Commentary, Culture, fiestas

Accordion a Fascinating Instrument

David was telling me about the entrance of the Virgin into the plaza and the accompanying dancers. He spoke of the Huayno and the accordion that was being played. I smiled. Accordion.

It made me wonder about its beginnings, from where had this marvelous instrument arisen and what were its journeys before, and after arriving at the highlands of Peru to perform in such a sacred ceremony.

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La Banda esperando para Tocar (Walter Coraza Morveli)
A Band Waiting to Play, A Man Playing Accordion in the middle  (Walter Coraza Morveli)

According to oral tradition it was “invented by the female sovereign Nyn-Kwa in 3000 B.C. The sheng had a gourd as a wind-chamber and thirteen to twenty-four bamboo pipes. At the base of each pipe a tongue was cut in such a way as to vibrate freely when the player blew into the instrument through the mouthpiece and covered the hole in the side of a pipe with a finger. The sheng was formed to imitate the shape of the Phoenix bird”. It was used to perform ceremonial music. It is still played at funerals in China today:

Knowledge of the Cheng or Sheng traveled to Europe in 1777 by way of French Jesuit missionary Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, according to French history. Others say it was Marco Polo who brought it in the 13th century, or even it arrived with migrating Tartars sometime in between those dates.

Using the idea of the reed, upon which the accordion, the harmonica, Friedrich Buschmann of Berlin created the first “Handaoline” in 1822, while Cyrillus Damian of Vienna created another version of this instrument and gave it the name of accordion because of the addition of buttons.

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The accordion was easy to carry, and was brought to the new world. It was easier to transport than a piano, and yet provided a varied set of music that could be played upon it. It was adopted by the people of the New World, maybe much in the way that Spanish was ‘adopted’, because it was forced upon them by conquerors. It was used for the Tango in Argentina, the Mexican polka and in Peru, it is used for the huayno. (reference)

A Man Playing Accordion in a Feast (Walter Coraza Morveli)

Folktales have sprung up, including one about a man who wagers the devil and wins his accordion. The devil is angry at the loss of his instrument and curses it that who ever plays it must forever remain a troubadour. A movie, El Acordeon del Diablo, was made about the lives of troubadours and their music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqgPHjaNNpo

For all the traveling it has done, around the world and into the hands of even the devil, the accordion has in the end been conquered by amazing musicians of Latin America.

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