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Forget Vaudeville, Acme Accordion School Also Rips and Rocks

The 60-year-old Haddon Township business celebrates National Accordion Day on Nov. 4.

Ah, pity the accordion player.

Every time he carries the instrument into a room, he gets a laugh. So go ahead and snicker, but then listen because those box-shaped, chest-sized “squeeze boxes” can do a lot more than play a polka.

They can rip and rock.

“People think of the accordion in connection with ethnic dances, but it’s becoming more popular," said Joanna Darrow, who, along with her husband Stan, have operated the Acme Accordion School here since 1952. "It’s happy music and the instrument is used for classical and serious music, in concerts and symphonies, but it’s becoming more contemporary. It’s not just polkas and jigs.”

Originally located across the street from the municipal building, Acme is one of the oldest businesses in the township. It moved to its current address, adjacent to the PATCO parking lot, in 1960.

Stanley has been on concert tours through Europe including performances at the State Accordion College in Trossingen, Germany. He lectures and has recitals at Rowan University and with the Pilzen and Prague Conservatories.

The instruments themselves, which rely on reeds to produce music, cost between $100 and $150 for a child-sized model to as much as $8,000. Made by hand in Italy, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and China, the accordions take up to a year to manufacture.

Keyboards are made of wood, covered with celluloid. Some have buttons on the left side but both hands are used to play the instrument.

“A lot of our people played when they were younger and now they’ve retired and want to return to it," Joanna said. "Teenagers are interested because accordions now are on music videos.”

In addition to lessons for all levels of musicians, beginning with 5- and 6-year-olds, the school has a band and an orchestra.

Acme is inviting the public to a Nov. 4, free concert and festival at the school to show off the diversity of accordion music.

Soloists will perform between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  At midday, between 12:30 and 1 p.m., accordionists will pose for a group photo shot. Last year, several of them climbed onto the roof, while others, including about a half-dozen children, sat on the curb outside the school at 322 Haddon Ave. Joanna Darrow, who runs the school with her husband, Stan, said they’re hoping to draw 100 accordionists for this year’s photo session.

There also will be an accordion mart, where owners can display instruments orooh! and ahh! over others. Display space is limited to 15, Joanna said.

Soloists at the Nov. 4 event will include Tom Groeber, who specializes in ethnic German and Austrian music on his piano accordion and on his Bavarian Button Box and Dr. Lou Persic, a retired radiologist and nuclear medicine physician, who has performed at such events as the National Athletic Association Gymnastics Meet. The third soloist, Bernie Gardzalla, a music educator and organist who was the principal organist at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Scranton, PA, now teaches music in the Wyoming Valley West School District and is an assistant conductor of the Wyoming Valley Band, where he also is the principal trombonist.

The event will be the local highlight of the 34th autumn accordion day.

On Dec. 1, the accordion orchestra will perform at 2 p.m. at the William G.Rohrer Library at 15 MacArthur Blvd. in Haddon Township. In addition to classical selections, the performance will include a medley from the movie Grease. There will be a special selection of songs for children, who will be encouraged to “meet and greet” both the performers and the instruments.

The school includes two practice rooms and a lower-level studio where students participate in group sessions after individual lessons. The age of students enrolled in programs ranges from 6 to 80.

Lessons are scheduled weekly and cost about $83 a month, including both a 30-minute private lesson and 30 minutes playing with the group. Lessons are available daily, including Saturday, and until as late as 11 p.m. About 80 accordion students participate in programs.

Information about the Acme Accordion School and the Westmont PhilharmoniaAccordion Orchestra is available at the school or by calling 856-854-2752.

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