That Moment At The Northeast Squeeze-In

Randy Stein - English Concertina
5 min readSep 20, 2021

Coffee is a necessity for me.

I am an early riser. Always have been. I’ve never needed much sleep and once I’m awake I do not like just laying in bed waiting. So, I just get up and prepare and drink my morning coffee. Strong and black.

Just because I made the yearly trip to the annual Northeast Squeeze-In (NESI) didn’t mean I still didn’t rise early and need my coffee.

NESI is one of my greatly anticipated events of the year. It takes place in the fall, usually nestled in the Berkshire Mountains at a site with lodges and cabins and needed spaces to accommodate the hundred or so musicians who play various accordions, concertinas, fiddles, mandolins, banjos and other assorted instruments. Musical tastes range from traditional Irish, Contra, Old Time, Jazz, Classical, Quebecoise, and everything in-between. It intertwines the novice and the masterful in jams, workshops, and performances, whether planned or spontaneous, all enthusiastically led by the participants. It is some of the most fun three days one can have in their musical lifetime. Everyone smiles all weekend.

Last year in 2020 we were virtual. This year we would meet in person. The only caveat to the 2021 NESI was all participants had to be and offer proof of being fully vaccinated. Because of the pandemic our regular Berkshire site was unavailable. A suitable alternative site was found in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. It offered plenty of varied accommodations for all participants from campers to lodges, cabins, and yurts. Indoor spaces were well ventilated, and the great weather allowed windows and doors to stay open. Outdoor sites for workshops and jamming were ample and available. Despite the delta variant and a few unvaccinated regulars who did not attend, participation was still high and mighty.

NESI Outdoor Jam photo by Stewart Dean

After arriving Friday and jamming into the evening with a few dozen people at a well-lit outdoor pavilion, I went to sleep in my cabin again rising early before my snoring cabinmate. There was 24-hour access to a room that supposedly would have coffee at 6:00 AM in the large indoor pavilion across the way. So, I picked up my EC, my portable music stand and some music I was working on. I headed into the early morning light, up some uneven gravely steps and into the building and large room with chairs which was adjacent to another room where I anticipated coffee was ready and available.

Brewing coffee has a distinct delectable fragrance. Walking into the room, I did not smell it. Sitting in the corner, herself practicing her EC, was my friend charged that morning of waking early and preparing the coffee. She told me of her personal frustration as the large electric coffee urn kept shorting the circuitry and therefore wasn’t brewing properly and in a timely fashion. To a coffee addict this sends one into a tailspin. Be patient she told me though I could hear in her voice and visibly see her own anger and personal discomfort.

I moved back into the other room, set up my music stand and a chair in a corner to practice. Though the morning mind fog had not yet lifted my fingers moved steadily through my routine of scales and arpeggios albeit a little slower than usual. I then placed a book of Violin Etude Studies by Kreutzer and randomly opened to a page and began playing. All the while waiting for the smell of completely brewed coffee to come wafting through the walls.

Finishing my playing of a couple etudes I got up, opened the door, and peered at the table where the coffee was brewing and then at my friend. The look on her face let me know the coffee still wasn’t ready and chased me back into my own practice space.

I decided to continue working on a piece of music I had arranged to play polyphonically, that is self-accompanied, on my EC. The piece of music came from a compilation of French Dance Hall and Café Music from about 1910–1940. The particular song, UN SOURIRE, UN BAISER, is by the accordionist and band leader, Freddy Carrara, who was active in the 1920’s and 1930s.

Very little to almost nothing in popular music is written and arranged for the English Concertina. My teacher and mentor, Boris Matueswitch, transcribed and arranged a plethora of classical and popular pieces for the EC. I learned dozens and dozens of these tunes and immediately began to play them whenever and wherever I could for whoever would listen. Eventually I was creating my own arrangements for the EC. I began to think of what the final piece would sound like if I were to perform it. Much of how I listened to and viewed music was through the live performances of musical greats: from Isaac Stern and Stéphane Grappelli; Billy Taylor and Miles Davis; Leo Kottke and Eric Clapton and beyond. When they performed they made their instruments sing. My arrangements became performative. An audience’s reaction to how and what I played informed how I approached a tune.

I spent weeks working on this arrangement. I played it and played it, changing chords and rhythms to fit how I heard it. Practicing over and over so my fingers eventually and automatically would go where they needed. Playing my arrangement was close but I just wasn’t there yet.

As I sat down, sans cup of coffee, I started playing the piece. Once from the sheet music of my arrangement and then from memory. I played through it a few times getting stuck on the 39th measure which started the interlude. Without changing any of the chord structures, I decided to play it touch softer and more rhythmically. That lead me back into the melody which I now played with an easier swing tempo. When I finished I took stock of what I just played and started the whole tune again. First the intro followed by the first refrain played slowly and dramatically. Getting into the first ending I glided into a swing tempo for the rest of the tune. As I played, my fingers moved easily through the chords and melody lines. About halfway through the song I looked up to see a couple, also attending the weekend, swing dancing to my playing. My EC just sang.

The tune now worked. I played it again and then a second time, solidifying the arrangement. It was then that my fellow musician from the other room walked in to inform me that the other building where the cafeteria was, was now open. The coffee there was ready to be had.

Practice would have to wait as all dancers and musicians headed for a much needed cup of java.

Hear a recording of a rehearsal of UN SOURIRE, UN BAISER



Randy Stein - English Concertina

Randy Stein is a classically trained musician and recording artist who plays and performs internationally on the English Concertina. Website: