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Acme Accordion School: Kickin' Out the Jams for 60 Years

If you've driven by this local landmark without peeking in, you'll get your chance Nov. 4, on National Accordion Day.

Ah, pity the accordion player.

Every time he carries his instrument into a room, he gets a laugh. So go ahead and snicker, but then listen because those “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. The school includes two practice rooms and a lower-level studio that hosts group and individual lessons. Students of the program range in age from 6 to 80.

Stanley has toured Europe, performing 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 as long as a year to manufacture.

Their 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. Want to learn more? There's a free concert and festival at the school Nov. 4 that will show off the diversity of accordion music.

(The event will be the local highlight of the 34th Autumn Accordion Day.)

Soloists at the Nov. 4 event include Tom Groeber, who specializes in ethnic German and Austrian music on his piano accordion and on his Bavarian Button Box. Dr. Lou Persic, a retired radiologist and nuclear medicine physician, who has performed at such events as the National Athletic Association Gymnastics Meet, also will perform.

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.

At midday, the 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 Avenue. 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 or ooh! and ahh! over others.

On Dec. 1, the accordion orchestra will perform at 2 p.m. at the William G. Rohrer Library in Westmont. 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.

Want to learn to play? For $83 a month, you can learn in both a 30-minute private lesson and 30-minute group session. Lessons are available daily, including Saturday, and until as late as 11 p.m. About 80 accordion students participate in programs at the school. For more info: 856-854-2752.

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