With a last name like Knezovich, you’d think Mike would love accordion music.
But alas, he does not.
About a year ago, the F sharp key on my accordion got stuck. Every time I’d squeeze the squeeze box, it’d play F sharp. Which would be fine if any of the tunes in my accordion repertoire were in F sharp. None are.
Mike did not weep when I told him last year that my accordion was broken. I was near tears, though, when he dialed the number for the “Buttons and Keys” division at Andy’s Music Chicago yesterday and handed me the phone. “See if they can fix your accordion,” he said. “I’ll drive you there on our way to get groceries.”
Mike may not like accordion much, but our son Gus does. The one thing Gus has always enjoyed, the one thing that motivates him and, at times, soothes him, is…music. Hip hop, jazz, new age, Cajun, punk, country & western, African…even accordion. If it’s music, Gus loves it.
Gus was born with a genetic disorder that left him physically and mentally disabled. Mike and I didn’t know a whole lot about music therapy when Gus was young, but our love of music rubbed off on our son. From the time Mike met me, he has always seen to it that we have a piano in the house. When I started losing my sight, I was also losing the ability to do things on my own — I couldn’t drive anymore, had trouble reading print, I tripped over curbs. Recognizing how important it was for me to learn to do something new, Mike went to a second-hand store and bought me a fiddle. It only took one year of screechy lessons to convince me to sell my fiddle. Earnings from the sale went towards paying a graduate student to teach me to play my piano by ear. Gus would lie across my lap as I practiced.
My former fiddle teacher recommended me to a local old-time string ban that needed a piano player. I passed the audition, and I arranged for the band to practice at our house for Gus’ sake. I started experimenting with jazz, surprising my traditional string band with an occasional flat five or minor seventh. They tolerated it.
They tolerated a lot, really. When I first joined, “Oh, Susanna” was the only old-time tune I knew. I brought my handheld tape recorder to every practice, listening and registering at home to differentiate and memorize their repertoire. At gigs, my memory would fail me. I had to be reminded what key every tune was in. And instead of the traditional eye movement or foot kick to signify song endings, the lead musician yelled “last time!” loudly enough for me to hear over my playing. I didn’t know it, but practices and performances served as therapy — I’d pound out chords when I was angry, play painfully slow on melancholy days.
Sequestered at home with a newborn, I practiced a lot.
Our old-time string band was successful enough to garner gigs outside in the summer. I couldn’t carry an upright piano with me, so I taught myself to play the accordion. Poor Mike. Who would have guessed that his thoughtful notion to buy me a used fiddle would lead to a lifetime listening to polkas on the accordion?
Mike and I couldn’t get away this weekend to visit Gus in his group home in Wisconsin, but that’s okay. Gus doesn’t understand that today is Mother’s Day, so we’ll just go up next weekend and celebrate Mother’s Day then. As always, it will be great just to be with him. Gus doesn’t have a piano in his group home, but if “Buttons and Keys” gets that F sharp key fixed, thanks to Mike’s generous Mother’s Day gift, maybe I’ll bring my accordion.