The Main Squeeze

By Genevieve Rajewski
Sunday, May 6, 2007

TWO TEENAGE BOYS, REED BEVERSTOCK AND RICK VANGEE, AND JENNIE DYNESIUS, who is in her 50s, set up their music stands and lift their accordions onto their laps. In unison, they lean forward and struggle into the shoulder straps, their legs braced wide to support their instruments. The fingers on their left hands hover clawlike over the bass buttons, while the fingers on their other hands splay awkwardly across the keys.

And then they begin making music.

Almost immediately, Dale Wise hears something he doesn't like.

"Reed," Wise starts, and his students stop abruptly. "Reed, do you have a new baby at home that I don't know about?"

"Nooo," answers Beverstock with a quizzical look.

"Because it sounds like you're afraid you're going to wake the baby," Wise says. "Put some muscle on that."

Beverstock nods, and the three turn back to their method books, which were developed by two acclaimed accordionists in the 1950s and 1960s and have changed little since -- still offering tunes such as "Camptown Races" and "Vegetables on Parade" and featuring bobby-soxers on their covers. The students play with more emphasis on the bass notes this time -- for an audience consisting of only Wise, a wall of accordions and "Carlos Santucci and his super international accordion." The large, framed poster of the maestro hovers appropriately large in the room, as Santucci was Wise's first teacher. In the picture, Santucci smiles approvingly and wears glasses, a dark suit and an enormous black accordion bejeweled with silver rhinestones -- the same accordion glittering atop the filing cabinet beneath the poster.

During the biweekly lesson, in the basement of his Burr Hill, Va., home, Wise runs the two home-schooled teens and Dynesius through numerous drills, all designed to help them master dynamics: the control of air through the bellows and the secret to expressive accordion playing. "We replicate different instruments while playing the accordion. We're the whole band," he tells them. "So when you play the bass notes, you're like a tuba or a bassoon. The chord is played by a much smaller instrument, like a string bass, so you underplay the chord note after the bass. It's a lot more than just pushing a bunch of plastic."

As graduates of Wise's Accordions for Kids program, the students are trying to apply this lesson. Beverstock, Wise's first student in the three-year-old program, recently played accordion with a Christian grunge band he describes as "like Metallica, but more laid-back."

"I have no idea what that means," says Wise, 65, shaking his head.

Despite the name of the program, Jennie Dynesius is not that much younger than Wise herself.

"I saw an article in the paper about Dale wanting to get together a group of eight to 11 to teach accordion," she says, "so I called him up, and he said, 'No, I meant 8- to 11-year-olds.' I went, 'Ohhh.' But he said, 'Come on up, and I'll teach you anyway.'" Wise is loath to turn away any interested student. Sessions such as these -- as well as the various accordion programs and initiatives he has set into motion over the years -- reflect Wise's determination to squeeze new life into the instrument.

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