At the age of ten I asked my parents if I could take music lessons. I imagined playing something badass like bass guitar, swinging wild the phallic instrument and doing that Gene Simmons-tongue thing. After some persuading, my parents came over to the musical dark side, felt its dangerous chill and knew their son had to experience the full effects of hardcore music.
So they signed me up for accordion lessons, at Arruda Music.
It’s important to remember my age, as the naiveté of youth made the following scenario possible: my parents convinced me that the accordion was a stepping-stone for playing the bass guitar. Like it was some kind of training wheels instrument that introduced me to music before I was allowed to rock.
Four years later, still playing the accordion, I realized that the bass guitar remained out of my grasp. Worse still, when I confronted my parents about the stepping-stone concept, they denied all allegations. So I quit playing the accordion.
Now, as a 25-year-old who digs Gogol Bordello, I felt the urge to again pick up the musical mantle and pursue my bellow-pumping ambidexterity. After snagging a used 120-bass accordion from Warwick’s Blue Merle Consignment, I scheduled a lesson with Arruda Music, still located on Newport Avenue. As if frozen in time, the place looked exactly the same as it had a decade before. The only thing that changed was my instructor – then a bubbly college girl; now a suave gentleman named Ralph.
First Ralph ran me through the basics, like reading music and counting time. Then he moved into the total-body coordination that makes the accordion such a monster of an instrument. Basically, playing an accordion requires one hand to play piano keys, the other hand to press bass buttons and for both arms to breathe the accordion’s bellows. All the while, the musician must simultaneously read two lines of music, one for bass and one for treble. It’s an overload of information that left me flailing like an idiot.
Over the course of the 30-minute lesson, though, Ralph helped me remember how to play – “comes back like riding a bike,” he joked – and soon I was slamming through such intense numbers as “Jingle Bells” and “Old McDonald.” Within a few weeks, Ralph thinks I’ll be good enough to play “Pop Goes The Weasel.” Although the accordion falls well outside what many would consider badass, I’ve come to appreciate it as one of today’s musical underdogs. It’s loud, chaotic, messy – all the elements of an instrument born to rock – and I’m thankful for having been introduced to it as a child. Even if my parents still won’t admit they lied.