History (Herbie Marks)

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Mar 25, 1996, 3:00:00 AM3/25/96
I thought I would post a rather controversial snippet from the pen of the
late,great,Australian comedian/accordionist,Herbie Marks.
Extract from ''World Accordion Review''Vol 7 No 11 1952
These are two pressing questions which every good Accordionist must have
asked himself sometime or other.
As a player who has spent the last twelve years working among other
instrumentalists and endevouring to keep 'our' instrument at the high level they
have set me,I feel qualified to express at least an opinion on these vexed

First ,let me examine the tone of your instrument:Can you honestly say that
when you engage the 'clarinet' stop you obtain a tone as good as a real
clarinet?(Mind you,I don't mean a perfect imitation of that instrument-the
register names are purely arbitary and,in any case,an Accordion that actually
sounded like a clarinet would be most undesirable.After all,why not use a
clarinet?)If you are honest with yourself,in nine cases out of ten the answer is
Press any other stop and tell me wether it sounds as good as the tone of any
legitimate instrument as played by a master.It most probably doesn't.And the
reason for this is usually (apart from a bad quality instrument for which there
is no remedy except to stop making the things!) the tuning of the instrument.
You see,years ago,somebody or other had the brilliant idea of tuning one set
of reeds slightly at variance with the rest to make that pretty(?)tremolo
tone.This misguided person succeeded in doing more damage to the prestige of the
Accordion than any other one single human.For ,how can an instrument sound
musical when it is fundamentally out of tune?How can such an instrument be
played among instruments that are in tune without sticking out like the
proverbial ''sore thumb'' and annoying the players of the legitimate
These two questions,at least,are simply answered.IT CANNOT!!
So why persist with tuning otherwise good instruments in this dated and
unmusical manner?
Now,please remember that I am writing of Concert music and NOT Continental
or Scottish music for which the tremolo-tuned instrument is so well
adapted.But,let me explain a little about this Musette tuning:Did you know that
the original Musette was actually a small set of Bagpipes used in France to play
Folk Music?It is the reedy tone of this primitive instrument which the modern
tremolo tuning simulates and which blends so well with the other instruments of
Musette ensembles.
Yet,I am perfectly sure that if the first Musette music had been played on
straight tuned Accordions we should never have missed the Musette tuning!
Now,let us see HOW you are using those beautiful straight-tuned reeds of
I sincerely hope that you are not playing with octave-couplers on behind
that lovely sweet violin melody because,if you are,despite the beatific smiles
on the face of the fiddler,he has murder in his heart!
I trust that when you play in thirds with that temperamental clarinettist
there is no coupling otherwise,instead of your playing a single note below the
clarinet,you will be playing two octaves of that required one note-one an octave
below the other! And,you know what shocking tempers these woodwind players
But in all seriousness,coupled stops do not blend with other instruments and
should only be used for effects.Sometimes they can sound nice in sustained
passages but,as a general rule,when playing with other instruments,use only
single reeds,for these are the best tones on your instrument.
And when you play solo,remember that your full coupling is a unison,not a
pure note,so don't use it right through a number.Whoever heard a good Orchestra
which playes unison all through a composition?
Keep that coupler for a buildup effect and will be appreciated by
musicians-even by those who don't like coupled accordion.
One of the main grouses of the legitimate musician is the Accordionist's
choice of numbers.I am here talking to the serious concert artiste more than the
vaudeville and variety player who is playing to an audience of spectacle-loving

I heard recently a brilliant Accordionist play a
well-arranged,technically-perfect performance of Beethoven's ''Sonata
Pathetique''...No mean feat of technique.A violinist friend who listened in deep
admiration of the man's beautiful technique,said to me,''what a shame!''
I turned indignantly on him and asked,''What the devil do you mean?''
He replied, ''What a shame that all that wonderful musicianship is not
expended on some piece that SUITS the Accordion!''
And,in truth,I could not help but agree.
If you were to possess an Accordion record (no matter how beautifully-played)
of the Sonata Pathetique and a record of Arthur Schnabel playing it on the
piano,I am afraid that the Accordion record would fall into the category of a
mere technical curiousity,for the piece of music suits the piano and is less
effective on the Accordion.
So when you play a concert solo,make sure that it is one that Arthur Schnabel
(for argument's sake)CANNOT PLAY AS EFFECTIVELY ON HIS PIANO,or one that would
not sound better if it were rendered on violin by a good artiste.IT IS THE SOUND
What we need to clinch the argument of legitimacy of ''our'' instrument are
composers who recognise that it is not how difficult a piece is to play which
matters,but how the music falls on the ear.
Where are the Accordion compositions which play on the emotions?......taht
make you happy,or sad,or make your passions take hold of your senses?
Where are the Accordion solos that stir your sense of patriotism as some of
the Chopin works.....that have the broad magnificence of Beethoven.....the
grandeur of Wagner....the delicacy of Schubert....the taste of Mozart...the lilt
of Strauss...or the sheer musicianship of Bach?
These Accordion solos,unhappily are all too rare.We have made a start by
playing the instrument correctly,and such as Diero,Frosini,Volpi,Fugazza,Ettore
and a few others have given us a lead in composition.These few(while in my
opinion they will never be ''immortal'' composers) will,in the minds of
posterity,occupy the place of men of the ilk of Palestrina.....men who led the
way to better things.
Because Accordionists are becoming more and more conscious of MUSIC and will
build on the firm foundations of these pioneers,as Beethoven and others built on
a foundation laid by Palestrina and others of his time whose names are remebered
but whose music is almost forgotten,there is every hope for a bright musical
future for ''our'' instrument.

If I seem a little controversial at times in this article,please forgive me.I am
first and foremost an enthusiast,and my criticisms are meant as much for myself
as others.
But let us not neglect in all our striving for legitimacy ( and we have not
achieved it yet in the minds of other musicians) that very important thing GOOD

Well folks,there you have it (a man that does not mince his words!!)
To be honest,I play a Musette Accordion,but agree with him on most points.
It reminds me of a dilemma that I once faced.
I was just about to compete in the U.K. solo Accordion Championships,and
noticed that the adjudicator was a gentleman who disliked Musette tuned
Accordions with a vengeance.So did I borrow my friends straight tuned box which
I had never played(and face the wrath of my late father,for doing so)or did I
stick with the Musette tuned one.
I decided to use my friends Accordion due to the fact that my Father was in
an other hall conducting one of his Orchestras (thinking I would keep it quiet
from him).
Unfortunately ,having won the competition,I was asked to play at the Gala
evening at which every competitor,adjudicator and teacher were present.
So started my second dilemma!!!!!!!! should I or shouldn't I !!!

I reckon ''The Magic Accordion of Herbie Marks down Mexico way'' is absolutely
fantastic,If you can find a copy anywhere,then grab it!!! (maybe Baz has some
contacts on that score!)
He uses his straight tuned Accordion to its fullest and his technique is
Herbie started to teach the Accordion at the age of 14!! He studied at the
Sydney Conservatorium of Music. And became permanent musical director at
Armory,near Sydney.His Accordion had over 30 couplers!!!!!

Regards to alll
Gary Blair(musette playing Accordionist from Scotland)

Maggie Martin

Mar 29, 1996, 3:00:00 AM3/29/96
In article <960325233331_100...@CompuServe.COM>,
10076...@compuserve.com (GARY BLAIR) wrote:

>.... I decided to use my friends Accordion due to the fact that my

Father >was in an other hall conducting one of his Orchestras (thinking I
would keep it quiet from him).
>Unfortunately ,having won the competition,I was asked to play at the Gala
> evening at which every competitor,adjudicator and teacher were present.
> So started my second dilemma!!!!!!!! should I or shouldn't I !!!

What did you decide to do?

Great story BTW


mag...@mediarare.com Phone:(707) 765-2165
http://www.mediarare.com Fax:(707) 765-2165**

"Never give up and never face the facts." Ruth Gordon
1996 is the Year of the Accordion. Squeeze It!

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