A Palo Alto polka | August 22, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - August 22, 2008

A Palo Alto polka

In Silicon Valley style, the Saccheris share their love for accordions in the blogosphere

by Jill Kimball

You've heard tales of college freshmen doing crazy things to get a bid from the coolest fraternity or sorority on campus. But since when do incoming students covet a spot in the school marching band so badly they take up the accordion just to join?

Since never, unless your name is Chris Saccheri. When he was 18, the just-admitted Stanford student walked into the now-closed Swain's House of Music on University Avenue in Palo Alto and picked up the squeezebox so he could hang out with the band kids.

"They looked like they were always having a ton of fun," Saccheri explained.

Fast forward to 2003, the beginning of the online social-networking boom. A girl named Anna messaged Saccheri on Friendster. She said she liked accordions too, that she'd been playing since high school. After exchanging a few e-mails, the couple started dating.

The end of the story is the stuff of fairy tales: They're now living happily ever after in accordion-playing bliss with their 6-month-old daughter Sarah in a little house near the Stanford campus.

But the classic Silicon Valley tale wouldn't be complete without some sort of high-tech element, and Chris and Anna Saccheri have that covered. He's the senior Web developer at LinkedIn, and she designs websites and album covers. They mixed brains with aesthetics and created Let's Polka, a blog about — you guessed it — accordions.

To her, it was a way to let the public see how well her husband wrote. For him, it was an excuse to build another website. But the two also created the blog in the beginning of 2006 to connect with people who shared their unusual interest.

"I hadn't been playing much, and I felt out of touch with the accordion scene," Anna said. Plus, "I always find strange accordion references and I wanted to remember them."

The Saccheris write about any accordion news and tidbits they come across, from the "Guitar Hero"-spoofing video game "Accordion Hero" to news about the big names in accordion-playing to great new CDs people send them. An Aug. 4 post was about an upcoming performance by Esteban "Steve" Jordan, a one-eyed musician considered by some to be the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion world.

The blog gives the couple an opportunity to paint the much-bashed instrument in "a good light," Chris said.

The accordion tends to get a bad rap here in the U.S., and it's often the butt of jokes. Even Anna admits that sometimes "I just think of Steve Urkel," the impossibly nerdy character from the sitcom "Family Matters," when she thinks of the accordion.

And it doesn't help that "there are some stereotypes that are totally true — like an old German man playing oom-pah, oom-pah," she said.

But the Saccheris think it's too bad Americans don't appreciate the keyboard-and-button concoction the way Europeans do. "It's like soccer," Chris said. "Everywhere else, it's a staple of music."

Still, very few Americans outright hate the accordion, as evidenced by the fact that negative comments rarely pop up on Let's Polka. The one negative comment they can remember came from a woman who, upon seeing that the website's name had been changed to Let's Banjo on April Fool's Day, didn't get the joke.

"She said: 'This is terrible! The accordion website was so great!'" Anna recalled, laughing.

They're happy to have received such positive response, although it's obvious that not even a barrage of haters could knock the enthusiasm out of either of them. They proudly display a collection of five accordions in the living room, their car's license plate holder blares "I'd rather be playing the accordion," and baby Sarah sports a picture of an accordion and the words "squeeze me" on her yellow jumper.

"That's one thing we didn't mention about accordions: They also taste very good," Chris said as Sarah gnawed on the tiny toy accordion in her hands.

They're busier these days than they were before Sarah was born, but thanks to their blog, Chris and Anna now feel more connected to the Bay Area's accordion community, which is surprisingly large and undeniably strange.

Take Linda "Big Lou" Seekins, for example. Her day job is at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, but by night, she polkas her heart out in her band "Big Lou's Polka Casserole". Another Bay Area accordionist, Skyler Fell, owns and operates her own accordion-repair shop called Accordion Apocalypse in San Francisco. Anyone who walks into the shop is treated to a squeezebox serenade. Other local accordionist characters of this ilk prove "there has to be something kind of offbeat" about you if you're into playing polka, Anna said. "It must be the 'weird' gene."

Both Chris and Anna admit even their pre-accordion lives were a little left of center. The former grew up in Fresno; the latter spent her teen years in a tiny town near Mendocino. Both associate the Internet and the accordion, now parts of their daily lives, with the worldliness and diversity they didn't know existed in their youth.

"The accordion was my big ticket out," Chris said. As a member of the Stanford University marching band, he traveled to Memphis, Tenn., Missoula, Mont., and Chicago.

Anna said she can thank the accordion not only for leading her to her husband, but also for "introducing us to people we would never have met otherwise."

Part of the reason they've met so many fellow accordionists is the locale: The accordion is the official instrument of the city of San Francisco, and because so many of the local eccentrics the area is famous for actually play the thing, area residents can hear a handful of accordion concerts every week.

Just one example: Big Lou's Polka Casserole Band is scheduled to play at Schroeder's German Restaurant in San Francisco on Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. (Go to www.schroederssf.com for more information.)

Geologist accordionists? Web designers? Polka concerts? We're a long way from Fresno.

Info: Chris and Anna Saccheri's blog is at www.letspolka.com.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Randy Giovannoni
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2008 at 4:06 pm

As a young child the family always wondered how to get Chris to come out of his shell. We believe it was either our old neighbor Dick Contino or Myron Floren who once said: Play, Chris, Play!

Uncle Randy
Fresno


Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2008 at 9:34 pm

These folks are my friends! Not only are they excellent accordion players, but they are also awesome people. Hooray!


Like this comment
Posted by Zoe
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2008 at 10:31 pm

It's all really true. Now, will Sarah play the accordian as well?


Like this comment
Posted by Zevy
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Besides running a terrific site, Chris and Anna are providing a great service for all accordion players and lovers. The site is all accordion fun with no other hidden agenda.

Well desrved recognition, guys!


Like this comment
Posted by Andrew
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2008 at 11:35 am

great story. I really loved it.

I'm going to check out their website. it makes me want to hear the Pocotella Polka or waltz right now.

This is creativity at its best.


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