It is hard to imagine a wedding, birth celebration, birthday, anniversary, festival or any other kind of event without this instrument, which is often played spontaneously at various gatherings. Demand has dictated both the offer and manufacture of this instrument.
Why do Slovenians enjoy pushing and pulling the accordion bellows so much?
The diatonic button accordion, locally known as frajtonerca, Štajerka, bellows etc., is the youngest folk instrument and the first in terms of popularity. In a mere hundred years, it has penetrated into all European countries and in some areas replaced many other folk instruments that were in use at the time. The accordion was invented by Jerry Ludwig Buschmann (1805–1864), who also invented the harmonica. Both instruments produce sound with free-swinging reeds, the difference being that playing the harmonica requires the direct blowing of air, whereas the accordion draws air into the bellows.
In Slovenia, it was mainly the folk music that contributed to the popularity of this musical instrument. The man who is given the most credit for this popularization is Lojze Slak, who began his career in folk music in the 1960s. The diatonic button accordion has witnessed its definitive boom in popularity in recent years through an outstanding popularization of folk music and various bands such as Modrijani. We are probably getting close to the point where popularity of accordions and folk bands in Slovenia will reach its limits. One can hardly imagine frajtonarica to be more popular than it already is.The diatonic button accordion is an extremely effective instrument since it combines the characteristics of two different instruments. In addition to providing the melody, it also allows bass accompaniment. This creates a very rich sound image in a single instrument, which is usually very loud. The instrument is called diatonic because, when compressing the bellows, it produces one tone, and when expanding them, it generates a different one. It thus sounds three-voiced and is usually the leading instrument in a band or attracts attention as a solo instrument.
That is why we have improved its manufacture
The diatonic accordion was introduced in Slovenia at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century. The three-row diatonic button accordion is the most widely used accordion in Slovenia.
Initially, diatonic button accordions were mostly the work of local masters and later also became an artisan and industrial product. The first well-known Slovenian manufacturers include Lubas, who produced them as early as 1913 in Slovenj Gradec, Ploner from Trieste, Murovec from Kranjska Gora and others, who all manufactured accordions by hand. Although the diatonic button accordion was considered a folk instrument, it was still very expensive, which was why many musicians made their accordions by themselves at home.
The end of the World War II brought a mass production and sale of diatonic button accordions. In 1972, the Melodija musical instrument factory from Mengeš also started to produce them. The company started out as a simple workshop, where a few masters from Ljubljana and the surrounding area were gathered. Until then, they had produced accordions individually, and only later started to work within the factory. Melodija made over 2,500 accordions per year and exported many of them.
Today, there are many other accordion manufacturers besides Melodija. The best-known among the high-quality brands are Rutar and Zupan.
To produce a diatonic button accordion, one needs extensive experience and knowledge and a refined ear for music. Since the tone colour is extremely important, tuning is the most demanding and paramount factor that gives true meaning to the entire product. One handmade accordion requires about 1000 hours of work.
Over the recent years, manufacturers have improved the diatonic button accordion so that it enables the user to play more than just traditional folk tunes. In Slovenia, the improvement was contributed to by some of the best folk accordionists such as Lojze Slak, Franc Mihelič, Zoran Zorko and also Miha Debevec, who won the world's most prestigious competition in playing the diatonic button accordion twice. Debevec plays a Zupan's unique, patented 'Vanessa-bass extension' diatonic button accordion, which he developed together with the world-renowned manufacturer Valentin Zupan a few years ago.
The cooperation between manufacturers and accordionists, who are often also music teachers, brought the diatonic accordion alongside the classical instruments such as piano or flute, in which the musical elements such as melody, rhythm, harmony, tempo and dynamics are already completely clear.
More about the instrument
The diatonic button accordion is a member of the aerophone family or air musical instruments. It consists of three components, i.e. the treble section – which is the part on the right featuring more buttons, the bellows, and the bass section which is where the trumpets are located The wooden elements are made of resonant spruce wood, whereas the structural components are made of pear, walnut or maple wood. The vocal cords, which are built in the treble and bass section, have aluminium housing, and the play feather is made of Swedish spring steel. The bellows are made of cardboard which includes sheep leather on the joints.
Having a soul to become the world champion
The new world champion of the diatonic accordion is Nejc Pačnik. Nejc was inspired to play this instrument by his grandfather who showed him the basics of playing and started taking him to diatonic accordion lessons when he was five years old. As a child, he practised one hour per day and, over the years, the time he has spent with the accordion increased to up to eight hours of playing. Nejc is the only Slovene who has won all competitions. In 2007, he became the European Absolute Champion, and in 2008 and 2009, he won the Golden Accordion Award of Ljubečna; in 2009, he also became the Junior World Champion and this year, he became the Absolute World Champion. He has established his own musical school in which he teaches, but he also performs a lot. The diatonic accordion is an instrument, with which mainly popular folk music has been played, but now appears with people like Nejc, who due to their knowledge and experience see a lot of missed opportunities in it, not only in popular folk genre but also in other musical genres.