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Accordionist Henry

Henry is one of the leading concert accordionists in the United States and a recognized figure in international classical accordion circles.

Accordionist Henry

He was the first-place winner in the American Accordion Musicological Society Virtuoso Solo Competition (1990: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) and since then has delighted hundreds of thousands with his tasteful and sophisticated musical interpretations, including performances on accordion with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the New Philharmonic Orchestra (Glen Ellyn, Illinois), the Northwest Indiana Symphony (Merrillville, Indiana), the Loudoun County Symphony (Leesburg, Virginia), the Butler County Symphony (Pennsylvania), the Wartburg Community Symphony (Waverly, Iowa), the McKeesport Symphony (Pennsylvania), the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic, the Duquesne University Contemporary Ensemble, the River City Brass Band (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera Orchestra, and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, in addition to radio and television appearances.

Besides classical music, Henry is equally adept at popular and international music as well, and performs for private parties, receptions and special events such as Oktoberfest celebrations. His extensive repertoire ranges from Bach, Brahms and Piazzolla to Gershwin, Mancini and tunes from hit Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies like The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and Titanic.

He has recorded with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony and the Pittsburgh Symphony (you can hear him on the Sony Classical hit CD Cinema Serenade with violinist Itzhak Perlman) and was the featured soloist on five compact discs:

  • Celebrated Polkas by Pietro Deiro (solo album),
  • Vaudeville Accordion Classics (solo album),
  • Classical Accordion Recital (solo album),
  • Music by George Gershwin with the Duquesne Chamber Players, and
  • A Classical Christmas with the Pittsburgh Chamber Orchestra.

Henry serves as Instructor of Accordion on the faculty of The City Music Center at Duquesne University, and formerly served for two seasons as Instructor of Accordion at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is the founder of The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. — a nonprofit educational organization devoted to the accordion and classical music. He is in demand as a recitalist and clinician and often presents concerts and workshops at national and regional accordion conventions. He has performed in Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Fairbanks, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York City, Orlando, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Waverly, Iowa. Doktorski also teaches accordion students, from beginners to advanced professionals.

During a radio interview on WQED-FM, Henry said, “I never tire of performing classical pieces on the accordion — both transcriptions and original works — for audiences, however small. It really gives me a thrill when I watch the faces in the crowd. Initially, I see indifference or skepticism or outright joking; but after the first few bars, I see amazement. Then after a minute or two, I see enjoyment. Most people simply have not been exposed to the possibilities of the instrument.”

Biography

My introduction to the exciting world of music performance began in 1963, at the age of seven. If I remember correctly, I was reading at the desk in my bedroom when a sudden loud knocking on the front door interrupted my concentration: a traveling salesman. My mother stopped working in the kitchen and greeted the caller, who spoke briefly to her. I overheard my mother’s reply, “Yes, perhaps my eldest son. . . .” She called for my father and then for me, but I hesitated, being extremely shy of strangers. After a few moments, my father — in a very loud voice — called out my name and I quickly ran into the den, where the three adults were sitting on the couch. My mother explained, “This man is giving free musical aptitude tests for children and I want you to try it.” The man played a simple scale passage on a small set of orchestra bells, handed me the mallets and asked me to repeat it. After my attempt, the man enthusiastically exclaimed, “Your son has definite talent! You should enroll him in my music school; and if you sign up today, the first lesson is free!”

My parents both enjoyed music. My mother played violin as a child, and she and my father enjoyed listening to 33 rpm records of Polish koledy (traditional carols) during the Christmas season. The man asked what instrument they wanted me to play. My parents asked him, “What instruments do you teach?” “Piano,” he said, and my parents shook their heads, “No.” “Guitar,” he continued, and they replied, “No.” “Trumpet,” — “No.” “Saxophone,” — “No.” “Drums,” — “Definitely NO!” But when he said, “Accordion,” my parents looked at each other for a moment, smiled and nodded, “Yes!” Then they looked at me; would I like to learn to play the accordion? I also smiled, “yes!” I learned ethnic music and jazz standards, and became somewhat of a prodigy. I enjoyed performing at school functions and started a combo with my buddies in which I played accordion, piano and a farfisa electric organ. Although we sometimes played tunes from the 1920s like Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue and Baby Face (for members of my grandfather’s generation), we specialized in the hit songs of the day like Get Back (Beatles), Evil Ways (Santana) and Iron Man (Black Sabbath).

But when I discovered classical music in high school, I abandoned the accordion for serious piano studies. How could I continue to play polkas and waltzes (and even rock music) after having developed a taste for Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok? In a few years, I was good enough to get a scholarship as a piano major in a small mid-western private college.

However, in 1987 (more than ten years after I had put my accordion in the closet) — while serving as organist and choir director for the City of God (New Vrindaban) religious community in West Virginia — I was forced to pick up the instrument again, against my will! The abbot (Swami Bhaktipada) had heard from one of the monks that I played the instrument and he requested that I bring it during the daily evening services, “just to liven things up a bit.” At first I resisted, but then, after some persuasion, I agreed to try it, “just once.” The accordion was a big hit and several of the monks asked me to teach them how to play.

A week or two later, I was sent to New York City to purchase instruments for our new accordion ensemble, and it was there that I discovered the classical accordion sub-culture. At one of the largest dealer’s showrooms, I noticed a photocopied newspaper article tacked up on a bulletin board which included a picture of a dozen or so accordionists dressed in tuxedoes. The caption read, “The Westmont Philharmonia Accordion Orchestra, from Haddon Township New Jersey,” and the article mentioned that the group performed pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, Rossini, Dvorak, and several Russian composers whose names I did not recognize.

I was fascinated, for never before had I heard of an accordion orchestra, much less one that specialized in classical music! However, when I asked the proprietor about the classical accordion group, he refused to tell me anything about them, because, I believe, he was afraid that I might purchase my accordions from them instead of from him. Undaunted, I mentally made a note of the name of the orchestra and returned to West Virginia. After arriving home, I tried to find their phone number, but the directory assistance operator could not find a listing for the Westmont Philharmonia Accordion Orchestra, nor could she find anything under the word ‘accordion’ in Haddon Township, New Jersey. I became discouraged. Finally, after a long pause, she exclaimed, “Wait a minute! Try this number for the Acme Accordion School.” After dialing long-distance, I was introduced to Stanley Darrow, the director of the music school and the conductor of the orchestra. This was the roundabout way that I discovered the fascinating world of the classical accordion. The adventure has been a great revelation for me.

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