2017 Honorary Director
PHOTO BY TOM SHAMP
by Sheri Mignano Crawford
It was at the monthly meeting of the Accordion Club of the Redwoods where I first met Marjorie. She’d brought her students to play. It was a real treat to see how she stood nearby the stage to allay the children’s fears. Her infinite enthusiasm for the accordion created warmth that surrounded the newest members of the accordion family. She generously shared her knowledge, expertise, and encouragement with friends and students. For several decades, her friendly personality has been at the core of her devotion to teaching. Marjorie has sustained her lifetime passion for the accordion and passed that on to all of her students.
Her musical journey originated during a dark time as the late 1930s Depression was colliding with World War Two. It was not so easy or affordable to learn such an exotic musical instrument in the rural areas during economic hard times. Nevertheless, she did and while some ordered an accordion from a Sears catalog, it was a challenge to find a teacher to guide a novice. At the age 12 she entered a bumpy road that eventually straightened out and brought happiness and success to her as a musician and as a mother.
She was at the front door when the knock came.
Out of the blue, there was a knock. “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” Answer: “A door-to-door salesman selling accordions in an Oklahoma dustbowl town.” This was how Marjorie was first introduced to the accordion. She had been a teenage runaway but was fortunate to have a Grandmother whose welcoming arms introduced Marjorie to the Auburn Academy in Bellingham, Washington. It was there she was boarded and worked in the laundry to help pay for tuition while finishing her education.
After World War Two, Marjorie (née) Montgomery was finishing as a senior at Arcata High School when an accordion manufacturer set her up to teach and furnished her with studio space. Marjorie was on her way to becoming one of the most celebrated accordion teachers in northern California. She first started to teach in and around Mc Kinleyville and Arcata, two lumber towns. Later, her music theory and psychology studies at Humboldt State armed her with the tools to be able to not only teach music but to compose as well. Preparation provided her with courage and confidence.
After joining the Music Teachers Association of California and elected as an officer in that organization, she was responsible for presenting the weekly recitals. She was a busy lady who also found time to appear on television and radio shows to promote the accordion and raise a family in Sonoma County. Sonoma County got lucky when she moved here. In 1964, Guido Canevari had established an accordion studio in Santa Rosa. It was the peak of the baby boomer era for learning accordion. Canevari gave her a class of many students to teach in his accordion center.
As a busy accordion teacher, she happened to discover that a very famous accordionist was coming to town to perform. All the way from the Lawrence Welk show in Hollywood, the renowned Myron Floren was scheduled to perform at the Santa Rosa Veteran’s Memorial Hall. Marjorie and some of her students were invited to perform with him. What a rare and wonderful experience for her students!
Marjorie has devoted her knowledge, music library, and resources to her accordion students while passionately promoting it wherever she could. Her great joy has been watching “the young people become successful [and] enjoy playing.” In addition, she is happy to report that even a few of her accordion students have grown up to marry each other, carrying on the accordion tradition into inter-generational families. Both young and adult students continue to learn to play with Marjorie’s guidance. Whether it’s a chromatic or diatonic button box or the piano accordion, she’s there to encourage them every step of the way.
In addition to teaching, her active accordion performances continued. Over the years she has formed various small accordion ensembles. One ensemble called itself the “Accordionistas” and consisted of Gloria Heinzl, Bill Court, Taylor Findlay, Ricardo “Richard” Hill, Diane Toso and others. She would add a mandolin, a banjo, a guitar or even a bandoneon to complement the ensemble. Their repertoire included popular European folk dances such as polkas, mazurkas, and waltzes. Senior centers, residential communities such as the Finnish community (FAHA) in El Verano and Santa Rosa’s Friends House were frequent destinations. Senior audiences greatly appreciated these convenient and intimate concerts.
Her musical colleagues honored her lifetime achievements, too. Marjorie distinguished herself with a collection of teaching awards including the “Larry Pino Inspirational Teacher Award” presented in the annual Las Vegas International Accordion Convention in 2006. This award recognized her contributions to the world of the accordion. She had the endorsements of some of the most revered accordionists, including the late music arranger and accordionist Helena Criscio (1911-2009). She supported Marjorie as a fellow composer, too. In the middle of the night, Marjorie awoke with a song in her heart. She wrote out the tune that became known as “Ja, Vi Elsker, Vals” which translates as “Yes, We Love, a waltz.” It was dedicated to her dear friends who celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary and was published in Norway after she received encouragement from Helena Criscio. I’ve played it and it’s a great waltz!
Speaking of the middle of the night, Marjorie conquers insomnia by playing the accordion. She enjoys playing the accordion at all hours of the day and night! There is a problem though—she has to decide among her several accordions and button boxes. Her preference seems to be her wet-tuned Guerrini. What a great prescription for health and happiness! Of course, we all look forward to her playing some songs during ‘normal’ hours at a future accordion club meeting. We are hopeful that we will hear some of her students in the new academic year, too.
In 2004, Marjorie launched a pre-accordion festival all-day event on Friday at Oliver’s grocery store in Cotati (Oliver’s is now in four locations and Marjorie provides sutdents at all the locations in Sonoma County). She still draww on her students and local accordionists she knows from the local accordion clubs. From 11:00A until about 5:00P, you can visit any of Oliver stores and enjoy live accordion performances on the Friday before the festival. It helps to advertise the festival and it has strengthened the partnership with the festival and its sponsors. At the 2012 Cotati festival, Marjorie launched the “Future Accordion Stars” on the Sunday morning main stage. It gave the younger generation an opportunity to play in front of the festival crowd in the park. It has been a big hit and is enjoying its 6th year at the festival.
The Cotati Accordion Festival salutes Marjorie Konrad as this year’s Honorary Director. We thank you for your creative spark, unrivaled enthusiasm, and enduring love of the accordion. The younger generation of accordion players has been growing each year because of one woman’s lifetime dedication to advancing the accordion. It remains an instrument that is fun to play and provides great joy to everyone who hears it, thanks to Marjorie!
Thanks to Diane Toso for her contribution to this article. This biographical sketch evolved from a previous article and interviews with Marjorie.
And thank you Sheri Mignano Crawford for this beautiful tribute to Marjorie.