An Interview with Lavonne
Lavonne, please tell me how you got interested in playing the accordion.
When I was four and five we live in Alameda, California. My mother took me with her to her accordion lessons in Oakland. I sat at her knee listening and watching. My love of music began then. I was raised listening to music on the radio. At age five or six, my parents said that I could start music lessons. They asked me if I wanted to learn to play the accordion or piano. I choose the piano but my parents said, "Good, you're going to play the accordion." I picked the piano because I knew that it was more popular than the accordion. My parents wanted me to play the accordion because an accordion can go anywhere and pianos aren't found everywhere.
Do you read music?
Yes, when I was about seven years old I started taking accordion lessons from a woman teacher. When she gave me a new song to learn I would ask her to play it first. Then I played it, by ear. When the teacher told my mother that I was playing by ear, my mother told the teacher not the play the new songs for me first so that I would learn to play by reading the music. As a result, I grew up thinking that playing by ear was less than desirable. To this day I have great admiration for anyone who can play by ear.
After a few years of accordion lessons I expressed an interest in playing the fiddle. My father was a self-taught fiddle player and would not let me play the fiddle until I could tune it. I didn't have an ear for tuning and so that ended that, at least for that time.
In 1990, after my father's death, my mother gave me my father's fiddle. By then electronic tuners were available and my husband bought me one which made tuning a snap. I took lessons and played it for several years but set it aside to concentrate on the accordion, my primary instrument.
How many accordion teachers did you have?
I had four accordion teachers as a child. The first one, and only woman teacher, got me started on a twelve bass accordion. Next, was an Italian man who ate garlic and smelled strongly of garlic, which I've never forgotten, as I had to sit very close to him during my lessons. He died of a heart attack. I don't remember his name, only his odor.
Next, I had a Bohemian from Chicago named Fred Divisek. He groomed his six best players, I was one, to play in an ensemble. We competed in Tacoma, Washington at a Pacific Northwest Accordion Tournament as a band and as soloists. He left Oregon to go to Los Angeles and play drums in a philharmonic orchestra.
My last accordion teacher was Napoleon "Nap" Valentine. He was from Boston. He sold Sonola accordions and eventually all of his students purchased a Sonola Accordion. My father bought a new Sonola for me in 1955 and I still play it. He had his students perform at various community events; weddings, local granges, the Elks, the Eagles, and at the Veteran's Hospital in White City, near Medford. We also played in recitals for the parents and public. I also competed in several talents shows as a teenager. Mr. Valentine also had an eight-piece band in which I was the only accordion player. We were all high school students and were called "The Toonsters." When I graduated from high school at age seventeen I left for college and did not continue with accordion lessons. Mr. Valentine was a wonderful teacher and mentor.
Did you play in other bands?
In addition to the accordion bands, when I was fifteen years old I played in a country western band. I played piano and accordion. We played the popular songs that western bands were playing in the fifties such as Up A Lazy River, Tennessee Waltz, etc. We often played where alcohol was being served so I was not allowed to leave the bandstand. This was not a problem for me as I had no interest in alcohol and was only interested in playing music and earning money to save for college.
Tell me about your family.
I met my future husband, Dave, in Grants Pass High School in 1956. He played guitar in some of the country western band gigs with me. He had his own band called the Suedes, which played the Elvis Presley music of the fifties. We married in 1958 and have four grown sons. We also have three granddaughters and one great grandson. I earned a B.S. degree in Elementary Education from Southern Oregon University and a Masters Degree from the University of Oregon. I taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grades over a thirty year teaching career. When the boys were little I played in church, Sunday School, and vacation Bible School and accompanied the boys when they sang. The boys ended up as guitar, violin, banjo, and drum players.
Did you use your accordion in your classroom teaching?
Yes. My first teaching job was as a fourth grade teacher and to teach music at that grade level to three classrooms of fourth graders. I taught singing, reading music, and how to play the recorder. I had a unique system that I used to teach any student how to play a little song in less than twenty minutes.
Did you also perform outside of the teaching arena?
I have been a member of Oregon Old Time Fiddlers and have played at numerous care centers and nursing homes in Roseburg, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds at fair time. And at the O.O.T.F. State Convention. On my own I have played at a Roseburg Nursing Home and at two Senior Centers in Douglas County. In 2005 I competed in the Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration in Leavenworth, Washington. I won first place in the original composition category with a Tango I composed called, "Majestic Tango." When I saw that other accordion players had CDs for sale, I knew then that I wanted to make a CD of my music. In 2006 I won first place in popular music category with, "Deep Purple." My composition, "Tango For Lovers," won second place in original compositions. I composed a polka, "Carefree Polka" and a waltz, "Carrousel Waltz" which I played in the old time music category and won third place.
How did you come to play a Concerto accordion?
When I attended L.I.A.C. in 2006, I saw one of the adjudicators playing a Concerto accordion in concert. I had never heard of a Concerto accordion so when I returned home we looked it up online. I called the inventor, Paul Pasquali, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since there was no one in Oregon selling this accordion we had to go to Salt Lake City to see, hear, and play one. I played the "Gold" edition, the "Rhapsody" edition, and the "Las Vegas" edition. I was delighted with the many digital voices that the Concerto has and bought the Las Vegas Concerto. It is such fun to play and provides hours of musical pleasure.
When did you decide to record your debut CD, "Concerto Colors?"
I had thought about making a CD for several years. I wanted something of my music to be recorded so that when I was no longer here, my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren would have my music to play. We bought equipment two years ago and started to record me at home but the software was not user friendly. So, December of 2006 I scheduled recording sessions at the Mobius Recording Studio in Sutherlin, Oregon. After reading about "All In One Media World" in the News Review, we had them do all the graphic work and the CD duplication. I have been so very grateful with how hard everyone worked to make this CD possible.
What are your future plans for recording and performing?
Now that I've completed my second CD titled "Concerto del Amor", an original composition, I'm planning on recording two more CDs. All the songs on Majestic Tango are Latin love songs. I have always been very fond of the rhythm and feel of Latin music. Some of the selections on the CD are Amor, Yours, Besame Mucho, Spanish Eyes, and Maria Elena.
I competed again at
Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration, June 2007 and have my
first two CDs available for purchase. It is my desire to audition at the Seven
Feathers Casino in Canyonville, Oregon and play in the Camas Room during
evening dining hours. The music and style that I play would go very well in a
classy dining atmosphere. When other performing opportunities arise, I will be
available. Promoting the record company, Red Dress Music is a priority of mine.
For the past several years I have been a member of the Emerald Valley Accordion
Club in Eugene. I'm starting an accordion club in Roseburg and hope to have our
first meeting by June 2007.