There are three types of French music: 1) Debussy; 2) Edit Piaf; and 3) accordions. As a recent French homeowner, I felt compelled to adopt one of them. I chose the accordion.
Accordions are essential to France. They provide the soundtrack to the film “Amelie.” Everything Americans know about France is from “Amelie.” Therefore, we know that every French person loves the accordion. Since they do, I must, too.
I have a long history with accordions. Tony Cervoni and His Eleven Accordions played at our junior prom. My favorite concert was “Those Darned Accordions,” featuring 110 accordionists playing “Lady of Spain” in a shopping mall.
I got a used accordion as a birthday gift once. Tried it out. The family asked if I could play “Far, Far Away.” It’s what passes for accordion humor. Here’s what else I learned about the accordion:
- People laugh when you play accordion.
- You must squeeze an accordion; it’s like getting music out of a toothpaste tube.
- Accordions weigh as much as a 1957 Desoto (a large car), and result in 98 percent of the world’s hernia surgeries.
I wanted to learn how to play the accordion. Then French people would like me, I reasoned. But a French friend disagreed. She gave me the advice that she keeps on giving: “You’re not French” said with an emphatic snort. “Don’t try to be.” She was right. So I gave up – the accordion.
But I’m still trying to be French. For example, I don’t ask for menu translations. It’s how I discovered that they cook many internal organs in restaurants. I also bargain at flea markets. That’s how I got this authentic French press coffee maker for just 125 euros. The press button is right next to the pull button. That’s right, isn’t it?
The accordion emigrated to France from Italy in the late 19th Century. Italians also gave France opera. People often ask what France gave Italy in return. Attitude, I think is the answer.
An accordion is sometimes known as a squeeze box. Others call it the poor man’s piano. One or two say we should call it a cab and send it back to Lawrence Welk (American accordionist). Those people are Neanderthals. Or worse, harmonica lovers.
Accordions first gained popularity in French dance halls. They played a type of music known as bal musette. They eventually became part of the wonderful gypsy jazz.
Then kids in the ‘60s, too cool for school, turned their backs on accordions.
Accordions first took root in rural France. Paris came later.
That’s the opposite of how things usually go here. Paris invents something. Then the rest of the country adopts it. Take chestnut trees. The song says they blossom in April in Paris. But what about the rest of us? We’ve got trees. They blossom. Where’s our song?
People look for accordions at sidewalk cafes. It’s a movie trope. Accordions should be at hospitals. They would cheer up the patients. Also, it’s the best place for spinal treatment after an hour of playing the accordion.
Not everyone loves the accordion. Bagpipers hold a grudge because their instrument came to France first and got overshadowed by accordions.
I say that’s a lot of hot air. The accordion means no harm. And their music makes you smile.
Mike Zampa is a communications consultant and retired newspaper editor and columnist splitting time, along with his wife, between Southwest France and the San Francisco Bay Area