Last updated 28 January 2010

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The history of the Chemnitz Concertina

Carl Friedrich Uhlig, in Chemnitz, Germany (renamed Karl Marx Stadt by the East Germans), produced the first German concertina in 1834. Getting his initial idea from the diatonic instrument produced by Cyrillus Demian, Uhlig created his own design, a square shaped diatonic instrument with five buttons on each side, producing 20 tones in all. He called this a "Conzertina."

Uhlig later expanded his instrument to play 40, 56 or 78 tones, the buttons divided evenly between both hands. By 1868, the reeds were doubled, now sounding an octave for each tone. Eventually, the Chemnitz concertinas were made to play up to 128 or more tones. While not fully chromatic, as the Wheatstone concertinas, the Chemnitz instruments could still play in several, producing a very full sound-suitable for noisy dance halls and weddings.

These instruments were generally not accepted in the more formal bands and orchestras, but they were perfect for village musicians. The German Concertina was introduced to Poland by Polish mine workers, coming home from Germany. Although the concertina, in Germany and Poland, gave way to the more modern piano accordion, it survived in the Americas. Midwestern American polka bands favored the folksy sound and look of the big concertinas.

It wasn't until the late 1940s that the concertina made its way into mainstream polka music. Eddie Zima, from Chicago, could be one of the most famous polka concertina players. His recording of "Circus" polka became a number one song in the nation's Polish communities and introduced Zima and his concertina to hundreds of thousands.

The Concertina has retained its popularity in Polish polka bands and can be found in a majority of today's groups. Bands such as Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones, Lenny Gomulka's Chicago Push, Stas Golonka and the Chicago Masters, The Dynatones, The Michigan Connection, Happy Richie's Polka Band, Bill Czerniak's Concertina Band, John Filipczak and the Classics, The Brass Connection and Stas Bulanda's Average Polka Band all use Chemnitz concertinas.

The STAR concertina company is probably the most famous of today's concertinas but names such as Patek, Glass, Pearl Queen, Hengel, and Crown are well-known names.

The Bohemian American Concertina Association (B.A.C.A.) was chartered on June 29,1929. The charter members were. Jerry Stirek. Edward Fik, Anton Svboda, George Pisarik, Joe Placatka, Joe Brousil, and Laddie Prazak. The association had as many as 100 members in the 1940s & 1950s, but now (1999) has about 35 active members

They play sokols during the winter,and picnics in the summer. The make up of the band is predominantly Czech-American and Polish-American with ages of the members ranging from 40 to the 80s. Frank Petruzlak at 85 has been with the club since 1947. Rudy Adams has been an active member since 1951 and Chuck Bezdek since 1953.

The group has played at the Illinois fair the past 10 years and for many political events. 1999 marks the 70th Anniversary of the B.A.C.C. The club meets every 2nd Friday at the Berwin Sokol, for practice and a general meeting. They are a "Not for profit" organization. Most of the concertinas used by the members are Star or Glass.

Thanks for Rudy Adams for the information on the B.A.C.C.

For information on other types of concertinas I urge you to visit the Concertina Music WEB page.

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