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Squeezing It All Into a Festival

August 23, 1995|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Contesting conventional wisdom about the esteem in which the accordion is held in the United States, Sandra Martin is optimistic.

"The accordion has gone from being a Lawrence Welk kind of instrument to an instrument taken seriously by very smart and able young musicians," said Martin, coordinator of the Accordion Federation of North America competition for the ninth year. The 40th anniversary competition takes place today through Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Long Beach.

"The accordion is loved all over the world universally," she said.

That is being optimistic.

But many people love it, that's certain, even in Southern California. More than 5,000 aficionados are expected at the festival, including 800 accordionists--and 700 devotees of that other keyboard instrument, the piano, also competing.

Such events, Martin said, "help get rid of the foolishness about accordion, comedians who come out and say, 'Punish your child, make them play accordion.' That is foolishness."

The public is invited free to many events. There will also be displays of antique accordions, a tap-dance contest and concerts.

A workshop with 92-year-old accordionist and teacher Anthony Galla-Rini takes place today from noon to 4 p.m. Maddalena Belfiore of New York performs Saturday at 7 p.m.; the closing concert of the festival, Sunday at 1:30 p.m., features Nick Ariondo (story, F1).

Tickets are $10 for a Starlight Social by the pool, Saturday at 9 p.m., featuring entertainment by accordionists "from all over," Martin said. Competitors and their families can participate in a dinner honoring Galla-Rini, a series of banquets honoring category winners and a special dance.

*

According to Martin, repertory in the competition will include "some classical, some jazz, some pops and show tunes, folk tunes, a little bayan , but not a lot [ bayan is the Russian accordion], some Cajun and some 'Lion King.' "

"But no Lawrence Welk," she said. "Nope, zero . There are polka categories, maybe two or three out of 300 categories. There are young people in our band, very good accordion players, who don't even know who Lawrence Welk is. A lot of their parents don't know Lawrence Welk."

A group from her Martin Music Center in Fullerton, 25 players ranging in age from 11 to 25, has won first place in the virtuoso accordion orchestra category for the past five years. Winning repertory in the past has included Wagner's "Rienzi" Overture; this year the ensemble plays Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.

"This is not just another school activity," Martin said. "Most of the instruments in our group are worth at least $10,000. Parents put their children in this program to learn accordion, but also to learn a discipline. These parents are wise.

"Accordion is a permanent thing. In this group, we have seven or eight in college that started with us in grammar school. These kids are together eight or nine years, and these friendships will endure."

* The Accordion Federation of North America competition and music festival runs today through Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 200 S. Pine Ave., Long Beach. Most events free. Competition hours are Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to noon. (213) 686-1769 or (310) 491-1234.

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