Oom Papa – Confessions of a Reluctant Child Accordion Player


I’m a fan of clever bumper stickers, but some of them can outright scare me — like the one I saw on a car just in front of me on the interstate.  “I brake for hallucinations,” it warned.  Just how was I supposed to know when that might happen?  I steered around to move out of harm’s way.

But the one I saw most recently really gave me a fright, for an altogether different reason.  It said, “I brake for accordions.”  What?  That didn’t even make any sense.  Yet it awakened an uncomfortable memory from my childhood.

accordionSitting in a chair, nervously clutching an instrument that barely fit on my lap, I awaited my turn to showcase my stuff at the Colorado Springs Accordion Exhibition.  My piece was Beautiful Brown Eyes, not a terribly difficult song for a ten-year old accordion newbie.  In fact, it’s routinely listed as one of the easiest accordion pieces to master.  (The overcurious can listen to it here.)  So when it came my turn to perform, I was ready.  To freeze.  After several fits and starts, however, I got into the grove and squeezed out several ooom, paa, paa’s resembling the symphony of a blender and finger nails on a chalkboard.  I was quite sure I insulted the judge with my cacophony on such a respected musical instrument.  She was gracious beyond belief, “Perhaps you can try again next year.”  Not a chance!  That was the last time an accordion sat on my lap.

Recalling those embarrassing moments has been helpful though.  It has made me examine the burdens I put on my kids.  You see, I didn’t take up the accordion as a child out of interest for the instrument.  Rather, it was thrust upon me by my mother who, having grown up in a household of Austrian accordion players, wanted to recreate something of her own childhood. I wanted to play another instrument, the guitar or the drums.  Nope.  For me, it was the accordion.  In the words of The Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson, “Welcome to heaven, here’s your harp. Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion.”

In fairness to my mom, years later she apologized for forcing the accordion upon me instead of fanning my interest in music with an instrument I might enjoy.  I find that I have a little bit of my mom in me, however, every time I fail to fan the interests of my kids in areas that may not interest me.  For instance, I’m more inclined to fan a passion in them for biking than for swimming.  Yet, like my mom, that’s just another form of accommodation to my interests.  I sure would hate to learn that my kids relived resentful memories of dad when they see the next “Share the Road” bumper sticker.  Or worse, that they may follow in their dad’s footsteps in issuing this warning: “I don’t brake for accordions.  I run over them.”

SOUND OFF:  What are some of the ways you’ve encouraged your children to pursue interests that you don’t share?


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