Crestline Musician Has Life Long Love Affair with the Accordion
And that's no joke
Costa Mesa, CA, (September 23, 2011) Bobby Dietsch has a joke.
"An accordion player and a banjo player stand on the roof of a five-story building. Who falls off?"
Wait for the punch line…
"Accordion players get that joke," says Dietsch, a 58-year-old Crestline resident, and one of the accordionists on at the "Big Squeeze," the 3rd Annual Orange County Accordion Festival. "We realize we play the world's most misunderstood instrument and that a lot of people think it's something only old people like. But as my teacher once told me, people who don't like the accordion, or who don't think it's a serious instrument, have never heard it played well. If you play it the way it's capable of being played it can produce tremendous emotion and expression. And it's so much fun."
Dietsch, who will perform a solo concert from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. as well as help lead the Big Squeeze’ open-to-the-public jam session, has learned to play the accordion quite well during his life-long love affair with the instrument.
Half-German and half-Italian, Dietsch's mother and two grandparents played the accordion, and he began taking lessons at age 7. His teacher was legendary Southern California musician Lucille Camatti, who taught hundreds how to play the instrument in the 30 years she ran Camatti’s Accordion Studio in Downey.
By day, Dietsch is a network specialist who works on computers. He's also a pastor at an Assembly of God church in Crestline. Both take a great deal of his time and he doesn't regularly perform publicly (although he is a member of Camatti's Reunion Accordion Ensemble, drawn from some of her most accomplished students.)
But the accordion is never too far away.
" I just love it, it's a mini-orchestra," he said. "You can play melodies, rhythm, lead, background. It has more moving parts than any instrument other than a pipe organ and with that many parts it's capable of replicating the sounds of so many instruments. It's also capable of producing a tremendous amount of expression."
As an example, Dietsch uses perhaps the most expressive instrument of all: the human voice. "No matter how great a singer you are, it's going to be very difficult to sing an operatic aria. But an accordion is capable of reproducing that sound because it's so expressive. You can play jazz, classical, Tex-Mex, all kinds of ethnic music. It's a fantastic instrument."
Yet, as wonderful as the accordion may be, Dietsch, like all serious accordionists, realizes how marginalized it has become in the United States. While there has been a recent up tick in younger musicians using it, such as Arcade Fire and Gogol Bordello, it’s usually written off as something elderly people dance to, or is good for nothing but polkas.
That misunderstanding stems from the two people who did the most to make the accordion popular, Dietsch said.
"In the United States, the people who made the accordion popular were also the ones who made it go out of style," he said, citing band leader Lawrence Welk and his accordionist, Myron Florin.
"They did more to promote the accordion than anyone in the 1940s and 1950s," Dietsch said. "The problem is they had a very loyal following with ballroom dancing in the big band era but when the British Invasion happened, with the Beatle and Rolling Stones, they were so happy with their loyal base that they never modernized the instrument's repertoire. And when that loyal following started aging and then passing on, the accordion fell out of favor."
But it never fell out of favor in the rest of the world, and Dietsch spends most of his time on the accordion playing songs drawn from cultures that still heartily embrace the instrument.
At the Big Squeeze, Dietsch will demonstrate his appreciation for ethnic music, by playing songs drawn from Jewish, German, Irish, Italian, Bavarian and other cultures from across the world.
" I put a lot of feeling into whatever I play," he said. "So when I play Irish music, it sounds Irish. When I play Scottish music, you can hear the bagpipes. I do a lot of interpretation but Italian sounds Italian and German sounds German."
Dietsch doesn't take his instrument lightly. His box of choice is a 40-year-old Scandalli Super Six, one of the most coveted accordions in the world, he said. He estimates it’s worth $30,000.
Like most serious accordionists, Dietsch has developed a deep loyalty to his instrument.
"You wear the instrument and it becomes part of you," he said. "If you move to the left, the accordion moves to the left. If you move right, the accordion moves to the right. And after doing that for years and years it becomes part of our soul. And you don’t care if anyone else likes it."
Along with Dietsch more than 50 accordionists and musicians will be showing the squeezebox's versatility and cross cultural appeal playing everything from Zydeco, Cajun, jazz, blues, salsa, opera and cabaret to German, Irish, Italian, Latin and more on five stages. A complete schedule is available at www.ocmarketplace.com.
The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., encourages the public to bring their accordions for free Zydeco and line dance lessons and open jam sessions There will also be a Mardi Gras style parade, Accordion Road Show for free accordion appraisals, free face painting and mask crafts, gourmet food truck alley (also representing equal amount of food flavors and styles), strolling entertainment in addition to many other activities.
The Festival and admission to the O.C. Market Place, is included in admission, which is $2 or FREE with a canned food item donation for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. Children 12 and under are free. Parking is Free, and preferred lot available for $5. The Orange County Market Place is at the Costa Mesa Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive. In addition to the website (www.ocmarketplace.com) more info is available by calling 949-723-6660.