Accordion History


The Sheng, a Chinese free-reed mouth organ, is played by blowing through a mouthpiece at the side. Of east Asian origin, it is one of the oldest Chinese instruments and one of the oldest known mouth organs. It was in common use before the time of Confucius (551-479 BC), and was played in Confucian ceremonial music up to the 20th century. It was also played in secular contexts to accompany folk songs, as a solo instrument and in operas.

The three most common types of modern Sheng have 17 bamboo pipes mounted on a wind-chest usually made of copper. An individual pipe sounds only when its finger-hole is stopped. The Sheng is the only Chinese instrument which usually sounds more than one note at a time, making it useful for solo performances.

The introduction of the Sheng into Europe in 1777 by Pere Amiot stimulated the use of the free reed principle in the construction of organs and other instruments, including the development of the accordion.

Although the accordion was not introduced into China until 1926, there are now far more accordionists in China than in any other country, and possibly all other countries combined. When first introduced, it was used for entertaining; collected in exotic collections, given to children as presents, or usually used for promotions in commerce in order to attract customers. At that time, there was no material for accordion teaching, nor were there teachers or schools that taught the accordion.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, many people left for other countries. They were anxious to find a settled place for life in the world. Many Russian accordionists and teachers moved into Northeast China, giving professional performances. They also taught the accordion throughout China and helped standardise teaching methods. The Chinese accordionists readily took up this opportunity, which helped in the first generation of Chinese professional accordionists. They in turn passed on their knowledge, and the accordion continued to grow in popularity and expertise in playing.

During the late 1940's, the PLA (Chinese People's Liberation Army) had a strong influence in the development of the accordion in China. In the 1950's and 1960's, military musicians always performed in many places to enrich the cultural life of the people.

When they toured China, the big bands and orchestras used the accordion instead of the piano, because the piano was very inconvenient to transport. At this time, the equipment they used was by far better than those of the local people. Therefore, the military accordionists organised numerous training classes to help the local people improve their accordion playing. These pioneers made great efforts to spread and introduce the accordion to the people in China.

In 1949, the Chinese Government made a series of policies to develop art education in the country. Included in these policies, they offered accordionists full pay for teaching and performing.

In 1962, these military accordionists formed the "Beijing Accordion Orchestra" (the first accordion orchestra in China) and held their first accordion concert. In 1963, they founded the first accordion organisation in China, called the "Accordion Society of China". The first president was Mr Ren Shirong. They composed music which became very popular with other musicians. Because of this, more and more people became interested in the accordion, were eager to hear more accordion music and wanted to learn. The accordion captured widespread attention in China.

During the 1960's, the accordion was played in most places in China. At that time, there were not many high-quality accordions, due to the general economy. These accordions, however, were made glorious and used for important effects in concerts and festivals.

The 1980's was a period of great growth, formation of many local associations and the coming together of teachers and performers throughout China. Many overseas guests were invited to play in China to further their ideas. More competitions were hosted, and accordionists competed overseas in international competitions. Recordings were made by many of them.

In 1980 the Society of Chinese Accordion Lovers was established in Beijing. Mr Jiang Jie was the founding President.

In 1982, the First Exchange Conference of Accordion Teaching was hosted in the Sichuan Conservatory, from 14th - 21st of April. This was the first time such a meeting had been arranged. Teachers, performers and students came from all over China, and shared ideas and experiences.

In 1984, the Chinese Accordion Teachers Society was established. The first President was Mr Shun Denun.

In 1986, Ms Joan-Cochran Sommers, an American accordion professor from UMKC, was invited to give lectures and conduct the Shanghai Accordion Orchestra in rehearsal in Shanghai Normal University of China.

In 1987, the First Young Accordionists' Competition of China was held in the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, 3rd - 8th of March. This was the first national professional accordion competition in China, with more than 150 accordionists participating.

In 1988, the Air New Zealand Accordion Orchestra was the first ever international accordion orchestra to tour China, performing live on both television and radio. Ms Yshmeijang, a Japanese accordionist, was invited to give lectures and concerts in Tianjing Conservatory.

In 1989, the first Amateur Accordion Certificate Examination of China was hosted in the Sichuan Conservatory. This was not only the first examination in amateur accordion playing, but also the first examination of any musical instrument in China.

In 1990, the Beijing Accordion Society, Society of Chinese Accordion Lovers and Chinese Accordion Teachers Society were combined to form a new society, called the "Chinese Accordion Society". The President was (and still is) Wu Shouzhi. There are more than 7,000 members in the Society. It is the biggest accordion organisation in China at present. China became the 24th member country of the Confederation Internationale des Accordeonistes.

In 1993, two International Accordion Festivals were hosted in Wulumuqi and Beijing. Many foreign accordionists and teachers were invited to give lectures and demonstrations.

In 1994, the first International Accordion Festival was hosted in Beijing, and incorporated the National Championships.

The accordion is taught as a major course in many art schools, vocational schools, colleges and universities. According to incomplete statistics, there are approximately 14 standard colleges, 9 conservatories, 6 art colleges, 6 universities, 4 art schools, and many art centers in which the accordion is taught as a course. In addition, there are also a great number of performance unites, such as the Song & Dance Troupe in each city of China, in which the accordion is used.

In the musical field of China, the accordion plays an important role, getting praised whenever it is played and is widely recognised as an essential part of Chinese music. There are professional accordion performers in theatrical companies, orchestras, and other art organisations. Classes are held in many cultural centers. There are regular accordion television and radio programmes. Organisations that teach the accordion have increased, which has increased the number of players.

1996 accordion statistics in China

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