This interview with Maddalena Belfiore was conducted at her home in Kearny, New Jersey on March 26, 2006, and is published now to cooincide with two impressive honors that have been bestowed upon her.

  • CIA Honorary Membership: At the Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA) 117th General Assembly of Delegates held at Nagigia Island, Fiji from January 23-29, 2007 it was unimously approved that Maddalena Belfiore be made the 2nd Honorary CIA Member in recognition of the many decades of support of the organization including serving as a Vice President, acting President, International Delegate, International Jury Member and major donor to the CIA Archives housed in Ikaalinen, Finland.

  • Honoree of the Maddalena Belfiore Entertainment Competition for Female Accordionists to be held in conjunction with the 60th Anniversary Coupe Mondiale in Alexandria, VA (Washington DC) on August 15, 2007.

It is impossible to try and understand and acknowledge the impact that Maddalena Belfiore has had on the accordion movement during her impressive and varied career in just one short interview, however I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to Maddalena and her husband Mauro for taking the time to spend the afternoon with Accordions Worldwide for this Celebrity interview.

In addition, I would like to offer my gratitude and thanks to Linda Soley Reed, President of the American Accordionists Association (AAA) for her kind assistance in making this interview possible.

Kevin Friedrich - Accordions Worldwide, USA

Tell us a little about the town/city where you were born, and where in the United States is it located?
I was born right here where we are now in Kearny, New Jersey.

(Note: Pronounced "CAR-KNEE", on 14th March 1867, the New Jersey (NJ) Legislature adopted "an act creating the Township of Kearny". The town was named to honor Major General Phil Kearny, Commander of the NJ Forces in the Civil War and the late resident of well-known "Belle Grove", locally called Kearny Castle.)
How did you begin your music study and why did you choose the accordion?
That's an interesting story, because I started music at 5 years old and I had chosen to play the saxophone. How it ended up being that I chose the accordion was, the day I was to start my music lessons, prior to taking me to my first lesson, my father took me to a Vaudeville Show.

It was towards the tail end of the Vaudeville era, and must have been one of the last shows. Who was on stage? ...none other than Charlie Magnante. I was fascinated with him and the accordion, and afterwards I said to my father "the accordion…that is what I want to play!"

On the way home from the show, he stopped at the Sanford Arts Music Studio in Newark and I had my first lesson. My father bought the accordion and I had my first lesson all at the same time.

Two weeks later I was on stage!
Was your family musical and did your parents play an important part in your early music education?
My family was quite musical. My grandfather was a conductor, my uncle played the clarinet, my sister studied the piano and my mother played the mandolin (which we still have to this day) and (laughing) my father played the doorbell!

I didn't ask to study music, it was just a given… my sister was taking piano lessons, so when I turned 5 years old, it was time for me to do something.
Who was your first accordion teacher?
My first teacher was Sanford Hertz, he was quite well known and operated the Hertz School of Music in Newark, NJ. There were five brothers and the father who all played.

I didn't last there very long, as a family friend played the accordion and when he found out that I was starting my lessons, he told my father about Charlie Nunzio, and that is how I left the Hertz studio and went to Charlie Nunzio.
What are your earliest memories of performing
I played the 'First Waltz'. I think we all played that piece, and I performed this piece two weeks after I started lessons.
During the course of your musical education, is there any teacher or artist (besides Frosini, who will commented on, in the next question) to whom you would like to pay particular tribute, for their inspirational effect on your musical career. Question by Heather Masefield.
I have to say Charlie Nunzio. However, then when Charlie went into the service (Navy) so Eugene Ettore took over for him. Gene brought another dimension into my playing which is very interesting. Ettore taught me another style of playing and style of music, whereas Nunzio was a lot like the Frosini style.

During that time, when I was 8 years old, we moved to California, and naturally the accordion came too. I remember at every little tourist stop we made, I had to practice. That was a definite!

Before we left, we had asked about teachers in the San Francisco area, and they had recommended that I look for Guido Deiro. When we got to San Francisco, we tried to find him, but we couldn't, however we found the Pazolo brothers. They were five brothers who were all professional accordionists.

I studied with Theodore Pazolo, which is another interesting happening. He didn't know what to do with me. He would give me five pieces a week, and I would bring them all back memorized. He was a good player, but in general California didn't have much of the way of anything at that point, so fortunately, we only stayed there a year and came back to Kearny again. My father had found it difficult getting work in California, and so we came back.

Each teacher brought me something. Joe Biviano put me on to Hannon. I faithfully played the Hannon exercise book from beginning to end every day, by memory! Then when I went to Arcari, who was an excellent teacher. To summarize, Frosini was the one that made me an artist, Biviano was the one that told me my shortcomings as far as technique goes, and then Arcari was the one that solved the problems. He really was the one that got me into scales.
As a protégé of the late Pietro Frosini, can you tell us about how you met him and the series of events that led to this long lasting professional relationship.
We left off, that before our quick trip to California, I was in NJ with Eugene Ettore. My mother and father didn't know who Ettore was. To them, he wasn't a big enough name for me to be studying with at the time. However, they knew of Frosini. The same friend who had sent us to Nunzio, was also a friend of Frosini, so he introduced us and that's how I started with Frosini.

I had to audition with him, and from there, our relationship ended up lasting a long time. This all happened right after we came back from California.
Can you tell us about your lessons with him. How often did you study with him, and can you describe a typical lesson.
The lessons were something else!!!

Mostly my sister brought me, and to her credit she carried my accordion on the subways and everything!

When I would go for a lesson, we would wait in his Den. His den was about the same size as where we are today (an average size) and so we would just sit in this den, and wait. We would sometimes wait for hours until Frosini was ready to give me a lesson. When he was ready, he would call me from the second floor saying…. Madalenn - Madalenn (like Mada-lane, Mada-lane) and that meant he was ready for me to go upstairs for the lesson.

We would go through a lot of music and it all had to be by memory. I saw he had the button accordion, and I would keep asking.. "Mr. Frosini.. why can't I play that accordion"… and he would say.. "no no… that's the right one… the one you are playing is the right one for you to play.. so stay with that."

I had to leave here at 5 am in the morning to meet him. One funny story was, that there was a certain place he always wanted to eat. So he said.. "come on.. we are going to have breakfast now." The place was all mirrors and when we went in he slammed right into the mirrors, and he then said "I do that every time I come in here!"

Frosini had a lot of eccentricities. You didn't go for a lesson without bringing him a gift. He expected it. Usually it would be a box of chocolates or a cake or something. The box of candy had to be a box where all the candy was different, and it could not be the box that tells you what is in each piece of candy, because he wouldn't eat it. He had to guess what was in there!

There was a time we went there and we didn't bring anything. He said "you didn't bring me anything?" so he made my sister go out to the bakery that was on the way to his house and get him a Cushman's Cake.

Another thing he was eccentric about was his pencils! He had a grand piano his studio, and he did most of his writing on there. He kept all his pencils lined up on the piano. One day I was coming from Julliard, and I wanted to do my homework and I couldn't find a pencil, so I took one of the pencils from on top of his piano. His wife came out screaming "don't touch... don't touch… Friso's pencils."

He had them all in order, in the way he wanted them to write with. No. 1, No. 2, dark, light, big note head and small note head and so on. He had them exactly as he wanted them. But boy… when she started yelling at me!!!

My lessons went on for quite a few years. He lived in Sunnyside, Long Island, which is where I would have to go for my lessons.
  Frosini didn't have that many students and he was very selective about who he took. Joe Riviero was one of his famous students.

At that time, no one was afraid to travel. As young as we were, we had no fear of traveling. At first I would take my accordion, but later on I didn't. He let my try one that was at his house, and I could use it, so I would just borrow this for my lessons.

An interesting thing about Frosini is that he liked to sew! He sewed the Raccoon hats (Davy Crockett hats). There he was with his needle sewing the tail on the back of the hat and we would just laugh looking at this stuff. He also had a little dog that was very cute. His wife was part of the Danish Opera Company, as she was Danish. After they married however, she really didn't sing any more.

I studied with him from about 10 years old through college. He prepared me for my Carnegie Hall Recital. He was pretty sharp. A couple of times we had him over to the house. His wife would insist that his accordion would come along with him. She wouldn't ask him to play right way, but soon, she would say… "Frous… Frous… are you gonna play?" … the Belfiores are waiting for you to play.. and he would say.. "No no.. not yet…" so she would get him on the side.. And give him a little 'medication' and he pepped up and he then put the accordion on, and he would start playing, and it was just absolutely amazing. He played Operas, he played Polka's, he played all kinds of music! His memory was phenomenal! In fact, we had him over the house a number of times.

He had us over to his house too. He also had a summer place out on the Island, near Quiage, and he had his little fishing boat. He loved to go out on his fishing boat! That was one of his things, so a couple of times, he took my father with him.
  After a couple of years, when Frosini was with the John Gambling show he wanted me to be a part of it, so he had me go down to the Radio Station and all we did was sit there. Everyone was very polite and all, but John Gambling wouldn't talk to me. He was pretty definite about what he wanted, and I wasn't part of it! Some times I would meet Frosini at the Radio Station and we would go to his house from there.

John Bradley Gambling - (9 April 1897 - 21 November 1974) was the first of three generations of host (John B, John A and John R) of the WOR Radio in New York City. The John Gambling Show "Rambling with Gambling" hosted by John B ran from 1925 - 1959, and later continued by his son and grandson, lasted over the course of 75 years (1925-2000).
Frosini wrote a wealth of repertoire for the accordion. Did he share these ideas with you and were you privy to the compositions as they were being written.
Not really. Some of his arrangements were just coming out when I was with him. The La Traviata arrangement came out while I was with him and the Mendelssohn Concerto was another one that came out then.

There were at least 15 pieces that came out while I was there. There were not necessarily originals, mostly transcriptions.
How long did it take him to write some of his pieces. For example, Hot Points, Jolly Caballerro.
I'm not sure, but my guess is that he just churned them out. He did several copies of each piece. He would do them quickly, and then revise them in the next manuscript. Below is a sample from the original manuscript of Jolly Caballero - October 1933.
What other teachers have influenced you?
There were several: Nunzio, Ettore, Jacques Welt. He was from Long Island. I was preparing for a concert at the Town Hall, and he coached me for that one. The other teachers were all from Julliard. I studied piano with Zargurnig and Arthur Ferrante, (born 7 September 1921, New York City) was my Theory Teacher, and I'm very proud of that. I also studied conducting while at Julliard.

Ferrante and Teicher (Born Louis Teicher, 24 August 1924, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) became one of the best-selling instrumental easy listening groups of the 1960s. Beginning with classical piano repertoire, due to audience demand, they eventually turned completely to popular piano works, and they had immediate hits with their renditions of "Exodus" and the theme from "The Apartment," and over 10 Top 100 hits in the next 13 years. They continued to record a steady stream of 4 albums a year for United Artists until 1979, when they formed their own label, Avante Garde. They often played to packed concert houses, appearing up to 100 times a year at their peak. Although they retired from performing in 1989, they remain close friends and have settled near each other in the Sarasota, Florida area.

In all, I spent six years at Julliard where I studied general music including Music Theory, Ear Training, Piano and Conducting. I was with Frosini at the same time taking accordion lessons. I started Julliard while at High School at age of 13. I went during summers and on Saturdays and then when I graduated from High School, I went as a regular student.

From Julliard I went to Columbia University and from there I went to the Manhattan School of Music, so I really did the circuit. Most of my musical training was at Julliard, and I went to Columbia because I needed credit for Italian and English studies and my non-music credits.
During your career, you performed extensively as a soloist and in groups. Tell us a little about these times and where your concert tours took you.
A lot of the solo concerts were for local clubs, music clubs and women's clubs all throughout the state, and some in PA. I would do at least two a month. While I was in high school, I also had to play the USO camps. I'd play the farewell parties for the soldiers going off to war and the local school gym. Later on, I did a number of shows for the Italian Prisoners of War. I did at least 20 shows for them. It was very interesting.

I also did a Carnegie Hall Recital at age 17, which was very exciting.

Describe your most "unusual" or "humorous" performance situation/s?
Playing for the Italian prisoners of war was of course a bit unusual. However, at my young age, it didn't make any difference to me.

My most humorous moment was during a concert with Myron Floren. He was giving a concert here in Raritan, NJ. It was at the local High School and we all went including my sister, Faithe and Ernest Deffner, Frances Margolis… a whole bunch of us.

As normal, Mauro (Maddalena's husband) would always ask me to go on stage to play and play a duo with Myron. I didn't have my accordion with me, so we asked to borrow someone's accordion. Very begrudgingly they agreed… but believe me, they weren't happy! Gramathow High School, was a brand new 8 million dollar School that they had just completed.

Myron came out and introduced me, and I came out of the wings and didn't know there was a step there… and I tripped down the steps! An eight million dollar school and there was a step to get out of the wings onto the stage!

So I got myself up and Myron didn't even come to help me... as he was laughing his head off. I had this borrowed accordion on at the same time, and so the owner was having a fit! After the performance was over, I went out into the audience again and my sister started yelling at me… 'boy… you are clumsy!!'

No-one even asked if I got hurt.. they were all just laughing!!!
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