Go Ahead, Obsess!
By Eric Maisel, Ph.D., Ann Maisel, and Carlin Flora
When his mother bought him an accordion in the suburbs of Frankfurt, Germany, 12-year-old Walter Kühr fell in love with the unwieldy jumble of shiny buttons and keys. He came to the U.S. in 1989 as a young man and played tangos and polkas in restaurants and subway stations. Fourteen years ago he opened Main Squeeze, now the last accordion shop standing in New York City. “The accordion is so expressive,” Kühr says. “It can whisper, it can scream, it can be ridiculous, it can be seductive, it can be anything.”
Kühr’s true passion literally came to him in a dream. Six years ago, after seeing various acts perform at an annual accordion festival in Pennsylvania, he dreamt of being on a bus with 18 attractive women (all in pigtails—perhaps a memory of German schoolmates?) composing his very own accordion orchestra.
“I was super electrified,” Kühr says. “I woke up at four in the morning and there was no way I could go back to sleep. I made a huge pot of coffee and wrote my dream down, every detail. There was no doubt in my mind that I had to do it.”
At dawn, Kühr began making phone calls. “I needed musical arrangements, money, a rehearsal room, and, of course, women who could play the accordion well enough! I was running around like a madman. It’s the first time I was ever successful at organizing something, because I really wanted it.” Nine months later, The Main Squeeze Orchestra, which Kühr touts as “The Western World’s Only 14-Piece All-Female Accordion Orchestra,” played its debut concert.
Kühr spends hours arranging musical numbers—most of which are far outside the typical accordion repertoire. Hits include the Brandenburg concertos and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The orchestra hasn’t yet garnered fame or riches, but that was never the point. The idea was to create something he knew would delight everyone. “My girlfriend says, ‘Your orchestra is more important than me, it’s more important than your business!’ But I can’t help it. And I think she finds it charming at the same time. She probably prefers it to a man obsessed with money.”
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Last year Kühr worked even more feverishly to arrange the theme “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Suffering from lymphoma, he thought it might be his last arrangement. He even imagined the ladies playing it at his funeral. Instead, they loyally tended to his shop while he recovered from a bone marrow transplant.
“No matter how down I am, just thinking of those girls makes me happy. The orchestra is the pride and joy of my existence.”