Mark Vidor has been intrigued by folk music since he was a student at Baltimore City College High School 50 years ago.
From his modest affinity for performers such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Vidor's passion eventually grew into searching for other regional styles of folk music and, ultimately, learning how to play the accordion.
This holiday season, the Rodgers Forge resident is sharing what he has learned about German folk music as he performs at the German Christmas market at the Christmas Village in Baltimore's Inner Harbor's West Shore Park on Light Street.
Sophia Becker, the organizer of the German Christmas Market, said that she met Vidor at a farmers market and invited him to play at her event.
"People really like Mark," the Stuttgart, Germany native said. "He's really good with kids."
Vidor, 66, who retired three years ago after 29 years as a Baltimore City Department of Social Services social worker, will play his beloved accordion four more times at this year's event, which is held daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and closes an hour later on weekends through Dec. 24.
His final appearance is scheduled for Christmas Eve, from noon to 3 p.m.
While the village is holiday oriented, Vidor said he been playing a broad list of songs that mixes genres of German music with Christmas fare.
"I've been playing German-related music, polkas and waltzes," he said. "I'm trying to make it more of a festive feeling, as well as play Christmas-related music."
When he does play Christmas music, the accordion is the perfect instrument for it, he added,
"The accordion is well-suited for Christmas music because it has more of a thoughtful and contemplative sound to it, and it can be joyful and celebratory as well," said Vidor, who for three years also has played at the Towson Farmers Market, in downtown Towson, during summer and fall.
An ear for music
The German Christmas Village in Baltimore, which opened Nov. 25, features 50 vendors selling traditional European food, holiday decorations, sweets and drinks.
A large variety of international holiday gifts, ornaments, jewelry and high-quality arts and crafts, including handmade nesting dolls, glass figurines and ceramic candle houses are also available for shoppers in wooden outdoor huts and in a 60-by-180-foot heated tent.
Many lights, a decorated holiday tree, German-style food, mulled wine and hot chocolate welcome visitors to the site as they listen to Vidor's accordion.
"I'm self-taught [on the accordion]," said Vidor, who also plays the instrument in a Celtic band, Kaydense, in Harford County and with a New Orleans-style group called the Barrage Band Orchestra. "I have a pretty good ear for music, so I can carry a decent tune."
Playing accordion is different from playing piano in several ways, said Vidor, who also plays the latter instrument.
"For one thing, you're using the keys vertically with an accordion," he said. "The left hand uses buttons to play individual base notes and chords. The bellows in the center of the instrument are pulled in and out to force air through metal reeds that vibrate on both sides to make notes. It's almost like the instrument 'breathes' in a certain way.
"And, like a singing voice, it can be very expressive. Coordinating the three basic activities — right-hand keys, left-hand buttons and bellows in the middle — can be tricky at first."
Vidor, who reads music as he plays, has ramped up his practicing schedule.
"I try to play at least two hours — and sometimes more than that — every day, just for pleasure," he said. "It's a great instrument. It can either be a background instrument to accompany a singer or other instruments, and it can also be used by itself."
Playing at different venues, such as the Towson Farmers Market, is a hobby he can't resist, he added. His main musical interests veer toward folk dance music from France, Brittany and Belgium. He also enjoys French cafe music from the 1930s and 1940s.
He also plays piano in a band, the Metrognomes, that performs contra, or folk dances.
"There's an active folk music dance society in Baltimore," he said. "It's the equivalent of a square dance, something that goes back hundreds of years. It's people getting together for social dancing."
At his events he mostly plays Boombal, which is Belgian folk music, and Fest noz, folk music indigenous to Brittany in northwest France, unless listeners request something more specific.
"Some are very jolly, and some are very moody," he said of the songs.
Regardless, for Vidor, the accordion is king.
"Mark is one of the most devoted street entertainers out there, playing for hours at a time, from blazing hot sun to near-freezing temperatures and everything in between," said Bob Jacobson, a fellow busker who plays saxophone and clarinet in a local band, Swing 'n' Samba. "He constantly encourages children to try the accordion."