Maddalena Belfiore at a glance:

  • First stage performance at age five.
  • Commenced studies at Julliard at age 13.
  • Debut concert at Carnegie Hall, New York at age 17.
  • Protégé of Pietro Frosini.
  • Appeared in concerts throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
  • Featured performer on Radio and Television.
  • Second place winner of the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show.
  • Performed with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (Henry Lewis, Conductor).
  • Composer of accordion method books and technical books on bellows shake.
  • Adjudicator for national and international music competitions.
  • Adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey.
  • Founder member and director of the Arcari Foundation, Philadelphia.
  • Founder, past President and Director of the ATA of NJ.
  • Past President of American Accordionists' Association (AAA).
  • Board of Director American Accordionists' Association (AAA).
  • Vice President of Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA) 16 yrs.
  • Acting President of Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA).
  • Merit Award Recipient of CIA for Outstanding Contributions to International Accordion Movement.
  • 2nd Honorary Member of Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA).
  • Member of All Arts Society of New York.
  • Initiated A.T.A. of NJ Accordion Orchestra.
  • Recipient of the International Golden Lady Award.
  • Woman of the Year Award - State of New Jersey.
  • International Who's Who in Music.
  • Marquis Who's Who.
  • Honoree of Maddalena Belfiore International Competition for Female Accordionists.
  • Accordion Teachers Association of NJ Hall of Fame Recipient.
You have also written many methods for the accordion including those dealing with Bellow Shakes. How many books did your write in all, and are they still available today?
I have written three Bellow Shakes Books, and then there is the Mryon Floren method, which is five books and the Technique Books. For solos, there is Valse Diane, (Eugene Ettore later did an orchestration), the Pan Polka (Eugene later did an arrangement of that one too) and Valse Cavalier. Most are available from Ernest Deffner Music. I worked with Myron on the accordion method book, we collaborated on those. In testing the books out, I used in with my students, to see if what we were writing for the students was acceptable.

Works and Publications by Maddalena Belfiore:

  • "First Steps in Bellows Shake" by Maddalena Belfiore, published by O. Pagani & Bro. 1954
  • "12 Bellows Shake Solos" by Maddalena Belfiore, published by O. Pagani & Bro.
  • "Valse Diane" by Maddalena Belfiore published by O. Pagani & Bro.
  • "Pan Polka" Solo by Maddalena Belfiore, published by O. Pagani & Bro.
  • "Pan Polka" Duet by Maddalena Belfiore, published by O. Pagani & Bro.
  • "Cavalier Waltz" (Valse Brillante) by Maddalena Belfiore
  • "Shake a Leg" by Frosini, arranged by Maddalena Belfiore
What was your fascination with the Bellow Shake?
It wasn't something that was a fascination to me, it was just something that came very easily to me. I guess I took it for granted - just do it how I do it.. ok! There was nothing really fascinating.

I enjoyed doing the bellow shake enormously, and I know there is definate techinque in doing it. I was doing bellow shake before I started with Frosini. I worked on it with him, but I was already doing this before I began with him.
Autographed picture by pro-basketball player/accordionist Tony Lovelli
Your students went onto compete very successfully in various competitions. Did you yourself compete in competitions as a young person?
During my years with Nunzio, I competed in many competitions. Nuznio put all of his students in the contests. Don't forget he was a founder of AAA and supported the contests very strongly. For my first contest, I think I was about 8 years old, and I won 2nd place playing Dance of the Hours. The early AAA contests were very good. They were very big!
How long have you been teaching, and who were some of your more outstanding students?
I have been teaching all my life. I have had many wonderful students. One interesting one was Paul Lukouswki, an Archbishop in New Jersey. When he became Archbishop, he used the picutre of himself with his accordion. A wonderful guy!!

We came back in contact with him after all these years, when my son was having his son Alex baptized. They had to go to the church in their area where there was a get together for all the new parents and Lukouski saw his name Greco there. He said to Frank.. "I used to know the Grecos.. in fact, my accordion teacher is married to a Greco." Frank was beside himself, so they started chatting and my son found out that he had been one of my students. He had studied for a long time!

I have another Greg Naddick, who has a big studio down in south Jersey. He was with the army band and everything.

Terri Conti represented the USA in the International competitions, and in fact, won the 2nd prize in the CIA International Junior Tape Recording Competition. Later after she joined the Church of God, she entered a world competition that they have which included all instruments. The competition was held in Passadena, CA, and since she always traveled with her accordion, she signed up to be part of it, and she won 2nd prize against all the other instrumentalists. In fact, Sylvia Prior was there and was flabbergasted at how well she did.

The walls of Maddalena's studio are lined with press clippings, pictures, trophies,
accordion figurines, paintings and momentos of many years of world travel.
Two beautiful paintings at Maddalena's studio
Have you made any recordings and if so, when did you record your first LP, CD or cassette?
Pagani made and sold a set of 78 RPM recordings Valse Diane, Rita Polka, and a bellow shake piece. I did another series of recordings that I don't have a copy of, as they were sent to South America. I know that they were played over there, but I don't have a copy. I have copies of the other ones that Pagani made.
You have done so many performances, but do you have any memorable highlights that you would like to share with us?
I did a Première performance with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Henry Lewis in Philadelphia. I have the recording of that.

In 1939 we played at the Worlds Fair in New York with the Nunzio Accordion Orchestra. We used to play in parades and on floats such as on the Columbus Day parade in New York City. That was a big one!

I also performed in Castelfidardo, Italy. There was a concert being presented, and Rinaldo Taboldi was on it. The Crucinelli's had mentioned that I was going to be in Italy, so I was invited to play on the concert, and I got a standing ovation for my performance of La Traviata . I played PanCordion, which was built by Crucinelli family.

Most of the programs I played were of the Frosini Overtures and the Novelties. The Novelties were great, as they served as an exercise. They took the place of doing a lot of exercise practice.

You have had the joy of experiencing an exciting era of accordion in the USA. Are there any accordion stars that you got to know during your accordion career that you would like to mention.
Of course, there was Frosini. There was also John Owens. I did a lot of traveling around the United States doing concerts, and also a lot of studio work. At that time the studios were all featuring the big name artists, so I got to meet all of them, including Magnante and others. I also knew many of them through the American Accordionists Association (AAA).

Not all of the meetings with famous personalities have been so great however. When I was pregnant with my son, I had big concert and at the same time, Mogens Ellegaard from Denmark was going to around doing concerts. In the end, I couldn't do my concert because of my condition and since Mogens was here, I asked him to be a guest artist in my place.

After the show we invited him to come to the house and I didn't think anything of it. We ordered some Pizza and that was it. It was the American way, a completely 'off the cuff' type of thing. Then, a few years later I was in Denmark and I met Mogens again, He came up to me and said "this is the lady that made me to eat in her kitchen". I'll never forget that! I said to him "well, when we invite someone, that is how we do it, and at the time with my condition, I couldn't do more.

How many performances do you estimate to have made during your career?
Just thousands… these included several a month, solo, concert.

In addition to your outstanding performance, composing and teaching skills, you have also been quite active in several other areas including the organizations. Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the the AAA and when this began.


The AAA has been a very important part of my life. I was a student member in the early 1950's because Charlie Nunzio was a founding member. Frosini was very involved as well, so that put me right in there too! If they weren't I wouldn't have known about it.

I was elected to the AAA Board of Governors in 1955. The ones who came in with me, were Marcelo Rivoero and Carmen Carozza. Tony Etorre was a little later. During the 60's I was elected Secretary and to other positions of office, and then in 1970 I was elected President. I was re-elected president twice since then.

It's also very interesting that I was the first women president of the AAA. This made all the newspapers. At this time in 1970 it was still not that common that women were getting involved in national organizations of this scope.

During my Presidency, I managed to do govern over several of the contests, including the one in Nashville, where we had an orchestra of 1,000 accordionists play. Then we had another big contest in Hershey PA, and one in Boston in 1984. (Maddalena is pictured above at the AAA sponsored concert of renowned Russian artist and teacher Friedrich Lips from Moscow. Left to right: AAA Board members Faithe Deffner, Kevin Friedrich, guest Friedrich Lips, Maddalena Belfiore, Carmelo Pino, Linda Soley Reed and Mary Tokarski.)

During your career, you have also been extremely active on the International scene. You are by far the longest serving Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA) officer from the United States which included 16 years as a Vice President. When did you first attend a CIA event.

The first one was in 1957 in Saarbrucken, Germany, and in fact, I wound up judging it. I don't think they were too happy! At that time, they didn't want a women judging.

We had Ronny Sweetz as our contestant and in fact, he actually won the Coupe Mondiale. After this I started going more often, and then when I became President of the AAA I would attend every year. I became Vice President of the CIA In 1974, and remained in that position for 16 years. It was very interesting to become involved with a group like the CIA that was dealing with international issues, and therefore was different from the American group. (Maddalena is pictured above with the giant accordion at the 1990 Coupe Mondiale held in Trossingen, Germany.)


This was an interesting and exciting time for the CIA. At a time before e-mail, you spent much time corresponding with international dignitaries from around the world, conducting the business of the CIA. Do you have any memories from this time that you would like to share?
I always think an interesting one was Lech Puchnowski. He was always very important in the CIA. We would often lock horns, but we were not enemies. We both had one goal and that was to improve the competition of the CIA. Another interesting fascinating personality from that time was Yuri Kolobokov. He was extremely interesting too. He was always with his little camera, and he was quite the player. He was during the early 70's, at the time when there were always the KGB around.

(Here CIA Vice President Maddalena Belfiore is pictured with CIA President Dr. Karl Albrecht Majer in October, 1977 during the General Assembly meeting in Eindhoven, Netherlands.)

We worked hard to try and bring things to a head at our meetings. Everyone was quite strong, and so we either tried to bring things to a vote or matters would be shelved. At that time, they were not used to a women being so strong.

We would go to both the winter and summer CIA congresses. There was so much correspondence and it required so much diplomacy.

What are your views on an organization such as the Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA) and the importance it plays in the international music scene.
I think it is very important to have an organization such as the CIA. They set the criteria and goals for the competitions. As an organization I think the CIA is doing very fine work. I think they have a very dedicated president! I think the CIA has come a very long way.

I believe that the various CIA member countries should continue their work commissioning new works for the accordion, as it enables us to see what is happening with the accordion in the various parts of the world. This will continually expand our accordion library. Maybe even a prize could be offered as an incentive for more works. (Maddalena is pictured in Castelo Branco, Portugal at the 58th Coupe Mondiale in October 2005, with composer of the 2007 Coupe Mondiale Test Piece Dr. Karen Fremar).

You have seen the CIA Coupe Mondiale develop over many years. What are you views on the current competitions?.
Sometimes I'm not always in agreement with the selection of the (Coupe Mondiale) Test Pieces. I would like to see them choose a more melodic type of test piece rather than the very avante garde pieces that they have sometimes. On the home front, I think it's very hard for our American students to cope with some of these new works.

If there is one thing I would comment on, it would be the program content. I would like to see more variety in the programs in all sections. With the entertainment category, I really like this a lot, but the problem is that the word 'entertainment' varies so much across the various countries. What is entertainment in the US isn't necessarily the same in Europe. This is something that we are trying to address by offering suggestions as to the possible styles of music.

(Here Maddalena is pictured with renowned composer, teacher and perfromer Viatcheslav Semionov (CIA Music Committee Member) from Moscow wearing promotional hats advertising the 2007 CIA Coupe Mondiale in the United States.)

The CIA Coupe Mondiale the way it is today is quite ambitious having so many categories and various requirements. However, as far as the program goes, its pretty common today with the Tchaikowsky and other big International competitions, as they all require pretty lengthy programs as well, so we are on a par in that respect.

We are looking forward to the Coupe Mondiale in Washington, DC in 2007. We will work together and get it going.

(Picuted are members of the AAA organizing committee for the 2007 Coupe Mondiale in Alexandria, VA (Washington DC) - Carmelo Pino, Linda Soley Reed, AAA Guest Peter Soave, Maddalena Belfiore and Faithe Deffner.)

As a result of your long time association with the Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA) and the contacts you made, you had personally collected documents pertaining to the history of the organization ranging from 1953 to today. Your generous donation of this collection to the CIA enabled them to get the CIA Archive project off the ground. How important is it to preserve these documents and the history of the organization?
I think its very important, after all what is history? It is documents! Without them, it's just a bunch of hearsay. Here we are fortunate enough to be able to look up things and see when and where they were said, and so I think it's very important.

Today with modern communication methods such as e-mail and instant messenger, I think someone has to be appointed to make hard copies of all those documents. I've thought of this many times, not only with the CIA, but also the AAA and ATG, as we are losing many many documents. We push 'delete' and that is the end of it. Most of the correspondence would be with the officers of the organizations, so they should be obtainable and therefore should be printed and preserved for historical purposes as a Word document for example.

Pictured in 1995 at the CIA Coupe Mondiale in Avesta, Sweden are CIA President at that time Ove Hahn (Sweden), Maddalena Belfiore (USA) and General Secretary at that time Prof. Walter Maurer (Austria). Maddalena was presented with the CIA Merit Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the International Accordion Movement. The award was unamiously approved at the General Assembly in Munster, France in 1994, and presented in 1995.

What non accordion music do you most like to listen to?

I really love Latin music and the Symphony. If I really answer you, as to what music I enjoy the most, it is the music that I am playing at the time. I enjoy it all. If it's good, it is good!

What other interests and hobbies besides music do you have?

I used to play golf.. and I love needlepoint.. you can see I have some hanging on the wall. I also love boating.

What do you regard as your greatest achievement?
I am most proud of the work done with the national competitions, where I was able to benefit a tremendous amount of people. With one competition, I flew down to Nashville with Lana Gore. We met with her uncle who worked with one of the TV stations, and had invited us down there. The three of us looked everything over, and we coordinated the entire thing and made the contest together. That was a joint effort.

We also had a Public Relations guy, who was very very good and came into it as well. He managed to coordinate the big publicity and the event where I conducted 1,000 accordionists playing the Tennessee State Song the "Tennessee Waltz" from a Cherry Picker.

It was in 1980, because I remember when I was in Australia later that year after the Coupe Mondiale in Auckland, New Zealand and Elsie Brandman from the Australian Society of Accordionists said that she had seen me on television in Australia, conducting this massive Festival Orchestra in Nashville. It had been broadcast around the world by the ABC News affiliate.

The "Tennessee Waltz" was written by Redd Stewart with Pee Wee King in 1948. (King & Stewart decided to write the song after hearing Bill Monroe's Kentucky Waltz on the radio. Stewart emptied a matchbox and tore it open to write down the song.) In 1951 Patti Page took "The Tennessee Waltz" to No.1 on the Pop chart, which also became a Top 3 Country hit. It went on to sell over 6 million copies. In 1965 the "Tennessee Waltz" was officially proclaimed by Governor Frank Clement as the Tennessee Sate Song.

Both Redd Stewart (May 27, 1923 - August 2, 2003) and Pee Wee King (February 18, 1914 - March 7, 2000) attended the unique AAA Mass Accordion Orchestra performance of their No. 1 Hit, conducted by Maddalena Belfiore.
What are your thoughts regarding competitions?

Competitions are good, as they give students the incentive to practice. It shouldn't be about putting all the emphasis on winning or losing, but by going into a competition they learn music! They have to learn their one, two or three pieces. It provides a helpful purpose to the lessons… to play their music and to play it well.

There are some students who have a very difficult time performing, but you should never underplay that student, as no matter how poor they may do in the competition in regards to their placing, they have set a goal for themselves. Maybe they just learnt the piece, maybe they just memorized it.. or maybe they didn't, but the competition goal definitely served a purpose, and that is what I think is so important… that ultimately it did serve a purpose!


What musical advice do you have for aspiring accordionists?
Listen to your teacher, and very important - practice! You have to have goals. Also, what happens today (different from when I studied) is that no one has a chance to play any place. I used to play at all these Clubs and Organizations, and that doesn't happen so much any more I feel. I don't get calls at the studio like I used to asking for performers. It does happen of course, but not like it used to. Now if they get anyone, they get a group of entertainers.. rather than a student soloist.

Maybe the teachers could help do more to promote it. We used to play any place we could. It was all part of the teaching and learning process. Kids going out to play publicly is probably the best lesson they could ever learn!

Students learn from competitions also, but to have a 'goal' of learning to play something and playing it well, that's what is important... to have that goal!

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