Once an avid player, Canaan’s Paul Ramunni hadn’t picked up an accordion for 42 years.
“I played the instrument from age 10 to 17. When I went to Fairfield University, the accordion went into the closet. In mid-2008, I woke up one morning and inexplicably had the urge to play again,” said the 67-year-old, who had a CPA firm in Canaan for 35 years before selling it five years ago. He now teaches accounting and financial literacy courses full time for the University of Connecticut. “So, I found an accordion and started to play and got into the collecting hobby.”
Well, he did more than that. Ramunni, a native of Long Island, eventually collected so many wonderful treasures he decided to open the New England Accordion Museum in Canaan, for which he serves as curator and director.
“I am constantly looking for rare and interesting accordions to add to the collection,” he said. “I've come to realize that the stories that come with each unit are so very important. They give me insight to how people lived 50, 100, or 150 years ago. The museum is personally rewarding for me, but it's the stories even more so than the accordions themselves. There's even a spiritual component to the collecting process.”
Ramunni also plays at senior centers, hospitals, nursing homes and other venues. He has a "mobile museum" that he brings with him when he plays. It consists of about six to eight old accordions from the collection. He discusses the accordion, its history and then he plays for the audience.
Accordions (the word comes from from 19th-century German Akkordeon, from Akkord, meaning musical chord, concord of sounds), are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone type. The instrument is played by compressing or expanding the bellows while pressing buttons or keys, causing valves, called pallets, to open, which allow air to flow across strips of brass or steel, called reeds, that vibrate to produce sound inside the body. The performer normally plays the melody on buttons or keys with one hand, and the accompaniment, consisting of bass and pre-set chord buttons, with the other hand.
Ramunni was part of an accordion band as a teenager and participated in many competitions and contests. However, he recalls being one of the more reluctant players who did not like the stress of the competitions and the practice that was required. As he looks back he admits the challenges he faced in learning how to play in front of an audience and disciplining himself to practice helped prepare him for an eventual career as a CPA.
Following that sudden urge to once again pick up an accordion and play, the very next day, while in Vermont on vacation, Ramunni ran into a collector who had about 125 accordions, and he began looking for ones that would suit his needs.
“In the middle of the room, stacked on the floor and separated from all of the other accordions, was a pile of small concertinas, about 20 or so all together,” Ramunni said. “They were brown, rusty and dirty looking. I asked about them, and the owner told me that he had just purchased them from a well-known collector.”
The concertinas were destined for the Holocaust Museum. It was Ramunni’s first “event,” the first “story” on his quest to collect.
His collection at NEAM has over 400 accordions, some of which were involved in the major wars that have occurred in the last 200 years. And, as Ramunni mentioned, it’s fun to collect and display accordions, but it is the provenance behind them that is really excites him and others.
“A fellow named Stan donated an accordion to our museum,” he said. “It belonged to his father, a Navy vet from World War II. He was a machine gunner on one of the landing crafts that brought soldiers to shore at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Stan described, in great detail, the events of that fateful day and how his dad tried desperately to give our soldiers fire cover as they attempted to exit the landing craft. Of all things, his dad had his accordion on that boat. He brought it along with him as the soldiers fought their way through to Germany. He did this because he knew how important it would be to give the troops some encouragement for the job they had to do.”
Ramunni continued explained how the gunner volunteered for a tour of duty in the Pacific and was at Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
“His job there was, once again, to give our troops fire cover as they stormed those beaches,” he said. “All of this with that same accordion by his side, so he could play for the troops and encourage them whenever and wherever.”
Stan said the captain of his ship would ask his dad to play each night over the intercom system onboard the ship, Ramunni recalled.
“It would help the troops get their rest. Amazingly, that accordion made it through all of that unscathed. He himself collected three purple hearts for his wounds, but in every case always returned to the fight. This is what we do here at the museum. We collect the accordions to display, but more importantly, we collect the stories of how the people who played them served their country and the people they encountered in their daily lives.”
The museum also has a flutina from a person who believes it was owned by someone who was at the battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. It came in a very sturdy compact oak carrying box. Reportedly, the soldiers at that time would take an instrument such as this with them into battle and would play it at night as they sat around the campfire, Ramunni said. It offered support and comfort to the troops as a reminder of home and better times.
There was also a donation of a small wooden button box from a friend in Great Britain. The accordion came from his friend’s family and was owned by someone who fought in the trenches of World War I. The story goes that this person played for the troops while they waited for the order to attack or prepare to fend off an assault, Ramunni said.
Ramunni will also acquire for clients new and used accordions from a variety of makers including Giulietti, Bugari, Dino Baffetti, Hohner and Paolo Soprani. He can even obtain a new, handcrafted accordion from the capital of accordions, Castelfidardo, Italy.
NEAM will host an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on June 12 with entertainment provided by maestro Tony Lovello. There is a $15 cover charge per person. There will be a sheet music tag sale, raffle prizes and complimentary beverages and desserts served.
Normal visits are by appointment only, and NEAM provides small group tours for those who would like to view the exhibit. Call 860-833-1374. Also visit www.newenglandaccordionmuseum.com.