Accordionist has hands full
in keeping tradition alive:
By Celeste Brusk
Sun-Times Staff Reporter
Published April 30, 2004
"In order to play the accordion, you have to be strong
as an ox to hold it and twice as smart."
That's the bottom line from Mazurka Wojciechowska, who says she's
one the few remaining professional accordion players in the Chicago
area. You can listen to her oompah music every Sunday afternoon at
Klas Restaurant, a Czech-American haven of ethnic cuisine in Cicero.
Dressed in Bohemian clothing in colors ranging from yellow, blue and
pink to black and white lace, and with flowers in her hair, the talented
accordionist entertains diners with a repertoire that includes hundreds
of European folk tunes. Some of the crowd-pleasers include the "Beer
Barrel Polka," "The Blue Skirt Waltz" and the Bulgarian dance tune
If anyone had told Wojciechowska 10 years ago that she would have
a career as an accordionist, she would have laughed.
"I thought accordion playing was low-brow and for nerds only," she
Wojciechowska says the accordion, once a popular instrument, began
losing popularity in the 1960s and since then has become something
of a laughingstock. She pokes fun at it by asking questions during
her set such as, "How do you get an accordionist off your doorstep?
Pay for the pizza," she said.
Nevertheless, it's apparent she enjoys playing the accordion.
"It's a great instrument," she said. "The left hand provides a steady
rhythm, which is good for dancing, while the right hand is like a
piano that you play the melody with. Many instruments only play a
melody or a rhythm, not both like the accordion."
The Chicago native, who lives in West Rogers Park, says she started
playing the piano when she was 4 years old.
"In high school, I played the cello and then the hammer dulcimer after
college," said Wojciechowska, who works for a brokerage firm.
She then purchased a used accordion, and after a 10-minute lesson,
she was hooked.
"I bought the accordion, then practiced like a demon -- two to three
hours daily -- and was playing professionally within six months,"
Although Wojciechowska's background is in classical music, she has
developed a fondness for Slavic folk music.
"I like the rhythms, the harmonies, chord progressions and the melodies
of the music," she said. "I also like the instrumentation, particularly
in music from Slovakia, Moravia and the region of Ardeal [in Romania]."
"I was raised on classical music exclusively, so my first exposure
to music was Bach, Beethoven and Brahms," she said. "Then I heard
pieces by Chopin and Dvorak that were based on their national folk
rhythm tunes -- Polish and Czech, respectively. These were the pieces
that attracted me the most."
When you catch a performance by Wojciechowska at Klas, be sure to
tour the restaurant before or after you eat. The three-building restaurant
resembles a Czech-Moravian chalet with peaked and mansard roof lines
and Tudor-style decor.
The restaurant originally was opened in 1922 by Adolph Klas, a native
of Bohemia, a region that is now part of the Czech Republic. It's
decorated inside with five kinds of wood imported from Bohemia. Each
room is a study in wood carvings and wood-carved light fixtures, a
hand-painted bar, leaded glass windows, stuffed birds and animals,
and innumerable Czech artifacts. The restaurant also has an outdoor
garden and pond.
Menu items range from roast Long Island duckling (Wojciechowska's
favorite), Spickova pickled beef and Pilsner beef goulash to fruit
dumplings, boiled smoked butt and potato pancakes.
Mazurka Wojciechowska performs from 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays at
Klas Restaurant, 5734 W. Cermak, Cicero. Call (708) 652-0795. She
also will perform at the 14th annual Skokie Festival of Cultures on
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Sun-Times