The Accordion: Dreams of Gypsy Glory Give Way to Reality

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I am not a person who thinks before I act. And so it was, again, as I walked into the music store on Gay Street on a day when I had a substantial amount of money—never a good idea for me—and wandered through. I was feeling pretty good with all that money, plus I was wearing red-and-black cowboy boots, which made me feel like a goddess. Never mind that the money in my pocket was supposed to be used for my rent. I’d think of that later.

As I wandered through the store, I spied a Yamaha piano for $75. A fabulous deal. I went up, sat down, and began to play Joni Mitchell’s song “Blue,” which is pretty much the only thing I remember how to play by memory. The piano was perfectly tuned, but how the hell would I get it home? And if I could get it home, by the time I moved it, it would be out of tune. I strode on through the store, clicking my cowboy boots on the wooden floor as I went, thinking how awesome I must look.

A cello stood in all its somber glory in the corner. A violin lay on the counter, but I had already learned I didn’t have the patience for that. But ahah! There was a shiny flute next to the violin. Well, I could definitely handle that, having played classical flute for years and years.

“May I try this?” I asked.

“Of course,” the gentleman said.

“I played flute for years,” I said, thinking how impressed he would be when I began playing the second movement of Poulenc’s flute sonata. It was kind of a bubble burster when I couldn’t even get a sound. Well, all right then, I said to myself. I can handle this. Lutes, mandolins, drums, and, of all things, a rack of vintage clothes with many pairs of used cowboy boots under it. I had a vision of the instruments waiting until all the people were gone and the store was closed, then dressing up in 1950s clothing, playing themselves in wild abandon until the sun came up, then leaping back into their cases pretending to be inanimate objects again.

Then I saw it: a beautiful, shiny accordion. Having just seen the movie Time of the Gypsies for the third time, I knew at once that I had to have it. I already knew how to play a keyboard, so how hard could it be?

First of all, I could barely lift it. Then I couldn’t figure out how to put it on my shoulders. Finally, I almost dropped it. Alarmed, the man behind the counter rushed over to me.

“Can you show me how to hold this?” I asked. All my confidence was pretty much gone at that point, but then I remembered the movie, with its haunting melodies, and I decided I’d better have it. At less than $150, it was definitely a good deal. I imagined myself sauntering down Market Square, wearing a violently colorful gypsy skirt and peasant blouse, playing gypsy melodies with ease. People would applaud and I would be a star.

But things don’t always work out like we think they will. I committed myself to practicing 30 minutes, even looked up an accordion tutorial online, but the only way I could play it was if my husband held it and pushed it in and out, while I played the melody on the keyboard. And my dog, Mallory, hated it and howled every time I played it.

After a week, I was able to play “Le Moulin Rouge” in fits and starts. No gypsy melodies. No grand performance on Market Square with everyone clapping joyfully. I had to face it—my plan to be a gypsy had failed. I would have to move on.

So here I am, back to writing. It’s the only safe thing for me. I don’t get any applause, but I have had many wonderful letters about my articles. It could have been worse—I could have dropped the accordion and broken both feet, or killed or maimed a small child if I’d swung around too fast. As it is, I have an accordion that is useless to me. But it looks pretty cool in the corner, so I guess I’ll keep it. Maybe I’ll grow a plant in it, paint it, or just let it sit there by itself. I’ll learn to love it, sort of like another pet. And even though I won’t be able to play the accordion in Market Square on First Friday, I can still dance!

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