Fingers dancing across accordion keyboards while squeezing the bellows, a group of retired men sat in the room enjoying the music of the concert they were putting on.
The men were members of the Taiwan Accordion Association, an organization with more than 100 members from all sorts of backgrounds, united by their love for accordion music and striving to perform for others so that they may share their joy in their hobby.
There were those whose passion for the accordion had been ignited during their younger years, and there were those who had not found the spark for music until after retirement, but they all felt the same passion for the music.
Chiu Yun-gho (邱永和), 87, has been playing the accordion since he was 20, but due to work and family demands, he was unable to find the time to practice during his youth, and when he did find the time, he found it extremely dull to play by himself.
After his retirement, he found renewed passion for the instrument, and now it is like a newborn child to him, always cradled in his arms or at his side.
Another member, 75-year-old retired harmonica teacher Cheng Chun-jen (鄭俊仁), came across the accordion by chance five or six years ago. As the harmonica and the accordion are both free-reed instruments, they are similar, and Cheng quickly became familiar with the instrument.
However, perhaps the most intriguing member of the association is 72-year-old Chien A-chung (簡阿忠).
A former businessman and owner of a listed company, Chien first came into contact with an accordion 12 years ago, and he soon became an avid collector of accordions. He now has the largest collection in Taiwan.
“My family at first opposed my collection, but I just kept buying them, one after the other,” Chien said, adding that after his family found out he had accumulated a large collection, they resigned themselves to the fait accompli.
Accordions are largely made in Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan and China, and their prices vary widely, with some available for just NT$10,000 (US$341), and others costing more than NT$1 million.
Pointing to one of the accordions in his collection made by a renowned German manufacturer, Chien said that the market price had been slightly more than NT$1 million. Although he acquired the accordion for less than that through private channels, he had to wait for more than a year to receive it.
Chien also has one accordion from the first batch made by the Hohner Co in 1852.
Chien has also learned to repair accordions.
He has skillfully repaired many accordions that people had given up on, saying that no matter what the problem was, whether with the keyboard or the tone converter, he just had to take the accordion apart and see what was wrong with it and attempt to fix it.
The value of his accordions lies not in its monetary value, but rather what the instruments mean to him as a musician; Chien’s name is written in English on the case of each of the instruments, he said.
Some instruments are even in a new case, as if to celebrate their rebirth into a new century or ownership.
“It’s easy enough to learn how to play the accordion, but how to play it well, that’s the difficulty,” association head Chen Han-pin (陳漢彬) said.
Pressing the keyboard and tone converters vertically, extending and compressing the bellows, while simultaneously controlling the bass is an act that does not conform to the natural ergonomics of the human body, Chen said.
However, he said it is in the challenge the instrument presents that its potential for greatness lies.
Many of the association’s members simply do not want to give up music, association director general Liao Chin-yuan (廖錦源) said, adding that once the pace of life has slowed after retirement, they are more than willing to spend their time with their instrument of choice and fulfill their dreams of playing music.