NORTH CANAAN — Paul Ramunni spent most of his life not thinking much about accordions.
When he was 10 years old and living on Long Island, Ramunni’s parents wanted him to learn the instrument.
“I said ‘Mom, anything but that,’” Ramunni, a Salisbury resident, recalled. “From 10 to about 17, I played the accordion and played in an accordion band. When I was going to Fairfield University, that thing went in the closet and that was the end of it. I liked doing it, but there was a lot of pressure.”
But for some reason, in 2008, while Ramunni was on vacation in Vermont with his wife, the accordion came back into his mind.
“I woke up on a Wednesday morning and sat on the edge of the bed,” Ramunni said. “I said ‘I’ve got to play the accordion again.’”
Two towns over in Vermont, he found a shop with accordions, and thus began the New England Accordion Connection & Museum Company, now newly located in the Canaan Union Depot in North Canaan.
“On the floor, there were about 14 or 15 little concertinas, and they were old looking, rusty and parts were falling off,” Ramunni said. “He said he just got them in from a serious collector. They came from Nazi prison camps. It clicked. It made me wonder what else is there about these accordions.”
Ramunni became fascinated with not just the antique look of these instruments, but the stories connected to them.
“I started collecting and picking up these stories from people about who played it, where they played it,” Ramunni said. “They took them into warzones and into hospitals. It’s not the equipment. It’s what people felt. They wanted to make things better for other people, so they played them a song. They played music.I collected a lot of stories about them.”
Ramunni’s collection began to bloom through word of mouth. Once you start, it’s hard to stop, he said. A large portion of his collection came from a bulk purchase from a museum in Cleveland that was closing.
Now, more than 400 of these instruments and their stories are on display at the newest location for Ramunni’s museum, and he always enjoys the look on the guests’ faces.
“A guy came in here two weeks ago...he stood in the doorway...and he couldn’t believe the 400 accordions in one room,” Ramunni said.
But as much pride as he takes in the physical instruments, he more so likes sharing stories with visitors, and playing music for them.
“It’s a room full of memories,” Ramunni said. “They’re thick, you can feel it, you can remember when you were a kid that somebody was playing an accordion somewhere. It brings back memories. I get people, when they hear them they start crying. It triggers a memory from a family member. All of a sudden those people are in the room with us. It’s tangible.”
One of his favorite interactions recently is how his playing inspired an older couple to start dancing.
“They got done dancing and she turned and came back to me and said that’s the first time he’s danced with me in 30 years,” Ramunni said. “There was something in the music that brought him back. It was sweet, really sweet.”
Ramunni had been playing a digital accordion in that moment, which is one of his favorite pieces. Aside from the typical sounds an accordion can create, the digital nature of it can also add trumpet and trombone sounds. He also loves to show off his Tanzbar accordion, which is a self-playing accordion.
“People wanted music so bad back then...so they made these things almost like the music box,” Ramunni said. “People go crazy when they see this. It’s an amazing piece of equipment.
Currently, Ramunni is establishing another room in the museum to give him even more display space, which also includes different memorabilia and sheet music.
Ramunni, who enjoyed his career as an accountant and also taught the subject at the University of Connecticut, is now excited about what he’s doing in retirement.
“I look forward to coming to work everyday,” Ramunni said. “Somebody else comes in and tells me a story. It’s about making people happy. We’ve got to get back to doing that. It’s something I needed quite frankly. Doing tax returns for people, you don’t get the oh gee I can’t wait to come in and do my taxes. Now I’m doing something that people are happy with. It’s a whole new refreshing feeling for me.”