Whatever you do, do not put an accordion on the back seat of an unlocked car. Someone will break in and leave another one there.
(Depending on the company you keep you can substitute any instrument in this joke. My gift to you for this week).
At the risk of boring the non-musos amongst us I would like to introduce you to two words with which you can impress your friends but leave you sitting alone in the corner playing Angry Birds, while they develop their social skills. These are monosonoric and bisonoric. (Literally, as if you couldn’t work it out for yourself ‘one sound’ or ‘two sound’). What’s the difference? About 6 kilos.
Let me explain. We are of course, talking instruments with a keyboard or keypad at either end and bellows in the middle. Somewhere in the middle of this Heath Robinson construction are the reeds – Tiny strips of metal which vibrate when air is blown past them.
Down to the nitty-gritty. Take two harmonicas tuned to different keys, glue together back to back and fit a bellows to them. Add a keypad to allow air to reach selected notes as pressed and do something at the other end to enable you to play chords and bass notes with two fingers. Congratulations, you have just made a Melodeon. Do you remember when you were a kid and played around with a mouth-organ and you discovered that you could get two different notes though the same hole depending on whether you were blowing or sucking? It’s exactly the same with the Melodeon – one button will give you two notes depending on whether you are pushing the bellows together or pulling them apart. Hence ‘Bisonoric’. Two sounds from each button.
More nitty-gritty. Take a harmonica and modify it so that it plays only one note regardless of whether you are blowing or sucking. Logically, this instrument will have to be twice as long to accommodate the same number of notes. Add a piano keyboard, bellows and a fancy button system on the left-hand to play identical bass notes and chords on the push and the pull, and lo, you have and accordion, which plays the same notes pushing the bellows together as when the bellows are being pulled apart. Hence ‘Monosonoric’
Thinking about the ergonomics of this, because the Melodeon only needs half the number of buttons, it is less than half the size of an accordion and considerably lighter. Great for the wandering Morris musician.
There is another consequential difference. (I am getting to the point here). It’s the way you play it. Or the way you think about playing it. You see, if you already play piano, it’s relatively easy to transfer your keyboard and music-reading skills to the accordion. You’ve just got to learn the Stradella chord/bass system for the left hand, which is not rocket science. So, the easiest way to be able to play a piece of music is to follow the notes on music manuscript. Play it often enough and you will transfer the movements you make to muscle memory. Like driving a car. If you get lost playing a piece of music, you simply have to look at the music to find your way again. Like a safety net. Or a comfort blanket.
The melodeon is a different kettle of fish. To learn the push and pull sequences, where the buttons are, the relationship between the two rows, how you can use the rows together to create fast runs without changing bellows direction and relate all of that to manuscript notes in two years is a tall order. Then learn the piece well enough to accompany the morris side. Dancers grow old in that time.
It’s far more efficient to learn the melodeon by ear and use muscle memory. Miss out the manuscript stage. You could learn it well enough in under a year doing it that way. And here’s the point. You’re standing there in front of a hundred or so people, there are eight dancers looking at you and the squire has nodded the ‘go-ahead’. You squeeze the melodeon, press the first button in the sequence and…….trust.
You’ve got nothing to fall back on, no manuscript, no safety net, nothing. You close your eyes, hear the music in your head and trust.
Trust like a man building a boat in a desert. Trust like a prophet claiming that a water-soaked pile of wood will burst into flames. Trust like a group of friends on a hillside staring up at a cloud.
Sometimes you have to close your eyes…..and trust.