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Liam Harrap | CBC News

The Last Accordion Maestro of Alberta

At the age of 73, Edwin Erickson is probably the last accordion repairman in Alberta

If every human has a calling, Edwin Erickson has certainly found his.

At 73 years old, he’s now spent 50-plus years mastering what has to be one of the most niche skills out there.

He lives, breathes, plays and repairs accordions. 

For those who aren’t familiar, accordions are an instrument that could be described as the love child of a piano and bagpipes.

Invented in Germany by Friedrich Buschmann in 1822, accordions are commonly featured in folk, polka and zydeco music. 

They remained a relatively popular instrument until the mid-20th century when the rise of Rock and Roll and Pop music left them a bit of a forgotten novelty.

One notable exception dear to many Albertans’ hearts is the song Constant Craving, which features Edmonton icon K.D. Lang’s powerful vocals are woven in with accordion riffs. 

But, you wouldn’t know accordions are mostly forgotten when you step into Erickson’s Buck Lake home. Over a hundred accordions in varying states of disrepair adorn his shelves, and tables or sit piled up in colourful cases on the floor.

As he passionately told CBC’s “Radio Active” – “When the accordion is gone, I’m gone too.”

Photo of four musicians
Edwin Erickson with fellow musicians. Connie Jensen | Facebook

Where did his obsession start?

Erickson first got into the funky instrument in his late teens. He started playing for dances beginning at 15 years old and just kept going from there. 

photo of an accordian museum
The International Accordion Museum (Museo della Fisarmonia) in Castelfidardo, Italy | museodellafisarmonica.it

He began teaching other students and then went to study in the motherland of the accordion, where most of them are still made today, Italy.

There, he learned the complex art of repairing and tuning the obscenely intricate machines.

“There are between 5 and 6 thousand parts,” he told CBC’s “Radio Active.”

Accordions produce sound by moving air through the “bellows,” which vibrate “reeds” similarly to “the bow on a violin,” making its distinct sound. 

But even tuning them is no easy task.

“For me to tune, I have to file by hand 448 of these metal reeds…to raise or lower the pitch enough to be in tune…takes me about 10-12 hours.” 

He studiously learnt the process and finished a top-level Accordion Craft Academy graduate in Castelfidardo, Italy.

Once done studying, he brought the art form back home.

The Accordion Repair Shop in the Middle of Nowhere.

Today, the accordion isn’t exactly the most hip instrument for the masses.

“As far as the accordion scene goes, you’re not going to go out to many clubs in Edmonton and see an accordion player there,” Erickson jokingly put it.

As much as he has a love for it, he’s watched the art form slowly die out more and more.

“We keep plugging along…for decades here, I’ve made part of my living playing for Scandinavian groups in primarily Alberta and western Canada, and a couple of decades ago that really dried up.” 

I’d invested most of my life, and I thought, well, I just can’t quit this now.”

Now, Erickson may be the last accordion repairman in Alberta.

photo of an accordian repair man
The last accordian repair man in Alberta? | CBC News

While there may be few accordion players in Alberta, with only one repairman around, he still gets a lot of work – even out in the boonies.

His home is about 150 km southwest of Edmonton, in Buck Lake, Alberta.

“Because of my background and where I’m raised and my family…I love the bush, I love living in the bush, I love experiencing the life in the bush.”

“People have told me countless times, ‘Why aren’t you living in the city?’ It’ll never happen.”

Right now, he’s in the middle of building the workshop of his dreams outside of his home.

He plans to install an elevator to help him bring all the accordions upstairs. He’s getting a little of the city lifestyle to his home in the country.

Right now, Erickson says he gets some of his work from those who play professionally, some from amateurs, and a lot from people whose parents or grandparents had one and want to restore it after their passing.

The future of accordion music in Alberta may be uncertain, but as long as people are still playing, they’ll be coming out to Erickson’s little shop in the middle of nowhere for repairs.

If you like to watch Edwin play his accordian go to this link.

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