The elderly woman stood and looked me in the eye. “I’ve been told that you can repair any accordion. Is that true?” The only thought in my head was something like, “Me and my big mouth!” but what came out was a grudging admission that I hadn’t yet worked on one that defeated me. She asked me to go out to her car and bring in the case from the back seat. Resigned to my fate, I went out quiescently to bring in the jumbo-sized instrument. As I wrestled the accordion from its case and up onto the table, she started through her laundry list of the problems which were to be remedied. I listened to the litany of defects and then, looking over the entire instrument, played my trump card.
You see, I didn’t want to work on this instrument. In the echelon of mechanical musical inventions, the accordion remains in the bronze age, while most of the others seem to have progressed at least minimally beyond that. Accordions are still made primarily by hand, and assembled piece by piece with individual adjustments being made to each linkage and mechanism as it is installed. On the larger models, the pieces are almost innumerable. No compartmentalization here, no sections which may be removed to work on the components below them. No…you have to remove the parts just as they were installed, one piece at a time. The time involved with such repairs is almost all spent in disassembling and reassembling, which might take hours. The actual repair many times takes mere moments compared to those hours. It is also entirely possible to take apart an instrument, make the repair, and put it back together again, only to find that the adjustment of the repaired part isn’t quite as it should be. You guessed it, back apart again, adjust, then back together again, ad infinitum.
My trump card? I quoted an astronomical price for the labor involved in the repair, quite legitimately. I was already replacing the squeeze box in the case, ready to carry it back out to the car for the lady. No such luck! “That sounds reasonable to me. When can you have it ready?” I was trapped! A date was named and the work duly performed. When she picked up the instrument a month later, she said sweetly, “I have several friends with whom I play sometimes. I’ll be telling them about you.” I immediately swore her to secrecy, purchasing her silence with the promise to make adjustments whenever she needed them if she would never divulge my identity. Then I made a phone call or two to the music stores in the surrounding towns, informing them that I would not be repairing any more stomach Steinways, so they should forget that they ever knew of my abilities. It has been a few years now, so hopefully they really have forgotten my name.
Have you ever started something you were sure you wanted to do, only to find that you really didn’t like doing it at all? Perhaps you even trained for years for the job and then found that it just wasn’t your cup of tea. I remember one of the Lovely Lady’s friends who went through four years of an Education degree at the local university, only to discover the first year she taught, that she couldn’t stand being in the classroom with a bunch of kids. One young man I know was positive of his direction in life for years ahead of starting college, only to find in his freshman year that he hated the task he would be doing for the rest of his life if he completed his degree. I’ve always thought that he was one of the lucky ones, to figure it out so early in the game!
Besides my brief stint as an accordion technician, I remember at least one more similar disappointment in my lifetime. The Lovely Lady’s father was a piano tuner for most of his life, along with being a master of the technical manipulations required to make these beautiful instruments sing and perform precisely. He was also a wonderful teacher, having taught many young adults to tune and repair pianos. I desperately wanted to tune pianos, too. Accordingly, I joined one of his classes and learned about temperaments, stretched octaves, beats and false beats in unisons, and a lot of other jargon which I have (thankfully) forgotten. I was into the fourth or fifth tuning of my practice piano, matching unisons and thirds (or was it seconds?), plink-plink-plinking my way up the keyboard, when it hit me. I hated this! It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it; I actually was pretty good at it. The problem was that I hated sitting at a piano, plinking at the keys, and not making a speck of music. It was sheer drudgery to me. To my father-in-law’s disappointment, I suggested that this wasn’t to be my life’s vocation and put my tools away.
I’m looking back at these experiences and others, finally mature enough to realize that they were not failures. There is nothing that I would change about those hours and minutes spent in exploring the possibility of doing something that I might love. So, I didn’t enjoy the activity itself. That’s no longer a problem for me. I tried new things, meeting new people, and gaining memories in the process. That’s how life works. We attempt and reassess, then we attempt again. It’s all part of being a human being. Was my time of exploration wasted? Not at all! How about the prospective teacher? Or the young college student? I would guess that both of them are starting to see that the time they spent has gone into making them what they are today.
After all, that’s true for every single one of us. We are the sum of our experiences, along with a good measure of our faith, and even a dash or two of disappointment tossed in for flavor. We live; we learn. And, we all move a little closer to being the person we aspire to be, the person God is shaping us into. And, it’s good.
My main concern now is that I’ve let all of you into my accordion repairing secret. I hope you can keep your mouth shut. I guess I’m just going to have to trust you.
“You are never too old to set a new goal, or to dream a new dream”
(C S Lewis~British author~1898-1963)
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
(Winston Churchill~British Prime Minister and statesman~1874-1965)