By Carla Charter
What began as childhood accordion lessons has become a lifelong passion to preserve the instrument and its history for Paul Ramunni, the founder of the New England Accordion Museum in Canaan, Connecticut.
“I grew up in Long Island,” Ramunni explained. “At 10 years old and being from an Italian family I remember the fateful day when my mother came to me and said ‘My father and I want you to learn the Accordion.’ I replied ‘Anything but that.’ I took lessons and learned to play though, entered competitions and was part of an accordion band. Eight years later, I went to Fairfield College. and my accordion was banished to the closet for 42 years,” he said.
In 2008, Ramunni and his wife were on vacation in Rochester, Vermont. “We had rented a house in the middle of the woods. I woke up and had a sudden urge to play again. This is the only project I have tackled in life where there has been no forethought it just came to me.” Ramunni said he has heard of a lot of people who played as kids and who have similar stories. “We found a gentleman in the area who was a collector and had 100 accordions in his garage. I was there for three hours and bought an accordion that day.” Ramunni said when he put on this accordion he could instantly play again. “The songs I had memorized came back. It was like riding a bike, “adding he also still has the accordion he had as a child.
Ramunni’s wife also plays the accordion. Ramunni found an Accordion on E-Bay with his wife’s name, Marcia, on it. “She looked at it when it arrived and said huh. She didn’t do anything with it for three months. One night I was in my office when all of a sudden, I heard Accordion music. She had picked it up and started teaching herself to play it.”
Ramunni’s growing collection of the instruments formed the basis of The New England Accordion Museum. “We renovated our garage and put up shelves so people could see them. We have 300 accordions in the museum and another 200 for sale in another building which has a workshop above where I repair them. I also occasionally give lessons,” Ramunni said.
Where the accordion was first created, he continued, is a hotly contested point. It was officially created in 1829 in Vienna, Austria with the original patent going to Damian Cyrus. “At that point in time, the instrument spread around Europe. People wanted to play something inexpensive and portable,” he said.
The Golden Age of Accordions, Ramunni continued, spanned the first half of the 20th century from 1900-1950. The accordion was big in the 30s, 40s and 50s.” Ramunni said. Among well-known people who played accordion include Jimmy Stewart, Drew Carey, John Lennon and Myron Florin of the Lawrence Welk Show. The instrument is currently hugely popular in both North Korea and China.
The accordions in the museum come from all over the world. “People are amazed that all of the accordions are different, none are the same. Its like seeing a bunch of people in a group. From a distance they all look the same, but when you get close they all look different. Individually they each have their own look, voice and beauty. Like people’s voices are slightly different one from another, it is the same for accordions.”
The museum has a number of unique accordions including a number of the very first Flutina Accordions, a Concertina from the Holocaust, a 2007 Rollins Keyboard 8x digital accordion. as well as a Double Keyboard Accordion, of which there are only 12 in the world. The accordions range in size from a half pound accordion for a one to two-year-old to a 25-30 pond accordion for adults.
The stories connected with many accordions are funny, serious and sad, Rumanni said. When he bought his accordion in 2008 , he noticed about 12-15 Concertinas that were brown, rusty and old with parts falling off of them. “I asked what they were. The collector replied that they had originally come from a Concentration camp. The Concertinas were sent to a Holocaust Museum in Long Island.” Rumanni said he has put many of the stories behind his accordions in a book entitled Accordion Stories from the Heart. He is currently looking for a publisher for the book.
The New England Accordion Museum also visits nursing homes and plays the instruments while also bringing 10 to 12 museum accordions with them “The accordion brings back incredible memories for a lot of people. I have seen 90-year-old people stand there and start crying. It’s a time machine especially for those who played at ten, eleven and twelve. The sound brings back times that were good. Accordions were rarely taken out when people were sad. They were taken out when people wanted to have fun, when company came and someone brought a jug of wine.”
The museum also accepts donations. If the instrument is too new for the museum it is fixed up and placed in the hands of people who want to play. The museum is open by appointment on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more information on the New England Accordion Museum visit their website at newenglandaccordionconnectionandmuseum.com