Los Espacios–What Rises From the Music of the Heart

Me he creado un espacio para mí misma, y es mi propio espacio.  Vea – no tengo ni origenes ni raíces.  Me siento como si fuera perdida en la marea.  Mi mente es mi espacio. Es mi único lugar.

Accordion music is the grandest of inspirations for me, and I wish others could understand why.  It’s a versatile instrument that can simultaneously breathe happiness and sadness.  How can it evoke both emotions at once?  I believe it’s in the depth of sound that a wind instrument produces, a wind instrument that’s capable of depth because of its size, and the manner in which it’s played.  The Columbia encyclopedia gives this description of an accordion: “musical instrument consisting of a rectangular bellows expanded and contracted between the hands. Buttons or keys operated by the player open valves, allowing air to enter or to escape. The air sets in motion free reeds, frequently made of metal. The length, density, shape, and elasticity of the reeds determine the pitch. The first accordions were made in 1822 by Friedrich Buschmann in Berlin. Bouton added a keyboard 30 years later in Paris, thus producing a piano accordion. The accordion is frequently used in folk music.”

This begins to get at the heart – or the lungs to be more exact – of the accordion.  “The air sets in motion free reeds,” says Columbia, and this is mainly responsible for the unique sound that gives me insane rushes of joy, feelings of wistfulness, and nagging sorrow.  Also, as this encyclopedia points out, accordions are frequently used in folk music.  This is entirely because of its diversity in sound.  The accordion can take the place of an entire band – one musician is less costly than four or five.  And, after being established as a sound that encompasses the existence of regular people, it can never be removed from its place there.  It will always appeal to peculiar elements of North American society – in Louisiana, in Scottish Canada, in little pockets of Czech and German settlements, and in Spanish-German Texas and Mexico.  In the latter, the Norteño and Tejano, I discover my favorite use of the accordion.

My obsession for the accordion has led me to write insanely long research papers on Tejano music, to run away to Mexico for little trips, and to waste all my money in order to take my family to San Antonio for vacations.

And here is a lasting image of an accordion in my mind: The San Antonio river walk was strung with lights in November, lights that waved and rippled in the water.  The air was muggy, warm with little breezes that moved the palm leaves.  Along the walk, hundreds of people sat in the patios of restaurants, eating food and drinking beer and coffee.  Down the river, guides drove quiet tourist barges full of weekend people.  I had come to San Antonio to experience the culture of ‘Texas,’ which includes the Alamo and many types of people, but that also largely includes Texas and Spanish settlements.  For example, one night, we ate in a mom-and-pop German restaurant and listened to polka music, and the next, we ate in an over-priced Mexican restaurant along the river walk.  

But I’ll return to my image: We took a ride on a river boat, and the evening was just chilly enough to be pleasant, yet held warmth in its core.  We listened to the guide and learned that Jennifer Lopez stood on that bridge in the filming of the movie “Selena,” which is (as you know) about a Tejano superstar who popularized the Cumbia within the traditional Tejano conjunto.  

A fine white mist rose from the water and appeared as billows under the lamps.  After living in the harsh desert southwest for several years, the beauty and gentleness of San Antonio mesmerized me.  I looked out, and the people drifted as misty to my eyes as the fog did. I was overwrought from night after night without sleep.  My mind was numb.

And then I saw the true ghosts, a band of men who emerged from the fog as specters might have risen from a moor.  They were under a bridge – three men – one with a bajo sexto, another with a single drum, and a third that filled the air with the breath of the accordion.   It was one pure moment of magic – and gone, like that!  We drifted past, and I had fleeting thoughts of jumping from the boat and swimming to shore so I could listen for a few minutes more, and also to make sure they were real, but I didn’t, even though I knew the water was only a few feet deep.

That was that, a complex beginning and ending a la vez.  I can listen to accordion music anytime on my radio, play the CD’s of my favorite bands.  Still, though, there are things that are unattainable to me, so far out my reach.  I think of a song by one of my favorite accordion players, Ricardo Muñoz; I can hear his deep, melodious voice in my head singing, “Eres aire que da vida, y mi alma te respira; eres aire que me alienta, una brisa que alimenta.”  That’s what I have to sing to el acordeonísta: you are the air that gives me life, and my soul breathes you; you are the air that encourages me, a breeze that feeds me.    

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