Commentary: An Instrument That Always Strikes the Right Chord

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – My mother, rest her soul, loved to watch “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

Now in syndication, the show was all about nostalgia and the music loved by several generations of Americans. If Welk had a peer, it was his favorite accordionist, Myron Floren.

But on any list of the greatest accordionists who ever lived we see the name Dick Contino. He was born in Fresno, Calif., and revolutionized the accordion sound and created numerous recordings that showed off his amazing talent.

The great accordion artists throughout the world owed much to the innovations of Dick Contino.

Yet he was not well known then and is basically forgotten today despite his many television appearances and recordings.

But, let’s face it. We will probably never hear Ozzie Osbourne playing “Lady of Spain” on the accordion. And somehow, I can’t picture Bruce Springsteen pumping those bellows either.

The accordion is just not cool. Unless you hang out in certain Balkan countries, you’ll probably never see an all-accordion marching band. Nor will you ever again see the accordion holding down the No. 1 position in any hit parade. In all fairness, let’s remember the crazy accordion sounds of Weird Al Yankovic.

OK, here is my personal confession. I took accordion lessons for six months until all my buddies laughed me off of the stage. Actually, my accordion lessons ended before I learned what those little buttons are for that are located opposite the black and white keys on the instrument.

I remember that my dad wanted me to learn to play the accordion because my cousin Archie would perform on his accordion at family gatherings and other special occasions.

Archie became the rock star of our family because no one poked fun at him when he’d hit a sour note or messed up everyone’s favorite accordion song, “Lady of Spain.”

The reason that Archie got away with less than good renditions of such songs was because he was a star athlete at Geneva College and got looked at by pro scouts. In other words, it would not have been a good idea to mess with cousin Archie about his accordion performances or even his football career for that matter.

My cousin landed on his feet by becoming superintendent of schools for three school districts and by entering several sports halls of fame in western Pennsylvania.

If there were an Accordion Hall of Fame, I doubt that my cousin would be considered. But if my father had his way, Archie would certainly be admitted to The Zona Hall of Accordion Superstars.

I don’t know why the accordion gets such a bad rap. It’s a beautiful musical instrument, maybe the most beautiful of keyboard instruments. And its sound is strong enough to fill an entire concert hall. Yet its music is sweet enough for it to be handed out at the Pearly Gates in lieu of those strange looking harps that artists depict as they patrol those heavenly skies.

So, I now wonder if I should start an all-accordion band that would perform at various events like the annual lighting of the Christmas Tree or the Veterans Day parade.

What shouldn’t happen is to have fruit tossed at us. Notice I include myself in the band even though I don’t play the accordion – but I could fake it. I will even pretend to know what those little buttons on the right side of the instrument are for.

Like the famous baseball manager Chuck Tanner once said about me after watching me field a ground ball during a game: “Lou really has a special way of carrying his glove!”

So, I’ll need to figure out how an accordion is actually held and activated, or legitimate accordionists will certainly expose me as a fake accordionist. And what could be worse on this earth than failing at the accordion?

On the other hand, what just might be worse is having a professional ball player watch me trying to field a ground ball with a bad hop bouncing up to my face and delivering one of the biggest shiners imaginable.

Well, one thing about the accordion: I won’t need to worry about bad hops – maybe a sour note or two, but no black eyes are predicted.

But with the Zona bad luck, one cannot be too sure.