The Accordion World Cup

This week, young musicians from around the world gather at the Kennedy Center in Washington for the world cup of accordion playing. Host Debbie Elliott gets a demonstration of the amazing technique of one of the contestants, Grayson Masefield, 19, of Auckland, New Zealand.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This week, finely honed competitors from around the globe descended on the Washington, D.C. area for the World Cup of accordion music.

(Soundbite of accordion music)

ELLIOTT: It's America's turn to host the Coupe Mondiale, a 60-year-old competition of young accordionists who come together to spread their wings and their bellows. The winners will perform tonight at the Kennedy Center.

But if you think this means a polka extravaganza in the quarters of power, you are wrong. Here to tell us why is one of the competitors, 19-year-old Grayson Masefield from Auckland, New Zealand.

Hi there. Thanks for coming in. So this is no polka-palooza, I take it?

Mr. GRAYSON MASEFIELD (Accordion Player and Competitor, Coupe Mondiale): No, no, no. This is the Coupe Mondiale of accordion, and it has many different classes. There are both classical accordion and variety.

ELLIOTT: So this is serious competition.

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yes. We have a very serious class. We must play a very classical music and lots of things like Pachelbel, Scarlatti, (unintelligible) and Chopin(ph).

ELLIOTT: When I think of accordion, I've always enjoyed hearing Cajun musicians play.

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: Or polka or something that you might see in a bar. I don't picture a classical instrument.

Mr. MASEFIELD: It's not very well known, I think, in many places, as a classical instrument. People are always surprised to see what can be done on it.

ELLIOTT: What have you been playing here at the competition in the classical category?

Mr. MASEFIELD: This year, I played "Ciacona in F minor" by Pachelbel, "Sonata" by Scarlatti, and two modern accordion works.

ELLIOTT: And you've got your classical accordion strapped on here. You have two accordions with you. Describe this instrument for me.

Mr. MASEFIELD: This is an accordion made especially for top-of-the-line classical work. It's free bass system, so that means you lift hand instead of just chords.

(Soundbite of accordion music)

Mr. MASEFIELD: You can change it and you can have in two octaves.

(Soundbite of accordion music)

Mr. MASEFIELD: So you can do arpeggios, scales and (unintelligible) and everything so that it gives you - it would have two parts playing, full works.

ELLIOTT: Can you give our listeners a little sample of what you play?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Okay. So this is just the beginning of "Ciacona in F minor" by Pachelbel.

(Soundbite of "Ciacona in F Minor")

ELLIOTT: Lovely. And what else do you play?

Mr. MASEFIELD: The Scarlatti - the "Sonata in F Major."

(Soundbite of "Sonata in F Major")

ELLIOTT: Thank you. Would you mind? I know that this is heavy and you had it strapped on. But would you mind switching to the other accordion just so we can hear the difference between the two?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yes, sure.

ELLIOTT: Now, explain to me the markings on this one. These are - this is bright orange and green and yellow - almost fluorescent. Does it glow in the dark?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yeah. Nearly. No, it's just different design just to grab people's eyes. It's specifically made for virtuoso entertainment. It's different sound, (unintelligible), and has the double bassoon so it's good for jazz, French music and all sorts of different sounds that you normally don't get on the classical accordion.

ELLIOTT: You say double bassoon. How would I hear that?

Mr. MASEFIELD: A single bassoon is…

(Soundbite of accordion music)

Mr. MASEFIELD: And double is…

(Soundbite of accordion music)

Mr. MASEFIELD: So it's quite a bit stronger when you have two.

ELLIOTT: Will you give us a little taste of one of your virtuoso performances?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yeah, sure. This is just the chorus of a French tango, (unintelligible) tango.

(Soundbite of accordion music)

ELLIOTT: Grayson Masefield, how long have you been playing the accordion?

Mr. MASEFIELD: I began when I was, I think, four, with a small plastic accordion with 12 basses on it. It's from the family so…

ELLIOTT: What do you remember? What were your favorite things to play when you were first learning the accordion?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Oh, at four years old, you know, I can't really play anything. I just lay my fingers down and hope for a sound that didn't drive my parents crazy.

ELLIOTT: You come from a family of accordion players.

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: Like a family accordion band?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Not a family band. But my uncles play. My aunt played. And mother teaches. My father used to play and my sister still plays with orchestras.

ELLIOTT: So is there ever any question that this was the instrument you would play?

Mr. MASEFIELD: No, I didn't have a say in the matter.

ELLIOTT: Grayson, would you take us out on one of your favorite selections?

Mr. MASEFIELD: Yeah. This is "Bumblebee Boogie."

(Soundbite of accordion music)

ELLIOTT: Nineteen-year-old Grayson Masefield of Auckland, New Zealand, playing "Bumblebee Boogie." He is one of the contestants in this year's Coupe Mondiale of young accordionists. To see who wins the competition, visit our Web site, npr,org.

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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