Dorie Byrne and her husband, Stanislav Culcicovschi, of Germantown, take their accordion playing very seriously.
Those of my generation sometimes heard comedians make jokes about people playing the accordion (although my mother loved the accordion music on the Lawrence Welk TV show), but Dorie Byrne, 38, and her husband, Stanislav Culcicovschi, 29, of Germantown, take their accordion playing very seriously. In fact, “Stas” won first place in the U.S. Champion Senior Division at the Accordionists & Teachers Guild Festival near Chicago in 2018.
Seven years ago, Dorie went to Liberty Bellows, a downtown store, to have her accordion fixed. While there, she was asked if she wanted to start an apprenticeship to become an accordion repair person. She said yes, and after six months of training, she was able to do the refurbishing, tuning, fixing bass problems, etc. She gets work mostly by meeting people who have accordions. “Someone always seems to have an accordion in the basement,” she said, “and an accordion has so many parts that if you have one, it probably needs to be fixed.”
While at Liberty Bellows, Dorie met Stanislav Culcicovschi, their “artist-in-residence” who would come in from time to time to record demos. A native of Moldova, part of the former Soviet Union, Stanislav has played the accordion since he was 5 and has won international competitions. One thing led to another, and now he and Dorie are married and literally making beautiful music together.
The accordion-playing duo recently played the “West Philly Porchfest” with two friends in a foreign-language hot-jazz group, "Triplettes of Westphille." They also played with Parlour Noir at the Philadelphia Flower Show for two days. “We're also hoping that some of these overseas polka gigs pan out,” said Dorie last week, “so our second honeymoon can be extended. We're getting married again in September in Moldova for Stas' family.”
Now that the pandemic has subsided and things are opening up for many in the arts, Dorie, who also has a band named Polkadelphia, is looking forward to a totally full Octoberfest fall, including some possible international shows.
In fact, Dorie insists that the pandemic was not all negative for her musical life. “It's been good in some ways, challenging in others,” she said. “Adult students are easier to teach by Zoom because of longer attention spans and because they can comprehend verbal descriptions of finger placement better than young children. And I don't have to commute all over town, and I can teach people all across the country this way.”
Dorie has been working one day a week at Liberty Bellows and three days a week at her own workshop. “I've been restoring a Chemnitzer-style concertina from 1893, but occasionally I take breaks to do some quick fixes or restore more modern ones, so probably more than 40 over the past year.”
A North Jersey native, Dorie always knew she wanted to be a musician. In her fourth grade yearbook she wrote that she wanted to play the flute and go to the Juilliard School of Music. She did learn to play the flute but did not go to Juilliard. Instead, she majored in music education at the University of Miami.
And since her husband is Russian, Dorie has been learning Russian for months. “We found a Russian-learning book from the '60s that we've been working through,” she said. ”There are short stories and excerpts from some great Russian writers. It's fascinating to read them in the original and get a more complete understanding of the story and culture. For instance, we read a short biography of Tolstoy, and I learned that 'War and Peace' is not precisely the correct translation of the title. It's more like 'War and Humanity,' which makes a lot more sense.”
What is the hardest thing Dorie ever did? “Work at a summer literacy camp with Kensington Welfare Rights Union ... We had over 40 kids, many dealing with abuse, homelessness and other trauma. I worked with them for years and helped start an after-school program. It was exhausting physically and emotionally, but I loved and learned so much from those kids.”
If Dorie could live in an earlier time, which period would she choose and why?
“I'd have to say pre-colonial America ... As a woman who enjoys gender equality, the political power and respect given to Native women in many tribes is appealing to me and wouldn't be seen again until modern times.”
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