The accordion takes center stage at Arts and Resilience

For the second time, Roberto Rodriguez and Roger Woods, PhD, presented as part of the Arts and Resilience Program. Rodriguez is an acclaimed accordionist and performed traditional folk and contemporary pieces ranging from polka to blues to Tejano and more. Woods is a musical historian who has written books about Texas and Houston-based music. Jonathan Garris covered their presentation in Scoop.

Cross-posted from Scoop

Rodriguez, Wood explore the roots of the accordion
Written by: Jonathan Garris, Office of Communications

Students, faculty, and staff were treated to a round of performances and some insight into the evolution and technical aspects of the accordion Thursday afternoon as part of this October’s Arts & Resilience program, a series of events designed to link the arts and humanities with medicine.

Houston-based accordion player Roberto Rodriguez and Roger Wood, PhD, music historian and author, made their second appearance for the program and spoke about some of the regional influences on the accordion and the diverse range of genres of the instrument. Rodriguez drew on his own career as a musician when demonstrating how the accordion would sound in what would seem like non-traditional styles for an accordion – blues, hip-hop, rock – and how he was exposed to them.

“My roots are more in the Tex-Mex style of playing, but I was introduced to all kinds of different genres,” Rodriguez said. He added that what he listened to early on was generally what his parents listened to but was inspired to try to learn to play guitar after seeing musicians perform at get-togethers, where an accordion would often be featured among groups like traditional mariachi bands.

Wood said there is a strong social function that has persisted with the accordion since it was first created in Berlin in 1822. The instrument has had a staying power due to a combination of portability and, for its time, affordability. Even as instruments became more sophisticated, the accordion still boasts a large sound without the need for extra equipment like an amp.

“The ability of a box like this to sound out loudly in a hall as opposed to a lot of other acoustic instruments at the time made this instrument profoundly important to people,” Wood said.

Rodriguez also demonstrated the bajo sexton, a 12-string instrument resembling a guitar. He played portions of songs to show how the bajo sexton would fill in for the bass side of the accordion, freeing up a hand to allow for more creativity while playing the latter. He also spoke about the regional variations in polka, explaining that the more Polish-style polka in the northeast was made for fast-paced dancing, while the polka becomes slower as it moves farther south.

Wood said the instrument is also valued in this part of the country due to the presence of Gabbanelli Accordions in Houston, named after Gianfranco Gabbanelli who first made accordions 50 years ago. He journeyed to Houston from Italy in 1961, and his accordions are still in demand.

“He was personally responsible for selling accordions to many famous Tejano players in the region,” Wood said.

The next event in the Arts & Resilience Program will be held at noon Thursday, Nov. 1 in MSB 3.001. It will feature the “Grand Duo for the Violin and Piano” with Brian Connelly and Samuel Park. The program is sponsored by the Dean’s Office in collaboration with the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics. For more information and a schedule, visit the program’s website here.