It’s the squeezebox, baby

Slavic in origin, the accordion can evoke the Bohemian polka or Austrian waltz, the Argentinean tango or Dominican merengue.

Like craft beer and artisanal honey, the accordion is experiencing something of a resurgence these days.

And, if Mario Tacca and Mary Mancini have anything to do with it, the bellows-driven winds of change will be blowing from the couple’s home studio in Cortlandt Manor through Hudson Valley venues.

 “It’s not about just playing notes,” says Tacca, a professional accordionist who became enthralled with the instrument at age 12. “It’s about presenting the song in the right context. That’s the key for people to enjoy it.” 

Depending on who you are and how it’s played, the accordion can transport you to the left bank of Paris or a wedding in southern Italy. (Or to a pop cultural history that ranges from “The Lawrence Welk Show” to Mumford & Sons.) Slavic in origin, it can evoke the Bohemian polka or Austrian waltz, the Argentinean tango or Dominican merengue. In North America, the Tex-Mex sound of the instrument in the hands of the Tejanos is something altogether different. 

It’s folk, it’s ethnic, it’s classical, it’s contemporary, it’s jazz. It’s the squeezebox, baby.

That’s what’s so fantastic,” says Mancini, a singer who is also Tacca’s wife. “It puts you exactly where the music comes from. It’s so legitimate. We have always been advocates of true, pure music.”  

That’s why, this month, the team of Tacca and Mancini are launching The Hudson Valley Accordion Ensemble in response to demands from many of Tacca’s students (ranging in age from 10 to 70), who want a chance to hone their skills playing gigs with a mix of professionals. “The seed was planted,” Tacca says.

“We’re keeping true to our total commitment to live music,” Mancini says. “And with accordion, there’s just no end to what you can do. I hear different styles of music coming from every student. Mario emphasizes each student individually, exposing them to all styles.”

And the styles are vast. There is always something new to learn, even among professionals.

On a recent evening, Mancini and Tacca were at the Bean Runner Café in Peekskill for a night of accordion music. A fellow professional from Rhode Island with a southern Italian influence was blown away by two Peruvian folk songs. It was a style of music he’d never heard before. That’s the kind of musical discovery the couple has witnessed many times. It’s part of what drives Tacca and will no doubt drive the new group.

“The Hudson Valley Ensemble will get together once a month,” Mancini says. Tacca envisions it as a combination workshop. “I always input some musical knowledge added to what they’re playing,” he adds.

Plans now are for about a dozen players in the group. “When we started out there were three or four,” Mancini says. “Now there’s a dozen and I know it’s going to grow.”

 “When Mario is onstage himself, it’s exciting,” she adds. “But 10 to 12 accordion players at the same time is exhilarating.”

They consist of immediate to advance players with two to 10 years’ experience, including someone who travels once a month to be part of the group. The youngest player is in his 40s but, Tacca says, “You should hear the 11-year-old. She could definitely keep up with the group.”

Adds Mancini,  “Many of these people want to pass it on to their children. A few students are even taking lessons on Skype because they live too far away.” 

Tacca writes all the arrangements and can
tailor each performance to a morphing ensemble.

“It’s a mixture of digital accordions mixed with acoustic accordions,” Mancini adds, noting that digital accordions can sound like other instruments. She lists the trumpet as an example. “Then there’s the purity of the acoustic accordion that doesn’t have any of that.” 

Says Tacca, “And we’re going to add Mary’s voice to the mix.” Mancini sings in eight languages so “we have tremendous choices,” she adds. 

For a couple who used to tour 200 days out of the year, touring the Hudson Valley is a big change. But Tacca and Mancini have seen the future and that future includes an accordion renaissance. This became evident to them during a five-city tour of China where they witnessed accordion players being treated like rock stars. The duo performed with three different symphony orchestras, taught a workshop to 200 riveted students and visited an organization in Shanghai that was 18,000 to 20,000 members strong. They decided it was time to spur that passion back home in the Hudson Valley.

“We have reached a great place in our lives,” Mancini says. “We feel so committed to pass on our experiences to the next generation.”

Their partnership is key in turning that dream into reality.

“Music is a common denominator,” Mancini says. “We’ve accomplished so much musically, because we have an understanding of the responsibilities we have, both separately and together.” 

That 43-year understanding bodes well for Tacca and Mancini continuing to make beautiful music together.

The Hudson Valley Accordion Ensemble will be performing at Taormina Restaurant in Peekskill on the second Thursday of every month beginning Oct. 11. Dinner reservations are required; call 914-739-4007. 

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