It all started back in 1992 because of a remark an old friend made to me. She found out I played the accordion, and she was shocked. “How could I not know that about you?” she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I’ll just have to come out of the closet,” I replied.

Something clicked inside my brain. “Closet Accordion Players of America,” I thought. “Yes!”

I admit it. I thought the name was funny. I'm a writer, so I started playing around with the name. I remembered all the “accordion abuse” I had taken over the years, all the teasing, all the jokes about playing such an “un-hip” instrument. I remembered all my funny experiences with the instrument—and all the joys it has brought me as well.

Pretty soon I had the idea for a support group, a support group for accordionists. I started writing notes, and soon I had a whole package of materials. I decided to give my idea a try.

In late May, some friends helped me send out about 200 humorous press releases to randomly selected newspapers around the country. We had no idea if any newspaper at all would reply.

Three days later, the phone started ringing. A newspaper reporter wanted to interview me. That afternoon, another reporter called. Soon reporters were calling all day, every day. I was having a hard time running my real business, a small educational publishing company, because of all the interviews.

Then USA Today picked up the piece. USA Today, it turns out, is the “Bible” of talk radio. When I got to work the next day, my tape machine was filled with messages, all from radio stations. Most of them wanted to talk to me during morning drive time, which was as early as 5:00 AM Colorado time for East coast stations.

 

I began getting up, swallowing some coffee and doing radio interviews every morning, usually several in a row. For most shows, I would have to take a fair amount of kidding, play a bit of the “Jesus Loves Me Polka” over the phone and talk about why I want to improve the image of accordionists. On one Florida station, I had to play the “Beer Barrel Polka” simultaneously with a Florida classical accordionist and the radio host’s aunt from Pittsburgh — and none of us could hear one another. It was strange, to say the least.

 

When I appeared on one television program, I talked about the “Jesus Loves Me Polka,” explaining that I picked the most ridiculous song I could think of to play in polka time, just to show that anything sounds better as a polka. I got a phone call later from a man who had seen the show and wanted to join our “Christian organization.” He was annoyed to find out it is not a Christian organization. “Why were you playing the ‘Jesus Loves Me Polka’ then?” he asked. But then I got a letter from someone else, criticizing me for “pushing Christianity on others.” If I want tolerance for accordion players, the lady explained, I shouldn’t push my religion down other people’s throats. I just sighed and shook my head.

A few people, it seems, have been offended by CAPA’s humorous, light-hearted approach to the accordion. I’m sorry that they feel that way, but I don’t apologize for our approach. It is the humor that has caught the attention of newspapers, television and radio. I use humor to get attention, but then I go on to make serious points about the accordion—that it is a great instrument, that it is treated unfairly, and that I do want to help change its image. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, I think it’s sad. If we are good sports, we are a lot more likely to get people to listen to us and actually change their minds.

And I think the CAPA attention is working. We know of at least two accordion dealers whose business has gone up since newspaper articles appeared about CAPA in their area. Even non-accordion playing friends have called me to point out how aware they are now of the image of the accordion on television, in cartoons, and in movies. “You’re right,” they say, and they go on to tell me of the latest accordion put-down they have just seen.

And finally, hundreds of people have written to say that they are taking their accordions out of the closet and playing again. If only a fraction of them actually do, we will be making progress. People are joining CAPA from all over the country, and memberships are still coming in.

I haven’t had so much fun in years. I have met some wonderful people through CAPA, both in person and over the phone, and I hope to meet many more. I have learned that there are hundreds of dedicated accordionists out there, most of whom have a healthy sense of humor.

     Best of all, after twenty years of neglect, my accordion is firmly out of the closet, for good. It feels great!

History of CAPA

Cheri Thurston