The Free-Reed Review


The 2005 American Accordionists' Association
International Entertainment Competition

Commentary by: Robert Stead

Dizzy fingers, shaking bellows, and fancy footwork ruled the day for the American Accordionists' Association "International Entertainment Competition for Accordionists". The event was held in my backyard here in Dearborn, MI. According to the rules, all things classical were proscribed. Specifically:

"MUSIC REQUIREMENTS: Contestants are required to play their own choice program consisting of at least four different compositions. Each selection should exemplify a different musical style, character and mood, such as Pop, Jazz, Latin, Blues, Cajun, Zydeco, Musette, Folk, etc. (Classical music is not acceptable in this entertainment category.). A minimum of 12 minutes and a maximum of 15 minutes playing time is required, excluding breaks and/or brief pauses in the program."

So, each contestant was awarded his/her 15 minutes of fame to do whatever he/she desired so long as it was not classical. Remember folks, this is supposed to be entertainment. One of the pieces performed was decidedly not classical: "If My Nose Were Running Money (but it's not)".

It took just under 5 hours of playing time to hear all 19 contestants. For the most part, the level of playing was very high. But clearly, to win this one, playing was not enough. Dancing was a decided plus for this event. In fact one person told me (in jest) that he would have entered the competition, but he can't dance (due to some back problems). Several of the players twirled, twisted, and stomped their feet to generate excitement. As the ground rules state: "In addition to musicianship and a varied, entertaining program, contestants will be judged on basis of originality, professionalism and stage presence." I wondered just what constitutes stage presence. Clearly the winner of the competition, Julien Labro, had it. His next stop should be Las Vegas--he is ready for prime time. In the span of 15 minutes we not only heard about a half a million notes, but we were also wowwed by Julien's energy. He stamped and stomped and had us all clapping until he went so fast that we could clap no more. His jazz rendering of Besame Mucho and Autumn Leaves was nothing less than fabulous. Clearly he has that nebulous quality of stage presence. And I must say that there is much of the comedian in Julien.

But what about the second place winner, Alexander Poeluev? His rendition of Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion" was absolutely breathtaking. He had total control of the piece, and he created an atmosphere of awe. For those who were looking for prestidigitation, he released the "Bee"--and fast and furious were his fingers. But he took second place. I can't help but think that the judges preferred comedy over drama. Alexander presented drama and the depths of emotion; Julien presented comedy and a whimsical flurry of notes. Both drama and comedy are entertaining (and I must add--very difficult to do well), but apparently comedy is more entertaining.

Both Julien and Alexander should have received the top prize. Perhaps in the future, the AAA can have an entertainment competition that has two categories--comedy and drama. Then the virtuosity of Julien can win the comedy category, and Alexander can walk away with the trophy for drama.

What about third place? Well, that went to Phillippe Bouvier. Phillippe (like Julien Labro) is from France and he plays with much the same style as Julien (lightening like speed) although without the element of humor. Like Julien, he also played a very effective (and affective) jazz version of "Besame Mucho".

By the time 11 pm rolled around and the competition closed, I was exhausted and exhilarated. It is truly exhilarating to experience that much talent in one day. I am sure that we will be hearing more from these performers--especially the energetic and talented Julien Labro.

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