Back to Recollections  |  NESI HOME

2003 Group Photo

Reminiscences of a Squeeze-In Newbie
by Tom Lawrence

I am a newcomer to the Squeeze-In, concertinas, and squeeze-boxes in general. It had never occurred to me to try playing one. I never touched one until February of this year. But when I did I concluded within a few hours the first day that it was the best instrument ever! I started on English (cheap little Stagi), and quickly learned that I need to get a real instrument. Somehow I discovered, which pointed me to The Button Box as one of the few makers of good, available English concertinas. I ordered, and noticed right about that time they were preparing to take reservations for some kind of "Squeeze-In" shindig. I thought "gee that sounds kinda fun, and I have 5 months to learn something," so I printed out the application and mailed it off straight away.

It was an eventful summer of learning things, accidentally obtaining a cheap Lachenal Anglo-30 to complement my English; discovering the Irish Pub Session, etc. Finally, September arrived. There were moments of anxiety as the hurricane cancelled my flight from Seattle though Dulles, but the United Robot called me and said not to worry, I had been automatically rebooked. I carefully packed my R. Morse Albion and Lachenal in my carry-on and set off on the journey. The anticipation really started building on the two hour drive from Hartford to the middle of nowhere. What would I find? What are these people like?
Manor porch session

I drove up the gravel path into Bucksteep Manor and reached the manor house. At this point in the evening, there were hordes of people spilling out of the manor house, carrying squeeze-boxes of unbelievable form and variety. There were people planted on picnic tables, people carrying their treasures to and from cars. Everyone was playing or waving their boxes about. The scene struck me as like a large number of moths drawn to a bright light at night, but all playing free-reed instruments of one kind or another as they flitted around and bumped into each other! I asked for directions from some kind soul, parked the car, and made my way through the packed house to registration.

That evening at dinner I "bumped" into the man himself, Rich Morse, organizer, creator of my instrument, general instigator of mayhem and fun (ok, so I was actually looking for him). This was the first of several very enjoyable mealtimes spent at his table, hearing about how he designs and builds his boxes, and concertina lore in general. I got to hear first hand about the trials and tribulations of trying to find somebody (anybody!) to mass-produce concertina reeds for his planned Duet project. And there were so many warm-hearted souls I met at dinner time, and I can't remember all the names (I'm so bad with names), but I hope to see them all again next year, and I'll bring a notepad that time!

I must put in a word about the meals. In a word, they are excellent. Throughout the weekend there were things such as wonderful creamy chicken-pasta dishes, marinated steaks with grilled pineapple, a great assortment of breakfast items, and plenty of delicious options for vegetarians that I, an avowed meat lover, ended up pilfering.

Frank and TomThe highlight of the weekend for me was getting to hang around Frank Edgley, share a few tunes (and listen to a lot more!), and learn some concertina wisdom. That Friday evening, everyone broke into sessions around the manor house. I think there were eight at one point. Tucked away in a corner of the dining room I found Frank and his friend Matt Heumann, and someone from New York whose name I have forgotten.* We squeezed away into the wee hours, as Matt and Frank traded jabs about English vs. Anglo concertinas. This was particularly momentous for me because I was struggling with my own internal conflict about whether to focus more on the English or the Anglo. And that session did not resolve the issue at all! (Though I did finally make up my mind later that weekend.) Anyway, it was great to meet Frank after seeing his name on for so many months.

In the bar there was a table set up with a display of truly strange, weird, and bizarre instruments. These ranged from ones that were very old to what would have come out had Frankenstein made concertinas instead of monsters. There was a harmonium with a pentatonic drone system and a movable keyboard that allowed you to transpose any tune in half-steps without having to think about it. Also shown was probably the lowest-budget concertina ever made.

One of the great things about the Squeeze-In is all the different boxes people have. Just about everyone is willing to let you have a squeeze on their box. I tried a bunch of Aeolas, baritone and bass English systems, new Anglos, and even a couple of button boxes. It was a most illuminating experience, and has significantly changed my long-term goals in terms of what instruments I plan to try to acquire.


Saturday consisted of a bunch of workshops followed by a participatory concert. I attended an Anglo introductory technique workshop and one on Morris tunes. Morris is quite a bit different than the Irish I do, and I found myself (not for the first time or last time) wishing there was time enough in the human lifespan to try all these different wonderful forms of music.

Howie's creation Then, after dinner, we gathered for the concert. There was a gamut of offerings, from mini-concertina solos (complete with ventriloquist dummy) up to a huge piano accordion band (was it just the instruments that were huge, or seeing 7 or 8 on stage at once). After the concert there was a contradance, which was the first time I've ever done that, but hopefully not the last (that whole time thing again). Everyone was friendly and kindly tolerated my bumble-footedness. The clearest memory of that evening for me is Jody Kruskal's playing. I had to get a closer look because I couldn't believe someone could get so many chords out of an Anglo concertina. Later I found out that he had the advantage of a few extra buttons...

Sunday morning was a morning of wistfulness for me because I didn't want to leave. People were already heading out, but there were a bunch of those "last minute" sessions going on amongst the stragglers, the kind that always end up being the most memorable. Alas, the airplane was not going to wait while I tried to sneak a few more tunes, so I said goodbye to everyone and hit the road. But, I will be back next year!

 *I'm so bad with names, but if you whose name I've forgotten are reading this and you email the webmaster, I'm sure this page can be fixed.

Back to Recollections  |  NESI HOME