Texas Folklife’s Big Squeeze Statewide Youth Accordion Contest
By Charlie Lockwood, Executive Director
Texas Folklife’s Big Squeeze Statewide Youth Accordion Contest is concluding its 12th year with the Big Squeeze Finals and Concerton Saturday April 21st at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Since 2007, Texas Folklife’s Big Squeeze programhas supported hundreds of up-and-coming youth accordionists who play a variety of Texas accordion and community-based vernacular music traditions, including German and Czech polka; Creole, Cajun, and zydeco; and Tex-Mex conjunto, norteño, and Tejano. All of these accordion-based music genres were either born in Texas as the result of cultural borrowing and interactions between groups (conjunto), or are maintained by communities with a strong presence in the state (polka, Cajun, zydeco). These accordion music traditions are not only important to Texas and American music history, but also part of a vital cultural expression that enables a sense of identity and pride in the community. Encouraging the next generation of musicians to embrace and maintain these cultural practices is one of the ways in which Texas Folklife carries out its mission to present and celebrate Texas’s diverse cultural heritage.
For the past several years, we’ve started thinking about Texas accordion music traditions as part of vibrant cultural ecosystems. A healthy musical ecosystem needs active participation from a variety of passionate actors like community leaders, musicians, venue partners, grassroots cultural organizations, and perhaps most importantly, educators, in order to thrive and remain sustainable. Recently we have seen that while the number of kids playing polka, Cajun, and zydeco music is limited to a handful each year, the number of conjunto, norteño, and Tejano contestants continues to grow annually and the culture is thriving, especially in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) region of Texas.
One reason the ecosystem that supports conjunto accordion is particularly strong in the Valley is in large part because of the efforts of passionate educators like Juan Longoria, Jr., Cecilio ‘Don Chilo’ Garza and others. Their efforts as leaders of high school conjunto programs have helped ensure that the next generation of young musicians has the opportunity and outlet to learn to play and carry on these musical traditions. Many children in the Valley grow up with conjunto and Tejano music as part of their cultural experience, but it takes passionate educators and teachers like Longoria and Garza to encourage them to be active participants in the music, and to develop into tradition bearers themselves. Thanks to RGV high school programs that focus on conjunto and Tejano music, students can undertake long-term accordion training from experienced educators and musicians. Conjunto programs at Los Fresnos HS, Palmview HS and others in the Valley are models for how other communities across the state can contribute to the musical ecosystem, and help encourage the continuation of these traditional music genres. Texas Folklife has recently undertaken efforts with the Cajun and Czech polka communities to encourage them to consider and apply the conjunto model of sustainable music to their own music traditions.
Since 2007 Texas Folklife has built a reputation as a champion of Texas accordion music genres through the Big Squeeze program, and we hit the road again this year to hold 9 Big Squeeze contest showcases in communities throughout the state to search for young accordion talent.
Ennis – Ennis Polka Festival – Sokol Activity Center – February 10, 2018
Dallas – Pleasant Grove Branch Library – February 11, 2018
Houston – Café 4212 – February 17, 2018
Houston – MECA – Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts – February 18, 2018
Nederland/Groves – Larry’s French Market and Cajun Restaurant – February 24, 2018
Corpus Christi – McDonald Public Library – March 3, 2018
San Antonio – Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center – March 11, 2018
Los Fresnos – Los Fresnos High School – March 23, 2018
Palmview – Palmview High School – March 24, 2018
From these 9 events we had a whopping 47 contestants try out at showcases or submit video entries, we drove approximately 2,800 miles across the state, we had help from 34 volunteers and dozens of regional venue, small business, education, and community partners, our showcases drew crowds of hundreds, and we saw scores of happy faces and dancing feet, as wonderful music was played across Texas by our young, talented musicians! You can see some photos from the 2018 showcases on our Facebook Page.
Three finalists in 4 contest categories (a total of 12 contestants) are currently being selected by a panel of judges to compete in the finals for grand prizes in the following genres: polka, Cajun & zydeco, and conjunto. The polka genre will include German and Czech polka traditions. Cajun & Zydeco will include zydeco, Creole and Cajun musical traditions. And conjunto will include conjunto, norteño and Tejano. For the 2018 program Texas Folklife implemented some changes that encouraged more statewide youth participation. The Conjunto Category has been split into two age categories (one for ages 17 and under, and one for ages 18-21) and the Polka Category has been extended to ages 25 and under. The Conjunto grand prize category for ages 18-21 is named in loving memory ofAnthony Ortiz, Jr., a former Big Squeeze finalist, virtuosic young professional accordionist, and member of the Texas Folklife family who passed away in 2017.
We’ve created a google map with all Big Squeeze contestants from 2007-2018. We will update with more interactive multimedia by the end of this Big Squeeze season: https://goo.gl/y3yAJf
We hope you will join us at the Big Squeeze Finals and Concert on Saturday April 21st (1pm-5pm)! The event is free and open to the public and will feature Big Squeeze finalists performing before a panel of judges and the public, accompanied by house band Austin Music Hall of Famers Conjunto Los Pinkys, followed by showcase performances by polka accordionist virtuoso Alex Meixner and Los Fresnos High School Conjunto Halcon.
We will also have a special Big Squeeze Brunch Afterparty & Accordion Workshop with Alex Meixner the following day on Sunday April 22nd at our gallery located at 1708 Houston St, Austin TX 78756. Tickets for the brunch event are $10 for general admission and free for Texas Folklife members.
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