Debra Kartz has been feeling the resurgence of the accordion lately.
“There’s an accordion revolution going on,” says the Chilliwack musician and teacher. “There’s a big buzz amongst us accordionists, we’re all trying to work together and try and get the accordion to be repopularized.”
And here in Chilliwack, she’s in the middle of it.
Over the past seven years Kartz has devoted much of her life to playing the accordion. But her love for the nearly 200-year-old instrument didn’t start seven years ago, it began around 1970 back when the squeezebox was much more common.
“There was Lawrence Welk… and I remember as a kid watching Myron Floren play the accordion,” she recalls.
Kartz began when she was just 10, and she loved it from day one. No one would ever have to tell her to practise the accordion. She just wanted to play.
And she was good at it, too.
Within the first two years, she placed first in three separate competitions — two in B.C. and one in L.A.
It continued for several years, but then her beloved instrument started to die off. At age 17 she stopped competing, stopped taking lessons. Guitar and electric guitar had taken over.
Kartz continued to play for the next 38 or 39 years, but she was playing almost solely for herself.
Then in 2012 she got to perform publicly again. The Chilliwack Players Guild needed an accordionist for its production of Fiddler on the Roof, and they picked Kartz.
“That was my turning point for me. That’s when I realized as an adult I really need to do music and pursue my accordion.”
It was also then that she realized a worldwide revival of the accordion was going on. She got back into competing and started taking lessons again. Over the past seven years she’s been focusing on learning from some of the world’s best accordionists, going to events like the Victoria International Accordion Festival, and taking master classes and workshops.
“You must never stop learning,” she says.
The highlight of her career so far was playing with 100 other accordionists in Victoria as part of the World Accordion Orchestra.
But there have been other peaks.
All within the last year, she’s graced the cover of Accordion Stars Illustrated magazine, her bio was published in two books, she was inducted into the American Accordion Hall of Fame, and out of the top 100 accordionists in the world, she’s ranked 36 (as voted by peers and the public in Accordion Stars Illustrated).
“It blew my mind,” she says of the ranking.
She’s familiar with both the acoustic and electric accordion and plays “a lot of everything” from old-time music to Oktoberfest polkas to jazz. Kartz performs at local clubs, weddings, birthdays and open mic nights.
“I want to be well-rounded,” she says.
Plus, it’s therapeutic.
“The accordion is very good for [people with] Alzheimer’s and dementia. When I go to play at a seniors’ home, their eyes will light up, they’ll start singing. They may not remember other stuff but they remember that song.”
And now she wants others, especially youth, to bring smiles to people’s faces with the accordion like she does.
“This is my dream is to inspire the youth to learn the accordion. It can be for fun or it can be for a living.” she says. “If we don’t get the next generation excited and as passionate about it as I am, then it’s going to die out with my generation.”
So what is it about the awkward-looking, 35-pound, piano-with-bellows-and-120-buttons instrument that one needs a quite some co-ordination to play?
“It takes me to another world. I’m transported out of the worries of this world and it’s a soothing, peaceful, healing happy instrument,” says Kartz. “When I play, it makes people happy. I like to make people happy with it.”
To learn to play the accordion, or if you have an accordion that can be donated to a student, contact Kartz at 604-702-8142 or email@example.com.