Savoy- In the mid 40s a tenant farmer,
who farmed for my grandfather, lived in a catalpa grove across the fields
from the farm that I grew up on. Every afternoon after his work he would sit
on the porch of his old home and play his accordion. The music would drift
across the fields and my ears would involuntarily point in the direction it
came from. The tenant, Hiram Courville, was a little skinny old man with unusually
large hands and long fingers. He would visit my father very often to talk
about the crops, but he never brought his accordion. So one day I asked him
if he would please bring his "music box" the next time he came for
a visit. I had never seen an accordion before, but I had heard the music from
across the fields and was so interested to see what sort of contraption made
those beautiful sounds.I finally got to see his " music box" that
Christmas Eve at a party given by my father at my home. All the other kids
were outside shooting fireworks, but fireworks were going off in my heart.
I was hooked for life. At age twelve I got my first accordion, a Hohner from
Sears for $27.50.
By age fifteen I began thinking about how my little Hohner might be improved to sound more like the famed pre-war Monarch and Sterling accordions, which had such a gutsy, rich tone compared to my little Hohner. I began gathering information from accordion players in the neighborhood and with my father opened up my Hohner to see what was inside. Everything looked so complicated to a 15 year old kid and his rice farming father, that we quickly closed up the accordion and forgot about that for a while.
Several months after that, a spring broke on the keyboard, so its back inside the accordion again. .My father told me that he had seen accordion players replace broken springs in their accordions with safety pins, so I raided mom's pin cushion for something that looked like it might fit, reassembled the whole thing and it worked very well. Success! That wasn't so difficult after all. This fact that Joel Savoy's kid had repaired his accordion spread through the neighborhood like wild fire, and soon I was repairing accordions for many accordion players in the neighborhood and surrounding area.
One day when I was about 17, some neighbors came to pick me up to go to a nearby campsite to entertain them while they had a cookout. It was in the late fall, and during the evening a storm came up and the wind turned to the north and the temperature dropped about 30 degrees. We were all huddled around the campfire when the proprietor of the campsite came overto invite us into his house to get out of the cold. I continued playing my accordion, and pretty soon the old man said to me, "Son, you're a good player for your age, but you need a better instrument. My son plays steel guitar with Sidney Brown of Lake Charles and Sidney just built himself a brand new accordion. You ought to buy yourself one of those Sidney Brown accordions, because they sound a lot better than that thing you're playing on. In fact, I just remembered that all the band's instruments are in the trunk of my son's car outside. Let me find the car key and I'll bring that accordion in." Before I could question him about what he meant by "making an accordion" the old man went out to look for the accordion. I thought that surely I must have misunderstood him when he said "made an accordion.
For a normal human being to build an accordion from scratch was totally impossible, or so I thought! The old man came back inside with a wooden case, opened it, took out a shiny black accordion with white trim, put it in my lap and said, "Here, play this!" First of all I looked it over very closely and saw that it was indeed brand new and looked identical to the famed pre-war Monarchs and Sterlings. I kept turning it over and over looking at everything while the old man was standing over me. Finally he said, "Play, play, play!" I ran my fingers over the keyboard a few times and then tried a tune.
After playing my first song on the Sidney Brown accordion, I was very very
impressed, not just with the fact that it was handmade, but also with the
way it handled. It had the response of my Hohner, but with a much smoother
keyboard action. The tone was also a major improvement, but unfortunately
it did not quite have the bass response that the old pre-wars had. I don't
remember sleeping at all that night, and it was during this long sleepless
night (which was destined to be one of many) that I decided to build an accordion
The idea remained dormant with me until 1960. During that interval I had figured out how to tune reeds and had also polished my accordion playing skills. In 1960 I built my first accordion using the pre-war accordion as a guide. I built something that looked like an accordion and first I was so proud of my job. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized how bad it was. So one day not too long after I completed it I lit a fire in the barbecue pit and burned it. I knew I could do a better job on the next one. So with a hand drill, an electric circular saw, and a lot of elbow grease and patience I built #2, which actually I was pretty satisfied with.
I was playing house dances around the area using my #2 accordion, and the
word began to get around that I was playing an accordion that I had built
myself. It was at one of these house dances that a man came up to see my accordion,
and after looking it over for some time, asked me how much I would charge
to build one for him. My first customer! Number three led to number four and......
By the fall of 1965 I had pretty much taken up my father's outdoor kitchen with my accordion building hobby. Accordion parts were scattered all over the place. Sawdust from the woodworking covered all the surfaces, so my father, who realized that I had developed a pretty good little business with accordions, told me one day, "Well, it looks like you want to be a musician and instrument maker, and since I would like to have my outdoor kitchen back, would you please re-establish yourself somewhere else?"
On November 19, 1966 I opened the doors to Savoy Music Center. Since that time nearly 1000 Acadian accordions have gone out to accordion players all over the world. Today, myself along with luthier Tina Pilione, continue to build Acadian accordions. Even after those many years of discovering "what makes it tick", we continue to make improvements as better materials are found and techniques refined. We look forward to creating a special instrument for you.
Tina Pilione-A self-taught luthier who has dabbled in stringed instrument repair, she has built several stringed instruments including dulcimers, mandolins and violins. She has been assisting Marc in the building of Acadian accordions for more than 20 years now. Born in California in 1957, she lived in Seattle before moving to Louisiana in 1983. While living in Seattle, she had the opportunity to hear Cajun music for the first time when Marc Savoy, Rodney Balfa and Dewey Balfa did a concert there in 1978. At that time she played Old-Time and Bluegrass music, but when she heard those three play Cajun music, her life would never be the same. She started listening to Cajun music and learning to play the Cajun fiddle and accordion and by 1983 was in Louisiana searching out as many Cajun fiddlers and accordion players as she could. For over 20 years Tina has played with several Cajun bands in the area. For more information on Tina’s music projects, Cajun music lessons, etc. visit www.tinapilione.com.