Top accordion players teach, perform at festival in Lisle

  • World champion accordionist Grayson Masefield performs concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday during the accordion festival at the Hyatt Regency Lisle.

    World champion accordionist Grayson Masefield performs concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday during the accordion festival at the Hyatt Regency Lisle. Courtesy of Grayson Masefield

Posted7/19/2016 12:30 PM

What do Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, John Lennon, Madonna, Al Yankovic, Lawrence Welk and the United States Air Force Strings have in common?

All have played the accordion in concerts or recordings.


Accordions and accordion musicians from across the United States and around the world are in Lisle this weekend for the Accordionists and Teachers Guild International Association's 76th annual festival. The convention and festival continues through Saturday, July 23, at the Hyatt Regency Lisle. Already, the Lisle Convention and Visitors Bureau has booked the group to return in 2017.

The festival offers concerts, workshops, competitions, displays and vendors, with many events open to the public.

The Accordionists and Teachers Guild International Association President Amy Sawyer oversees the festival and said a group of students are coming from as far away as China.

Headlining the festivities is accordion World Champion Grayson Masefield with concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23. Masefield also will teach a workshop from 3 to 3:50 p.m. Thursday, July 21.

Masefield grew up in New Zealand, where he began learning the accordion at the age of 3, joining both parents who play the instrument. He continued his classical training at Auckland University in New Zealand.

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The 27-year-old's musical talents have won him worldwide recognition and made him the first person to win the Coupe Mondiale and the Coupe Mondiale Virtuoso Entertainment categories in the same year.

"Grayson Masefield has won all the world accordion championships in both classical playing and in the entertainment category," Sawyer said. "He is outstanding."

Performing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Community Accordion Ensemble is under the direction of accordionist Joan Sommers. The players represent a variety of careers, but come together for the love of the accordion. The group plays a wide repertoire, including original works.

Also performing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday is Chicago jazz accordionist Jerry Cigler.

"Many of our members are professional players who also teach, and a lot are not professional but played the accordion when they were younger and returned to the instrument in their retirement age," Sawyer said.


Sawyer's parents both were musicians who had a dance orchestra. All their children learned at least two instruments and played in the orchestra. She started learning piano at age 5 and the accordion at age 10. At age 19, she competed on the accordion world stage in Switzerland.

Today, she writes and teaches music on both piano and accordion and has her master's degree in jazz. She will play in "Fiddler on the Roof" at The Muny in St. Louis in late July.

"We have about 40 people who have asked to be in the Festival Orchestra from all over the United States," Sawyer said. "They have received their music to practice, then rehearse and perform together at the festival."

The Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Sommers, performs in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday before Masefield. The group will perform "Semiramide Overture" by Rossini, "Over the Rainbow" in an arrangement by Sommers, and a rock piece, "Springtime" by Hans-Gunther Kölz and Martin Kopf.

Shelia Lee will conduct a new Prep Orchestra for members who wish to play together but not at the Festival Orchestra level. Music will include "Hey Jude," "Sweet Caroline," "The Sound of Silence," "Lollipop" and "Surfin' USA."

Festival competitions include performances in jazz, pop, polka, ethnic and original work as solos, duets, ensembles and orchestras. All the music is listed on the festival website,

At the festival, Helmi Harrington of Duluth, Minnesota, will display a number of her historic instruments. Harrington has the world's largest museum of accordions called the Harrington Arts Center.

Her festival workshops this year include one on the history of the left-hand bass system offered at 11 a.m. Thursday and Friday, July 21 and 22, and a second on how to play the diatonic accordion at 4 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Friday.

"The accordion is really a beautiful instrument that plays a wide variety of music," Sawyer said. "It fell out of favor in the United States when the guitar came along, but in Europe the accordion is flourishing, with many, many participants in orchestras."

Playing the accordion takes coordination. The musician plays the melody with the right hand on the keyboard while using the left hand on the chord buttons. By opening and closing the bellows in the pleated center section, air passes over the internal reed blocks that vibrate to create sound.

The instrument is like a portable organ with different registers that resemble a violin, flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon. It is a serious orchestral instrument.

Tickets for each of the 7:30 p.m. concerts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, or the 4 p.m. Friday concert of original music, are $15 per person. ATG annual membership dues are $50 a year.

A full registration to the festival is $200, which includes three lunches and one banquet and all concerts and activities. One- or two-day registration is available, too.

"We hope people take advantage of hearing some of the world's great accordionists," said Sawyer, who will play both a tango and a ballad. "The accordion music people will hear at the festival is really outstanding."

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle each month in Neighbor.

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