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A Harp, an Accordion, and 60 Years of Merriment

November 06, 2021

He said it started with a train ride to buy a harp at the turn of the 20th century.  

Jerry May’s father made young Jerry wait until he was 10 years old to learn to play the accordion. Begging since the age of seven, his dad wanted to be sure his eldest son “knew the value of his music” and would not give up on it. But Jerry would never give up. 

Music was in his blood. From Jerry's grandfather taking the Burlington railroad into Chicago to purchase a Chicago Harp to his mother and eventually his siblings each playing piano, music was an ever-present part of Jerry’s life.  

The accordion by design is a lonely instrument. With the keyboard on the right and bass on the left, you are your own accompaniment. But you don’t have to be. By the time Jerry was 13, he was taking his 12 bass accordion to accompany his twin sisters who would sing at events in town. Jerry recalled the amazing payment they received after playing for the local fire department where their dad volunteered - a pizza dinner! This was the early 1950s and pizza was just getting its start. He delighted in the novel treat. 

12 bass accordion          

Fast forward to Jerry’s senior year at the Marmion Military Academy, a local Catholic high school, when he joined the school’s professional band as the only accordion among largely classic brass musicians. He was inspired and upon graduation he and a friend started a band named the Mello Tones.  

For the next 40 years, the band—which also included tenor sax, alto, clarinet, drums, and a bass—played classic dance tunes, including polkas, waltzes, and period classics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, at weddings, clubs, private events and parties, riffing off each other, and loving life. Jerry led the band with a singular mission after all — making people happy.  

Jerry Performing with His 120 Bass Accordion

About 20 years ago Jerry shifted his music back to his family’s German roots. He formed a new band, Jerry’s Happy Wanderers, and with lederhosen, a pinned fedora, and a collection of over 30 German songs the now seasoned musician found his dance card fully booked with requests to play Oktoberfests, pubs, and special events throughout the US and Europe. He was now only one of a few remaining accordion players in the 80,000 strong American Federation of Musicians and the only one playing German music.  

Jerry is now in his 80s and intends to retire from professional music at the end of this year. We suspect you may still find him in one-man shows at the request of his family, like the snippet above from his recent gig at Two Brothers. His 60 years have brought him as much joy as the merriment he has inspired. From state fairs and festivals, river cruises and clubs, and even those sparkly Chicago high rises, Jerry has brought what is becoming a lost art to many and become one of its keepers along the way. 

We close with a tantalizing surprise. Artifcts from Jerry’s extended private collection, which includes accordions that came into Jerry’s life from those who play no more.  

Accordion gifted to Jerry by woman dying of cancer     Accordion gifted to Jerry by couple during 65th birthday celebration

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© 2021 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Do not dismiss the power of answering the “Why?” Here are four of its superpowers: 

1. CONNECTION

If you are going to make your niece cart around a sitting Buddha sculpture for her remaining days as part of your last will and testament, you could at least tell her why!

Wills and estate plans by nature focus on the what and often neglect the why. And that’s if the will even references an itemized list of tangible assets! The reality then is loved ones may act out of obligation to respect your wishes and hang onto the items you give them but with a tinge of disgruntled acceptance. 

2. REDUCED CONFLICT

Imagine two people who feel equally attached to an object that once belonged to a deceased loved one. In the will, the object goes to one of those people. To squash any potential disappointment or misdirected anger at the recipient, the owner could share the why and explain the bond between the person and/or object and recipient. Closure, in this case, is another great gift of the why. 

3. LASTING MEMORIES & LEGACY

Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle. And sometimes, that's your own doing. Did you make up three different versions of events as to how that painting came into your collection? Did you ever tell the story? Set the record straight with any combination of photos, video, audio, and a brief (or long!) story as you Artifct the truth of that object. 

Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle.

4. BETTER PREPARATION

How many of you reading this have an up-to-date will or estate plan? Odds are you do not, at least according to a report from Caring.com, which said that two out of three US adults and half of UK adults do not have a will.  

Introducing items you cherish into your plan and/or at least into the discussion if you're working with a real live estate planning attorney helps to ensure that your assets will be directed to the correct people, your wishes carried out. It also helps the professionals you rely on to guide you to better understand you and support the full scope of your financial, insurance, tax, and estate plans. 

Join us tomorrow as we discuss these themes and more during Evenings with Artifcts, with guest speaker Dutch Miller. RSVP now > 

Happy Artifcting! 

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Did we miss a superpower of “why?” Let us know at Editor@Artifcts.com and we may feature your addition! 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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The Evenings with Artifcts Series, Fall 2022

Throughout fall 2022, we're hosting Evenings with Artifcts on Thursday evenings. Our guests in this nine-part series dive into the world of 'stuff' and stories. Below we've provided a week by week feature for each speaker in the series and direct links to the speaker's Artifcts, other related ARTIcles by Artifcts, and the Evenings with Artifcts event recordings. 

Want to suggest a speaker for future live events? We'd love to hear from you! Please contact us at Editor@Artifcts.com.

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He's authored 1000s of articles, several books, and what's maybe the first known travel blog. And on Thursday night during Evenings with Artifcts Jeff Greenwald shared with us simple but powerful tips, and a healthy dose of perspective, to help us craft our own stories behind the objects of our lives.  

Watch the full Evenings with Artifcts event here.

  • It is hard to write about an object with no personal meaning but even harder when it has tremendous personal meaning. Bear that in mind and go easy on yourself. 

  • Start with something true. This is the trick to writing anything nonfiction. For example, start with a little line about where you got the object: “I bought this in a street market in Istanbul.” And from there go on to describe the scene a little bit and what happened there that connects you with the object.  

Start with something true.

  • Other starters for your Artifcts:  

        • Where were you when you acquired the object? 
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  • We all have stories. Writers block comes from our internal critic. It challenges you with, “Why would anybody want to read it? What could you have to say? What makes you think you're so great that anyone should listen to anything you're telling them?” You have to tell yourself, “I have a right to do this because I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told whether or not you, my internal critic, thinks that it does.” Push the internal critic aside. 
I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told.
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  • A bit of advice Jeff shared from esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut: Write your stories as though you are writing them for one person, as if you are telling this person each of the stories. It gives all the stories a similar tone, a singular voice. 

  • Always include when and where the object was acquired. These are important details.

  • Struggling with a title? Write out 10 of them. It will help you to start to shape your story, too.

Our stuff, the objects that we collect, that inspire us, they are really not what's important. We do not need to keep them. The only thing that is important are the stories, and the only way to keep the stories is to tell them.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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