Squeeze Play: Accordion Orchestra Takes on Bach, Queen
By Larry Getlen
May 13, 2007 — It may give one pause to hear a middle-age man recall a dream in which 18 young women cavort around in pigtails. But the subconscious mind of Walter Kuehr added an element that transformed it from creepy to inspired: In Kuehr’s dream, the girls all played the accordion.
“I was at an accordion festival in Pennsylvania,” says the Frankfurt-born Kuehr, owner of the Lower East Side accordion shop Main Squeeze Accordions.
“I came back and went to bed, and I had a dream that I would conduct an all-female accordion orchestra, and that the girls would wear pigtails and the music would be beautiful. It was the best dream I ever had.”
Inspired by his nocturnal musing, in 2002 Kuehr formed the Main Squeeze Orchestra, an all-female accordion orchestra that plays everything from Madonna to Bach to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
His eagerness was such that initially, the requirement for entry – in addition to gender – was the ability to hold the instrument.
“He said, ‘I had this dream, you have to be in this orchestra,'” recalls Marianne DeMarco, who says Kuehr asked her to join during her second or third lesson. “I said, ‘Well, I never played before,’ and he said, ‘No problem. We’ll get you right up to speed.'”
Talking to Kuehr, his enthusiasm for the instrument is contagious.
“The accordion is intimate,” gushes Kuehr, whose orchestra, which features 12-15 members at any one gig, plays the next show in its monthly residence at Mo Pitkins on Saturday night.
“You hold it close, you practically embrace it, and it breathes. And you can get every effect you want out of it. You can sound sad or silly, and you can make someone laugh or cry. That’s harder to do on a piano.”
For orchestra member Gina Samardge, it’s this versatility that gives the instrument its unique appeal.
“There’s different ethnic music that uses some form of accordion,” says Samardge. “You find it in Brazilian music, Irish music – the breadth of it is amazing. With the different settings, it can be such a great color instrument, or stand on its own.”
Whatever the appeal, the members of the Main Squeeze Orchestra throw potential polka prejudice to the wind, as they see the group as a blend of ironic hipster fun and quality musicianship.
“If it were only kitsch, no one would come back, because once you saw us, that would be enough,” says DeMarco. “It’s a fun time and the kitsch is part of that, but it’s also good music.”