran Sommers and Mary Ann Covone.  All events have generated profit for the ATG – over $1k in total.  He has supported Dallas Vietty in establishing the teachTALK series.  Michael would like to continue these efforts.  

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Gail Campanella

From the moment Gail uncovered the contents of an unusual black suitcase in the basement of her farmhouse, she was drawn to the accordion. She started lessons at the age of 10 on her mother’s 1930’s accordion. By age 14, she was teaching and studying with Tony Pennetti in Denver.

Gail was a piano major at Loretto Heights College, Denver and continued accordion studies with Robert Davine at the University of Denver. She taught music in the Denver Public Schools, played honky-tonk piano on weekends, and continued studies in the Orff and Kodaly methods of Music education.

Gail has performed for accordion clubs around the country and has played in the 2013, 2017 and 2021 Cotati Festivals. She participates in the Rose City Accordion Camp, Houston Accordion Orchestra, LA Accordionaires Orchestra.

The ATG is an organization whose mission is to support and promote the accordion, accordionists, teachers of the accordion, and to nurture, develop and grow future generations of accordionists. This just seems like a match that was meant to be. I am happy to be a part of the mission to support and promote the accordion in the ATG.

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Joanna Darrow

ATG has been a part of Joanna’s life since 1971 as a competitor and workshop attendee. Since then, Joanna has served as Secretary and Bulletin Editor. She has served on the Board of Directors for many years, is currently ATG Historian and serves on the Syllabus committee.

Joanna has concertized through Europe and the USA as soloist and duo partner of Stanley Darrow. Joanna is currently on the Board of Directors of the Accordionists Teachers Guild International, the American Accordionists Association and A World of Accordions Museum. She is also Director of the Acme Accordion School, the American Accordion Musicological Society, and the Westmont Philharmonia Accordion Orchestra. Joanna is dedicated to the furtherment of accordion education and original accordion literature.

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Beverley Fess

I am a full-time accordion instructor – originally from Canada but now splitting my time between Blakely Island, Washington and San Diego, California. 

Classically trained, I started playing the accordion at age 6, was teaching by age 14 and conducting by age 17. I have competed extensively and have had many award-winning students and ensembles.  

My fifty plus years teaching career has involved giving private and class lessons, instruction via the Internet, workshops and conducting accordion ensembles and orchestras. I also perform, adjudicate and serve as a music examiner. I have served on numerous accordion association committees, was a founding member of the Accordion Association of Calgary and presently serve as First Vice-President of ATG.

I have always been committed to quality instruction and performance on the accordion. I honor and support the mission of the ATG and very particularly want to continue my work and support of the Syllabus offerings by this organization.

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Elena Fainshtein

I have such a passion for teaching, performing, and conducting and helping the community to gain more interest and awareness for the accordion! I feel my experience will be valuable insight in discussions and planning events. I have a Master’s Degree from Belarussian Academy of Music. I have more than 30 years of teaching experience. I am grateful to have four students who are champions of the Big Squeeze Contest in Texas. Currently, I have more than 20 accordion students. I established my own Accordion Ensemble that performed at NAA Conventions, recitals and festivals.

This year I am planning to bring the ensemble to Kansas City. I have connections with many musicians, which help in discovering the accordion in a new way. I am thankful for the ATG and would love to be considered for a board position and be given the opportunity to give back. 

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Esther Lanting

I have been an ATG member for 28 years, served on the Board of Directors for 16 years and the Executive Committee for 4 years. Someone asked me once why I was a member. I joined because Galla-Rini told me I should. After joining I soon realized the value of being part of a professional organization like the ATG. Early in my membership my primary involvement was simply attending the festivals. Then Amy Jo Sawyer began to ask me to help during the festival in various capacities. I quickly learned that many volunteers were needed to make an organization like this effective, so when I was asked to become part of the Board of Directors by Joan Sommers, I agreed. It has been nice to be able to give of my time these last years rather than just being a passive recipient of what the ATG offers. The ATG is a one-of-a-kind professional accordion association in the U.S. that offers great resources for accordionists and accordion teachers in addition to camaraderie and friendship with other accordionists and musicians. It takes a lot of volunteers and I chose to be one of them because of the value of the organization itself and the friendships I have with other members.

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Beatrice Makdah

Beatrice Makdah currently works as a mechanical engineer in Madison, WI. She began studying accordion at age 13 under Mary Ann Covone and plays with the Chicagoland Accordion Academy. As an engineer, Beatrice also enjoys repairing accordions and learning more about how the instruments are produced.

Beatrice is currently the youngest ATG board member. She has been involved in a number of projects and is always willing to take on a new challenge. As a younger person, Beatrice is well adapted to newer technologies, as well as bringing a new perspective to the table.

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Madalyn Neu

I have played the accordion a long time. For a number of years, I was part of the Soundscape

Trio who performed at several ATG and Las Vegas festivals. I still practice and perform. I have a

PhD focused on research. I am grateful for all the accordion experiences that I have had and

have gained much by playing the instrument. I wish to give back by remaining on the ATG

Board, and work to obtain funds for ATG through grants.

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Paul Pasquali

Known to most people as the creator of the Concerto digital & acoustic accordion and the creator and host of the Las Vegas International Accordion Convention.  Paul has been in the accordion manufacturing and importation business for over 38 years both with Accordions International and prior with Colombo & Sons Accordion Corporation in San Rafael, California.

What many don’t know is that Paul actually plays and teaches the accordion. He studied both Piano & Accordion for 11 years growing up before going on to study music at Brigham Young University as well as Graphic Arts & Business. 

During college Paul was fortunate to play out as a gigging musician, which paid for nine years of college, including living expenses, while he received several degrees. For over 48 years Paul has remained active teaching private accordion lessons and in the last ten years running a music camp for accordionists and for 20 years in his spare time he organized & hosted the annual accordion convention in Las Vegas. 

Currently Paul continues to run an accordion import and manufacturing business in Salt Lake City and is honored to serve as an ATG Board Member. When asked if he is retiring? Paul says, “I have been very blessed associating with wonderful people and making a living doing what I love. Why would I retire?”

Candidate for ATG Board Member: Anthony Schulz

Anthony Schulz, an experienced music educator and accomplished accordionist, has dedicated his life to the art of music, exploring and showcasing the versatility and refinement of the piano accordion. With a career spanning several decades, Anthony continues to connect the past, present and future of the instrument and shape the perception of the instrument on the Australian musical landscape. 

A seasoned performer, Anthony has graced the stage with numerous highly acclaimed ensembles and projects. From Luciano Pavarotti to ECM’s Barre Phillips and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to ARIA award winning Zulya and the Children of the Underground, his musical vision extends across various genres, including chamber music, original compositions, world music ensembles, and improvisation 

Anthony's influence extends beyond the stage and the classroom, as the President of the Accordion Society of Australia in Victoria, he has demonstrated a focused commitment to the expansion and advancement of the organization through the promotion of the accordion in the public sphere with particular interest in building an inclusive community through an orchestra, social events and a festival, all the while ensuring that that instrument is held in the highest regard.

It is of note that Anthony expects to be increasingly involved with the North American music scene as well as maintaining close ties with Australia due to a planned relocation to Canada in mid-2025.

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