YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

High Life: A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Squeezing Out Respect From the Accordion : Music: Loara High grad Matt Buchanan has developed strong arms and a sense of humor while earning a lot of awards.

July 15, 1993|JOYZELLE DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Joyzelle Davis, a recent graduate of Loara High School, will enter Northwestern University this fall

A "Far Side" cartoon a while back heaped abuse on a musical instrument that already suffers from a chronic lack of respect. In the sketch, people at the gates of paradise are greeted with "Welcome to heaven. Here's your harp," while those entering hell are told, "Welcome to hell. Here's your accordion."

Matt Buchanan, an accordionist and recent graduate of Loara High School in Anaheim, has learned to live with cracks about his chosen instrument. "Actually, that's pretty accurate," he says of the cartoon. "Imagine lugging an accordion around for eternity." Matt's accordion weighs 18 pounds.

Matt, 17, has also become accustomed to the paradox of being associated with the instrument. He has found that when people hear that he plays the accordion, they laugh. But, "if they hear me play it, they're impressed," he says.

Less benign ridicule has also plagued the young musician. One memorable experience came two years ago at the International Night Honor Society induction at Loara High.

Two minutes into his program, a rude stagehand closed the stage curtains. The audience could dimly hear him persevering behind them, and the curtains eventually opened. Despite the rousing applause at the end of his piece, Matt said the experience was "pretty embarrassing."

Such insults are facilitated by popular culture's treatment of the accordion. "It is definitely a misrepresented instrument," Matt says. "I am personally insulted that Urkel plays it on 'Family Matters.' I had to stop watching that show. But in our fast-paced society, I don't think that the image of the accordion can be changed."

Matt got his first instrument 10 years ago from, believe it or not, a traveling accordion salesman.

"I began lessons from the studio he represented. I desperately wanted to quit within the first year, but my parents stopped me," Matt said. He freely admits that he is glad his parents made him stick with the accordion, and Matt even wrote his UC application essay on the virtues that his dedication to the accordion have instilled in him.

Matt began as a student learning 12 bases (buttons) on the left hand, and through lessons and practice has learned to play all 120 bases on the accordion.

At age 9, Matt made his debut into the accordion world at "some festival . . . . I can't recall, but I got a trophy." This would be the first in a string of trophies (although Matt dismisses his accomplishments, saying, "Sometimes they give you a trophy for just showing up") that includes first place in the music performance category for the Disneyland Creativity Challenge. But he's pessimistic about a career with the instrument.

"Perhaps I could do accordion serenading as a side business to make some money," mused Matt, who hopes to become a public school teacher. "Once I got $50 for playing two songs."

He has been a member of an accordion ensemble, but quit because of the inflexible hours. Matt has also tried to jam with his accordion-playing grandfather, but was disappointed to find "he plays everything polka."

Despite a practice schedule of one to two hours a day, Matt, who will enter UC San Diego in the fall, has excelled in other areas too. He has received the Anaheim Ebell Club award for writing and numerous speech awards, has a straight-A average and was nominated to the Senior Prom Court. He was also a four-year member of the Academic Decathlon team and a clarinet section leader in the school band.

Matt channels his remaining energy into baseball card collecting. He has amassed a collection he proudly describes as "a lot," although he discounts its worth because, he says, "I collect Angels."

To combat those detractors who disparage the accordion--many of whom are his closest friends--Matt employs the philosophy of laughter. "I guess it wouldn't be art if you didn't have to suffer," he said.

Los Angeles Times Articles