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Baldoni Accordions in Menomonee Falls is one of only a handful of accordion-only sales and service shops in the entire United States.
By Tom Andrews (Open Post), February 22, 2012

It’s not easy to bare one’s soul, especially to a mass audience. But, somehow, I feel compelled to do so. I confess. I used to play the accordion. In fact, I played it for many years and I even accepted money for doing so. And, I enjoyed it.

There! I feel so much better.

You see, it wasn’t all that long ago that the music loving masses looked down their collective nose at the accordion. To play one was to subject oneself to plenty of teasing, especially if you were a youngster bravely practicing for hours on end on a hot summer’s day while your friends were outside playing baseball.

I know whereof I speak.

Somehow, when I was a teenager, the accordion just wasn’t a “cool” instrument to play, certainly not like the guitar or the drums. With the rise of rock ‘n roll in the 1960s and 70s, the accordion was generally shoved into a hallway closet, only to be brought out to play polkas at weddings or to provide after dinner entertainment when your parents had friends over for the evening.

Again, I know whereof I speak.

“People sometimes associate with items to make themselves look more important, to be political on one side or to be more appealing,” said Ivo Baldoni who, along with his wife, Beverlee, owns and operates Baldoni Accordions at N87 W16432 Appleton Avenue. “The accordion had a clean image and it didn’t look good with long hair. But most of the people who buy my accordions today have long hair. It looks good now but when you were in the 60s it didn’t look good because who was playing the accordion on TV?

“It was Lawrence Welk and Myron Floren, clean-cut guys who wore suit coats and ties. But now, the accordion has come back to be cool. I talk to kids right now, they’re 21 years old and they don’t really care what happened in the 60s.”

Birth of a Business
The Baldoni family business is firmly rooted in Castelfidardo, Italy, a small town near Florence which has been the country’s accordion Mecca since 1863. Baldoni enthusiastically walks in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father, both of whom were involved in the business of making an instrument that was so popular worldwide for so many decades.

“At one time, Detroit, Michigan was America’s capital of the automobile industry,” said Baldoni. “Our town, Castelfidardo, is still the capital of accordion manufacturing. Our founding father, Paolo Soprani, is like the Henry Ford.”

Baldoni’s father, Alfonso, worked in the accordion business in Castelfidardo before moving his family to Milwaukee to pursue his career. After eight years in the United States, Alfonso broke away from his accordion employer to begin his own accordion business, A. Baldoni Music Service Inc. on Brady Street. The family moved to Menomonee Falls in 1991 and commuted back and forth to Milwaukee for three years before finally moving the business to its present location in 1995. Alfonso Baldoni, widely acclaimed for his superb ear in tuning accordions, passed away in 2006.

“We first liked Menomonee Falls because we built a home here,” said Baldoni. “We liked the area and we liked the people. The town is quaint and nice. We were in downtown Milwaukee for so many years and I was really tired of looking at the asphalt.”

Quality Craftsmanship Makes the Difference
Like his father, Ivo Baldoni is a master of his craft. By the time he was 18, Baldoni’s skills were comparable to craftsmen in their 40s. He sells, repairs and refurbishes steel reed instruments such as the piano accordion, the chromatic accordion which has buttons on both sides, the diatonic (frequently used by Latino and Irish musicians), and the concertina.

Today, Baldoni runs one of only a handful of accordion-only sales and service shops in the country. Baldoni accordions sell for prices ranging from $1,700.00 to $14,000.00 and all points in between.

“Our accordions are made in Italy and ours is a family-run business with uncles and other relatives involved,” said Baldoni. “But we’re not just in the accordion business. We make very specialized accordions. Most people make an accordion and adapt to a type of music. We make the accordion for the artist and the music. That’s what makes us stand out.”

The Stars Come Out
It’s also what makes Baldoni accordions in such high demand with an ever-growing list of nationally known musicians and recording artists like John Mellencamp.

“The majority of country artists that record with an accordion use our product,” said Baldoni. “Then you have rock n’ roll like John Mellencamp style, not that real hard rock, Metallica. John’s group has been recording with our product since the early 90s. They still use it today in live performances as well as in recording.”

That list of star customers also includes Sheryl Crow, Alabama, Allison Krauss, LeAnn Rimes, the Dixie Chicks, Michael McDonald, SheDaisy, C.J. Chenier, the Vince Gill Band, the BoDeans, Brandon Bush of Train and Sugarland, and Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan, who’s performed with such legends as Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

“Many times, with big stars, they have a manager who handles this for them,” said Baldoni. “We start off with a conference call and they start telling me what they can do for me. I always tell them that I’m too small. They can’t do anything for me. I ask, ‘What can I do for you?’ The bottom line is this: you send the money, we send the accordion. That’s our philosophy. It’s very simple.

“None of my artists are paid to play. None of them get anything for free because I can’t afford to do that. My philosophy is you come to me because you believe in my product and you believe in the company that we are and we can give you the service, not because I paid you to come here. I don’t do that because then you are selling yourself to the highest bidder.”

Baldoni accordions have also been featured in movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Toy Story” (I, II and III) and “Chump Change” which was filmed in Milwaukee. The accordion may have been banished to that hallway closet during the 60s, 70s and early 80s but soon thereafter, it made a tremendous comeback.

Attracting the Younger Crowd
“As the later 80s and 90s came in, that generation of young people looked upon the instrument as not an old-fashioned instrument but as modern and unique,” said Baldoni. “It’s like fashion. It cycles and it comes back. Now they realize that, ‘Wow! It’s a nice acoustical instrument.’ It’s portable and it works well in certain melodic music and country music.

Seeing the younger people who come in and are excited about the accordion truly warms Baldoni’s heart.

“We have young people now whose parents want them to play classical music,” said Baldoni. “America is one of the only countries in which the orchestras and school systems don’t recognize the accordion as a classical instrument. Anywhere you go in Europe it is considered a classical instrument. But now we have 12 to 14 year-olds who play cello and pianists who go to the Conservatory of Music that are taking up the accordion.”

Ivo and Beverlee Baldoni revel in the fact that they literally have the best of both worlds, thoroughly enjoying their strong connection to Italy.

“I’ve been in America full time since I was about 9,” said Baldoni. “We go back often enough that we still maintain our roots because our business and our product is derived from there. It’s nice because it’s like living in both worlds. Even if I am American and live here I still communicate with all of my family, business partners and associates every day or every other day.”

Steeped in Old World tradition, the accordion continues to evolve for an ever-growing and appreciative audience. It’s kind of in our DNA, as Baldoni likes to say. The accordion is also here to stay.
“In the future, the accordion is not going to be like Americans recognize it, your generation and mine from the 50s. But it’s going to be around, that’s for sure.”

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