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Accordian Repair School

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I was wondering if anyone had heard of the accordian repair school (it includes concertinas!) in Superior, Wisconsin. What do you know about it's reputation?




A while ago I contacted a person, claiming to have been graduate from that school.

That person used the word "diatonic" to describe "bi-sonoric", and "chromatic" for "uni-sonoric", set my reeds, so I have to pay Kimric Smythe of Oakland, Ca, to re-set them, and the tuning wasn's spot on.

On the other hand Kimric too, uses "chromatic" to describe Russian Diatonic system, but does work, that is beyond "excellent". Never got to them schools.

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I was wondering if anyone had heard of the accordian repair school (it includes concertinas!) in Superior, Wisconsin. What do you know about it's reputation?
While I haven't heard anything about its reputation, I have had several "run-ins" with the organization.


The last contact I had with those folks was about 10 years ago, and back then it appeared to a be a hobby offshoot of Helmi Herrington including some repairs, music lessons, her private collection of "about 1000 accordions", and a part-time volunteer assistant to take care of things. Communications from the assistant (Helmi hadn't responded to any of my communications) were very evasive and lacking.


Since then Helmi's collection has moved into a public (I think?) space with webpage which one can see some of her collection. It appears that she has a few British-made concertinas - which is fine as it is an *accordion* museum. OTOH, that may be at odds with their claim that all concertinas are accordions (wouldn't there then be more than a handful of British-made concertinas - wouldn't they know the difference between them and chemnitzers?).


Helmi seems to have a lot of weight in the music world. Her definition of concertina (is an accordion) was the one the Grove Dictionary of Music uses. This caused a big stir in the (British-made) concertina community about 10 years ago.


An acquaintance of mine took a course there hoping to gain skills in concertina repair. He told me that they knew virtually *nothing* about British-made concertinas (only chemnitzers).


A few years ago a guy contacted the Button Box looking for work as an accordion repairs person. He was a recent "graduate" from Helmi's Accordion-concertina Repair and Technicians’ School. While he seemed like a nice fellow, he was also expecting to make $50/hr as "that's what the people at the school said I could make after finishing their course". Good luck to him!


All this has no direct bearing on their reputation, but might give you some insight to what goes on there. You can e-mail them at accordion@sprynet.com (which they "usually check weekly").


-- Rich --

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I was wondering if anyone had heard of the accordian repair school (it includes concertinas!) in Superior, Wisconsin. What do you know about it's reputation?

Not much more than I can glean from their web site, which isn't much, but enough to leave me with a few suspicions, one of which is that they know little or nothing of concertinas built with English-style engineering.


Their internet "Links" don't include concertina.net or concertina.com, nor any of the contemporary makers or dealers well-known to the members of this Forum. Maybe that's not surprising, since it looks to me (though I could be wrong) that all the links except perhaps two are to their own pages.


But the only concertina shown in their Sales section is a cheap 20-button German-style, with the name "Milan" on it.


This page says,

This is the only program in the USA that leads to "Certification" in this specialty profession

Now why, I wonder, is "Certification" in quotes? Could it be that the "certification" comes only from the school itself, and not from any independent body? (Could I perhaps open my own "accordion repair school" and issue equally valid "certification", even though I really only know concertinas?)


And a google of their full name ("Accordion-concertina Repair & Technicians' School") turned up only four hits, two of which were their own pages and two of which were simply lists of links related to accordions and concertinas (though mainly accordions). A google of their web address ("http://repairschool.accordionworld.org/") found only announcements in two accordion-related publications of a 3-day "tuning workshop"... in February 2005!


"Reputation"? They don't seem to have one, at least not on the internet.


Were you considering attending their school, Miriam?

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Are you thinking of a new career path or have you decided that repairing those two Lachenals I gave you is going to require some enhancement of your skill set first?


By the way, I'll be finishing up my time in Phoenix in about a week and I'll be back home in the Seattle area full-time after that. Maybe I'll find those buttons again that you've been asking me about.



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I hope they put more care into designing their courses, than they do into designing their website. It's one of the ugliest websites I've seen!

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$1500 per seminar (but what's a seminar?)

$200 per exam

Students must purchase their own tools, materials.

Probably some offshoot of enflated self-esteem.

$50 an hour? Hmm.

I'd like to.


Actualy web page looks like made using some standard tools in some easy-to-use web creator programs.

But if they used Mac, the standard mac iweb would look much better.

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Well they've certainly got some proper concertinas in the museum so they've no excuse for not knowing about them, but they don't look very exciting, a handful of unspectacular treble Englishes, a couple of small Maccans and a Jeffries duet in one pic and some German things in another as far as I can see.


I'd feel swindled if I'd gone in to see concertinas; you could see a rarer selection at any concertina themed gathering.

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Harrington offers an accordion and concertina repair school, and concertinas up there in Wisconsin usually are of the Chemnitzer kind....which are concertinas and yet are closer to accordions (and German concertinas, by the way) in their internal construction. I don't see any issues with her claim to teach 'concertina' repair, given that.


It appears that the course is only offered every few years....demand for accordion repairers is not exactly burning the doors down in the US or anywhere else, I should imagine. There is not a lot else out there, at least in the US, for someone wishing to learn how to repair them, other than apprenticeships, which are rather hard to find. There was an accordion repairer's school at the Minnesota Technical College at Red Wing in the 1990s, which has disappeared in recent years (Harrington founded it, by the way). I think 'hobby' is perhaps a little unfair as a characterization of her efforts. If I were to be looking for an accordion and chemnitzer concertina and German concertina repair instructor, I think this resume of Helmi Harrington's looks about as good as I would ever hope to find in this country, given the general state of free reed affairs: accordionworld.org/Helmi%20Bio%20update%201-28-05%20PDF.pdf


As far as her collection is concerned, it looks like it covers the bases for accordions, and has a fair representation of both Chemnitzer and English type concertinas as well...and is publically accessible. Quite frankly, she has done much better for the accordion and Chemnitzer world than anyone has ever done for our beloved concertinas. Neil Wayne's much ballyhooed collection was sold and then put into deep cold storage by the Horniman museum. I'd really feel 'swindled' if I went there to see displays on concertinas....I understand there are only one or two cases on display of all that collection. Very interesting too that in 2006 Harrington hosted a large exhibit brought over from sources in Germany of German free reed instruments in 2006. I doubt that paid off in museum admittance.


I wouldn't suggest going there to learn how to repair fine concertina-reeded instruments, and by the way I don't know Harrington from a hot brick. But it looks to me like this is a quality person putting something back after a distinguished life's career of association with accordions. If I'm ever in Wisconsin (chance would be a fine thing!), you bet I'd drop by to see the museum.

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While the seminars look interesting, to get the certification would take 9 months and nearly $18,000. That's an awful lot of busking.

And Rich makes it sound like that $50/hour thing ain't happening.


Yes it does look interesting....there seems to be a lot of information on offer ( http://repairschool.accordionworld.org/Mon...chedule,PDF.pdf ). I note with interest that they make clear that the anglos treated are of the typical cheap variety, and the 'English' concertinas treated are only the 'modern' variety, which presumably means accordion-reeded and not those with concertina reeds. There don't seem to be any claims made to repair of traditional, vintage English-made concertinas, which is fine.


I calculate the tuition to be $13500 ($1500 x 9 months) rather than $18000. It is high, but not too out of line with tuition fees at Minnesota's state-run Red Wing technical college, for example, where a similar degree for a professional nanny is $12000, cabinet making $11500, heating and AC repair $13000, and band instrument repair is $8500. Expert, hands on training costs money.


In Harrington's literature, she only claims that a graduate can set his/her own fees in an independent business. The reported, unattributed anecdote about $50 an hour is probably wishful thinking by someone, of work at the highest end. Back in the old days, when accordions and concertinas were plentifully used, I would imagine that a top technician working on top professionals' accordions could command something pretty reasonable in dollars of the day, and prices would fall off from there down (to the accordion repairer in your local band instrument shop). The trouble today is that there are so few people playing them....the one accordion repairer I know has very good credentials and a few top clients but scrambles to make a (partial) living....as do most concertina builders.

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a better appraoch might be instructional DVDs, and a list of things to buy to get set up.


At those prices, I could almost fund an M.S. Degree, seems like it would actaully be cheaper to buy your equipment and just teach yourself (isn't that what most of our fine independent builders did?)


I had considerd at one time going to aluthiery school, but concluded I would be better off spending the money on tools, parts, books.

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Thank you, everyone, for your interesting, thoughtful, and humorous replies! Whoever said that a visit to the museum would be a good idea, had a good idea. I am a piano technician, and thought that it might be fun to learn how to fix the instrument I actually play, the concertina. Meanwhile, keep looking for those buttons, Bruce-- the basement is finally warming up.



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[quote name='m3838' date='May 1 2008, .............

Probably some offshoot of enflated self-esteem.


Folks, this is one time that I agree 100% with m3838!!!


I am probably the only one to contribute to this thread that has actual experience with the persona herein discussed.


Dan Worrall is very kind and generous in his assessment of her, but as he admits, he is without real first hand knowledge.


Looking back on my own real, first hand, experience with Helmi, there was both good and bad. It was back in about 1996 or so.


The good part was the museum where I saw my first real concertina in a glass showcase. Before that I had only seen cheap German and Italian concertinas. There was a nice Wheatstone Anglo that in retrospect looked to be from the 1950's. There was also a Lachenal (I think it was a Lachenal,) English that was a cheaper model. She had only an older Bastari for sale at the time, but it did lead me to pursue and purchase on Ebay a wonderful metal ended Lachenal English in perfect condition out of New Zealand. In our discussion, she offered me no information about concertinas.


Helmi knew little of nothing about concertinas. She claimed to be able to play everything that squeezed. She did manage a poor rendition of "Mary had a Little Lamb", after several tries. Her overall knowledge of concertinas was zilch. But she was quick to blow her own horn about how she had been picked by "Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians" to treat the subject of Free Reed Instruments. I therefore now realize that the editors of "Groves" do not take concertinas seriously. This is most interesting as it is the only instrument the British are credited with inventing, well they did invent the English and the Duets, and must certainly have some credit for improving the Anglos, which in the early times the Germans themselves didn't take too seriously.


I brought a nice little Hohner diatonic with Irish Shamrocks decoration to her for tuning and replacing a broken reed. If I remember correctly the bill was around 200 and when it came back, it was unplayable, several reeds would not start of balked. She said she had her top person work on it and it gave him fits, and acted like "how dare I bring this instrument to her to repair and it was all my fault it gave them trouble!"


I parted with over $4,000 to her for a used accordion, (which I sold later for a 75% loss and which was way too large and heavy for a small 16 year old girl) and lessons for my daughter and consider myself having been taken advantage of. At the time of the sale she said she would always buy it back from us, which she later refused to do!!!!!!! After just three lessons she went on about teaching my daughter "interpretation" and proceeded to demonstrate. That was a joke to listen to, but I kept my mouth shut because there was no one else in the area to teach my daughter and she was so keen to learn. But eventually we parted ways when she accused me of having no right to purchase an old accordion book on Ebay that she wanted. She always sniped on Ebay and I had no idea she was going to bid against me. She then told me that if I didn't turn the book over to her she would not teach my daughter anymore. I refused and that was the end of lessons my daughter. Her last comment was "how could I have any interest or right to this old book anyway".


My opinion is that she is a type of manipulator, who is off in her own little world.


We came to Helmi with a clear picture of what we wanted. My daughter grew up listening to Edith Piaf and similar artists. She said she wanted to learn the French style of accordion. We came with an old accordion I had found in a second hand shop. Helmi made fun of how stupid we were to have bought it! I had bought it for my sons birthday, hoping he would play it, and later, when my daughter saw it, she exclaimed " But I always wanted to learn to play the accordion!" So we decided to find out what we could and wound up at Helmi's place. I think a more knowledgeable and ethical person would have offered to rent us a C system accordion, she, Helmi, did have a "Parrot" Chinese accordion, which we didn't want to buy because it looked so cheaply made and I wanted my daughter to have a really nice instrument that would inspire her to play. Helmi then could have ordered a new French accordion for my daughter of the right size and configuration. If Helmi really knew so much about accordions and music as she professed to know, this would have been a "no brainer" thing to do. We eventually got a good, top of the line, French made accordion, not from Helmi, for the same amount of money as we paid Helmi for an old Italian made accordion that was too big and heavy and wrongly configured. So we lost a lot of time and money dealing with her.


I believe few who attended her school have made much of a living out of accordions and certainly no one has learned anything about concertinas.


By the way, I don't think she knows much about playing Chemitzers either. She came with her mother on the boat after WWII. She claimed her mother made a living during the war by playing the accordion for German officers and giving them lessons. Her mother and Helmi were piano accordionists. She told me her mother set up an accordion studio around Austin, Texas and later Helmi moved to Minneapolis.


This was my experience with her, I suppose things could have been worse, but I can't think of how. We went as lambs to slaughter, and butchered we were.


I cogitated for several days and realized that if I told some of my story, others might be saved from a similar experience.


But, if you're in the neighborhood, go see the museum, it is interesting.



Edited by w.campbell
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Thanks for the post, and for giving us some first hand experience on this person.


My only intention in joining into the fray (as you mentioned I don't know this person) was to offset borderline negative comments by folks who did not seem to know her. I figure its good policy to think well of someone until things are proven different. I like the fact that this Forum is usually pretty free of negativism.


Your experience with Harrington sounds like mine with one or two other free reeders I have met during the years. Good to post it so people know a caveat from one who has seen.




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  • 1 month later...

Yes! It's the elusive Rhomylly coming out of hiding (i.e. school, packing to move, etc. etc.)


We're moving to eastern Wisconsin in a week, and this is useful information to know. I was thinking about learning some polka music (probably on the PA), and now I know that this is a good place to avoid.


As always, C-Net has the best information!

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  • 7 months later...

I have had an experience with Helmi, as well. I took anglo concertina lessons from her in Burnsville at her home. I had her repair my father's concertina and she did a good job on that, as far as I can tell. She did a trade of an older English concertina (in moderate disrepair) for a new Defner (still can't find info on this concertina) that was a double reed concertina. A few keys stick, which is a bummer. I don't know if I got a fair deal, but I don't think it was a horrible trade.


As for her abilities, she did play a number of tunes for me in the course of the lessons and played them well, but all accordion type songs.


The lessons were a bit less thrilling, in that she literally gave me an accordion lesson book and taught in more of an accordion style. When I mentioned Irish music I got a bit of a brush off, almost like it was beneath her? I did understand that I was going into an accordion world with a concertina, and that was my own fault. But I have yet to find any other published concertina teachers in the Twin Cities, MN. (anyone?)


Overall not a bad experience but not a true concertina experience either, and not the greatest at that. And the following disclaimer: I'm a complete noob, I don't practice enough, and wouldn't know quality if it hit me in the face. :)



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