A Fiddler on the Roof and an Accordionist in the Pit
An accordion in the Lyric Opera Orchestra is a rare occurrence. We’ve been fortunate to have consummate accordionist Ronnie Kuller with us for Fiddler On The Roof to add her special sound and flair to the score. She was kind enough to share her story with violist Melissa Trier Kirk.
M: How did you start playing the accordion and what drew you to the instrument?
R: A year or so out of college, I started hearing accordion music in my head, and instead of seeking psychiatric help, I persuaded my wonderful dad to buy me an accordion, which he was happy to do. We found my beautiful blue Galanti in a music store in Tel Aviv. I just love the feel of the accordion and the way it can sustain and shape phrases; it feels a little bit like a piano and a violin put together. And I am in love with the musette on my Galanti,it has just the right amount of shimmer.
(note: musette tuning on an accordion is a way to thicken the sound by having one of two reeds that produce a given pitch tuned slightly higher than the other. When played together, the two ‘out of tune reeds’ will fight each other producing a rich waa sound.)
M: How does it feel to play in the pit?
R: It’s like a dream come true! I always loved playing in orchestras (I played violin and piano growing up) but I’ve never played accordion in an orchestra until now. And this orchestra is just phenomenal. I can’t believe I get to do this. To get to be a part of this sound is a feeling I will never forget.
(side note: Fiddler on the Roof (in Hebrew) was the first play my parents saw together just after they were married - that was fifty-seven years ago.)
M: What kind of music do you play on the accordion when you’re not at the opera?
R: I accompany Tom Musick,who is an incredible singer and songwriter. I’ve played piano with him for years, but when things got too pandemic-y we took our show outside, and I have been playing accordion instead. His songs are sort of french-influenced cabaret, and the accordion brings out the Frenchiness. We’re putting out an album next spring!
I play in a band called Escargatoire; we play slow songs, mostly about snails. Our instrumentation is accordion, violin, double bass, and ukulele/vocals, and we play a gig about every year or two, maintaining a snail’s pace.
Lyric violinist Katie Brauer and I have grand plans of making something wonderful happen with accordion and violin… stay tuned!
But mostly when I’m not at the opera, I’m arranging and composing. My friend Emmy Bean and I are working on presenting the art songs of Elizabeth “Connie” Converse. There will be a concert in the springtime that we’re putting together along with the folks at 5th Wave Collective; I’m writing some chamber arrangements, which has been a lot of fun.
M: Do you have a favorite story about playing the accordion?
R: My husband plays traditional Irish music; he plays flute and Uillean pipes. Our favorite combination for duets is flute and piano, but one day we tried bagpipe and accordion together. Immediately the skies turned green, tornado sirens started wailing, and a minute later a derecho swept through Chicago. It definitely felt like a cosmic warning to never attempt such a combination again!
Ronnie Kuller, accordion