by Jack Garton
If you are looking for ways to increase the magnetism and flair of your accordion playing performances, but hate the idea of practicing the instrument and improving on it, then Accordion Balancing might be for you. It’s a great way to instantly impel others to use strong language to describe your accordion playing, with no practice required! Whatever your skill level, playing your accordion while balancing on something is a dandy way to get your accordion playing noticed.
There are many different kinds of Accordion Balancing. All can yield interesting results, but hopefully this leaflet can help you decide what kind is best for you and your accordion playing.
- BALANCING ON MORAL HIGH GROUND
During the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, most bands were busy flinging themselves at the feet of every corporate gig that came along. The City of Vancouver and all the corporate sponsors were very busy trying to distract everyone from the nepotism and destruction of the Games by throwing lots of slick parties. My friends would say that while they opposed the inherent exploitation of the Games, they didn’t mind raking in as much money off them as possible. Typical guitar player’s attitude.
My band at the time, Maria in the Shower, was not offered any slick corporate gigs. Nonetheless, we decided not to accept any. We agreed with extreme moral rigour that if the phone did ring, we would know exactly where we would tell the Olympics to stuff their slick gig. Our decision was to hole up in our shared house on Commercial Drive and 2nd ave, and wait the whole thing out.
Our plan was perfect. The basement was starting to flood, and we couldn’t afford to heat the house. I had resorted to nibbling the better-looking rinds from the compost and hoping my regular theft of olive brine would go unnoticed. But while our friends smeared themselves in the bloody feces of capitalism, our conscience was pristine. When all this was over i knew i would walk down the street with my head held high.
But then one day God sent us a test. Our bass player Brendon informed us of a Gig Offer. It didn’t sound too slick. It was to play at a pop-up replica of an Irish pub to be constructed in one of the rooms at the Emily Carr Art School. We took the gig, even though this was exactly the kind of silly event that happens when artists and promoters start sniffing under the Olympic tables like dogs for crumbs. There was a rumour that Lou Reed might be there, which sealed the decision.
When we arrived, the place was full of arty minglers, talking. Very loud cocktail-and-beer arty minglers. Arty minglers have lots to say. A stage was set up in absolutely the most boring location in the room, on the opposite side of a dividing wall from the people herding around the bar. Thinking quickly, as accordion players often do, I decided to screw the stage and PA and just get up on the bar and sing. Convincing the boys to join me, I used proper bar-mounting technique (right foot on stool with right hand on bar to steady if stool swivels, left hand holding accordion shut, and/or gently lifting accordion a few inches if needed) and with feet mounted solidly on the solid wooden slab I surveyed the scene.
Accordion Balancing can provide a rare perspective on the human race. Perched above a crowd of humans, strapped to a 19th century device that is capable of provoking the hardiest of skeptics into exclamation, time seems to slow down. What to do next? To sing, to stomp, to squeeze? The body simply takes over, and all things become lucid and perfect as like God you peer down at humanity with a mixture of compassion, amusement and regret.
And then I saw Lou Reed. Only God and Accordion Balancers get to look down on Lou Reed and know that the next thing they do will affect Lou Reed. Don’t Think, just Do, I thought, and I launched into song.
The funny thing is that I chose a very irritating Irish song to begin howling, a song called “Tell Me Ma” which many people know and only the drunkest people enjoy. We pounded and howled and squeezed, but i knew from the opening words it was the wrong song to choose. It was a rare performing moment where stopping quickly and beginning a new song would have been intelligent. Yet somehow I carried on trilling and yelping through four verses and solos and I believe repeating some of those verses as well. I had single-handedly turned a somewhat-cool arty Pub installation into a bloody Irish Disneyland.
When we finished the song, Lou Reed was gone. Driven away, I am convinced, by my annoying fake Irishness that came on all of a sudden. I am also convinced that it was Meant To Be. After a few more songs on the bar we were asked to leave, ending our career as Olympic minstrels. But I am sure that we were narrowly saved from becoming rich and famous that day by my choice of song. Lou Reed was there. All the money and power dangling before us.
But could I have lived with the shame of having profited from the world’s most reprehensible 2 week party?
Luckily, I didn’t fall from my high moral place that day. Another success story of Accordion Balancing.
- UNSAFE DISMOUNTING AND STRAPS
It is important to remember that a safe dismount is one of the best-possible outcomes of any attempt at Accordion Balancing. Jumping is kinda bad.
While some jumps land safely, it is more the exception than the rule. During flight, the 15-20lb object strapped to your chest can behave unpredictably. Now I can hear you saying, “So what? I didn’t become an accordion player to achieve predictable results! If I wanted those I would take up banking or palliative care!” but what I am about to tell you is for your own safety.
It all comes down to straps. For instance, what height you choose to wear them at. If you wear you accordion low, like a real punk, landing a jump is likely to cause the straps to slip off your shoulders and your accordion will hit the ground. Pretty cool-looking, but see “accordion budget balancing” for why this habit may not work in the long run.
If you wear your accordion high on your chest, like a super dork, in addition to being able to play way better you unfortunately run the risk of bashing your chin on the hard top of the accordion when landing an epic jump. There are chin scars and chipped teeth to prove this.
But no matter how high you wear your accordion, the biggest problem with jumping is strap trauma. A chronic jumper will start wearing straps out at an alarming rate. There are some solutions, but none are perfect.
If jumping is simply an indispensable aspect of your accordion playing, then strap preparedness is key. Be prepared to wear out a strap every second show, ALWAYS CARRY A SPARE (or wear a tie – see below).
Straps always wear out in the same place. Right strap, at the spot where it loops around the metal bracket. There is more weight on the left side of any piano accordion so more strain is on the right strap. The impact of landing a jump is murderous to this weak point. Even regularly treated leather is no match for regular impact. Some alternatives that work well are:
-camera bag straps, with plastic or metal hooks on each end
-duffel bag straps with the same
-gun straps (although they often attach with a synthetic fabric passed through a plastic piece. If so, not trustworthy)
**Stay away from modern expensive neoprene straps. They are the only straps that are so weak they will break in multiple places. Plus, they absorb and transform body odour into something decidedly counterproductive.**
In the end, you simply cannot safely jump from a high Accordion Balancing point without taking a toll on your straps, your accordion and your body. Although it does look really cool. Consider yourself warned.
- SAFE DISMOUNT
The safest way to dismount from an Accordion Balancing point is to step down onto an intermediary step or steps before returning to the ground.
Yeah, I know, boring.
- BALANCING FAITH AND SKEPTICISM
Faith and accordion playing go together. It’s no coincidence that the best accordions in the world come from a country that also puts so much faith in an old man wearing silly white robes that they grant him ultimate decision making power and immunity from every known law. As an accordion balancer a correct relationship with faith is vital.
As you have probably noticed, there is no possible way to see what your left hand is doing when it is playing the buttons of your accordion. It is a little known fact that Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 6:3 refers to this accordion playing phenomenon, “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”.
Since there is no way to monitor yourself playing the accordion buttons, you must simply believe that its going to work out okay.
Some accordion players try standing in front of a mirror, and think that they will learn the buttons by watching their left hand’s reflection. This is a bit like trying to tell a monstrous lie to your loved one by figuring out what they want to hear and working the story out backwards from there. Very time consuming and confusing.
Its much better to forget about monitoring yourself and just let your fingers fly over the buttons realizing that the earth truly doesn’t care what button you push, the sun will rise again tomorrow, and all of nature in it’s majesty and terror will continue whether or not you push the ‘right’ button. The point is to have faith.
Faith plays a big role in Accordion Balancing because, like the left hand, it is impossible to see your own feet while playing the accordion. You must forget about monitoring the safety of where you are standing. It’s just not going to happen.
There should be limitations to your faith of course. It must be balanced with some skepticism.* Most importantly, do not have faith in your faith. Faith itself actually has nothing to do with faith. This is where most organized religion goes awry.
Early on in the development of a religion, you just have a lot of crazy people. They seem to have this irrational idea that everything is going to turn out alright, so they allow themselves to take enormous risks that from the outside appear insane. Then as time goes on, subsequent followers idolize the faith of their predecessors. They put their faith in faith. This causes them to take fewer and fewer risks, in order not to diverge from the example of their ancestors. This is completely counteractive to faith. Faith in faith is not faith at all. Faith is the permission to diverge, the freedom to take risks.
This freedom is a central goal of Accordion Balancing. We are setting ourselves free, thereby increasing the magnetism and flair with which we play the accordion.
*For further study, an in-depth example of the pitfalls of too much faith can be found in Geoff Berner’s song, “Maginot Line”
- BALANCING DRUNKENNESS AND SOBRIETY
In general, Accordion Balancing is a drunken activity. We can safely assume that the first accordion balancers were probably many sheets to the wind.
Needless to say, there is an ideal point of drunkenness that when achieved bolsters your personal bravery and heightens the sense of risk. Beyond this point, it can be seriously dangerous to be wavering on a balcony railing singing to your adoring following. Finding this ideal point is a personal journey, one I strongly encourage you to embark upon.
- BALANCING LEFT AND RIGHT BRAIN
Let’s face it, nobody really knows what the different sides of our brain do. It is, moreover, proven that the part of the brain that discusses with others what side of the brain does what actually inhibits the accordion playing part of the brain. The best thing you can do for your accordion playing is to never think about this topic again.
- TIES: GOOD OR BAD?
Ties look really nifty. But for the accordion balancer, that’s not all they do.
The exertion of Accordion Balancing often causes copious amounts of sweat. This combined with the constant munching motion of the bellows can wreck a great tie. But don’t let that turn you off ties for good. They have a secret and invaluable use.
When your accordion strap inevitably breaks, the absolute best quick replacement is a silk neck tie. It will allow you to finish the show with minimal delay, and actually outperforms almost any other accordion strap real or improvised.
Your tie will definitely be ruined forever, which probably was going to happen anyway.
- BALANCING TRUTH AND FICTION
In all communication, what is understood is more important than what is said. As a balancing accordion player, you are trying to communicate that you are in full control of your body in the physical space, and that you are crazy or genius enough to take risks ordinary mortals would not. This instills awe, a helpful ingredient for covering up any shortcomings in your accordion technique.
For the effect to be believable, there must of course be a healthy dose of truth to the perception of risk. But it is in your best interest as an Accordion Balancer to embellish that perception if possible. Never forget that you are in showbiz.
Here is a helpful tip from Jason Webley, a master Accordion Balancer:
“I like wiggly dangerous looking tables… the more they move around, the more entertaining and the greater the risk of disaster. If possible, scout out your possible jump spots before you perform. If nobody’s looking, do a little test. A lot of tables in restaurants and bars just have one very thick leg in the middle. These can be very good for wobbling around on, and can be kept from toppling pretty easily so long as you never put too much weight to one side for very long.”
Why take up Accordion Balancing?
It makes you sweat. When you sweat, your liquid secretions interact with bacteria living on your skin to produce a unique scent. This scent is packed full of your biological information, and is one of the main indicators of sexual compatibility between two people. Sexual compatibility, as we know, often leads to love and attachment which in turn leads to satisfaction and fulfillment. Accordion Balancing also has an upside.
This upside is that venue owners hate it. There is nothing that annoys them more than seeing you jump around on their furniture and property except having to pay you for it afterward. Accordion Balancing is an anarchist revolutionary act which in its small way contributes to toppling the oppression of private property. You can sleep well at night knowing that you’ve made the world a better place to live.