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Faithe Deffner Lifetime
Achievement Award
Faithe Deffner
Obituary
Faithe Deffner Celebrity
Interview

Faithe Deffner became a dynamic force in the accordion world soon after she joined her late husband in his musical instrument firm in New York City. Her background of public relations, marketing and journalism was a great asset to the company. Although her early music training was on violin, she quickly familiarized herself with all aspects of the accordion, both musical and mechanical. She studied with Billy Costa on 48th Street in New York City, the Mecca of all music activity at the time. Costa was a superb musician and teacher, and a leading studio accordionist and recording artist with big name bands such as Hugo Winterhalterís.

The Deffners owned Pancordion, Inc., an important US accordion manufacturing firm with factory facilities in Long Island City. Pancordion's list of craftsmen read like a Who's Who of the accordion world, dominated by names like Roberto and Archimedes Pancotti of the Excelsior family, Charles Magnanteís brothers John and Angelo, Pietro Frosiniís brother Natale and others. Here, Faithe Deffner was exposed to the intricacies of accordion construction and took this opportunity to initiate and influence developments in design to expand musical range and playing ease.

In the mid-1960's, the Deffners purchased the Titano Accordion Company from Dorothy and Edward Traficante of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The firm moved to New York City and Faithe Deffner worked with Bill Palmer and Bill Hughes in the development of their extraordinary concert instruments. Through this collaboration with the authors of the famous Palmer - Hughes Accordion Course, she recognized the need to attract young people to the accordion and together with Palmer, she designed and introduced the Tiger Combo'Cordions. This was a line of compact and colorful accordions featuring quint treble tuning for "piercing lead or swinging chords in audio colors to flip the crowd," according to Hullabaloo magazine's description. The Combo'Cordions were styled with a new, slanted grille to show off flying fingers. They were designed to bring accordion into the rock era long before keyboards were firmly entrenched. Unfortunately, they did not achieve their goal simply because many accordion teachers and dealers did not take rock seriously and preferred the status quo.

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Faithe Deffner was brought up in musical home within a family which played several instruments. At 16 she was accepted at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Missouri. After receiving her BA, she worked as a trade publications reporter in New York City where she studied advertising and public relations at Columbia University and Cooper Union. After working as an advertising copy writer and account executive, she opened her own Chain Advertising Co. on Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan. Among her clients was the musical instrument firm belonging to Ernest Deffner, for whom her first assignment was a 380 page catalog of musical merchandise ranging from castanets to vibraphones. The large section dealing with accordions introduced her to the fascinating world of a musical instrument destined to become a lifetime passion.

The Deffners had many interests in common. They were always together, at work and during leisure time. Their personalities and skills complimented each other creating a team effort. Music and music education were an intricate part of their lives and they directed this enthusiasm toward improvements and advancements of instrument construction and teaching procedures.

When, after a lengthy illness, her husband passed away on January 21, 1971, Faithe Deffner formally moved from the firm's vice presidency to the presidency. Accordion popularity was beginning to wane and her background enabled her to serve as a catalyst for the coordination of intensified efforts to benefit the whole accordion community. Mrs. Deffner sought to unify the efforts of the remaining US accordion distributors and to heighten accordion interest among the general public. She was appointed director of the Accordion Industry Council.

The Deffner's daughter, Verne, had been "helping out at the office" of the family's music business ever since she was a little girl. She grew up in a home filled with music and frequented by musicians. At seven, she was studying accordion (with Joe Biviano), piano and guitar. She attended Mannes College of Music in Manhattan. At Adelphi University, she majored in journalism and edited the arts and music section of her college newspaper. After a stint at a public relations firm which handled entertainment personalities and rock groups (including Paul McCartney and Wings, Linda Ronstadt, The Grateful Dead, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin and Barry Manilow), she returned to work with her mother and became vice president of the family's musical instrument and music publishing firms.

The Deffner firms intensified their staunch support for accordion programs of an institutional nature and began to assume a greater role within the international accordion community. Ms Deffner's participation in national and international music events, and many years of service as the US delegate to the congresses of the Confederation Internationale des Accordeonistes, provided constant opportunities to initiate cooperation, exchange and interaction among accordion devotees. As a board member of the American Accordionists' Association, she served on the Executive Committees of the 1969 and 1976 Coupes Mondiale in the US, edited the AAA Newsletter and annual journals, and was put in charge of accordion public relations.

Over the years, Faithe Deffner worked to interest colleges and universities in the accordion as a major course of study. The first such program was available in 1946 at the University of Houston in Texas, where Bill Palmer introduced it to scores of young accordionists who majored on the instrument. Through Palmer's wide experience in the arena of higher education and his memorable concert work with the late Bill Hughes, the perfect beachhead was established as an example for other institutions to follow.

In the late 1970's, Faithe Deffner decided to utilize her journalism background in Accord, a high quality accordion magazine of international scope. As Accord's editor, Faithe Deffner said she undertook the task of translating personal enthusiasm for the instrument into a "challenging new publication which would represent and celebrate the diversity of the accordion community in a prestigious format." The project was a great success and Accord was resoundingly appreciated worldwide. However, as Ms Deffner's activity within the American Accordionists' Association grew, time limitations caused her to interrupt publication of the magazine which she hoped to resume some day.

Always a strong exponent of accordion student bands and studio activity, Faithe s Deffner worked closely with music schools in the US and abroad, developing unique programs for student enrolment and creative teaching procedures. In 1978, she embarked on yet another career, collaborating with Lindy Baumgarten, a distinguished accordion teacher and past president of the Canadian Accordion Teachers Association. Together, they founded Keyboard Study Centers in New York. Ms Deffner became educational director and Mrs Lindy (as she is fondly called) utilized her teaching skills to develop outstanding accordion students, accordion bands and orchestras. The school grew rapidly and took many top honors at national music events.

As AAA's president, Ms Deffner and her contest chairman, Roger Latulippe, introduced new concepts to bring national competitions to public attention at Disney World in Orlando, Florida in 1985 and during the acclaimed Accordion Fantasy Cruise to Bermuda in 1986 (when the decks were filled with many of the 700 participating accordion enthusiasts who played Anchors Aweigh as the ship left the New York harbor and sailed past the Statue of Liberty). During her administration, thousands of accordion press kits were distributed among all facets of media to familiarize opinion-makers with the many attributes of the accordion and to equip them with the information required to create positive articles. This tactic yielded dividends when major media segments began to report an accordion "renaissance" which grew into the current self-fulfilling prophesy, as popular musicians vie with each other to be first to feature the exciting and versatile accordion.

The cover of the December, 1987 issue of Keyboard, a widely read magazine, proclaimed "Accordion Power" to the music world, heralding "The neglected step-child of the keyboard family" as "rock's new main squeeze." Journalist Bob Doerschuck reported, "Suddenly we are hearing it all over the radio, on albums by Paul Simon, Los Lobos, Talking Heads, Bruce Hornsby, and the Hooters. It's turning up in fringe music too, from Soho clubs to concert halls. Even the ethnic styles are catching on, with Buckwheat Dural's zydeco accordion rocking Late Night with David Letterman, Terrance Simien cooking up a spicy Cajun soundtrack to The Big Easy, and Tex-Mex innovator Steve Jordan putting the squeeze on Jimmy Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' for Born in East LA" Doerschuck credited Faithe Deffner as the accordion industry spokesperson who helped, as he delineated the accordion's new connection with John Cougar Mellencamp, Elvis Costello's group, Joe Jackson's "Big World," Bruce Springsteen, and a host of other important popular music names.

When AAA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1988, Faithe Deffner raised more than $30,000 for the organization to sponsor a mammoth international competition which attracted 29 competitors from ten countries. She has also served the Accordion Teachersí Guild as its vice president and continues her duties as a member of the governing board. She was honorary vice president of the Accordion Federation of North America, and remains very active as the US delegate within the Confederation Internationales des Accordeonistes (CIA), which sponsors the Coupe Mondiale in a different country each year.

As some of the old-time accordion publishing houses ceased to issue new material or reprint slow selling works, Faithe Deffner recognized the need for ongoing augmentation of accordion literature, and she directed the resources of Ernest Deffner into publishing music for the accordion. Today, Ernest Deffner Publications is known and respected worldwide. It publishes works by many famous composers, including Jindrich Feld, John Franceschina, Carmelo Pino, Ernst Krenek, William Schimmel, Palmer-Hughes, Otto Leuning, Douglas Mews, Gary Daverne, Karen Fremar, Anders Groethe, Anthony Galla-Rini, Addie Cere, Andrezej Krzanowski and Alan Leichtling. Eventually, her firm absorbed the remaining vestiges of the two most venerated music publishing firms of the US, O. Pagani and Bro. and Pietro Deiro Accordion Headquarters.

In 1995, Ms Deffner was again asked to assume the presidency of the American Accordionists' Association with a mandate to reinvigorate the instrumentsí waning image with a series of new programs. She took the 1995 AAA Festival to Houston, Texas. Its theme was to honor an old and very dear friend, her long-time associate, Dr. Willard A. Palmer. Through her spectacular promotional efforts, Ms Deffner convinced Houstonís Mayor Bob Lanier to proclaim July 8, 1995 Willard Palmer Day throughout the city, honoring the eminent educator, concert artist and composer for his many achievements including the first US college degree program for accordionists which he initiated at the University of Houston in 1946.

The Houston Festival was a great success, re-creating the Palmer-Hughes Accordion Symphony Orchestra by bringing together former students and orchestra members from the days at the University of Houston. They came from all over the country to honor their teacher and friend by performing his composition, Ombo, and his arrangement of the Sound of Music medley. In a Tribute Concert to Palmer and Hughes, the internationally acclaimed accordionist-composer Pauline Oliveros, a Palmer alumni, premiered her own composition, Shape Shifting.

Performance opportunities were staged in the Endless Performance Ballroom, in the Massed Band concert, at The Club Pub, at the Water Wall of the Transco Building in Houston where the group assembled before TV news cameras to play Yellow Rose of Texas and, in Galveston where accordionists were heard throughout the city.

The first Accordion Summit Meeting, held to discuss the accordionís expanding role in the music of today and attended by more than 50 people representing 23 states, Mexico and Canada, was also initiated by Faithe Deffner and hosted by the American Accordionistsí Association. That group unanimously proclaimed the following year, 1996, the Year of the Accordion and agreed to publicize the concept and to finance a limited public relations program which proved amazingly successful in generating accordion enthusiasm among media people who all took credit for ìdiscoveringî the popularity trend seeded by the Accordion Summit.

That same year, record producer Michal Shapiro contacted AAA President Deffner for accordion information and help with assembling tracks for her fabulous compilation ìPlanet Squeezebox,î a three-CD (or three-cassette) package including a 56-page color book relating the history and travels of the accordion through in depth articles and rare photos. "Planet Squeezebox" was released at year end, just in time to coincide with launching 1996, the Year of the Accordion, and its rave notices from music critics everywhere contributed further to the mediaís ìdiscoveryî of the accordionís amazing popularity.

Together with her contest chairman Frank Busso, Ms Deffner turned to the 1996 AAA Competition and Festival, ever searching for innovations to bring more positive enthusiasm to the accordion and to impart a feeling of well-being among accordionists. This event, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania honored a celebrated accordionist, Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk Show which was seen in the homes of some 32.5 million viewers as it ran for more than 27 years on ABC-TV, and thereafter was televised as a successful syndication and a public television show. The American Accordionistsí Association brought six bus loads of accordionists to Independence Park, the site of the Liberty Bell, where they played Pennsylvania Polka and Sousaís Liberty Bell March, under the direction of Myron Floren. Advance publicity alerted major TV station crews including CNN International, to be on hand to capture the accordion extravaganza. They all came and formulated a barrage of positive publicity for the accordion..

By unanimous vote, the Governing Board of the 59-year-old American Accordionists' Association expressed solid confidence in its top officers by re-electing them after amending the AAA's Constitution to make additional terms possible, thus ascertaining that the programs and goals of Faithe Deffnerís administration will continue into the future.

In addition to the many exciting events, hundreds of accordionists are scheduled to perform publicly as a massed band in an outdoor setting at a national monument and accordionists will perform in the Endless Performance Ballroom at the Sheraton City Centre Hotel. The program will include the Second Accordion Summit Meeting which will deal with developing the details for the ìLaunch an Accordion Starî campaign which has been conceived to promote the whole accordion community in a two year program culminating with the selection of an accordion star in 1998. Tentative plans include financing a CD and a professionally prepared promotional brochure for the winner, who will also be assisted in finding an appropriate agent to facilitate promotion of the winnerís accordion career.

As Faithe Deffner works on numerous projects to expand accordion appreciation, she also gives much energy to new developments within the accordion industry. She is regarded by many as at the cutting edge of those innovations which will propel the accordion into the next century. A computer enthusiast of many years she has long been an exponent of Internet.

Because of her far-reaching interests, Faithe Deffner has been able to work closely with the worldís top accordion artists, most outstanding accordion educators at both private and college levels, on the design and constructional matters which concern the factories, with composers of accordion music and as a music publisher. This multitudinous frame of reference makes her uniquely able to bring a wide range of forces together to benefit all segments of the multi-faceted accordion world.

Ms Deffner has pioneered the development and promotion of lightweight accordions, including models with MIDI. She has been a leader in promoting accordion in bands and rock music, all areas that show strong future accordion growth. She has encouraged the advancement of accordion concert artists and strongly advocates accordion music written in conjunction with other musical instruments to better draw the accordion into the world of other musicians. She has worked tirelessly for accordion organizations and serves as a very competent spokesperson for the accordion community.

The Deffner businesses are Pancordion Inc. and Titano Accordion Company, two respected accordion firms; Ernest Deffner Publications, a mail order music firm with over 6,000 titles; and Ernest Deffner Inc. which maintains a complete accordion repair facility including technicians for microphone (pickup) and MIDI installations and a wide selection of factory serviced and guaranteed used accordions.

NZAA Lifetime Achievement Award for Faithe Deffner

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