A Brief History

by Jim Lucas

I think it all began when Louise said, "We should have a gathering of concertina players," or something very like that.

Well, I guess it really all began when I met Louise through a message she posted on the newsgroup. Though we live in different Scandinavian countries, we were only 1½ hours apart by a combinaton of foot, ferry, train, and bus. We became friends, and Louise introduced me to her Swedish music friends, including a fellow named Pontus, who played a Stagi anglo (Louise and I play mostly English). So one day when we three were all together and Louise said, "We should have a gathering of concertina players," (or something very like that), we immediately started discussing how. There was some doubt as to whether we could, but never any doubt as to whether we should.

And so it really all began with Rich Morse, who created the first squeeze-in, which I attended many years ago. This was the predecessor of the now famous North East Squeeze-In (NESI), and as I recall it wasn't even called "squeeze-in", but it set the standard for future squeeze-ins: not a "school", or "festival", but a friendly gathering of equals. "Squeeze-Ins" are informal, with no paid or specially designated "instructors" or "performers", nor even an advance schedule of workshops. The participants share their music, interests, skills, and joy with each other, and only after they've gathered do they cobble together an ad hoc schedule of "workshops" by a process of:
  • "I'd like to learn...."
  • "I could teach...."
  • "Do we have a match?"
  • "Who else is interested?"
And then doing our best to minimize conflicts.

But back to our own Scandinavian Squeeze-In (SSI)

SSI 2000   (the "first annual")

We started out small. Pontus was able to book his local village community house for a Saturday. It was no dance or concert hall, more the size of a small cafe, but it had a kitchen where we prepared our own food, and for our small first effort it was just right.

We decided to call our Squeeze-In "Scandinavian" to emphasize both its local venue and international invitation. We "organizers" lived in both Sweden and Denmark, and we particularly hoped to attract participants from throughout Scandinavia.

On very short notice, Louise, Pontus, and I announced our intent to the world and were surprised and pleased with the response. Though we had only eight participants, they came from five countries: England, Germany, Denmark, Russia and Sweden. With so few people, we didn't bother with "workshops"; we just sat in a circle and took turns playing, saying, asking, and telling. Those preparing lunch and supper weren't "left out", as we all gathered in the kitchen to help. Even without our concertinas, we sang together as we worked.

Since we weren't allowed to stay overnight at the community house, a few of us booked a nearby cabin for the night. We played some more, and made and shared our breakfast, then went walking in a nature area. Louise has a musician friend who runs a lakeside restaurant not far away, and she arranged for us to give an impromptu concert there in exchange for lunch.

Much fun was had by all, and we definitely wanted to do it again!

SSI 2001   (the second annual)

We hoped to attract more people to our second SSI, and we understood that we needed to do more planning to make it work. The big question was where to hold it. Commercial meeting places would be too expensive. Luck to the rescue! Our SSI had been in the spring, and we had attended a several-day workshop and festival of Swedish music in the village of Torna Hällestad the following summer. The workshops were held in the scout houses at Gamlegård and workshop participants lodged there. We agreed that it would be an ideal place, and we were pleased to discover that we could be allowed to book the one house (though not the other) for a weekend. That has been our venue ever since, and it has worked out beautifully.

Preparing our own food had been fun, but we realized that the logistics of doing that for more people would become difficult. We opted for a caterer, and Louise knew a good one, one who specializes in delicious vegetarian food. That's an important consideration. It can be expensive to provide separate food for vegetarians. What's worse, if it's good vegetarian food, the meat eaters need to be restrained from taking it as well as their own, leaving the vegetarians with nothing. The same vegetarian food for everyone solves the problem, since even confirmed meat-eaters like myself admit that it is tasty, and only a meataholic would claim to suffer. :-)

English is the SSI's "common" language, but individual conversations may take place in various other languages... Swedish (of course), Danish, German, Russian, Dutch, etc.

The format we developed for our second SSI basically set the pattern for all of those since.
  • Friday
    • When we gather in Gamlegård on Friday evening we have a light supper of substantial soup and bread, then discuss workshop possibilities and hammer out a schedule for Saturday morning and evening and Sunday morning.
    • Through a musician friend who lives in Torna Hällestad, the local citizen-owned cafe-pub Tolvan is opened for us to hold a music session on Friday night, and everyone is invited. We've now become a local tradition.
    • With a few snacks we sit up talking and playing, drifting off by ones and twos until eventually we've all gone to bed. The bedrooms are upstairs of the main room, which makes this easy. Those who sleep lightly will have taken rooms furthest from the music.
  • Saturday
    • Saturday morning we prepare and share breakfast, then separate into our various workshops. For this purpose there are two larger rooms and one smaller, and others areas (the basement hallway; outdoors if the weather is good) can also be enlisted. Usually we have two workshop time slots in the morning and two in the afternoon. Workshop attendance isn't mandatory. Usually one or more groups go for a walk (the local Troll Wood or "twisted forest" is a favorite); a couple may wander off just to play tunes; and there was the year that four Crane duet players found a corner in which to compare playing styles.
    • Lunch and dinner are catered. For a while after dinner we just relax, doing whatever we like. Then comes the "concert for ourselves". We sit in a circle and improvise a procedure for taking turns. Inevitably there are songs, tunes, solos, duets, and larger ensembles (some existing only for the moment), and "all in" pieces where everyone is invited to join in. Spots with other instruments and even without concertina are not only allowed, but appreciated. Sometimes we're also joined in this by a few local musicians, but it's mainly for ourselves.
    • We have snacks, and after a few hours the "concert" collapses into something even less formal. Then folks gradually begin to head for bed, just like the night before.
  • Sunday
    • Sunday morning we have breakfast and workshops just as on Saturday, but then we have to pack up, clean the house, and leave by noon.
    • That's not the end, though, as we then travel together to another location, where we get lunch and improvise a concert for a "public" audience.

SSI 2002-6

The next five years didn't differ fundamentally from each other, only in the details. We had found a good format, and it has worked well, again and again. In fact, I understand that we've inspired the founding of at least one other concertina gathering, the Arran Concertina Event (or ACE).

Attendance at Torna Hällestad has varied from fourteen to nearly thirty. Thirty is about the maximum we can accomodate, and it's still few enough that we can all get to know each other and even sit at the same (large) table for meals.

We've had participants come from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Spain, and even one (not me) who flew over from the United States. Repeat participants are the rule rather than the exception, and in the future we hope to add even more countries to that list. One encouraging trend is that we've had a few teenage and university-age participants, youth who have newly taken up the concertina. They are our future.

It's not possible to list all the workshop topics we've shared over the years, but here are some that I remember:
  • Musical traditions from different countries and regions
    • Sweden
    • England
    • Denmark
    • Northumberland
  • Accompaniment and arrangement
    • chords for beginners
    • beginning song accompaniment
    • variety in accompaniment styles
    • jazz chords and harmonies
  • Playing styles
    • playing Irish on the English
    • comparing anglo styles ("Irish", "English", etc.)
    • comparing Crane duet styles
  • Miscellaneous
    • basic instrument maintenance and repair
    • comparing ways of holding and controlling your concertina
    • basic Swedish dance
And there's always informal sharing outside of the workshops, as well: Russian songs, a bit of Morris dancing, sitting in the sun to play Irish tunes,... just about anything.

Similarly, it's only possible to indicate a few highlights from the concerts. I make no claim that this list is impartial, much less complete.
  • Particular people
    • The incomparable and inimitable Concertino (Erwin): clown, juggler, musician, and with a laugh more infectious than the common cold
    • Chris on anglo, Anne on English, and a pair of fine voices between them
    • Henrik and Jonathan, together sounding like two hot Irish anglo players on their Englishes concertinas
    • Charlotte singing with Crane duet, and Richard on fiddle
    • Jamie also singing with Crane duet
    • Danny's wonderful playing of the English, whether alone or with his brother Sam on anglo
    • Zak, superior South African
  • Particular instruments
    • Englishes, anglos, and (Crane) duets, of course
    • melodeons and accordions of various sorts
    • banjo and guitar
    • more than one fiddle
    • whistle
    • bones and bodhran
    • many fine voices
  • Particular music
    • Anne singing "Lili Marlene", with Chris on anglo
    • tunes where everybody joins in: English, Irish, Danish,...
    • Russian songs, both folk and modern
    • Swedish folk songs
    • "music hall" songs
    • "classical"-style arrangements
    • even sea shanties
  • ... and of course, much, much more
Over the years, the Sunday afternoon lunch-and-concert venue has changed a couple of times, and we're now attracting an audience from a wider area.

When Louise and Pontus bought a new home, we started the tradition of meeting there first on Friday and then trooping off together to Torna Hällestad.

We had decided to regularize the time of the SSI as the last weekend in April, and that worked well until 2006. In 2006 we set the time later, so that Louise and Pontus wouldn't risk missing it. Their baby arrrived on schedule, and they brought Arvid with them.

SSI 2007

Several people remarked that they liked the later scheduling in 2006, because the weather was warmer and "it's nice to see the trees with leaves on them." But it was also a combination of other factors which resulted in our scheduling SSI 2007 for the last weekend in May. And one consequence is that some of our "regulars" have also regularly attended other events which now conflicted.

Well, SSI 2007 is now over. Wonderful, as usual. There were new faces, as well as many familiar ones. But as noted above, a few of our stalwarts were missing. Those who were there agreed that we should return to the old schedule of holding the SSI the last weekend of April. "So that was decided upon."

SSI 2008

In spite of returning to our regular time slot (the last weekend of April), attendance was down slightly this year. Job pressures forced a few "old timers" to stay away, and the already sagging economy tightened a number of budgets. But those who did come had a fine time, as usual. And we talked of plans for the "big 10", our Tenth Annual Scandinavian Squeeze-In in 2009.

SSI 2009

And now SSI 2009 is behind us. It wasn't the big "We Made It to 10!" bash some of us might have hoped, but everyone had fun, and I think every one learned something new, as well. Attendance was up from the previous year, in spite of the worldwide economic crisis. One highlight for many of us was Stephen Chambers giving a presentation on the early history of the concertina, illustrated with actual instruments, including the very first concertina sold by Wheatstone.

SSI 2010

Not our largest, but certainly very enjoyable. Just look at the faces in the 2010 group photo.

SSI 2011

SSI 2011 -- our Twelfth Annual -- is now over. I was the sole organizer, and I was very late getting out publicity. In spite of that and the conflict of the Easter weekend, we had one more participant than in 2010.

Everyone agreed that they had a wonderful time. By unanimous consent we didn't plan a workshop schedule, instead interacting spontaneously. Much of the time we were all together, though at times individuals would wander off or smaller groups would form. We played and talked and talked and played. The weather was so splendid that we chose to eat meals outdoors. Louise' and Pontus' children were a welcome addition, and they received much attention without demanding any. Saturday afternoon we all took a walk to and through the nearby twisted forest, or Troll Wood. Aside from the meals, the only events actually scheduled were the Friday night session at Tolvan (the local café-pub owned and run by the villagers) and the Sunday afternoon concert for the Solbyn community in Dalby. Both of these were welcome returns to places we've been before, though not the last couple of years because of conflicts with other events.

SSI 2012

We missed some old friends because of conflicts ranging from school schedules to both work and family emergencies, but a couple of new Swedish faces helped make up the difference.

All agreed that it was a great weekend, and all said they would return in 2013.

And it's not just fun for us. Already in 2011 the folks at Tolvan had invited us to hold our Friday session there once again, and now they've said they want us back in 2013. The townsfolk come to hear us, and local musicians are welcome join us in the session.

SSI 2013

I'm happy to report another successful year. I hope that I'll soon be able to link here to independent reports by some of the participants.

Among the new faces this year were some Scandinavian players that I've met during the past year or so, including both experienced players and those new to the concertina.

Significantly, several of this year's participants played some form of button accordion (melodeon, durspel), and a couple of those didn't play concertina at all. That worked out very well, with cooperation and camaraderie both within and among the different groups. We hope to have more of such other squeezers at future SSIs.

SSI 2014

This year we officially extended the invitation to non-concertina squeezers, emphasizing that it is now truly be a Squeeze-In, and not just a Concertina-In. This worked very well, with the different sorts working both separately and together.

One highlight of the Sunday concert was the addition of a saxophone.

SSI 2015

Much the same as 2014, except that we once again had the main (better) house at Gamlegård... and we had a new caterer.

Well, that's worth mentioning. Our former caterer is busy with other things these days, though still a good friend. (She joined us for the Saturday "concert".) But one of our participants is a master chef, to which we can now all attest. What's more, he surprised me (and everyone) with a magnificent birthday cake in the form of a concertina... so detailed that I had to resist trying to play it.

SSI 2016

The durspel/melodeon contingent is getting stronger, without the concertinas getting weaker, and there's much sharing among the different individuals and groups. Our new venue for the Sunday concert was a success. One highlight was a surprise visit from Mats Eden, one of Sweden's premier folk musicians and a particularly fine and versatile durspel (melodeon) player. Another was, yet again, the fabulous meals by Sebastian.

SSI 2017

A few past participants missing due to conflicts, but made up for by new faces. One highlight for me was comparing and sharing different styles of arrangement. Various sessions for sharing of tunes and techniques, of course. Lots of great tunes and songs; lots of variety. And we had a new caterer for the lunches, though Sebastian once again did our "banquet". Magnificent!

Once again, great enjoyment during the weekend and enthusiasm for next year. Will you join us in 2018?

SSI 2018

Gamlegård scout house is already booked for 2018, as are our venues for the Friday evening session and the Sunday concert.

Once again we're expecting new faces as well as old friends. Will you be joining us, too?

Beyond 2018

Who can say what the future will bring? But we're confident enough of the SSI's future as an annual event that I'm already wondering whether we'll have to move the dates in 2038 in order to avoid a conflict with Easter.