A Squeeze Box Philharmonic
By Kelly Alexander
WALTER KUHR is a man who followed his dream, literally. In March 2002, Mr. Kuhr, a native of Frankfurt who is an accomplished accordion player and the founder of the Main Squeeze, an 8-year-old accordion emporium on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, attended an accordion festival in King of Prussia, Pa. “I heard all sorts of accordion music,” he said. “That night, I dreamed that I was conducting an all-female accordion orchestra with the girls wearing pigtails. It was beautiful.”
The next morning, Mr. Kuhr began assembling the 18 players, ranging in age from the early 20’s to the late 40’s, who would make up the orchestra; most were already his students. Now, a year of practicing and performing later, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, whose members do in fact play wearing pigtails, will give a 15-song concert at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Thursday [6/19].
“Surprisingly, I have more female students than men,” said Mr. Khr, 47, who learned the accordion from his mother.
“The accordion is a very romantic thing. It is very expressive. It is the total opposite of a drum set. You hold it in your arms, you embrace it.”
Marianne Petit, an orchestra member and a former student of Mr. Kuhr’s, took up the instrument because “my parents are from Argentina and I got it in my head that I wanted to learn to play tangos,” she said.
Indeed, the accordion is among the most global of instruments, having originated, as some believe, in China with the sheng, a sort of bamboo harmonica, and having spread its influence into the folk music traditions of Ireland, Brazil, Germany, Poland, France, Italy and elsewhere. Its peculiar silvery, almost iridescent sound is that rare combination of heartfelt and silly, lending itself perfectly to songs from Strauss waltzes to “Demon Alcohol” by the Kinks, both of which will be featured when the Main Squeeze Orchestra performs.