Dilworth man keeps accordions' bellows breathingDILWORTH – Dave Kolle estimates he has sold as many as 50,000 accordions throughout his career. Back in the accordion’s heyday of the 1950s and ’60s, he sold at least six or seven a day at Wylie Guitar, Accordion and Drum Studios in downtown Fargo. He also gave lessons to about 85 students a week.
By: Angie Wieck, INFORUM
DILWORTH – Dave Kolle estimates he has sold as many as 50,000 accordions throughout his career. Back in the accordion’s heyday of the 1950s and ’60s, he sold at least six or seven a day at Wylie Guitar, Accordion and Drum Studios in downtown Fargo. He also gave lessons to about 85 students a week.
Kolle didn’t quit when sales declined. When Wylies closed in the 1980s, he gathered up the inventory of more than 90 accordions and began selling them from his home. He continues to buy and sell today through a frequent ad in The Forum’s Classified section.
“It’s a dying art, unfortunately,” Kolle said. “Most of my customers, I would guess 95 to 98 percent, have passed on.”
Kolle figures he first became interested in the accordion around age 9. A crush on a young accordion player in his Sunday school class opened his eyes to the instrument and its music.
As one of nine children growing up on a farm near Felton, Minn., he knew the odds of getting an accordion of his own were slim, but an aunt lent him the money to buy one at the Crookston (Minn.) Winter Show when he was in the eighth-grade.
He began traveling to take lessons, sometimes as far away as Minneapolis, and practicing up to eight hours a day.
Kolle said his family used to say, “Put it down. You’re not going to amount to a hill of beans, and you’re driving us crazy.”
He didn’t blame them, but he had big dreams of having his own music store and playing in a band one day.
He accomplished both goals through Wylie’s. While working there, Kolle began booking small gigs with other instructors. He worked his way up to ballroom shows and several appearances on radio and television as the Dave Kolle Orchestra.
Over the years, Kolle also got to rub elbows with two of America’s most well-known accordion players, Myron Floren and Frankie Yankovic.
Floren, made famous by “The Lawrence Welk Show,” would often stop by Kolle’s booth at the Norsk HostFest in Minot, N.D. More than once the two treated passers-by to an impromptu “jam.”
He met “America’s Polka King,” Frankie Yankovic, thanks to lost luggage. The airline misplaced Yankovic’s accordion when he traveled to Fargo for a show. He borrowed one from Kolle, which he eventually bought along with several others.
Kathy Frost, a sales representative for Eckroth Music in Fargo, said she isn’t aware of any area music stores that still deal in accordions. She refers the one or two customers a month who make inquiries straight to Kolle.
Kolle estimated he now sells between 25 and 50 a year, joking that it’s still enough to keep food on the table.
Frequent customer Jean Moeller, of Parkers Prairie, Minn., does her best to keep interest in the accordion alive.
Moeller plays accordion with the Parker’s Prairie Melody Makers, a four-piece band that performs regularly at senior citizen centers, nursing homes, birthday parties and town festivals.
She also strives to introduce the music to new listeners. She has given away accordions to missionaries and young people expressing an interest in learning to play.
“You know, I’ll tell you, if young people can have a chance to hear it, they would like it,” Moeller said.
Linda Gylland, of Fargo, agrees. Gylland, a part-time accordion instructor and member of the Kringen Accordion Band, thinks young people who learn the accordion can avoid some of the dangers of adolescence.
“They talk about how North Dakota is the No. 1 state in drinking alcohol because there’s nothing else to do,” she said. “I thought, ‘These people should throw the booze away, find some accordions, and start having some real fun.’ ”
Young people may not appreciate the polkas and waltzes of their grandparents’ generation, but there are a few indie bands who may put the spotlight back on the accordion.
Bands like They Might Be Giants, The Decemberists and Grammy-winner Arcade Fire have released songs featuring an accordion.
The band Gogol Bordello relies heavily on the accordion to drive its gypsy punk sound. The group has steadily gained more attention since its 2010 album, “Trans-Continental Hustle,” and released a sixth studio album, “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” last week.
Will bands like Gogol Bordello appeal to Kolle’s traditional accordion customer? Possibly not, but they may promote enough interest in accordions to keep Kolle in business for years to come.
Interested customers can contact Kolle at (218) 236-5550.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501