April 10, 2016
My Hohner is a very special instrument… no, not because it is classified as one of the highest quality offerings that Hohner ever produced (out ranked only by the legendary Gola), but because my parents went to great lengths and effort to get it for me. It was truly a purchase driven by my passion and obtained by my parents with incredible amounts of love and devotion. On top of being a true jewel in the world of accordions, it is a relatively rare instrument, but no amount of money offered could get me to give it up, as it holds immeasurable sentimental value because of from whom it came and how it came to me.
Let me share the story with you…
It’s August of 1972 and I was at a point in my learnings where I discovered something called “Free Bass Accordions”, and was fascinated. The ability to play piano music was just so liberating in my mind. The ability to play full piano sheet music as well as having the ability to keep the standard Stradella bass was very exciting. Nothing exploded that excitement into passion more than an off chance airing of a show on CBC radio of someone actually playing a Free Bass accordion… inside, my heart pounded hard with pleasure at hearing this and I quickly found a cassette recorder and recorded what I could of this performance. I played that piece of music over and over, never knowing the name of the song nor who played it and I dreamed of playing in this same way. I must have listened to that partial song a hundred times over before the cassette tape wore out, and I did wear it out to the point where one day I could no longer hear it! Fortuitous that they heard it, because of course I had to play it for my parents and tell them all about it (several times… lol)!
God bless them, for many reasons, but what they did next spoke very loudly as to their love for me.
What I did not know was that by January of 1973, my father had already made several calls to Hohner dealers in Montreal and Toronto, unfortunately no one had any real information about this “Free Bass”, but a couple of Hohner representatives suggested he call the Hohner factory in Trossingen Germany.
In the early 70’s there was no internet, and no easy way to find out who to speak to, even if my mother did speak German, but it was via my mother’s family in Germany that opened the door for us. She asked them to see if they could find someone that could help them. In a matter of a few days, they called my mother back with a contact name and telephone number of someone at the Hohner factory who we could speak to with the answers to our questions. Three or four phone calls later, they had the information they needed , the order for a Gola 454 was placed, a delivery date firmly set, and they moved on to the next step… the waiting, which was not all that long.
Almost 2 months later, February 1973, and they were at the Munich airport renting a car and on their way to the Hohner factory, itself a 4 hour drive away for the big pick-up.
When they arrive there, they found out that the person they spoke to for the information and with which they placed the order, no longer worked there, and that they had no idea that my parents were even coming! When they said that they were there to pick up their previously ordered Hohner Gola 454, all they got were blank looks and told that somehow the order was lost and none were currently available because there was some kind of show in Munich, and all their current line of accordions were there at the show. The representatives even called the show and all 3 Gola accordions there were previously sold. An hour of calls by them to all the Hohner retailers within a 12 hour drive also produced nothing.
They then offered to build another Gola, and that if my parents could again wait 2 months, it would be available for pickup. Of course, they didn’t have the time (tickets were only for a week long trip!) nor did they have the desire to wait another 2 months. The Hohner rep said that it was impossible to build a Gola in that time frame, but that it might be possible to build a Morino VI N in a few days if they would put through a big rush order and even pull craftsmen off several pending jobs and placed on this one as a priority rush order… after all, my parents had made the trip all the way from Canada and so they would try their very best. My parents agreed to this.
My father and mother then drove back to Munich and actually visited where the show was and spoke to the people at the Hohner booth, who were surprised to see the Canadians who they were told about by the people at the factory, and who had come all this way for one accordion, and they even had coffee with one of the Hohner representatives. This man sadly confirmed that there were no Free Bass accordions available at the show, except for the shell of one very non-functional (and basically hollow) Gola 414 case for display purposes behind glass (this model was not even a Free Bass instrument).
With a few days of time left to their own devices, my parents basically just enjoyed themselves travelling around and in the process stopped in at several music stores to find music for me. They even went as far as Vienna Austria! It is while walking down one street coming back from a music store in Vienna (there is a cute story there too, that I shall share in a few seconds), that my father made an impulse decision while passing the window of a jewelry store. They went inside to this place, and bought a pair of 18K gold “JH” monogram initials that adorn my accordion. Now you know that there is a little Austrian gold on my very German accordion!
Getting back to that story about that music store… my parents had been perusing quite a few music stores and had by now, a very good idea as to what they were looking for in terms of music for me. After a good hour in this one particular store in Vienna that was just down the street from where my gold monogram initials were bought, my father looked at my mother and said in Czech “come on, let’s leave, this store has shit for music…”, at which point the very Austrian young man who was just a few feet away answered in perfect Czech, and said “yes, that side of the store indeed is filled with shit, but if you come with me to the back, I think I know where to find what you need…’, at which point, they all cracked up laughing.
Moral of that story: just because you are in another country, don’t assume no one understands and speaks your “foreign” language, especially in Europe!
Three days later, they called the factory, and were told that the Morino VI N was ready! My parents drove all the way back to Trossingen again and when the Hohner rep showed them the accordion, he was proud to say that they added 2 sets of pickup microphones (one on the treble side and one on the bass side, something that was normally never done) as a “thank-you” for waiting and being so patient. They then drove back to Munich and spent the remaining days visiting my mother’s relatives.
Now, what I thought was very nice, was that when my father announced at the airport what was in the large case, the Lufthansa airline not only refused to check the accordion, but without adding any extra charges, upgraded my parents to first class… literally row 1, seats A and B in the very front of the plane where there was the most leg room and where my father sat in the isle seat, my mother right beside him at the window seat, and the accordion was secured via borrowed seat belt straps to the bulkhead in front of them with leg room to spare. My dad was happy to tell me that the accordion had never left his sight from the moment they saw it at the Hohner factory, all the way home to Montreal.
Arriving in Montreal, the stewardess had called ahead and arranged for transport so that my parents would not have to walk that goodly distance all the way to customs carrying their luggage and the heavy accordion… they were driven via “golf cart”, passing everyone, right to the front of the customs line, passed through customs after a five minute conversation and filling out of papers and paying duty and taxes. They were also asked 3 times to show the accordion to different airport employees who were just really curious to see what an accordion, that was more expensive than what most new cars cost at the time, looked like.
At that time, I was already a part of an orchestral group of accordionists that gave concerts all over Quebec and was playing a 120 bass Scandalli accordion. It took me about 2 months before I was ready and practiced enough on the new Hohner to bring it to these events, and I loved it, it was so huge and I was so small, but the one thing that I remember loving was how much louder my Hohner was than all the other Excelsior accordions… I literally could easily out-volume them, even with the strength of a teenager! I recall being the youngest member there, with the next youngest to me being 23 or 24 years old and up, and here I was, a kid of 13 with the biggest accordion in the entire orchestra… it was a funny sight to see! My mother luckily kept a copy of a program from one of the concerts, and I’ve scanned it to save for posterity. It’s posted here on the site and should be easy to find if you peruse it a little.
I remember those days with “Les Accordeonistes” fondly, it was a lot of fun to play in an orchestra filled with talented musicians. I also remember that my father brought a reel to reel and recorded a couple of those concerts. I have actually found those old tapes and have converted them to digital format, remastered and cleaned them up a little and made a page here of the only two concerts that were recorded along with several matching pictures that I scanned.
I don’t imagine that my even father realized at the time what a unique and precious gift he was making for me during those days that he recorded a couple of the concerts. At those same times, he even took pictures, reel-to-reel recorder plainly visible in a few of the shots. What a thoughtful man, what an incredible act of love… I am eternally grateful for these priceless and treasured gifts made during a special time in my life by my father!