"Usually people don't think of classical music played on the accordion," said Doug Makofka. "Usually they think Chicken Dance, polkas, and Lady of Spain."
Makofka grew up listening to his father play polka music on the accordion. For a while, he was heading in his father's footstep, when, in junior high school, he heard Wendy Carlos play Switched-On Bach.
"That hooked me," he said. "I wrangled my teacher into getting a collection of Bach Inventions."
Try as he might, Makofka couldn't play Bach on the accordion, at least on the accordion of his youth.
Makofka's dad, who now also repairs accordions, was given a model that he didn't recognize and showed it to Doug. After playing with it, he suddenly saw the light. This was not a conventional accordion where the left hand was arranged to play om-pa-pa, bass-chord-chord-no, the left hand was arranged to play notes.
He realized that he had chanced upon an accordion that could play classical music following its original notation. Since that realization three years ago, Makofk has been taking lessons in New York City, participating in student performances, and practicing. He feels he is ready for his local debut.
Makofka will present "Chamber Music On The Accordion" June 13, at the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation in Jim Thorpe. On the Titano Emperor accordion, Makofka will present a variety of music from the classical works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Muzio Clementi, Vincent Ludwig Persichetti, Ernst-Lothar von Knorr, and Dmitri Shostakovich, to contemporary works of Chick Corea, Elton John, and Béla Fleck.
"I'm looking forward to performing chamber music in Carbon County," he said. "At one time, chamber music was the music that people played in their living rooms. Then, it morphed into this thing where people had to go to a hall and sit in an aisle and be quiet."
Makofka would like to bring chamber music back to its original informal setting, like in a bar or a museum.
"I can play music that isn't as enticing on the piano or organ but really sits well on the accordion," he said. "Plus, there's the approachability factor. I can take my accordion into the museum and sit down and play without having to bring in a grand piano or a pipe organ. It works well for a setting that is not so intimidating."
What makes playing classical music, or for that matter any song with a notated base line, is the popularization of what Makofka calls the "converter accordion" or more fully, the "converter free-bass accordion."
A conventional accordion has a bellows to provide air to reeds. The right hand controls a piano-style keyboard to produce the melody. The left hand presses bass notes and chords that accompany the melody.
A converter accordion has a switch that on the left side, as an alternative to the bass notes and chords, allowing individual notes to be played. This frees the player to perform music as it was originally composed.
With this freedom, the accordion becomes an instrument of great flexibility and presence, offering the sole of a pipe organ in a portable package.
Makofka began playing the piano while in kindergarten. After his family moved, he followed his father's suggestion, switching to the accordion. After his introduction to Switched-On Bach he became excited about the accordion, and then frustrated because he couldn't find a way to play bass notes on the instrument.
He put the accordion away for 40 years, until he learned about the converter accordion. Last year, he premiered a von Knorr accordion and violin sonata in New York City. The composer's widow found out about it and asked Makofka to record the piece and send it to her in Germany.
Chamber Music On The Accordion will be presented from 4 to 5 p.m. on June 13 at the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, 20 W. Broadway in Jim Thorpe. For information call: (570) 325-5815, or see: www.asartfoundation.org.