I have a confession to make: I play the piano accordion. True story. And tomorrow I have my first ukulele lesson. Ditto.
Are you still with me? Good.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, let me backtrack and give you the full Accordion Story. Way back in the dark ages (around 45 years ago), my birthday wish was for a piano accordion. It must have been a very strange request from a nine year girl old to her parents, but there it was: on my birthday, a 24 bass, shiny and new piano accordion.
Fast forward to today, when I was thinking about how I could use my top strengths in a different way, and my piano accordion sprung to mind. It’s right there, in my office, an ornament on display, gathering cobwebs. Looking at my accordion reminded me that I had, for a while now, wanted to learn to play the ukulele. It’s cheap, cute, small, a little bit funny, and less embarrassing than a piano accordion. So today I took the bull by the horns and booked into a uke class.
And what precipitated me thinking about using my top strengths in different ways? It came from an article I read, Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions:
Learning to play the ukulele covers all of my top strengths: love of learning (learning to play different chords to the guitar); creativity (something a little unique); appreciation of beauty and excellence (music, being the ‘excellence’ bit); curiosity (about different ukes with different tones and other uke players); and humour (it’s a bit of a funny-silly instrument, don’t you agree?). That’s a lot of satisfaction.
Back to my accordion days: I had lessons for quite a few years; my little 24 bass was eventually replaced with a bigger 80 bass, followed by the penultimate 120 bass. I loved the challenge of translating and then mastering the little black dots on lined paper; I loved how I could change the tone of the keys, how I could play Italian pieces, Hungarian polkas, French serenades, old-timer tunes, folk tunes and even some contemporary numbers.
Decades later, as my accordion gathered dust and buttons faulted and keys stuck, I learnt an amazing thing. In a conversation with my new-found Uncle Ted, I confessed to him I played the piano accordion. There was a moment’s silence – something I was used to, just prior to hysterical laughter, whenever I’d confessed it in the past to anyone. But Uncle Ted didn’t laugh. He just sighed and said rather sadly, ‘I hate the piano accordion’.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’s okay. Most people do.’
‘But you know why I hate it, don’t you?’ he said.
‘No idea, Uncle Ted. Why?’
‘My father played it incessantly. I hated the bloody thing.’
Uncle Ted’s father was my grandfather. I never knew him; never met him.
‘Really?’ I said. ‘My grandfather played the piano accordion?’
‘Yep,’ said Uncle Ted. ‘He was a professional piano accordionist, in some kind of band.’
My 120 bass, dusty and sad, that I bought a long time ago, has the words ‘Symphony Four’ engraved onto it. Its history is similar to that of my paternal grandfather’s. (I even like to fantasise that it’s one and same.)
The puzzle was solved as to why little nine-year-old Fiona wanted a piano accordion for her birthday. Somewhere, back in the recesses of my genetic memory, a piano accordion played. It played the music of my heritage, of my unknown past.
Right now, I am using another of my top strengths: that of gratitude. I am grateful for my parents buying me a piano accordion, and for my Uncle Ted in divulging my unknown family history to me.
And I am grateful for my piano accordion. Bless its little buttoned heart.
 By Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich and Linkins, in the Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 35, No. 3, June 2009, pp 293-311