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73 Year Old From USA Collects 40 Accordions

Keith Lambertsen
Keith Lambertsen

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GARWIN, Iowa (AP) – For decades, 73-year-old Keith Lambertsen (from Garwin, Iowa, USA), aka “The Accordion Man” has touched the hearts and minds of music lovers, helping folks conjure up memories with the help of old-time music. Lambertsen, a native of Wiota, has lived in Garwin with his family the last 14 years. In that time, he has gained a fan following, playing at jam sessions, parties, schools, church groups, nursing homes, funerals and festivals, treating the public to renditions of traditional tunes, sometimes singing songs in German and Czech, as well as yodelling. The Times-Republican reports that through the years, he has accumulated nearly 40 models of accordions, ranging in age, size, weight, brand and materials.

“I usually take six to eight accordions with me for an event. I tell stories, give the background on the instruments and sing,” Lambertsen said. “I will get a feel for what the audience wants. Sometimes I am hired to just provide background music during a dinner. It depends.”

The collector’s passion for the instrument traces back to his boyhood days. At around age eight, Lambertsen’s family was visited by the Iowa Accordion Company, a business that sent door to door salesmen around with the objective of getting kids enthused about playing the accordion – and touting the virtues of the instrument to their parents, in hopes of convincing families to buy the instruments. “The goal was to get one kid in the household interested in playing and trying out the instrument for three months, then the salesman would come back and want the parents to buy one,” Lambertsen said.

He started with a basic model his family rented for 90 days. The second oldest of eight kids, he was the only one in his home who took an interest in the instrument. Next, the salesman suggested the purchase of a $120 model. After about a year’s worth of playing and taking lessons, the child became something of a budding virtuoso. When the dedicated salesman returned yet again, he convinced the Lambertsens to buy their son an early electric model – at a sum of $1,250.

“It weighs 60 pounds. It was almost as big as me,” Lambertsen said. Local kids that had also caught the music bug would take lessons in the nearby town of Anita. The accordionist remembers how he and other players would see their instructor either at a community center or a rented basement, waiting their turns for half hour lessons. “Some kids were better at it than others, and as kids lost interest, lessons were moved to a more central location, farther away,” he recalled.

His favorite instrument (aside from his first), is called a Settimio Soprano. “It’s the same brand played by Myron Floren on ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ and they are Italian-made,” Lambertsen said. “It’s probably 90 years old and still plays fine. I play that one the most because it’s easy to play. Some are just easier to play than others.”

His instruments also vary in weight, with most of his in the 40 pound range. Heavier instruments require the usage of padded straps and he usually sits for those performances. He most likes to play old-time tunes and country songs. Polkas, waltzes and foxtrots are the most popular varieties, and he says he prefers to play by ear, but he can read sheet music.

Lambertsen sees sentimental value in all of his accordions. With locals knowing of his love of the instrument, on several occasions, he has been gifted old accordions, found in people’s attics, basements, or given to him after someone passes away. His collection consists of 34 piano style accordions and six button style – all in playing condition. While that many instruments can be tricky to store, maintaining them is fairly simple.

“A unique thing about accordions is they never go out of tune,” Lambertsen said. “Old ones will need worn rubber bands replaced, and humidity can cause keys to stick. They are subject to moisture more than temperature. If they have been in storage, I get them to room temperature before playing.”

One of the collector’s favorite musical experiences happened on the 150th anniversary of the patent on the accordion. While listening to the radio one day, he heard the broadcasters ask if Iowa accordion players would like to come into the studio and play on the upcoming occasion. On the day of the anniversary, he braved a 30 below zero snowstorm, making his way to Des Moines in time to play with a dozen other musicians – going out live on the air at 6:30 in the morning.

“We all played the ‘Lady of Spain,’ which is a song every player is taught. It was crazy, but we all said we did it for the anniversary,” he said.

Lambertsen plays gospel and church tunes through his Squeezebox Ministries. He has formed the Jubilee Accordion Trio along with Janet Collison and Jan Randall. He also works part-time at HyVee as a delivery driver. Before that, he was employed at Quakerdale Wolfe Ranch and the Salvation Army. Previously he spent 35 years as a school principal, serving Missouri and Iowa.

“I really enjoy playing in nursing homes and care centers. Even if their memories are not good, the music gets through,” he said. His goal is to perform in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

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Information from: Times-Republican, http://www.timesrepublican.com