Legos and Fellini: You wouldn’t suppose the two might make an accordion repairman until you spoke with Dan Turpening.
As a boy Dan spent endless hours holed up in a milsurp tent playing with Legos, developing his mechanical acumen to a point where he could build a three-speed manual transmission. Later on Dan would watch Amarcord, Fellini’s great coming-of-age story set in Mussolini’s Italy. Having listened to the original soundtrack for Amarcord only once, Dan set aside his trombone in favor of the accordion.
Perhaps it is possible to capture the haunting beauty of “Le Manine di Primavera” on a trombone, but more likely not.
Dan will happily describe the mechanical intricacies of accordion repair with you. There are metal reeds which must be kept in tune, little leather bits which must be kept supple, and billowing arteries which must remain properly efferent and afferent. You can take notes as Dan explains his science, and you will then find your notes just as useful for deciphering the Rosetta Stone or making veal scallopini. Had young Dan played with frogs instead of Legos he’d now be offering brain repair at the Mayo Clinic.
“There are no owners’ manuals for these things” said Dan. “Sometimes I’ll work on an accordion and find awful repairs inside of it, only to realize that I’m the one who did them several years ago. After 20 years in business, I’m still learning.
“I see accordions as machines, but I also see a magic in them that nothing else has. When people try to just force an accordion’s bellows open and shut, it’s because they don’t understand how the instrument works. You’ve got to let it breathe.
“Larger accordions are less popular now. I suspect that’s because the average accordion player isn’t as strong as they used to be – or as young. But accordion repair is still in high demand. At any given moment I have at least a dozen accordions that need work because there are so many different musical traditions centered around the instrument. You’ve got the Irish, the English Morris dancing crews, the German polka and alpine musicians, the Balkan players, the Russians, and even a few punk rockers. And of course you’ve got all of South and Central America. Tango has stayed popular in Argentina and Uruguay, and if you’ve listened to a Mexican radio station for two minutes you’d know how important the accordion is to their music.
“I don’t believe the accordion really has a reputation as an annoying instrument, but that does remind me of a joke. So an accordion player walks into a bar after a long day at work. He’s sitting there talking to the bartender when all of a sudden he realizes he left his accordion in his car and forgot to lock the door. So he runs out to his car and sees that there are now two accordions in it.”
(I instinctively reciprocated with my own joke which is far too disgusting to print in any magazine, let alone a classy one like Shop.Dine.Live.)
Dan fixes more than accordions. He also fixes people who do not know how to play accordions. Dan currently offers online lessons via Zoom, as well as accordion rentals for $25 a month.
Should you decide to become an accordion owner, Dan will apply all of the money you spent on a rental toward one of the beautiful instruments in his shop. There you can choose from Titanos, Scandallis, Hohners, and Frontalinis. Some are stately black affairs that bring to mind men named Giuseppe wooing women named Alfonsina. Others sparkle in brilliant reds and blues, and which must once have spurred countless Germans to drink beer by the lastkraftwagen-load.
Dan Turpening’s Accordion Shoppe offers precisely what you should hope it would, and it’s only a mile north of Downtown Minneapolis. You may learn more about it and arrange your visit at accordionshoppe.com.
By David Scheller