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Polka Therapy

Cheri Thurston

Back in 2009, I had a year I can some up this way: words, 


A bit of explanation is surely in order.

With all the polka playing I’ve done in my lifetime, I’ve made a few observations. One is that I absolutely can’t play a polka without tapping my foot. Another is that people always get
up and dance when I play one. They smile. They laugh. They look happy.

That’s not because of my accordion playing abilities.
It’s because the polka is a happy kind of music.
So why not make people smile by turning their
troubles into songs? More specifically, polkas?

Cheri Thurston and Victoria Chen "battle" playing "Dueling Accordion Polka."

Somewherein the depths of my sometimes rather strange brain, I got the idea of creating a new-fangled polka CD called Polka Therapy. I thought it was a funny idea.It just tickled my fancy, to use an old fashioned phrase.I persuaded composer Heather Stenner to collaborate with me, and I started writing. Though we both worked on everything, my specialty was lyrics. Oh, I do love writing song lyrics, and I love writing humor. Ihad a blast with these. Hence, words, words, words.


Heather and I have worked together on different music projects, and we have developed a routine. Here’s our process:• We start with lyrics. I play around with some initial lyrics for a song. To create the lyrics, I have to have some semblance of a melody in mind, so I often create that, too.  I put my melody into a wonderful music compositionprogram called Sibelius (which is the only computer program I own that I absolutely love). I add some lyrics and email the rough idea to Heather.


Heather takes the idea and “messes” with it, sometimes refining what I’ve done, often starting completely over and creating something new that fits the spirit of what I’ve done. Then back to me for more playing around.


 We finish the lyrics and melody, and Heather creates arrangements for the various band instruments to be included on the song.In doing all this with Polka Therapy, we developed a new vocabulary, understood by only us and the other band members (and now by you, too!)


First there is the accordionizing process. I take the accordion arrangement Heather has written and make it work better for the accordion, which she doesn’t play. Early on in our collaboration, for example, she often wrote things in a high octave and had my fingers dancing right off the end of the keyboard. Sometimes she created a diddly—another word we developed for a twinkly, note-intense section of as ong—and it would have chords that were just impossible (at least for me) to play at the speed the song would require. In the accordionizing process, I might turn the chord diddlies into single note diddlies. Sometimes I just didn’t think a part she wrote sounded "accordiony" for some reason, and I’d mess with a bit, changing it so that it had more of an accordion flavor.


The first time we realized we had created our own vocabulary was when we got strange looks from a band member when one of us said, “I think we need to work on the diddlies.” (As I type this, my word processing program is highlighting all these words that I’ve invented in an angry red.)


One of the songs we wrote for the CD was "Dueling Accordions Polka,” which started out with the melody to“Dueling Banjos,” and then morphed into the melodies of many different well-known themes, such as“William Tell Overture, “Turkish Rondo,” and“Ukranian Dance.” We enlisted the help of expert accordionist Victoria Chen, and she and I recorded the piece. We loved it!


But….we needed to get permission from the company that manages “Dueling Banjos” to do a “derivative work.” We tried. We faxed. We called. We emailed. Finally someone was given our case. He kept telling us they were working on it. Finally, we ran out of time and had to leave the “Dueling Accordions Polka” off the CD. We asked that he still pursue the permission, so we might include it on the CD in the future. We never got an answer. No words, no “yes” or “no.” Nothing. Ever. We’re pretty convinced that the person in charge of our request just didn’t want to deal with it, so he didn’t. Very, very frustrating.

If you're interested in "Polka Therapy," it is available at and through other sources, including, Heather's company website. Have a listen!

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