Metro Morning

Are accordions cool again?

Toronto is set to play host to a squeeze box festival, proof that the once-geeky accordion is making a comeback.

The University of Toronto is the only school in North America with accordion degrees

Michael Bridge is an acclaimed accordionist who is also doing his master's degree in accordion. (Michael Bridge/supplied)

It seems that accordions are making a comeback.

That's not only because the box-shaped instrument can be heard in new songs from Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire, and The Lumineers. The trend goes deeper than that.

The accordion, or squeezebox, is coming back into vogue after a generation of ridicule.

New York's Carnegie Hall had its first solo accordion performance in 30 years last year. And in Toronto, there's the Squeezebox concert this week. 

'One of the world's most underestimated instruments'

It features players from around the world, playing various types of accordions, like the South American bandoneon. One of those players is Canadian wunderkind Michael Bridge, whose interest in the accordion began when he was four years old.

"The accordion has got to be one of the world's most underestimated instruments. And it certainly is one of the most versatile," said Bridge.

He said he sees the generational difference in attitudes around the accordion. While older people think of polkas or Weird Al Yankovic parody songs, younger people see it as cool.

"I've never had someone under the age of 35 ask me why I play the accordion," said Bridge.

He said the days of people calling him "weird" for his accordion love are coming to an end.

Meet the 22-year-old accordion player who wants Toronto to take a closer look at the two-hundred year old instrument. 5:00

Organizers of the Squeezebox concert point to the American magazine The Atlantic, which published an article headlined "Accordions: So Hot Right Now" last year, as evidence of the long term revival of the instrument.

The accordion has its origins in what is now Russia in 1820. It became extremely popular after only a couple of decades. By the 1880s, the accordion could be found across Europe.

'It's like it's hugging you'

Bridge thinks it has an enduring quality that people will come back to.

"I think the accordion can be very refreshing and surprising for audiences," he said.

 He said young people are interested in hearing it, and playing it.

"It looks cool, it wraps around your body, it's a very intimate instrument to play," he said. "It's like it's hugging you."

Bridge and other accordion players are in town, in part, because University of Toronto is the only university in North America where you can concurrently do a degree — undergrad, master's and doctoral — in the accordion.

Squeezebox takes place Wednesday, Feb. 10, at  p.m. at Trinity St. Paul's Centre (427 Bloor St. W.). More info can be found here.


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