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Janet Wolff


"The accordions work into my curriculum when I teach about how music connects with the history of the town we live in," Janet Wolff told Education World. "Wishek is a town that was settled by Germans from Russia. Many of my students are from families that still speak German. The town celebrates a day called Sauerkraut Day, and each year the school band and choir are asked to entertain while a dinner of sauerkraut, schpeck, and wieners is served. The choir performs a concert entirely in German, using folk songs and accordions. I added the accordions to introduce an authentic instrument to the concert."

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Wolff reports that she puts accordions on as many students as possible at North Dakotas Wishek Public School -- shes limited only by the number of available accordions! Ten musicians currently play with the choir, and they work with Wolff, the school's music instructor, during choir class. Each student is taught where the chords are located on the accordion and how the melody sounds.

"It's important that the players understand the theory about tonic key notes, dominant and subdominant chords," explained Wolff. "The lessons include discussions about how waltz time with it's oom-pa-pa beat is different than polka music, which has an oompa-oompa beat. We learn the melody and diction of the song by listening to classic German folk records. Then the students accompany the choir during practices. It seems theres never enough time to perfect all the skills it takes to become a great accordion player; however, each student learns enough to accompany the choir songs."

Music teacher Janet Wolff uses the accordion to connect students with their roots.

The coordination required to move the baffle while playing a chorded accompaniment with the left hand and the melody with the right makes the accordion a difficult instrument to master. Wolff is proud of her students' commitment and willingness to share their talents. The experience of learning to play the accordion and becoming familiar with German folk songs serves to connect the students with their heritage and their community. The students entertain about 1,500 people at the civic center on Sauerkraut Day and perform for elementary students as a lesson about German heritage.

Roots are what this is all about," Wolff observed. "I think music helps connect historical facts with the actual lives of people. We may learn about the facts associated with our heritage in text books, but until we understand how those historical facts shaped a person's life, half the lesson is not learned. I try to help my students understand how history affects us in the present era and that many times we learn from the past."

Ten of Wolff's students currently accompany the choir on the accordion.

Wolff is impressed that her students can look past "accepted" teenage response and keep an open mind with regard to music.

"Needless to say, my students dont listen to accordion-playing on the radio. It's not popular music in their generation," said Wolff. "However, the students understand how it was an important part of the lifestyle of people in the previous generation and respect the talent it takes to play the instrument well. Whenever they play, the response from our town is phenomenal. There is an instant camaraderie between generations when the accordion is played. Everyone has the same agenda -- to enjoy music, and each player does enjoy music, whether it's new hip hop or old folk music."

Article by Cara Bafile
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