By Carla Charter
NORTH CANAAN, CONNECTICUT – When Paul Ramunni first started collecting accordions for his New England Accordion Museum eleven years ago, he began by looking around yard sales and talking to other collectors. “When I would pick up the accordion, people would tell me stories about these accordions. They would say, my grandfather played then out came the story. These included tales like my uncle was drafted in the army and he brought his accordion to the front line. He knew everyone would be away from home, it helped them remember good times. They were stories not just that grandma played but where and when she played. It became an extension of them, they played to make others happy. Accordions broke the silence of the 19th century. The accordion was the common man’s musical instrument It helped keep a family together or connected.”
“These stories were just too good to keep to myself, so I put them together in a book.” This book became, Accordion Stories From the Heart. “Some of the stories are funny some are sad some are incredible,” adding the whole process of writing the book changed him.
One of the stories in the book which touched Ramunni was that of Barbara O’Connell. “She was born in 1923. She had a natural aptitude for the instrument, playing second and third hand accordions. In 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, she went to her father and asked for a professional accordion, which at that time cost approximately $750.00, the same as a cost of the house at the time. Her father was probably making $10 a week. However, everyone, neighbors and family all pitched in and she soon had a professional Italian accordion.”
“In 1942, at the age of 19, she announced to her family she was going to Europe with the USO to play for the troops. After memorizing a number of songs for the troops, she arrived in Europe, where she discovered she would be playing for Allied Troops which also included British, Polish, Canadian as well as American troops. She quickly memorized other songs in various languages. O’Connell was the last act in the USO program and was playing to a sea of gray. She always ended her performance with the then newly popular song, God Bless America. When she was done the troops would then be loaded onto transport vehicles and brought back to the front line. She was aware that she was playing to soldiers who may soon be killed. At any one time, O’Connell played for 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers at a time and played for a total of 300,000 troops.”
“I came across the story and sat back and thought about what an impact one accordion had on these men. A lot of people can be reached through the accordion. It’s important to preserve these stories. They teach us how people lived. How they made it through horrific times. . These stories give us insight into the history of the accordion and into the player’s personal lives as well. ”
There seems to be a renewed interest in the accordion, Ramunni said. “Elderly folks who thought maybe they would like to play the accordion and never got the chance want to learn to play now, as well as people who used to play. Most surprisingly, teenagers come in with their cell phones and look around and say so cool. Selling accordions to young people gives me hope,” Ramunni said.
Accordion Stories From the Heart can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. An autographed copy can be bought at the website or by contacting Ramunni at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many of the accordions highlighted in the book can also be viewed at the New England Accordion Museum. The museum website is www.newenglandaccordionconnectionandmuseumcompany.com