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Catonsville teen musicians to accompany accordionists in Baltimore

Derek Wiegmann and Kevin Callahan have played in a number of performances as musicians at Archbishop Curley High School.

But on July 14, the Catonsville teens will experience a first, performing alongside instruments they have rarely seen played live.

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Wiegmann, a double bassist, and Callahan, a French horn and trumpet player, will play jazz next to five accomplished accordionists during a festival in Baltimore.

The free concert at 1:30 p.m. is part of the American Accordionists' Association festival taking place July 11-15 at the Sheraton City Center Hotel at 101 West Fayette Street.

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"It'll be really interesting, because not a lot of people know about the accordion," Callahan said.

"They see it on TV and think polka music," he said. "This is jazz. It'll be pretty interesting to see how I work with accordion players."

The accordionists' association selected the Catonsville residents and two other young musicians from the Baltimore area in order to expand their musical horizons by having them perform alongside the accordionists, according to a spokeswoman for the association.

Wiegmann and Callahan are game for the experience.

The friends met after Wiegmann transferred to Curley from another all-boys Catholic high school, Cardinal Gibbons School, and found they shared a talent for music.

In December, both were selected for the Towson University All Senior-Junior Band, a one-day clinic at the university that requires an audition and recommendation from a band director to join.

When they first began playing an instrument, the idea of playing an accordion didn't cross their minds.

As a 12-year-old, Wiegmann just wanted to be different from his older sister, who played guitar. So he chose electric bass, he said. He began playing double bass in high school.

Callahan played French horn exclusively before entering high school, where the band teacher encouraged him to play the trumpet in the school's band.

Now, both are looking forward to learning more about and performing with accordions.

Seeing young musicians excited about the accordion is a fairly recent trend, said Marilyn O'Neil, the youth involvement program coordinator for AAA.

"What's happening is it's being rediscovered by young people in kind of a different way," said O'Neil, 58. "College-aged kids are coming upon accordions because there are rock groups using it now."

The instrument has recently been incorporated into the music of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Green Day, O'Neil said.

It wasn't so much the influence of those artists but a brief encounter with an accordion as a freshman at Cardinal Gibbons that intrigued Wiegmann.

He recalled four years ago when he and his classmates examined an unfamiliar instrument that a donor had given to the now-closed high school.

"We thought it was cool, but no one knew what to do with it," he said.

"It was a nice accordion," Wiegmann said. "It was a shame that no one knew how to play."

For years, O'Neil said, few people called the accordion cool and there still are some prejudices about it.

"We still hear the accordion jokes. You're always going to hear the accordion jokes," O'Neil said. "We, as accordion lovers, are constantly fighting that very stereotype."

Wiegmann and Callahan reject the accordion stereotype.

It was Wiegmann who contacted O'Neil about playing in the concert after hearing of the need for accompanists.

"When else am I going to get the chance to play jazz with accordionists?" Wiegmann recalled asking himself when he heard about the concert.

When O'Neil said they still needed a trumpet player, Wiegmann contacted Callahan, who quickly jumped on board.

Callahan, who also will attend Towson University to major in biology and French horn performance this fall, knows he won't have much time to learn about the accordion but wants to know the basics at least.

"One side's a keyboard and the other side is all these buttons and I don't know what all these buttons are for. I hope I find out," Callahan said. "It seems like there's a lot of thinking involved, but they make it look easy."

Wiegmann and Callahan will likely get a chance to give the accordion a try because O'Neil said she wanted to introduce the nonaccordion players to it.

"She told me she wanted to put one in my hands," Callahan said. "I'm really excited to play accordion. I'll probably be pretty bad at it, but that's OK."

"I would like it if I had the opportunity to explore some of how it works," Wiegmann said. "To me, it's an interesting instrument because it has a keyboard, but it relies on wind."

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