Accordion History


Considering the dates that the earliest types of accordion were invented, one would not expect accordions to be mentioned in any early colonial literature of New Zealand, especially since New Zealand is half way around the world from the centres of accordion development. However a reference does exist in the journal of Edward Jerningham Wakefield, one of the earliest English colonists, and his entry from the 24th of September 1839 contains an amusing reference to his use of an accordion:

"One named Te Kaeaea diverted us much by.....bringing a long pointed wooden spear within inches of our bodies; then retreating with a roar of laughter every time he saw us shrink from the thrust.... I repaid him his surprise the first day that he came on board. I had got an accordion under a large cloak, and kept time to its notes with my mouth, so as to deceive him and twenty other natives into the idea that I was uttering the various sounds. They showed a profound respect for my oratorical talents, until I let them find out the trick, a day or two afterward. The accordion in question was called my mouth for a long time afterwards".

It seems that New Zealand's Maori inhabitants were not slow to perceive the potential of the accordion for by 1901 they were using it to accompany their own songs. Author Guy Scholefield writing of events around the turn of the century, remarked that instruments like the accordion and mouth organ were used as accompaniments to Maori dances during the 1901 Royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, and were also used to entertain the Prince of Wales during his 1920 visit.

During the 1920's, advertisements for "accordion pleated skirts," appeared in newspapers. One factory even called itself the Accordion Pleating Company, a fact which indicates that accordions were sufficiently known and popular, for a manufacturer to consider it worthwhile associating his name and product with the instrument. However it appears that the most significant increase in accordion use and popularity occurred later in the 1930 decade, to be eclipsed again in the 1950 decade and continue in many respects to this day.

There were several early type button accordions brought out on a ship of Bohemian settlers in 1863. Surprisingly the brand name was "Kiwi" (a native bird of New Zealand).

Although concertinas and some accordions were in New Zealand at earlier times it seems that the year 1936 marked the beginning of the growth of accordion marketing in New Zealand. In this year sanctions (as they were described in a catalogue from R. Harold Court of Sydney) were removed from Italian accordions. This catalogue listed a number of brands that were available to wholesalers at a third discount plus a 15% duty drawback discount. It is at about this date that a number of New Zealanders began taking an interest in the accordion. It would seem that the first piano accordions came into New Zealand soon after World War I.

The visit of Arnie Hartman created the motivation that really popularised the accordion in New Zealand. He demonstrated what was possible on the accordion and this caught the attention of many would be accordionists.

An unusual coincidence commenced much of the serious advancement achieved by accordionists in New Zealand. Back in 1938 Allan Jones, then a young accordionist attended a show in Auckland and was amazed by Arnie's performance. The real coincidence was that Arnie and Allan had booked in at the same hotel and were seated together at the same table for breakfast the following morning. From this chance meeting developed a life long friendship. Arnie spent nearly a year in New Zealand as Allan's guest and returned that favour with regular music lessons and accordion tutoring.

Post World War II introduced the accordion to many New Zealanders. A few years after it ended, the great growth of accordion interest and advancement took place. Today, there remains a steady growth in New Zealand.

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