Accordion Articles - The accordion is rooted in many cultures
Written by: Faithe Deffner
Publication: Accordions Worldwide
Date written: March 1997

The accordion is an easy-to-play musical instrument with a highly complicated life history. Although it is usually said to have been invented during the early 19th century, its origins can be traced as far back as 1100 BC, to a Chinese instrument known as the sheng. This was a device which consisted of a wooden mouthpiece attached to a gourd that was equipped with bamboo pipes of varying lengths. According to one legend it was invented by a Chinese emperor; another story gives credit to a Chinese empress.

Anyway, while the Chinese were blowing their sheng, the Greeks and Egyptians were pumping their bellows. Archaeologists have unearthed sculptured representations of musicians playing bellows-operated instruments called the p ortative and the regal. Both had bellows and a keyboard, and were in these respects related to the accordion. But both lacked the typical accordion sound which is created by the vibration of a free reed. It was from the sheng that the free reed principal was derived.

The sheng could have been brought to Europe by missionaries returning from the Orient, by trading caravans, or even by the Crusaders returning from the Holy Wars. Whatever route it took, however, it had its musical rendezvous with destiny in Berlin in 1822 when Friedrich Buschmann built an instrument called the handaoline. Seven years later, Cyrillus Damian of Vienna came out with an improved version called the accordion.

Unique as an instrument which plays melody, harmony and rhythm simultaneously, the accordion's extra advantage of portability served to propelled it to unparalleled popularity as various types were produced< throughout the world. France, Ireland, Russia, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, the Slavic countries and others infused the instrument with features which catered to their own particular folk music, making it the voice of the people.

The accordion was an instrument to be embraced while a melody was coaxed from its very soul. Some fondly called it the squeezebox or stomach Steinway or Schifferklavier (sailor's piano), but accordion remains the name which encompasses all varieties -- bandoneons, concertinas, diatonics, chromatics, and all the squeezables which combine buttons and keys and bellows to sing their song.

Its music mirrored its many exponents. From torrid tangos, sizzling merengues, rollicking polkas, exciting musette, from jazz to blues, gospel and country-western, to continental and European, Irish and Celtic airs and reels and jigs, Argentine chamame, Nigerian Juju, Cajun, Tex-Mex and Zydeco, the accordion is the instrument heard in Egyptian beladi, Bulgarian ruchenitsa, Indonesian laguronggeng and its dizzying diversity has become a living presence in the traditional, the contemporary and the cutting edge of music around the world.
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