Mary Ross-Klektau remembers the first time she saw an accordionist perform like it was yesterday.
Ross-Klektau was 13 years old when her father took her to a show that featured live Scottish music in Calgary in 1963.
Sitting in a theatre watching the Scottish accordionist, dressed in full regalia, the light from the spotlight would catch the grill and reflect onto audience’s faces. The buttons and bellows were moving, and the accordionist’s right hand was playing the instrument in a way Ross-Klektau had never seen before.
“It just got to my soul. I could never let it go. It is an instrument that when you put it on it becomes a part of you,” said the Esquimalt resident.
“You can play melody, you can play harmony, it’s all encompassing. It’s the only portable instrument that can do all of those things. I just got hooked.”
Since then, her passion for the unique instrument has grown. Ross-Klektau, enrolled in accordion lessons and for decades, has learned to play all types of music from classical to ethnic.
She is also one of the rare accordionists in North America to play traditional Scottish music, a talent that has allowed her to perform alongside various dance groups in competitions and workshops all over the world, including Scotland, Greenland and the U.S.
“A lot of people have a very narrow minded view of it (accordions) as just what they remember on the Lawrence Welk Show, but there’s more to it. My favourite comment is when people come up and say ‘wow, I didn’t know an accordion could do that’,” she said, adding playing Scottish music allows her to keep in touch with her roots.
Ross-Klektau, who now teaches the accordion, is one of dozens of musicians taking part in the 10th annual Victoria International Accordion Festival, which began earlier this week.
The six-day festival, which is one of the largest in North America, includes more than 100 performers at various venues around downtown Victoria, workshops and a parade. Ross-Klektau will be teaching a workshop on Scottish and Irish music and focusing on how to play for dancers.
There will also be a competition featuring roughly 50 accordionists from China, Europe and South America. On Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30, there will be two concerts, the first of which features young accordionists Grayson Masefield from New Zealand, Jianan Tian from China and Jelena Milojevic from Victoria. The other will feature the Calgary Accordion Ensemble, the B.C. Accordion Orchestra and the Victoria Accordion Club Band.
Aleksandar Milojevic, executive director of the festival, said in the past few years, the accordion has made a resurgence in North America. He hopes the festival will raise the profile of the instrument and inspire people young and old to pick it up.
The Victoria International Accordion Festival runs until July 31. For more information visit bcaccordion.ca.