Aaron’s Radio Show

Episode 45

My Three Songs with Susan Shertok

 

Notes

Episode Notes

EPISODE 45 – My Three Songs with Susan Shertok  Welcome, everyone, to Episode 45. This is the 35th in our series of episodes called My Three Songs where my guest chooses three memorable songs and we listen to the songs and talk about why they are meaningful to my guest. Susan Shertok is an accomplished accordionist and she shared performance of three songs for this episode, including her impression of Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) singing “Those Were the Days”.

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Three Songs

  1. Tzena Tzena Tzena – Issachar Miron (1941)
  2. Those Were the Days – Adams/Strouse (1971)
  3. Never on Sunday – Manos Hadjidakis (1960)

Aaron’s Radio Show has been licensed by ASCAP and BMI to include songs from their repertories in performances on this website.

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Transcript

This transcript was originally generated using artificial intelligence ("AI") software. It has been edited by a human being, but it may still contain some misspellings, lack necessary punctuation, or include other anomalies. We are regularly working to improve our transcripts!


Jake:

Coming to you almost live from Berkeley, California, it's Aaron's Radio Show.

Aaron Gobler:

Welcome to My Three Songs, where I play three special songs chosen by my guests, and we talk about why they chose each song. Today, my guest is Susan Shertok. Susan is a new friend of mine, and she signed up to be a guest after listening to Episode 44, which starred her good friend, Michael Cook. She's a very talented accordionist. And I'm excited to talk with her and have her share some of her talent. Welcome to the show. Susan, how are you today?

Susan Shertok:

I am doing very well. And I'm so glad to be here. Thank you,

Aaron Gobler:

Susan, can you tell me did you find the accordion? Or did the accordion find you? I'm always fascinated how people take up particular instruments. What What's your backstory?

Susan Shertok:

Well, I would say it was a mutual attraction. Somehow it worked out for the both of us. My earliest memory is being eight years-old and going to a family party. And I saw an accordion player there. And I was just blown away to the moon and back. And this instrument was so majestic and powerful. And the man walked around the room with it. And the bellows went in and out. And it was just wonderful. And in that minute I said to myself, I want to learn how to play that. So I started nagging my parents for lessons. And two years go by; I'm now 10 years old, and I'm still nagging. And they they agreed to buy me a piano and they said, How about if we start you with that, but you have to promise to take practice it because of cost a lot of money. So I gave them my promise. And I did practice hard, but I still wanted my accordion. So now I'm 12 years old, and now I become a professional nagger. Okay. Finally at age 12, I got my accordion. And I practiced it and loved it. I've enjoyed it. And I played it for 60 years now. So I am still with it, both the piano and the accordion.

Aaron Gobler:

And that's awesome. And the accordion that you play is what they call it a piano accordion?

Susan Shertok:

Yes, you would call it that because your right hand has the piano notes as we say, some accordions have buttons on both sides. So that's a little bit different. But the piano certainly helped me by learning that first because that was the easy part. And I just had to learn the left hand the button part.

Aaron Gobler:

Uh huh. You know, I discovered this week as I was learning more about accordions that the piano accordion is the official instrument of the city of San Francisco.

Susan Shertok:

That's interesting. I didn't know that.

Aaron Gobler:

Yes, I didn't know that. I don't think most people in this world know that. I can see San Francisco if I go up on the top of the hill by my house. So I feel like a special connection now to the accordion in my proximity to San Francisco. I find the instrument fascinating too; it is like you said, I can just imagine being places where somebody is walking around playing the accordion. And there are not a lot of instruments that kind of have their own ... maybe the bagpipe ... you know, which has its own amplification system kind of built in. And you can walk around playing that and it is such a unique instrument.

Susan Shertok:

I also have had one uncle who played a lot of instruments. So I'm glad in my life that I had someone to inspire me with music. And I wish everyone had that experience also. Because it's wonderful to discover an instrument and stick with it and learn everything there about it. And there's no end to learning music. I encourage everyone no matter what age to learn an instrument, and all the genres of music that we have and all the composers that we have. It's a lifelong and more learning experience.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, I have two thoughts about that. One is learning an instrument. When you see someone play an instrument or hear them play an instrument and they've been doing it for a long time ... it just seems so easy. Because they make it look easy. And then when you pick-up that instrument, whatever it is ... unless it's like the kazoo ... you realize just how much work it takes to to become proficient, and sound like you know what you're doing. So it can be discouraging, and people really have to stick with it. And I'm like, I'm learning the ukulele, but I'm doing it very casually. And it's been a couple years now, and I'm getting better, but I'm not really super proficient at it. But there's something magical about producing the music yourself, I discovered, you feel that it's not just listening to music, but producing it,

Susan Shertok:

I guess I've got the control, I can add whatever I like to add all those decorations and music, and put my own spin on it. So that is the fun part, that we can add a lot of things to it. Also, here in the libraries in Delaware, they're offering free ukulele classes to people. And I think that's wonderful. And I'm glad that libraries are much more than a place to go for books today, or libraries have music concerts all the time. It's more of a community center today. And maybe it's with COVID, we needed that place as a community place to gather.

Aaron Gobler:

Yes. And that's something that's really been lost, I guess, during during the pandemic is this ability to have communal music experiences and to try to get some of that back is very important. Susan, can you tell me like what the little buttons on the other side of the accordion are? I'm I've never been able to ask an accordionist? How what how that works? Like, can you give me some technical understanding in a few minutes as to what they do, or how you work them?

Susan Shertok:

Aaron, you're asking me all the magic secrets now that everyone will know! Okay, so they are chords. So really, the accordion is not a difficult instrument to play. So with just one finger pressing down a button, you're really getting the sound of three notes, or four notes in that one button. So those are chords. So my right hand is playing the melody on the piano side. And on the left hand is just chords. Next to the chords, there's one row, that's a major chord row. Another row is a minor chord row, seven chord and diminished rows. It's just easy to play with the left hand. So it may look difficult people do look at that and wonder how do you know which button to play? There's 120 buttons on that. But one note is marked. So you have your bearings. And then from that one note, that's mark, you can jump up to notes or jump down to notes and play that button. So that's the secret they are chords.

Aaron Gobler:

And I'm always fascinated as to how things work. Do you know ... short of me actually opening up an accordion ... do you know how like a particular button is making those that chord sound?

Susan Shertok:

No, I really don't!

Aaron Gobler:

What's fascinating about instruments, if you just look at like even the wind instruments and how you know the the holes are in certain places, and then you press certain buttons like on a clarinet and it automatically opens up certain valves. And it's just remarkable just how these instruments were created. And I'm just fascinated now with, say, looking at a cross-section of an accordion and seeing exactly how all those buttons, make those chords. So that's that's my next ... that's my next rabbit hole on Wikipedia. Susan, I'm really, really delighted that you decided to be a guest on can you tell me what inspired you to be on the show?

Susan Shertok:

Well, Mike Cook, the your friend who previously made a podcast wrote to me about this because I was unaware of this. And he did it. He enjoyed it. And I listened to it and listen to some others. And it was a lot of fun. And this was not something I do every day in my life. So I said this is a golden opportunity to try it out.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay, I'm glad you did make the decision to be part of this. And, Michael is a good friend of mine. I met him in Wilmington about 30 years ago, and we keep in touch. And it's so fun to watch him with his his new career in steel drum playing and I'm so happy for him and his success in that.

Susan Shertok:

His life story too is so interesting. He's a company man with DuPont for years but he loved music. And then he retired; he took an intensive course learned how to play the steel drums; took about two years to memorize 30 songs that he could play at a gig. And then he bought an island shirt and a straw hat. Now he goes out in style with his steel drums and brings so much joy to so many people. And he's living his dream and retirement and that is fabulous.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. And he also mentioned during the show that he was a professional clown. And that immediately ... when he mentioned that I remember back seeing him in his his clown outfit. Yeah, he's a remarkable guy.

Susan Shertok:

I did not know that.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, I actually worked at DuPont for a number of years. But I met him through a social group in Delaware. And I mean, a lot of people in Delaware work for DuPont. Yeah, he had a very non-comedic, very serious type of job at DuPont. And so like he said, you know, the clown kind of was the foil or the, the other personality to his straight laced DuPont corporate type of role. And that brought joy to a lot of people and that he's also doing that with his steel drum playing. So he's really a wonderful person. So Susan, before we get started with your song list, can you tell me how music fits into your life? Like do you seek it out? Is it usually in the background or the foreground of a day?

Susan Shertok:

It's definitely in the foreground. And there's a lot of things that I do with music. I play in a klezmer band where I worship, which is a lot of fun ... I'm also the choir director. So I'm always preparing songs for the next holiday, the next event that comes up, and I joined the local senior center, and they have a chorus there. So I sing with them. And we've gone out this month to nursing homes in the area and perform for all of the residents. And it brings joy into their lives. So that's a fun thing to do. I also go to a local high school where they have a Oregon there that is the fourth largest Oregon in the world Dickinson heights. And I enjoy the Oregon concerts too. I attend concerts in the libraries whenever they're having musical concerts. So I'm even writing all of these dates down on my calendar. And even in retirement. Music is keeping me busy. And I love to watch the voice on TV and America's Got Talent and American Idol, or a PBS showing music specialties. So there's, I seek out the music shows on TV. So I am always doing something with music, and then I can play it on my own too.

Aaron Gobler:

So it sounds like you're really surround yourself

Susan Shertok:

In March, for St. Patrick's Day, there's a local with it! Irish band that I've always admired. And I love Irish music, music that's lively and toe tapping. So I asked them if I can join them on some of the songs and they said yes. And I was in seventh heaven. So at the library for the first time, I joined my Irish band playing a couple of songs. And that was a nice experience too. They have all their own arrangements. And I've heard them so many times. I know their songs, their style, but I show them my arrangement and they're so quick to just help me out too. It was a great experience. You know, growing up as a child too ... my parents would always play the big band music at home. And we watched Lawrence Welk of course and we'd see Myron Floren; and Myron Floren actually came to visit the Delaware Accordion Club. So that was a thrill. And then growing up in the 50s and 60s, I certainly liked that kind of music; I like the doo-wop and I the innocence of the 60s songs love that. I couldn't tell you anything modern, but I'm a child of the 60s.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, Susan, as I noted a moment ago, we're going to hear your accordion playing. But I wanted to point out that this episode is extra special, because the three songs we hear today are actually your own performances. And the songs you'll be playing today are "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena", which was composed by Issachar Miron in 1941. And I hope I'm saying his name correctly. "Those Were the Days" by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse from around 1971. And "Never On Sunday", composed by Manos Hadjidakis in 1960. So I'm familiar with all of these tunes. And I'm really delighted to share your performances with our listeners. So first, we're going to take a listen to you playing "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena". Susan, I'm familiar with a song probably from Israeli dancing classes from my past. It certainly lends itself to dancing the Hora which for my listeners is a traditional Romanian dance which is quite popular in Israel, where the participants form a ring. And Susan, I'm eager to know what inspired you to include this song on your list and play for us.

Susan Shertok:

Well, I've known it for many years, and I tend to like the lively songs. So I play that and I know it's good dance song, and I use it so much. So I am, I guess very familiar with it, and it's easy to play. So I threw that in there.

Aaron Gobler:

You had also provided me a list of other songs, which we're not including today, but it seems like your repertoire includes a lot of Israeli-type dance songs or classic songs that people would dance to.

Susan Shertok:

Yeah, some of them are being in the klezmer band and my choir sings music and Hebrew. So I tend to do a lot of Jewish music. And my second love is Irish songs. And lively is just wonderful.

Aaron Gobler:

I'm guessing that the accordion can also be used to play things that are more somber, but I think traditionally people think about it in a more lively fashion.

Susan Shertok:

I would agree the lively sound is good. It just sounds good on that instrument. I play a lot of polkas being with the Delaware Accordion Club, we tend to play a lot of polkas. Also, although I didn't include one, I'll have to come back again and give you a polka.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, and I definitely think of the polka when I when I hear the accordion. The history of the accordion is European-based. So it's not a coincidence that it's something that's used in a lot of cultures, from Europe.

Susan Shertok:

Right. Right. In our accordion club, we do have a group of Italian players and a Polish players. And I think it's sad a lot of young children don't ask their parents for an accordion. That's probably on the bottom of their list. I think everyone wants to be a rock star and play the guitar. Even me too. But, but still is a lot of joy that you can find in the accordion,

Aaron Gobler:

It's hard to not have some kind of energy when you're playing that instrument.

Susan Shertok:

I think we're the life of the party.

Aaron Gobler:

I agree. Yeah. So let's jump into your next song, which is not immediately thought of as an accordion song. But it's a classic tune, which is titled "Those Were the Days". And this is the theme song from the 70's TV show "All in the Family". So let's give a listen to that. And we'll talk about it on the other side. Susan, I grew up watching All in the Family. And I'm sure I attempted to sing along with that song more than once. But your Edith Bunker impression is is spot-on. Each time I hear it brings a smile to my face. So what inspired you to include this song today? Yeah, I think I think you're spot-on. I can picture my mind

Susan Shertok:

I was just laughing at myself too. I tried it years ago. And I noticed people would react every time I sang that song. They'd all laugh so I knew I was good for a laugh. And I never listened to myself really singing. So I recorded myself one day and listened to myself sing the song. And I thought she's pretty good. So I kept it up. Long Archie and Edith sitting there at the piano. story. I kept it up, really not to showcase the accordion so much. But just as a little laugh, and I thought maybe your audience would laugh also and just enjoy it. I'm from New York. I think that show was supposed to be from Queens. Is it queens? New York? I'm thinking, being from New York to helped a lot. And the ability to screech it out as hard as you could, were key points that I could do. Yes, I do play the piano. Also, as I said, so most of the time, I am doing this song on the piano. But since I was playing the accordion on this episode, I thought I would stick with that. So that's the accordion version. For Christmas. I like to do the chipmunk song. And also, it's on the same basis because I get to screech out the high notes like a chipmunk on that part. And then the other one I'm working on is "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim. But that's still a work in progress. I don't know I was blessed with these weird voices. So I have fun with him.

Aaron Gobler:

So do you know how to play the ukulele? Have you tried that?

Susan Shertok:

No, I really never have.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay, that because that's like, you know, that's Tiny Tim, his ukulele.

Susan Shertok:

You got the real instrument? Yeah, you can showcase that one.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, I feel like he was this tall lanky guy. And he had like the smallest ukulele you could find. I think if I recall, visually, I'm trying to picture this.

Susan Shertok:

And he came out with a paper a brown paper bag and would take the ukulele out of it ... and play that song.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yeah, I think I may have learned to try to learn it on the ukulele but I probably couldn't do justice to his to his voice. But maybe, maybe if we ever meet in person, I can accompany you with my ukulele and you can do the singing.

Susan Shertok:

That would be wonderful. And by then I'll have perfected the voice okay.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, that's a it's an interesting aspiration ... to sing like Tiny Tim ... I give you credit for that. So let's jump to your third song, "Never on Sunday". Let's give that a listen. Susan, this is such a beautiful tune. And the first time I heard it, it was by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. But it's been covered by by a lot of people. I don't know if it was composed with the accordion in mind, but it certainly sounds perfect on the accordion. Um, uh, why did you choose to include this song.

Susan Shertok:

I also liked the song very much. It does sound good on the accordion. I know I also I heard it as a child and liked it. And I was looking it up recently and Myron Floren did also play this song. So if anyone wants to look up his version of it online, okay, it is there. And it was just fun to do also.

Aaron Gobler:

So this was by a Greek composer. Through your repertoire of songs that you play on the accordion, do you find a particular ethnicity running through a lot of them? Or is it really all over the map?

Susan Shertok:

I do play a lot of ethnic songs. There's a book by Kamen who puts out international songs. So we use that book a lot. And there are Ukrainian songs, and they're Russian songs from every different ethnicities. So we enjoyed doing that. And most people may not be familiar with it, but it's still they all sound great. They're wonderful songs.

Aaron Gobler:

And you know, a lot of polka like, you know, straight on polka music?

Susan Shertok:

I've got enough in my songbook, if you could see my living room with music. There's certainly a ton of music books here. And what is the focus book and there's about 20 in there, but they're most the most popular polka songs in there, like the Pennsylvania Polka, the Beer Barrel Polka, the Tick-Tock Polka. So most of the songs that are in there, people know, we like playing that also, it just lifts your spirits and toe tapping dancing music.

Aaron Gobler:

So can you read the sheet music then for the songs?

Susan Shertok:

Sure, yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

And is there anything special about the sheet music as it would pertain to playing the accordion? Or do you just follow the notes on the piano part? And how would you say reading sheet music for an accordion is different than for another instrument?

Susan Shertok:

Well, it's really not. Most instruments that can play melody and the bass and chords, were reading whatever's on the sheet music. They don't put all those extra things, the flourishes and embellishments on them. So you're free to interpret it that way. You might add a lot of things, trills, frills, thrills, glissandos, all kinds of things that is not written down. So you have that kind of freedom. For other instruments that just play one voice like a violin was just the melody there. You know what I mean? Yeah, or background that you're just doing that much.

Aaron Gobler:

And when you get into your mind that you want to play a new, a certain song that you haven't played before? How long does it usually take for you to get comfortable playing it? With or without the sheet music?

Susan Shertok:

Well, I certainly would play it a few times to really get to know it very, very well. I play "Hava Nagila". I think I play that all my life. So I don't have to look at music for that one anymore. It's there. It's ingrained in my blood. Yes, yeah. But for other songs, you know, with a few times practicing it, I'm sure you could put the music away and then play it.

Aaron Gobler:

But you find that most of the time you're out playing with music, except for the ones that you've kind of gotten into you're like, muscle memory in your brain.

Susan Shertok:

I know. You know, it's true. Like the older we get, we don't want to make any booboos. So having the sheet music in front of you really helps. Yeah, it's just a safety net. If the music's in front of me, I'll probably not make as many mistakes if I have to really recall it. And it gets worse as you grow older. I will tell you that.

Aaron Gobler:

So Susan, is there anything else you'd like to share about your selections or, or any answers to questions I didn't ask you.

Susan Shertok:

I wanted to mention that. I became president of the Delaware Accoridion Club a few years ago. And again, some of our members are in their 70s and 80s. Some are passing on, and I'm not getting a lot of young people to join. And it's kind of sad for us, we don't want to see the club end, next year will be 25 years that the club has been together. And we share a lot of good memories. And I'm trying to recruit new people, too. So if anyone out there would love to play the accordion, you can share that on Zoom. Now you don't have to come to Delaware. So they can join us that way. But I encourage everyone again, learn an instrument, it's the best thing you'll ever do in your life.

Aaron Gobler:

Thank you. That's I think that's wonderful advice. Is there a website for this organization that you can mention?

Susan Shertok:

Delaware Accordion Club dot com. And we're also on Facebook.

Aaron Gobler:

To reiterate, your saying that it's really it's a Zoom-focused organization. So people are at least right now, right? So people can be anywhere in the world and be a part of this.

Susan Shertok:

Yeah. So we used to meet in person. I'm on Delaware before the pandemic. But for the last two years, we can't do that anymore. So we're sticking to Zoom.

Aaron Gobler:

I hope my listeners are inspired to learn more about the accordion. Maybe you have a relative who has one, and it's kinda sittin' around ... maybe you can borrow it ...

Susan Shertok:

... and check the attic and check the basement.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Ask around some people may have one that's that that's usable, that they're not using and just to play around on it. I think that'd be a great endeavor. So Susan, this has been a lot of fun. It's been a unique episode, and that we had your actual performances of the songs, and I got to learn some more about the accordion. And it definitely was a lot of fun listening to your, to your own playing the accordion.

Susan Shertok:

Thank you so much for having me as a guest, and I really enjoyed it. And it's my first podcast this is a record!

Aaron Gobler:

Well, I'm glad that I've been able to provide that opportunity for you to be on a podcast. And I hope that just like Michael inspired you to be on the show that one of your friends or family who listened to this episode also are encouraged to be a guest and with. With that in mind, I'd like to say to my listeners, if you want to be part of the show, start by going to our website, Aaron's Radio dot Show and clicking on the My Three Songs button on the homepage. You can also sign up for our mailing list so you'll know immediately when a new episode is available. You can also find Aaron's Radio Show on your favorite podcast service, but the podcast episodes only include interviews and no licensed music. So until next time, keep your ears and mind open and let more music into your world.

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