The Friday Fillip: An Old Squeeze

One hoary definition of a gentleman is: a man who can play the accordion — but doesn’t.

Now, thanks to the magic of a Friday fillip, here’s your chance to lose that straitening status of gentlewoman or gentleman. What’s that you say? You can’t play the accordion? But you can, I assure you. A charming (looking) young Russian, Artem Polikarpov has created a website, Garmoshka, that is an accordion. Sort of. (“‘Garmoshka’, by the way, is a diminutive of гармон (‘garmon’) / гармоника (‘garmonika’); as with the Finnish ‘harmonikka’, the Russian ‘garmonika’ means accordion, not harmonica (an example of a linguistic false friend.”). When you visit the site, simply grab the edge of your browser window and heave it back and forth. Hear that? Because of that sprightly wheeze, the burden of gentility has been lifted off your shoulders. (I have to say I’ve not had the chance to try it using IE, so apologies if it falls flat.) 56475_sheng_sm

This meeting with a virtual squeeeze box precipitated me into research on bellow-ware and the sounds it can emit. Fear not, however: I’ve no intention of regaling you with terms like Schwyzerörgeli, 48 key treble Anglo concertina, Argentine Bandoneon, melodeon, or even harmonium. I will tell you, though — because I found it surprising — that the accordion is a descendent of a three-thousand year old Chinese instrument, the sheng, pictured to the left. Evidently, it came west with Marco Polo, whence it spread etc. etc. Noodles and noodling.

And spread it did. To Germany, to Russia, England, Argentina. And to the Texas-Mexico border region, where, because of early German immigration, it became a staple sound. Check out this video of Freddy Fender and the brilliant Flaco Jimenez. This is no Lawrence Welk.

And to the Ontario-New York border, more or less, where, in St. Catharines, Canada’s own squeezbox superstar Walter Ostanek was raised. Ostanek received thirteen grammy nominations and three grammys for his polka stylings. In 2009, however, the Grammy Board decided it was time to make Mr. Ostanek into a gentlemen whether he would it or no, and they retired the “Best Polka Albumn” category, the president explaining their need to ensure that “the awards process is pertinent within the current musical landscape.” So if you’re a recent Grammy Awards watcher, you may have missed this impertinent Canadian giant. To remedy that, I offer you his “Roll Out the Barrel”:


  1. I confess….as a closet-accordionist (I’ve played since I was 5 but I don’t plan to enhance my confession with details about how long ago that was. I will disclose, though, that I played in a fierce accordion band that toured throughout Manitoba in my youth) I had to try the ‘virtual squeeze box’. Sounds relatively authentic but it just lacks the joie-de-vivre associated with actually squeezing my lovely Titano. Thanks for this little Friday distraction Simon!

  2. My wife was delighted when I was able to solidify my status as a gentleman by selling off the accordeon that I had played (badly) throughout high school. I once played a borrowed instrument in a Viennese pub, untl someone paid me a schilling to stop. That was the most I ever earned, or deserved, as an accordeonist.