June is National Accordion Awareness Month

American composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros
American composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros

 

As unbelievable as it sounds, June has been designated National Accordion Awareness Month. It began in 1989 “to help spread the word about the resurgence in popularity of the accordion” and to promote education about the instrument, which originated in Berlin in 1822.

When you think of the accordion, Polish polka bandsLawrence Welk, or the tango music of Astor Piazzolla may come to mind. Additionally, if you’ve ever wondered what the accordion would sound like playing remixed pop songs “from Lady Gaga to Queen” (or even if you haven’t), watch this video from a Huffington Post article.

The accordion opens up bold, meditative new sound worlds in the hands of American experimental composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932). For Oliveros, sound is sacred. In 1988, she developed the concept of deep listening,

an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations.

In 1968, Oliveros wrote Some Sound Observationsan interesting stream of consciousness article for Source magazine which explores the nature of sound and experimental music. Her approach to music seems to expand on the philosophies of John Cage, who may be best know for the ultimate “chance” piece, Four Minutes and thirty-three seconds. 

Here is one of Pauline Oliveros’ accordion-based excursions into gradually unfolding sound. A Love Song enters the world of Ambient music. It’s built on dominant harmony, the chord we expect to resolve to the tonic. But in this piece the V chord, which changes and evolves in waves like a sonic kaleidoscope, remains suspended:

Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears. 

-Pauline Oliveros

Oblivion

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Take a moment and listen to this hauntingly atmospheric music by twentieth century Argentine tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. Oblivion was written in 1982 and used in the soundtrack of Mario Bellocchio’s film, Enricho IV. There are many versions of this piece for different combinations of instruments. This performance features Latvian violinist, Gidon Kremer and comes from his CD, Hommage a Piazzolla.

Like all great music, Oblivion conjures up a complex mix of emotions which cannot be put into words. What feelings does this piece evoke for you? As you listen, pay attention not only to the melody, but to the underlying harmony and rhythm in the bass and piano.

For a contrast to Kremer’s performance, listen to this orchestral version played by the Montreal Symphony and Charles Dutoit. It’s an excerpt from a CD entitled Tangazo. If one version speaks to you more than another I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. For more music by Piazzolla, visit my post featuring The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Cellist, Yo Yo Ma has some interesting thoughts on Piazzolla’s music and the tango tradition in Argentina:

[quote]Tango is not just about dancing. It is a music of deep undercurrents. Because of what Argentina went through as a country, tango has become the soul of Argentina. Music is always one way people can speak when they aren’t allowed to express themselves otherwise. And Piazzolla’s tangos have the great strength of true voice…. Piazzolla’s music is endlessly passionate—full of yearning—and at the same time tremendously contemporary. There’s a quote to the effect that Piazzolla is the Ellington of Argentina, and in a way it’s true. He actually took the tango to another level by inhabiting his music. The music grew in him, and he adeptly incorporated the influences of his surroundings—whether from New York, Paris, or Buenos Aires. During the almost forty years he worked on his music, Astor Piazzolla tried many different variations—even tried an electronic ensemble! Because of this experimentation, and also his ingenuity, focus, and hard work, his music has many levels of expression and a tremendous depth. His is a truly successful synthesis of the tango and the contemporary.[/quote]

Here is an excerpt from Yo Yo Ma’s recording called, Soul of the Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla.