top of page

Happy April from Joan Sommers!

Updated: Apr 29

1 – “Nightingale”

My first accordion teacher did not assign many exercises to his students; instead he gave us solos which often had something different to solve.  In doing so, we could play many other solos which might have those same concerns but they didn’t give us any real problems since we had experienced them in other solos. In this ATG Bulletin I will show you some of the problems presented in the accordion solo “Nightingale” written by Xavier Cugat (of the popular Rumba band fame) and George Rosner.  It is arranged for accordion solo by Charles Magnante and at one time was published by Edward B. Marks.

First of all we must learn to play really very, very softly when we see the piano (soft) sign.  I have noticed in various competitions that Americans tend not to play as softly as musicians from other countries often do.  But this solo makes us extremely aware of dynamics since the phrases are long and we will be opening our bellows for several measures before closing them.  And we must keep our attention on the bellows when we close them so we will have enough air to finish the phrase.  I have indicated bellows marks which work for me; they may not be perfect for you, but adults should be comfortable with them.  This means that we play softly but even if there are no dynamics indicated we need to use expression within whatever dynamics are shown.  Secondly, you will notice that when you see the fortissimo ff sign, you must change your bellows direction more often. The accents are also important. This piece forces us to watch our bellows regardless of the dynamics!  

One other technique this piece forces us to pay attention to is that we are often holding either the high note while we play other notes below it or sometimes it is not the high note, but the low note which we must hold while there are other notes above it.  This means we may have to play a note with a certain finger but while holding it we must change to another finger.  We have two voices in the right-hand many times in this piece which may be new and a bit demanding for some of us.  

I don’t need to tell you we must count all the time; I can tell you, however, that I have heard players count every measure correctly until the 2nd measure from the end!  I suggest you subdivide and count slowly to be sure you are playing this correctly.  It is easy, just say “one and two and three and four and.” One other thing in this solo is we must be careful not to hold the quarter note accented chords in the LH overly long; in fact you may have to shorten it a tiny bit in order to change your bellows.  Just listen and you will be fine.  It is a really neat solo and everyone will enjoy hearing you play it.

2 – Exercice de Style (Travail Binaire et Termaire)

This is the exercise I said I was including this time.  I love it when we can finally play it fast and play the 3 against 2 or 2 against 3 rhythm!  It comes from a French exercise book and actually works much easier for chromatic RH instruments.  However, in my own experience, even though it may be impossible to play every single note in the RH legato phrases, you can make it very beautiful even if it is not an actual legato on those upper notes!  You must not be looking at your RH fingers, though!  You must play the first section (stems going up) hands separately until you can reach with your 3rd, 4th, or 5th finger without looking!  You must then add the triplet notes (stems going down).  Try playing just the top line, then play the bottom line; be sure to phrase as marked. 

The first section written in 6/8 makes it easy to see exactly where the LH bass and chords play.  Of course, they are short while the RH notes are as legato as possible.  It is no problem on chromatic instruments; it is not easy on piano keyboards, but it doesn’t matter.  It is the rhythm we are working on.  The double bar has a 2/4  time-signature and now the RH (regardless of system) no longer must worry about the legato, just make sure you play the RH chords in a beautiful sustained sound since it is the melody.  

This exercise is not as lengthy as it originally is in the French book!  I have not included the whole two pages since the problems of 3 against 2 and 2 against 3 are shown in the measures I have included for you to practice.  Remember the goal is to make both hands exactly in time and bring out the beauty in the RH.  It may take quite a while before you can play it very fast, but it will be worth it.  

3 – “Aria for Accordion”

Back in the 50s and 60s accordionists in the US particularly were looking for original music written for them.  This piece happened because Bill Palmer of Palmer-Hughes fame was teaching students enrolled in the accordion and earning college degrees while doing so.  These students would necessarily have to perform their exams and recitals and include some original music.  Politically it was a real win for these students and others to have Dr. Palmer become acquainted with the composer Burnet Tuthill, who served as the Secretary of the National Association of Schools of Music from its founding in 1924 until July 1, 1959.  

NASM has been the accrediting body for all schools of music offering degrees.  Especially during the time that this composer (Burnet Tuthill) was active, it really meant that schools with accordionists enrolled in accordion for credit sort of had someone at the top in the organization who had actually written a solo for the accordion.  It meant validation of the accordion to have this solo.  Bill Palmer was also responsible for getting the very famous composer Alan Hovhaness to write a solo (Suite for Accordion – 1958), a solo with orchestra (Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra -1959) as well as to feature it in the orchestral piece with speaker and accordion (Rubaiyat in 1975).  One of these days I need to write much more about Hovhaness.   

“Aria for Accordion” is not all that difficult but it offers some wonderful measures which will make players much better musicians after learning it.  For one thing it is written in two versions and both are included in the original publication by Alfred Music Co. One can see the single note LH version, then look at the full chord LH version and see the exact sounding notes when they play a chord on the accordion.  The composer has us jumping around with our LH quite a bit, so I suggest you probably should spend some time really learning the left hand.  The basses and chords are not difficult but because the composer has us jumping so much, we need to practice the jumps so we can play them without struggling.  You will know your buttons better after practicing this piece!  There are some accidentals in both hands which will catch your attention, too.  Again, as with the LH, practice the RH notes separately once in a while so you can really listen to your phrasing and pay attention to dynamics and the numerous RH register changes.  You will need to change these without stopping the flow of the melodic line.  Once again, we need to make this a “song” without words, but nevertheless with melodic lines which need expression and musicianship to make the phrases flow properly without worrying about jumps in both hands.    It has no free bass, it is for stradella left hand and gives you many opportunities to move without interrupting either the rhythmic flow or the structure of the dynamics.  These demands of the LH basses and chords will make us better musicians, that is for sure.  We cannot look and see where we must move; we must know movement through practice.

I hope you find something of interest to you in practicing both the solos and the exercise.  I also hope to see all … well, at least many… of you at our 2024 ATG Festival this coming July in Kansas City, Missouri.  If we haven’t met before, please do introduce yourself to me.  Until then, have a great time with our most favorite instrument.    I can assure you the concerts are going to be spectacular!

43 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Accordion Featured Twice on West Coast

Accordion with Los Angeles Philharmonic Liz Finch On April 16th, Liz Finch, ATG Treasurer, attended a concert as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic "Green Umbrella" series at the Walt Disney Concert


bottom of page