Polka Is Out, Even At World Accordion Competition

Oct 25, 2012

This week, the Northwest is hosting a historic event – historic, at least, in the word of accordion music. The top players from 19 countries are competing in Spokane at the World Trophy Accordion Championship. It's the first time the prestigious international competition has come to the United States. As Jessica Robinson reports, U.S. accordion players feel they've got something to prove.

Spokane accordionist Yev Nosov, 24, is one of the U.S. musicians competing at the World Trophy Accordion Championship this year.
Credit Photo by Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

There's one big problem facing accordion players here. It goes a little something like this.

Nosov: “America sort of has a bad reputation for not going anywhere with the accordion and I think polka is one of the reasons.”

Yev Nosov is an accordionist in Spokane. He says American accordion players have a reputation for playing polkas -- and only polkas. But elsewhere in the world, the accordion elite have moved beyond polka.

Nosov: “There are times and places where you would play one – like Oktoberfest or something. But you wouldn't want to play one during one of these competitions.”

Jessica Robinson: “And what would they think if you played a polka?”

Nosov: “They'd probably just press the button and you'd fall through the floor. Haha.”

Nosov is 24 years old. He didn’t grow up watching the Lawrence Welk show. He’s part of a younger generation of musicians pushing the instrument into other genres -- like indie music, jazz, and classical music.

But it’s taken longer to convince the rest of the world, says Patricia Bartell. She was born in Bolivia and now teaches accordion in Spokane. Three years ago, Bartell says she went to Italy for an international competition.

Bartell: “And it was the first time they had ever seen the United States present. So when I got there, I didn't realize the stereotype on the U.S. And they're like, 'Oh, it's U.S. – what are we going to hear a polka?' It already kind of carried that stigma. And I'm like, oh boy.”

Bartell didn’t play a polka and she placed third. She says that helped convince international skeptics to bring the World Trophy stateside.

Five American accordion players are among the competitors this year – including Yev Nosov. He's trying to work out all the mistakes before he takes the stage.

Nosov: “It seems like the world came here. And I'm going to be in front of it.”

Nosov says even if he doesn't win, it's a comeback moment for American accordion music.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network