Way back in 1977 – I was about 10 at the time – I wanted to learn the piano. But we had to be concerned with something called a “weight allowance” – the maximum weight the US government will agree to transport from assignment to assignment at their expense, every time they ask you to move. (side note: after nearly 50 years, as I prepare for my 22nd move with the USG, I am still bound by this “weight allowance!”)
So I didn’t get to take piano lessons. Instead, my parents suggested the accordion (what???). Not the saxophone, guitar, flute…the accordion. So I started taking regular lessons in Augusta, Georgia, with a lady named Mrs. Mangelly, who seemed pretty old to a ten-year-old at the time. But each week, I dutifully performed the songs I had been assigned from my Palmer-Hughes songbooks and practiced all week, and when I could perform them to the standard expected of a ten-year-old, Mrs. Mangelly would write the date on the page and assign some new songs.
Once I had been doing this for awhile, my parents talked to me about making a commitment to the instrument, because I think Mrs. Mangelly was pressuring them to stop using a loaner, and buy an instrument from them. So I agreed, and I got my own accordion, an Italian model with the “TOMMY” glued on the front with silver metallic letters. Mrs. Mangelly probably threw those in for free.
Occasionally she would assign a song that was not in the books – I’d get a separate leaflet for that, usually from the Pietro Deiro company. One such song was “Amapola”, which I apparently mastered on July 23, 1978, according to the date penciled on the corner of the sheet music, which I still own. It would become my mom’s favorite, and at family gatherings I would always be urged to drag out the instrument, and eventually “play Amapola” would come up, so I would.
These lessons would continue over the next 8 years, including a stint with “Handharmonika Vereinigung” (literally hand-harmonica club) Rheingold Mannheim and a private tutor in Holland. In Germany I switched “Amapola” from a regular 4-beat pattern to a tango, and then my teacher in Holland showed me how to work in a few extra chords to make it all more interesting. By then I had acquired another accordion with a lot more buttons and sounds, which I would eventually give up for repair parts in the early 2000’s because of dampness-related deterioration of all the valves inside. So my parents gave me the old one I had used at Mrs. Mangelly’s again.
But I didn’t really play it much. Truthfully, it was a pretty basic instrument, and as shocking as this will sound (haha) the sound could become grating after awhile. But about ten years ago I saw a video demo of something called a “V-Accordion” (v for virtual). This instrument digitally simulated the sound of just about any style of accordion – along with a variety of other instruments, such as saxophones, violins, guitar…even bagpipes! But I could never bring myself to spend the cash needed to own one of these instruments.
Until recently – a used one on eBay. It had to be shipped to India by freight, for an extra $250. But since I have gotten it, hardly a day or two goes by that I don’t pick it up for at least a few minutes. I have gotten out all of the old sheet music from all the different places I took lessons, some of the music I wrote myself, even ordered some additional sheet music online. It took 37 years, but the lessons I started in 1977 are being put to good use! Fortunately for the rest of my family and the upstairs neighbors, it can be played with headphones. Win-win!
Where am I going with all of this?
Well, the other day I decided to play “Amapola” again, in order to share it with my mom. But I decided to record it to a flash drive via the built-in USB plug and recording function. And then I came up with two separate accompaniments, and recorded the whole thing on video. There is a little bit of distortion because the accompaniment is going directly into the video camera and the recording volume was probably slightly high.
After I was done with this, I wondered about the origins of the song. It seems that “Amapola” was written in 1924 for a 1925 film, and was recorded multiple times by multiple musicians, but in March 1941, Jimmy Dorsey’s version reached #1 in the U.S. Until now, I had never heard it played by anyone other than myself! Here is the 1941 version:
I also wondered what had become of “old Mrs. Mangelly” and her music and dance school in Augusta. Both of my other music teachers have long passed away. But I found this 2007 article about Mrs. Mangelly still going strong at age 86. And from other club newsletters I have learned that even today, at 94 or 95, she continues to perform regularly with a small group of accordionists! I wonder what she would think of this blog post?