Friday, December 31, 2010

Putting squeezebox power in the hands of the people

Starting off the closing party at the 3rd annual Accordion Noir Festival, September 26, 2010.
From video by Alan Zisman.
"People of BC and thereabouts who ask me if I teach accordion. Nope. This guy is your man. Learn properly but actually have fun at the same time!" - Geoff Berner, author of "How to Be An Accordion Player", January 14, 2011
A decade ago I picked up the squeezebox on a lark and since then it's led me, beyond my wildest expectations, to the recording studio, on tour to festivals, and to good times too numerous to count.  Music has enriched my life and set me on a path of lifelong learning, and I would like to help spread the knowledge -- at a rate of $30 per hour-long lesson.  You can reach me to schedule a session at 604-566-4745 or at accordionteacher [at] gmail [dot] com.

I am self-taught on the accordion but come from a decade and a half of Royal Conservatory piano and theory instruction, where my experiences led me to develop a personal curriculum geared to address gaps in my formal musical education and develop further important informal skills such as:
  • improvising,
  • playing by ear,
  • making arrangements of existing songs that I enjoy,
  • song writing,
  • singing while playing an instrument,
  • sitting in on jams, and
  • playing with others. 
That said, I can also happily teach rudiments of theory and how to read and write sheet music and various popular music systems of notation such as those employed by Rise Up Singing, jazz fake books and guitar tablature.  My method is a matter of finding and pursuing fun concrete musical goals and milestones and then working toward them, a more satisfying approach than a more abstract technical regimen.

The last half-century of accordion instruction (and most formal music education) has focused on cultivating a technical virtuosity enabling dedicated students to bring all the technique of a rigorous Classical training to bear on repertoire no one would ever expect to hear outside the confines of a recital or competition; sometimes however a student is more interested in merely entertaining without necessarily astounding.  While it is nice to stop people in their tracks with fancy fingerwork, it's not always necessary, and the years spent building chops in living-room isolation could well be spent networking and developing show-business savvy gigging in pubs and coffeehouses; after all, the Royal Conservatory will not teach you why not to put your microphone in front of a speaker, an important (and sometimes painful!) lesson.  In punk and folk music circles it's often been expressed that music loses its vitality if treated only as a rarefied elitist practice of experts, and that all one really needs to perform music is "three chords and the truth."  I can teach you that first part in our very first lesson, but we may need to schedule some follow-up sessions to tackle the other half of the equation.

My musical qualifications?  A little CV: Since 2003 I've been gigging through four provinces, one territory, three states, and three countries overall, first in the tow of such guiding luminaries as Leah Abramson and Olympic opening ceremonies poet Shane Koyczan, and later in the company of the countrypunk anarchists in the Joey Only Outlaw Band and my own jug band of the damned, the Creaking Planks.  In late 2006 I took on co-hosting duties at the world's first weekly all-accordion radio show / podcast, Accordion Noir, getting a genre-agnostic crash course in global ethnomusicology along the way, and since 2007 I've been applying the lessons learned hosting my 5-year open stage series presenting Vancouver's monthly Squeezebox Circle to a multi-generational spectrum of squeezebox enthusiasts.  In 2008 I began presenting annual accordion workshops at the ArtsWells festival, and now I am pleased to begin lending my expertise in one-on-one consultations.

Playing the mainstage at the 20th annual Cotati Accordion Festival August 21, 2010,
with the Creaking Planks and Grammy nominee Alex Meixner.
Photo by Rachael Anne Young.