Concertina & Squeezebox visits the....
"LET THE TUNEFUL SQUEEZE of laboring elbow rouse the imprisoned Winds... out they fly Melodious." So wrote J. Philips in 1708, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
And so they flew from the effort of many a laboring elbow at Bucksteep Manor in western Massachusetts in September. This fourth annual gathering of free-reed players from near and far as once again a weekend of wonderful music, great craic, noteworthy food, and good drink as the elbows labored in another venue before returning to their instruments. "When sufficiently stewed, give it a gentle squeeze." (OED again: A. Hunter in 1806.)
For the second year after taking up the job from C&S, the folks at The Button Box in Amherst, Massachusetts ably organized and guided this amazing gathering of 90-some musicians of many persuasions. (Doug Creighton noted that the preponderance of button boxes seen in previous years seemed to have been eclipsed by a groundswell of concertina players.) Anglo, English and Duet concertinas, melodeons and Irish boxes, piano accordions of all sizes, and a few oddities (referring, of course, to instruments) sat on every available surface around the spacious main room of the manor as well as being displayed in the "Little Tweet Museum of the Curious and Bizarre." There was constant cheerful cacophony as people played instruments they had brought, used to own, were thinking about buying, or wanted to have in their hands just once before they died.
The siren call of the sales room led English concertina player Phil Hovey to decide it was time to move up from his Bastari to a lovely little Lachenal and phoned home to warn his wife about his intentions. "I have made," he told her, "a serious commitment to a concertina." She replied, "Just as long as you haven't made a serious commitment to a concertina player!" It's all a matter of keeping things in the right perspective, isn't it?
Every year, the Squeeze-In quickly achieves a momentum of its own, and its success depends on all of the participants. Friday night is an unstructured time of arriving; meeting old friends and making new ones over dinner; fondling the rare and obscure instruments in the salesroom while buying tapes, books, and T-shirts; and starting to make the rounds of countless small groups who are jamming and swapping tunes in every available space around the Manor. (On Sunday morning, a young woman in a car stopped me in the driveway, asking for directions to a different lodge. I sent her into the Manor for help, warning her that she had wandered into a gathering of accordion players. She laughed as though I had made a joke. I would love to have seen her face as she opened the front door and was hit by the tidal wave of free reed sound!)
A sign-up sheet on the front porch of the Manor gave people opportunity to offer workshops and convene interest groups during the following two days. The variety of the choices was staggering. In the course of the weekend this year, offerings included: a waltz swap, Breton tunes, accordion and concertina repair, Morris tunes, a wallow in schmaltzy piano accordion repertoire, an Irish seisiun, Anglo demystification for Irish musicians, putting "punch" into your English playing, a Holmwood Concertinas video-viewing, a rehearsal of the contra dance tunes for the Saturday night frolic, a Scandinavian tune session, one called "Do It (Duet) To It," and others far too numerous and/or weird to list. The workshops went on throughout all of Saturday and continued well into Sunday.
Saturday night is one of the most memorable parts of the Squeeze-In. It begins with a procession from the Manor to the barn. Although this was a very damp and occasionally rainy weekend, most of musicians chose to come down on the side of tradition and march anyway. There was, however, a much larger wind section (mostly tin whistles) than we have seen on drier weekends. We went out to the porch and played a Swedish walking tune until those who knew it and those who didn't began to sound more or less alike, and when this gestalt was achieved, we headed for the barn led by the thubbing of Craig Hollingsworth's flaccid bodhran. (Did you know that in Irish "bodhran" means a deaf person as well as a skin drum?)
This year's concert was as incredible as ever. (Someone should start thinking about doing a video equivalent of the "Readers' Tape" next year.) We can't list everyone but ... Paul Cooper played some lovely waltzes, Jim Lucas shared two of his own compositions, Ken Sweeney amazed and delighted the crowd with his 2-harmonica virtuosity, and Mary Morse demonstrated the sweet sound of her new little Marcel Messervier accordion. Margery Tyndall was gradually joined by a seemingly-endless stream of musician friends as an increasingly-layered rendition of "Hi Lilly Hi Low" swelled to the rafters. When Joel Cowan and Frank Ferrell came on stage, Joel mentioned that Frank had sold him his first concertina some 17 years ago; Frank quickly denied all responsibility for any resultant harm to the general public. When they finished playing, Joel was replaced by Frank Edgley, who justified his playing of "cauld wind" pipes at a free reed gathering by pointing out that smallpipes do have reeds and he was not being paid to play them. In addition to tunes, there were memorable renditions of songs. They included one about the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (Barry O'Neill), the double-entendre "Bury Hand Loom" (Tony Hughes), an old Carter family favorite "Sweet Forget Me Not" (Mary Morse), and "Doing the Manch" which meant sampling all the pubs in the town of Manchester (Jim Lucas). The audience was wonderfully supportive of all of the performers and joined in on the choruses with great enthusiasm. The final performance of the concert was "The El Rancho Grande Orchestra." The brainchild of Craig Hollingsworth and Kate Casano which was rehearsed as one of the Saturday workshops, this five-part symphonic phenomenon was almost overshadowed by the visual impact of Craig (resplendent in his black and yellow plaid sport jacket which really should have had trousers to match) as he sat at the back blowing soap bubbles at the climactic moment of the piece.
After that, the room was rearranged for the contra dance, which was led with great humor and patience by caller and concertina squeezer Mike Quinn. The dance band illustrated the variety of other instruments played by free-reeders and their companions. Bobbing around in the expected sea of concertinas and accordions were at least one player each of fiddle, banjo, bones, clarinet, piano, guitar, triangle, and possibly more.
Sunday morning's brunch segued smoothly into more workshops, more jamming, and a final frenzy of buying and deal-making as people realized that all those books, tapes, and instruments were about to disappear. In addition to the Button Box's moveable feast, there was a private selling table that offered everything from a very inexpensive Chinese Anglo to much fancier squeezables bearing such names as Castagnari, Jeffries, and Wheatstone. There were low-priced fixer-uppers among the many impeccables.
As Tony and I headed back to Interstate 90 (once again making the wrong decision at the fork where County Road goes off and we should not go with it), we talked about the singular sense of community that develops every year. Rare, valuable, and beloved instruments are entrusted to strangers and returned with great care. Jars fill with money while T-shirts and tapes disappear as transactions are completed with buyer and seller never meeting, much like the silent barter of the ancient Wangara of the Sudan. People share tunes they have written themselves or just started to learn as though they were among trusted friends instead of a group of strangers. The many experts in various musical genres and hardware-tweaking are constantly ambushed by the rest of us for advice, fixes, and lessons - and they always respond with generosity. If you've never gotten to one of these things, start making plans for September of '94.
One of the older definitions of squeeze in the OED is: "a crowded assembly or social gathering; a joyous entertainment... when the whole house is full from top to bottom." And so it was. Thanks to the people at The Button Box for making it happen, and also thanks to the folks who run Buck-steep Manor for the homey accommodations and greatly-improved food. See you at the Squeeze-In next year!
[Agreed. A splendid time, made all the more enjoyable by Rich & Doug & Bob at The Button Box continuing the tradition of a low-key, no-pressure, informal atmosphere; this in contrast to other gatherings where apparently only the invited hotshots are welcome to play, while ordinary mortals are actively discouraged! Feh. A curious policy, to say the least.
Fortunately, you don't have to deal with that sort of nonsense at the Squeeze-In; as Lynn reports, it's an extremely amiable free-for-all. Beginners hobnob with seasoned veterans in absolutely relaxed surroundings; you'd have to be soured of life altogether not to enjoy it.
Finally, for the sake of accuracy I should point out that Rich Morse and I founded the Squeeze-In together - it was never just a C&S operation. For that matter, I believe this event has greatly improved under his tenure, although perhaps my whining about the food at one time may have contributed to improvements in the catering department; regulars will remember this as something of a joke in former years. No longer. Bravo to a splendid effort - Ed. ]
This article is "reprinted" here with permission from
& Squeezebox magazine editor/publisher Joel Cowan. It appeared
in issue #30. It is with great regrets that this fabulous magazine is no
longer being produced.
Phone: (413) 665-7793
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This page updated: 5/3/97