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In 1974, when Anthony Schulz was six years old, his father Werner bought him an instrument at a North Melbourne music shop.
Instead of a recorder or a ukulele, Werner purchased a piano accordion – a shiny new model, made in Italy.
Anthony Schulz, centre, with Accordion Society of Australia Victoria Orchestra members Louis and Victoria Wu.Credit: Chris Hopkins
Not a conventional choice of instrument, but a natural one for Werner, who grew up in Germany singing folk songs featuring the instrument. Schulz’s mother is from Ireland, “another great accordion country”, says Schulz.
Schulz reckons he was the only child at his school in the Dandenong Ranges, in Melbourne’s east, to play the accordion, which was the size of his torso as a child, but he loved it from the start.
“It just felt right,” he said “I loved the sound, I loved the physicality of it, and as we say, it’s an instrument you strap to your heart. There’s something very beautiful about it.”
Werner drove Anthony to lessons, in Croydon, 13 kilometres from their house in Upper Ferntree Gully.
Father-son time: Anthony Schulz practises while his father, Werner Schulz, looks on, circa 1976.
At home, Werner would watch his son practise. “It was a pretty amazing gift from him, to spend that time with me,” Schulz says. “It’s something that we shared that was special. He’s a very quiet man but we have a bond over that, that has lasted.”
As well as a hobby, the instrument became a career for Schulz, who, 49 years later, is now a music lecturer at Melbourne Polytechnic, and director of the Accordion Society of Australia Victoria orchestra.
In bands, Schulz has performed everywhere from Uzbekistan to Canada and has explored genres from tango to jazz to classical.
Schulz met his partner, Isabelle, a lawyer, after she saw him play improvised music in an ensemble at a Fitzroy North bar.
Happy times: Anthony Schulz, pictured circa 1976.
But the accordion is not an instrument with mass participation. “I was afraid that in another 10 years it would drop off the radar here in Australia,” Schulz said.
In a bid to jump-start local interest, Schulz, the Victorian president of the Accordion Society of Australia, is organising an Accordion Festival on September 30.
The 11-hour Festival, at the Church of All Nations in Carlton, will include workshops, a masterclass with George Butrumlis who was an original member of Joe Camilleri’s band the Black Sorrows, and performances, including from the violin, double bass and accordion trio the Stiletto Sisters.
“It was a way of starting to re-ignite, or ignite, an interest in the accordion,” Schulz says, of the festival, “And to start to demonstrate that it’s a versatile instrument that’s relevant.”
Last month Schulz organised the first of regular social events called Bellows and Beverages at Open Studio in Northcote to which about 50 people came, ranging in age from their early 20s to the elderly.
“One of the things that’s interesting about the accordion is that for so many people it triggers some kind of memory for them,” Schulz says. “I’ll play a concert and somebody will come up to me and say, ‘it reminded me of when I was in Paris’.
“A lady came to see me play a year ago at a Richmond venue and said it took her back to a cosmopolitan time when she lived in Beirut, as a young woman, going to cafes.
“Often people will say to me, ‘my grandmother or my uncle played the accordion’. It’s very much a part of many people’s lives, in all sorts of beautiful ways.”
Among members of Schulz’s orchestra who will play at the festival are siblings Louis and Victoria Wu, age 12 and 9, of Balwyn.
Their mother, Grace Wu, plays piano and chose accordion because she felt she could guide them on the instrument, which has a keyboard, as opposed to a violin or flute.
The accordion can be played in a group and is portable, Grace Wu said. “They can take the accordion anywhere and do a performance and play Happy Birthday for their friends’ birthdays.”
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