THE POST-SIGNAL / Desiray Seaux
Welcoming accordion maker Larry Miller, center, to the Rotary Club of Crowley were, from left, Jeremy Patin, President of the Rotary Club and Ken Goss.
Miller discusses Cajun music history with Rotarians
Famous accordion-maker, Larry Miller, of Bon Tee Cajun Accordions spoke to Rotarians at Tuesday’s meeting.
Miller is an Iota native who grew up speaking only Cajun French and later learned English after starting school. He came from a family of musicians with his father, Abraham, who played the accordion and his brother, James Calvin, that played the guitar and the accordion.
However, Miller started off playing the spoons and triangle and then moved on to the accordion.
He has devoted much of his time to preserving the Cajun culture. Some examples include being a charter member of the Cajun French Music Association and having served as the National Gov. Body President in 1989-1991.
Miller has also been known for orchestrating jam sessions with his Cajun band. During these jam sessions he encourages newcomers and helps them learn to play Cajun music.
Miller has had many apprentices that he has taught how to build accordions. When teaching an apprentice, he does not charge for sharing his knowledge but only for the supplies needed to build an accordion.
As of this week, he proudly reports that number 15 apprentice is “almost finished completing training” and he is now a retired accordion builder but still teaches the trade to younger generations.
Not only is Miller a skilled accordion builder and player, he is also a bit of a historian on the subject.
He explains that accordions (Melodeons), mostly from Germany ,made the way into the Cajun Music scene from the German immigrants in the mid 1870’s. The reason the new musical instrument became so widely popular in the Cajun homes is because every family had a musician in their family. The fiddle is too soft with the stomping of the floor during dances.
Most people had a musician in their family. The accordion combined with the fiddle to create the perfect marriage in forming the beats known as Cajun music today.
Through our history at least 40 different accordions were created. Yet, only six types of accordions survive today. The surviving six include:
• The Diatonic Accordion created in Germany in 1822.
• The Concertina Accordion created in England in 1832.
• The Bandoneon Accordion created in Germany in the 1850’s.
• The Piano Accordion created in Italy in 1863.
• The Harmonium created in Germany/India in the 1890’s.
• The Five Row Button Chromatic Accordion created in Italy in 1903.
The Cajun accordion, known as the Melodeon, stems from the diatonic accordion, with a single row of reeds and buttons and was the very first accordion developed. Later this was built up to a single row of buttons with four rows of reeds, three octaves. Therefore, these became a particular type of diatonic accordion called Melodeons which are keyed like harmonicas.
However, the Cajuns did not just adopt the Melodeons into their culture after World War II. They kept the Melodeon from being forgotten due to the GI’s coming home and reporting that Germany was destroyed. All but one accordion factory in Germany had been taken over by the Communist party on the East side. As a result of the war the Cajuns could not obtain any Melodeons therefore forcing them to begin manufacturing the accordions in Louisiana themselves. The Cajun musicians unknowingly saved the Melodeons from going extinct in the United States.
Accordion making is certainly a skill and talent, and in order to build just one accordion, about 175 hours of work must to done.