Accordion Rising: Unveiling the Melodic Path with Corky Brumble, King of Reno

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This is the story of how my musical journey took a significant turn thanks to Corky Brumble, the esteemed King of Reno. It was the 1980s when I had the privilege of becoming one of Corky’s students and little did I know that this encounter would be the catalyst for my musical growth. Corky, renowned for directing and arranging music for the legendary Dick Contino for over three decades, had become the Obi Wan Kenobi for many aspiring musicians like me.
It all began when I mustered the courage to reach out to Dick Contino himself, the accordion virtuoso often referred to as the “Elvis of the Accordion.” I had managed to track down his phone number and nervously dialed it, hoping for a chance to learn from the master. To my surprise, Dick graciously expressed his flattery at my request but humbly declined, explaining that teaching wasn’t his forte. Instead, he directed me towards his trusted music director, Corky, assuring me that spending time with him would guide me towards my desired musical destination.
When the greatest popularizer of the accordion advises you, you heed the words without hesitation. So, without passing “go” or collecting two hundred dollars, I found myself in Corky’s studio. As I settled down, he had me play a couple of tunes, including an original composition. Once I finished, Corky inquired about my warm-up routine.
To my admission that I didn’t really warm up and instead almost always simply jumped “…straight into my set list, you know?”
Corky replied with conviction, “I do know. Big mistake. Big.”
And so, my introduction to Hanon for the Accordion began. The first lesson turned out to be quite wild as Corky instructed me, “Rocky, you play pretty well on a couple of tunes, but you have got to start working on your technique. We will start with Hanon For the Accordion this week, and I am giving you an assignment that will probably become difficult for you. But you must follow my instructions completely to get the results you are looking for.”
Then came the unexpected twist. Corky warned me, “Don’t play any songs this week. Any. You are going to be tempted to dip into your set list. You are going to want to play maybe just one song a day for a little melodic relief. Everything in you as a musician is going to say ‘I have to play songs. Just one or two today.’ And it’s right there where we separate the pros from the amateurs. Do. not. give. in.”
Of course, being the musical director for the esteemed Dick Contino, Corky’s words resonated deeply, and I decided to follow his instructions to the letter. Throughout the week, I diligently focused on practicing Hanon for the Accordion, resisting the urge to play any songs. It was undoubtedly challenging to abstain from my usual repertoire, but I reminded myself that Corky’s guidance was invaluable.
When I returned for my second lesson, I expected to dive straight into the Hanon exercises that I had meticulously worked on all week. However, Corky surprised me once again. Instead, he said, “Okay, let’s hear that original song of yours you played me last week.”
To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I was momentarily at a loss for words, much like Ralph Kramden’s famous exclamation, “Hahmana Hahmana Hahmana…”
Undoubtedly, the credit for my progress belonged primarily to my diligent adherence to Corky’s instructions and my disciplined daily rehearsals. However, I must note that Hanon for the Accordion played a crucial role in delivering immediate results. Each exercise in the book focuses on specific finger patterns, allowing for both ascending and descending movement on the keyboard.
As I look back now on this truly transformative experience, I am reminded of the Icelandic proverb, “He who lives without discipline dies without honor.” It serves as a reminder that discipline and dedication are the cornerstones of achievement and growth in any field, especially music. My encounter with Corky Brumble, the King of Reno, opened my eyes to the importance of technique and practice, guiding me towards a path of musical excellence. And of course, it leads back to the great Dick Contino for putting me and Corky Brumble in the same room together.
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