'Accordionated' entertainment

'Accordionated' entertainment
Accordionation practices three or four times a week, often in front of an impromptu gathering. The mild stress of a small audience helps get past performance jitters and makes for extra productive practice. From left are Barb Keith and Bill Swanson.

LANESBORO — Imagine yourself sitting in a cozy home out in the middle of nowhere in Fillmore County, feeling beached by a recent knee surgery, crutches next to your chair.

Suddenly, the front door opens and in hobbles a carload of slightly more mobile convalescing locals who’ve undergone a nasty rash of elective surgeries such as bunion repairs and a hernia fix.

Following the parade of physically infirm, two able-bodied musicians haul in strange, old-fashioned cases. The new arrivals are coaxed into chairs. A moment later, the cases open, out come a pair of accordions and a harmonic groan sweeps the room.

It’s time for a duet practice session of just two tunes. That’s all the musicians know.

Not exactly the thrills of those flash mob scenes seen on YouTube, but this mob of two gets a kick out of finding practice opportunities anywhere they can. Playing in front of an audience, especially one on pain medication, is also great practice for getting past performance jitters, according to the accordionists Bill Swanson and Barbara Benson Keith, of Lanesboro.


Just for kicks

When Barb Keith started playing the accordion back in 2003, she did it for kicks. With piano proficiency already under her ‘stomach Steinway,’ she took to the instrument easily.

By the mid-2000s, she’d joined the eight-piece Minnesota Accordion Band, seizing a chance to entertain folks in a polka-friendly community in Minneapolis.

Also a talented actress and vocalist, "Barb will try anything," say folks who know her well, and just about everyone in Lanesboro does.

While Barb has done some fine and comedic vocals, solos leave her wanting the enrichment of harmony and musical companions who add to the fun.

"You can really feel it," she says of the harmonic vibration. A musician needs playmates to take music and audience to a whole new level.

Fast forward to 2008. Barb and her husband Pete migrated from urban St. Paul to the quiet countryside south of Lanesboro to build a home. There, Barb hoped to discover a pianist she might convert to portable piano.

It wasn’t long before Bill Swanson joined her quaint community, and Barb offered to help adapt his piano proficiency to the accordion if he’d join her on the stage of a local radio show she was helping to revive.


Accordionation is born 

"You can’t carry a piano around, but an accordion is portable and similar in many ways," Bill says.

While duets on a radio show sounded daunting, it seemed to Bill that "people on stage look like they’re having so much fun!"

He and Barb, together known as Accordionation, now practice duets three or four times a week, often in front of an impromptu gathering.

They prefer "alternative" pieces. Not the usual polkas, but the great lilting harmonics of eastern European compositions in minor-key signatures, and also old jazz standards.

Barb loves to make people laugh with self-deprecating humor. Clowning around at community events like Lanesboro’s Rhubarb Fest or Art in the Park is just her cup of tea. So why not pull out an accordion and play for chuckles?

In September, the two attempted to play "Happy Birthday" for Jack Carmichael, an ad agency octogenarian with a history of accordion-playing pranks, for a virtual celebration in Vegas.

In December, one of Lanesboro’s own Rhubarb Sisters slipped on ice and broke a hip. Like a couple of ambulance chasers, Accordionation made a fast house call and broke into tunes.


The same thing happened when a Lanesboro immigrant from Minnetonka retired from his sales career.

Perhaps if you head toward Lanesboro, they’ll play for you, too.

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