Accordion dreams

One day she woke up with an inexplicable urge to play Israel's anthem on the world's most annoying instrument

My friend woke up one morning and realized he dreamt the design for an outdoor Finnish type sauna. He grabbed the nearest notepad and sketched the entire structure. Armed with this new information channeled from the universe, he immediately started to build this fine and crazy bohemian cross between a yurt, log, and cordwood cabin. The passion was burning inside him, and he acted on it.

My friend, king of the bohemian Finnish-ish sauna

His aunt and I helped.

Chinking moments before the polar vortex arrived in November
Chinking moments before the polar vortex arrived in November

As far as inspiration from the universe goes, it was a little kooky (yes, that’s a sod roof), but still respectable. Who doesn’t love a wood-fired sauna in the mountains?

I too, received an unexpected message from the universe this year. I woke up one morning and realized I had an overwhelming, and I mean full-body-you-have-no-choice-in-this-matter desire to play Hatikvah on the accordion.

Yes, that’s right.


On the accordion.

I’m not making this up. (Who would make up something so ridiculous?)

As I lay there contemplating this new information, I realized it wasn’t just a passing fancy, or even a bad dream. During the night, the passion had seeped in through my veins down to the marrow of my bones, and had overtaken me. No getting out of this one. I was, for all intents and purposes, screwed.

Really? The accordion? Why me, G-d? Whyyyyy???

Granted, I’m a musician, but I play the flute. With guys in a jazz band. Sometimes I play drum, or guitar, or, if no one is around, piano (I can play Hatikvah). But the accordion, and all the bad jokes that come with it? How would I explain this to the guys, let alone friends and family? Oy.

So, I did what any respected jazz musician would do. I buried the thought. I also wanted to play the mandolin, a much more respectable instrument. That desire came slowly, over time, in broad daylight, not like my crazy accordion dream. And no one makes mandolin jokes. When I found out my grandma played mandolin (or at least owned one, as my Dad says he could never get her to play), I knew the mandolin was my destiny. I imagined my Grandma’s unplayed mandolin handed down to me as a family heirloom. Unfortunately, like most good family heirlooms, no one knew where it was. I was on my own with this one.


I headed to the new bakery to buy challah for our synagogue’s oneg. For years we had been without a local challah baker, so this was a momentous occasion. But, like the mandolin that was never handed down, the challah never materialized. The sign on the door said “Closed due to unforeseen circumstances.” Dejected, but laughing at my luck, I headed to my car. When I looked up, I realized I was standing across the street from the new guitar guy’s shop. Maybe this trip to Broadway Street was for a mandolin, not a challah.

But the new guitar guy had moved into the old porn shop. Did I really want to set foot in that building? It was never your upscale, we-have-a-feminist-section type establishment. No, it was a creepy, awful place you crossed the street to avoid, or turned your head from if you drove by. But maybe the new guitar guy infused the place with new, good karma, right? As I stood in the middle of the street, torn with indecision, the sound of mandolins played in my head. I had to go in.

“Because of the internet, I can’t make a living in Butte selling new instruments. So I repair and build them. I have a big shop in the back. That’s why I love this space,” said the guitar guy. “Did you know it was the old porn shop?” he asked proudly. After showing me pictures of mandolins in a catalog, he offered to order me one if I ever wanted. End of story.

Until a tiny thought in my head pushed its way to the surface.

Maybe I should mention my accordion problem.

“Um…before I go, would you happen to know where I might find a used accordion?”

The guitar guy paused, cocked his head and squinted one eye in that way people do when they are thinking “Don’t you already know?” Laughing, he said, “Turn around.”

I turned around slowly, skeptically. Next thing I knew, I was feasting my eyes on an entire wall of amazingly beautiful, used accordions. By now I was laughing with him. “You HAVE to show me how to play!” He let me pick one. I chose a small accordion with a beautiful mother-of-pearl type inlay, and a funky green colored bellows with gold trim.

Accordion3“Don’t move the bellows unless you are pressing a button or a key – otherwise you’ll ruin the accordion. You have to press this other button.” And with that my first (and only) accordion lesson began. Time became inconsequential. When I (finally) realized I was driving the guitar guy crazy, I thanked him, reluctantly put the accordion down, and said I’d return another day.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the accordion. The next week I was back. This time, surrounded by his posse, the guitar guy said, “You came back to buy a mandolin?” I handed him cash and made an offer on the small accordion with the green bellows. “Wow, she means business,” he said to his posse, obviously caught off guard. He accepted my offer, and, as he brought out the case covered in mostly inappropriate, raunchy stickers, he mentioned the name of the previous owner, pointing to the stickers. “I believe he played at all these festivals.”

Wait, whaaaat? Nooooo.

“You knew him?” The color must have drained out of my face, because he said, totally seriously, “Do you want your money back?”

I stood there, mute, wondering how my life could have come to the point where I was standing in a former seedy porn shop in Butte, Montana purchasing this particular person’s accordion. My accordion dream, that I was so sure was channeled directly from G-d, appeared to have taken a wrong turn.

“He’s really gotten a lot better,” piped in one of the guys from the posse. “He lives in Malaysia now, has a wife and a kid.”

I thought about it. My desire for the accordion outweighed its past life. Just like the porn shop, my accordion would acquire new, healthy karma. My karma.

“I’ll keep it. And the case.”

I kept one sticker.

Just to clarify, my accordion does not play jigs or polkas. It plays sad songs in a minor key (which, incidentally, means I only have to learn half the buttons).

After a few months, I finally mastered Hatikvah. My 86 year-old Dad is my biggest (and when I say biggest I mean only) fan. Listening to me play brings him back to his bar mitzvah lessons, he says. He had to finish every lesson by singing Hatikvah. Now he sits in his chair, sings along and taps his foot when I play Hatikvah.

My repertoire has expanded to include Tumbalalaika, and now I’m working on Home on the Range because it’s one of my Dad’s favorite songs.

If these moments with my Dad, and only these moments, are the pinnacle of my accordion career, I have no more questions. It was definitely an accordion dream from heaven.

Dad, with his accordion playing daughter, on his 86th Birthday
Dad, with his accordion playing daughter, on his 86th Birthday


About the Author
Nancy Oyer is a night owl who lives to ski, cook, eat, nap, play music and ride her bike in between being a geologist and doing her best to help keep Montana’s Jewish community alive and well in the new millennium. She feels most at home in the mountains of Montana and the hills of the Galilee.