Story One: Master Craftsman and Young Apprentice

The first stop on our accordion journey is at an accordion repair shop in San Francisco, CA — where the accordion has been recognized as the city’s official instrument. The story profiles an unusual relationship between Vince Cirelli, an Italian American accordion repairman in his 90′s, and Skyler Fell, a woman in her early 30′s who is apprenticing with him to learn the craft. Tattooed, pierced, and part of the “steam punk,” DIY, Burning Man scenes, Fell owns her own accordion repair shop in SF, where she says an “Accordion Revolution” is happening among people of all ages.

This is a story about the history of Italian immigration to California, which gave rise to San Francisco becoming the center of accordion manufacturing in the U.S.; about the new generation of accordion enthusiasts, many of whom are women, who are helping to bring the accordion back out of the closet; and about how the passion Cirelli and Fell share in their work to tend to the beauty and complexity of the instrument bridges generations.

After the story about Vince and Skyler, we’ll take a quick historical detour to learn about the rise and the fall of the accordion’s popularity in the United States in the 20th century. We’ll visit the world of Lawrence Welk, whose widely popular TV show “Lawrence Welk Show” shaped the American popular soundscape during the early to mid 20th century, and find out why accordion ended up in the “closet” after that.

If you’re interested in reading more about the background of the accordion, and Italian immigration history, you can find information on the background page.

Special additional thanks to Tom Torriglia, Rob Reich, and the San Francisco Accordion Club for their help with this story.