Accordion | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Accordion. Portable free-reed bellows-operated instrument patented in Austria in 1829 by Cyril Demian.


Accordion. Portable free-reed bellows-operated instrument patented in Austria in 1829 by Cyril Demian. It is held at lower-chest level against the player's body by shoulder straps and played by means of manuals - a buttonboard bass manual for the left hand and a piano-keyboard or buttonboard manual for the right. (The right-hand arrangements gave rise to the names "piano accordio" and "button accordion") As a result of extensive modifications to the left-hand manual, two basic types of accordion have emerged: the stradella or standard-bass accordion, on which each button of the left-hand manual represents a fixed chord, and the buttons (or chords) commonly are arranged in six rows; and the free-bass accordion, on which the left-hand manual has no chords at all, its buttons (usually in three rows) representing single pitches chromatically graduated in a range up to six-and-a-half octaves. The stradella accordion is the most widely played and traditionally has been associated with ethnic, folk, and pop music. The free-bass accordion has been developed mainly as a concert-music instrument, its repertoire consisting for the most part of transcriptions of the classics and original works by contemporary composers.

The two largest western world centres of manufacturing were Castelfidardo, Italy, and Trossingen, Germany. Few factories exist today due to a steady decline in demand. The first accordions produced in Canada probably were those built ca 1865-80 by Roch Lyonnais. By the 1970s in Canada, however, most instruments were imported from Germany and Italy; importation of accordions from Russia, Brazil, and, to a lesser extent, China, continues on a small scale. Musique Gagné et Frères, representing three family generations, continues to produce diatonic accordions and to service the instruments in Quebec. Special mention should be given to the repairman Leo Niemi of Sudbury.

Folk Accordion

In Quebec the button accordion (ie, stradella type with a buttonboard right hand) has shared with the fiddle and harmonica a repertoire of reels, jigs, and other dance pieces. It has had as its proponents several players in the early 20th century who made commercial recordings: Alfred Montmarquette(b New York 6 Apr 1871, d Montreal 24 May 1944) for Starr; his protégé Arthur Pigeon (1884-1966) for Starr and Bluebird; Joseph Plante, Joseph Guilmette (1866-1950), and Joseph Latour (1888-1932) for Victor; and Donat Lafleur (1892-1973) for Colbia. Adélard Lebrun (ca 1867-1931) and his wife Mélissa Vadeboncoeur (ca 1868-1953) were a popular accordion duo who recorded for Starr, Apex, and Colbia. Later accordionists in this tradition, playing either button right-hand or piano right-hand instruments have included René Alain (Trio Soucy), Tommy Duchesne, and the younger Messervier, Philippe Bruneau, Denis Coté, Francine Desjardins, Raynald Ouellet, Gilles Paré, Denis Pépin, and Adelard Thomassin.

The button accordion also was central to traditional music in Newfoundland, where notable players included Geoff Butler (Figgy Duff), Eddie Coffey, Delmer Dorey, Wilf Doyle, Jack Fleming, Harry Hibbs, Jack Kennedy, Art Stoyles, and Minnie White.

The concertina, an instrument of the reed-organ family similar to the accordion (without a keyboard and with hexagonal rather than rectangular ends), also has been heard in traditional music, in the hands of Ian Bell of Toronto, Kelly Russell, and others.

Country and Ethnic Music

The stradella accordion has been heard in country and ethnic music settings, as played by Gaby Haas, Ted Komar, Walter Ostanek (three-time Grammy winner for best polka band), Olav Sveen, Marc Wald (the Rhythm Pals), and many others. Matt DeFlorio (of CBC's Holiday Ranch) and Tommy Renzetti (of CBC's Hayloft Hoedown) were active in Toronto studios from the 1930s to the 1950s. Several other Toronto accordionists also were popular through their studio and CBC radio work, including Eddie Allen and Les Foster (of the Happy Gang), Ned Ciaschini, and Dixie Dean. In Montreal, Émilia Heyman and Saturno Gentiletti were prominent on CBC radio with Les Joyeux Troubadours.

In 1998 Alicia Svigals formed Mikveh, a band performing songs meaningful to women and dedicated to Klezmer music. Among the band's instruments is the accordion. Mikveh consists of revivalists committed to a rebirth of Yiddish culture in Canada.

Jazz and Rock

The accordion was played in jazz and studio groups by Vic Centro (Vancouver and Toronto), Gordon (Gordie) Fleming (Montreal and Toronto), Gary Gross (Toronto), and Tom Czczesniak (Toronto), who also accompanies Frank Leahy. The accordion has some currency in rock music in the hands of Garth Hudson (the Band) and Bob Wiseman (Blue Rodeo).


Rivalries were intense and emotions ran high at accordion festivals, most notably those organized by the Canadian Accordion Teachers' Association (formed in 1952 and no longer active).

Of special note are two unique organizations that attract thousands of accordionists each year to their showcases of accordion talent. The annual Carrefour Mondiale de l'accordéon, established at Montmagny in 1989, has presented eclectic programs of concert, popular, and traditional (French-Canadian) accordion music. Similarly, the KIOTEC in Kimberley, BC, integrates accordion aficionados from all heritages and styles. Young and old perform and compete in a tourist environment.

Accordion Teachers

Like their American colleagues, early stradella accordion pioneers sought to gain concert respectability. The stradella accordion had early Canadian proponents in the teachers Eric Mundinger and Pat Marrazza, who established schools in Toronto and Montreal respectively during the mid-1930s. Among Marrazza's pupils were Rolande Désormeaux and Frank Ravenda.

Studios sprang up throughout Ontario specializing in accordion instruction, for instance Ernst and Boris Borgstrom (St. Catharines), Nicholas Antonelli (Kitchener), Jerry and Derni Cingolani (Toronto), John Josefik (Barrie), Lindy Baumgarten (Orillia), Nino di Pasquo (Sault Ste. Marie), Helen Milne (Hamilton), Karl Pukara, Iona Reed (Sudbury), and Arden Lewis (Belleville). Iona Reed won the World Accordion Championship in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1962.

Active teachers and/or performers in midwestern and western Canada in the late 20th century included Ted Komar, with two schools in Winnipeg at which both stradella and free-bass accordion were taught; Ron Komar, with a school in Winnipeg providing tuition in both types of accordion; Everett Larson in Saskatoon; Nelly Paruk in Edmonton; and Mona Drury and Douglas Schmidt in Vancouver. The latter is not only a fine accordionist but also an excellent composer. During the early 1970s Tony Mergel developed a program at Humber College, Toronto, but this was not sustained in the late 1970s, nor was a similar project at York University.

Among the many students of substance who emerged from the early studios were Ernst Manfredi (St. Catharines), Iona Reed (Sudbury), Joseph Macerollo (Guelph), Charles Cozens (a brilliant performer, arranger, conductor and composer active in Hamilton). Also in Hamilton and Toronto was Silvio Camilleri, with a large accordion studio; he himself is a fine performer and winner of many accordion contests.

Concert Accordion: The Free Bass

The free-bass accordion began to gain recognition in Canada in the mid-1960s. Its foremost Canadian protagonist, Joseph Macerollo, premiered Surdin's Concerto for accordion and strings at Expo 67, and - also in 1967, at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) Summer School - established the first accordion classes in Canada within a major music school. He compiled the first free-bass accordion syllabus for the RCM in 1969, established programs of free-bass accordion studies at Queen's University in 1970 and at the University of Toronto in 1972, and has encouraged composers to write for the instrument.

Macerollo was the prime organizer of the International Accordion Symposium sponsored jointly by the RCM and the Contemporary Showcase Association in 1975 in Toronto. In 1993 he organized in Toronto the International Accordion Celebration, which artists from 25 countries attended and featured 75 new works. The Toronto Symphony, New Music Concerts, and the Esprit Orchestra were showcased. A highlight was R. Murray Schafer's Accordion Concerto, premiered by Macerollo and the Toronto Symphony.

In 1991 Joseph Petric organized a component of Big Squeeze, a festival of accordion music in many styles and traditions, held at Harbourfront and (under Petric's direction) the Music Gallery. Gallery performances were given by Petric, Jim Hiscott, Laurie Rosewarne, Jamie Snider and Geoff Butler, and Tina Kiik, as well as accordionists from the US, Europe, and the USSR; programming at Harbourfront included a concert by Marcel Messervier of Montmagny, Que.

The number of free-bass accordionists in Canada remains relatively small. Among graduates of Macerollo's courses, the US players Joseph Natoli, Richard Romiti, and John Torcello returned to the US, but the Canadians Eugene Laskiewicz, Joseph Petric, Glen Sawich, Frank Baggetta, John Lettieri, Hannu Lambert, and Laurie Rosewarne remained active in Ontario, many more as teachers than accordionists. One exception is Joseph Petric (b Guelph, Ont, 8 Oct 1952), who is very active as a concert performer. Harold McKenzie, a Canadian player who graduated from the University of Houston, taught free-bass accordion at the University of Calgary 1973-80.

Accordion Rebirth

A rebirth of interest in the sound of the accordion emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s. The use of the tango and its strong reliance on the bandoneon (in the same instrument family) through the great career of Astor Piazzolla gave impetus to the instrument. Cajun music, Acadian music, Tex-mex, some rock groups, and TV ads foster an image, sound, and context for the instrument that catches the eyes and ears of children.

If there is a threat to the accordion's future that could foreshadow its eventual extinction, it would be the lack of manufacturers and production. Canada is fortunate to have Musique Gagné et Frères, a Quebec manufacturer of diatonic accordions. Roland Corporation introduced a MIDI instrument in 2004. KIOTEC and Montmagny music festivals continue to draw thousands of old-time music aficionados.

The 21st century is witnessing increased numbers of versatile performers on the accordion, more solidly entrenched and educated, with improved options for a performance career. Quartetto Gelato (accordionists Claudio Vena to 1998, Joseph Macerollo to 2002, and Alexander Sevastian) gives the accordion visibility, as does Trio Norte, with Sacha Luminski on accordion.

Accordionists have become leaders in educational music fields, music therapy, jazz, arranging and conducting. Accordionists are no longer reticent to admit their loyalty and upbringing on the instrument. A consciousness of the diversity and multiplicity of musical expression with the accordion has emerged, and with it, deserved respect.

See also Scotland: 2/Traditional Scottish music.


The Canadian Accordion Club, founded in 1985, drew its members mostly from central and southern Ontario. The club was primarily designed to encourage communication among accordion enthusiasts. The smaller Classical Accordion Society of Canada, formally incorporated in 1979, existed to promote the acceptance of the chromatic free bass accordion through a high standard of performance, to facilitate regular communication among members and with other national and international musical organizations, and to develop musical education for the instrument. The Canadian Accordion Teachers' Association, formed in 1952, held an annual keyboard (piano and organ as well as accordion) competition in St. Catharines, Ont. It has been estimated that in the late 20th century some 400 young people in southern Ontario and 600 in Canada as a whole were engaged in the study of free-bass accordion.

Accordion ensembles active in the 1990s included Accordion Continuum under Glen Sawich's direction, the Academy Players under Joseph Petric, Accordionations under Hannu Lambert and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphonette under Heinz Siemens.

Canadian Composers

The list of the many Canadian composers who have composed works for the accordion is a veritable "Who's Who," encompassing aleatoric, electronic, and multimedia styles for solo, chamber ensembles, and large-scale combinations. In addition to the modern pioneer Joseph Macerollo, the concert accordion is blessed with the performing talents of Joseph Petric, Alexander Sevastian (of Quartetto Gelato), David Carovillano (Acclarion), Kimberley Pritchard, Charles Cozens (known for his compositions, arranging and conducting), Linda Cara, Tony Padalino (the keyboardist on the Mike Bullard Show), and Alex Pauk, conductor and composer with the Esprit Orchestra.

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