Remembering Maestro Anthony Galla-Rini by:
Ron Galla-Rini
Joan C. Sommers
Kevin Friedrich
Harley Jones

From the Memorial Service in Memory of Anthony Galla-Rini

Speech by Ron Galla-Rini
...only son of the late Anthony Galla-Rini

Since others have shared about dad's professional life, and since so much has been written about it, I thought it might be appropriate for me to relate to you some of the more personal aspects of his life today. In preparing for this, a question suggested itself, namely what were some of the events in his life that forged the man that we are honoring today? Other than his native, indigenous talents, or even genius, what made him the man who was so genuinely humble and gentle?

As most of you know, dad was born in the year 1904. When my grandparents came over from Italy, his mother Angelina was pregnant, and within months dad was born in Manchester, Connecticut. He had six siblings: His sisters Clotilda, Vicki, and Mary, and his brothers Johnny, Pete and Jimmy. Both Johnny and Pete were killed tragically at a young age.

His father was a hard man. He, aunt Clo, and aunt Vicki formed a vaudeville act and were performing in Cheyenne, Wyoming when he called for dad to leave home and meet them there. Can you imagine the emotions of a seven year old boy being uprooted from his home, taken out of school, leaving his mother and traveling alone on a train for two or three days to begin a career in Vaudeville, whatever that was? Aunt Clo and aunt Vicki met him at the station, each with an orange for him. The internal seeds of bitterness could have begun at this point in any average man. That did not turn out to be dad's nature.

For the next twenty years dad would learn to play all of the woodwind and brass instruments, but early on saw the versatility of the accordion and adopted it as his entire life to be. He played with all of the giants on the same stage such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Claude Rains, Eddie Cantor, and the other famous performers of the day. Only in the latter years of his life when Jan, my daughter-in-law, and myself would ask him questions about his life in those days did we learn how close he was to many of them. Dad told us of the many times when Claude Reigns would invite him to his trailer for dinner. He used to enjoy listening to dad play Rhapsody In Blue for him. At one time Claude tried to get dad together with his personal secretary. My mother was almost Claude Reigns personal secretary. Dad did just fine. Again, it was only in his last years did we learn of his personal friendship with such people as Betty Davis, Errol Flynn, Dmitry Tiomkin, and others. He was not someone who would flaunt himself, ever.

When talking movies became popular, vaudeville shut down and a new profession had to be adopted. He eventually settled in San Francisco, became close to Pasquale Petromilli, co owner of the Guirini Accordion Factory and subsequently married Pasquale's daughter Dina; my mother. Dad taught lessons, published his arrangements, conducted seminars and organized accordion orchestras before moving to Eagle Rock California. It is here that I begin my memories of what it was like to live in the Galla-Rini household. It was in those years from approximately 1940 to 1960 that I observed Anthony Galla-Rini in his greatest years. It was here that I observed Tony Galla-Rini behind closed doors.

Dad was myopic. If anyone wishes to understand this man, he or she must understand that every professional ounce of energy and intellect was directed to fulfill one goal, namely to elevate the status of the accordion to that of a classical instrument. This was the essence of the man. His personal ambition took a back seat to the instrument. Mom and I were reading a review from a music critic in our hotel room the morning after one of dad's concerts. The review in the local newspaper extolled the brilliance of this man, but the critic bemoaned the fact that dad had chosen the wrong instrument. "What a shame he concluded that this brilliant man had chosen the accordion. It would have been so much more productive, and his fame assured had he chosen the piano. It hurt dad deeply. He did not take it as a compliment. It was in these days that his accomplishments were at a zenith. His greatest accomplishment in my eyes was his ability to play the instrument as a classical instrument on the concert stage. He played solo at Carnegie Hall twice, toured the country many times, and in 1950 conducted his first European concert tour. I went with him as a 14 year old.

A man by the name of Adrian Dante sponsored him. When dad played his first concert in London, the crowd was thin. Adrian had not advertised it well. When dad started playing and Adrian began to perceive how truly great he was he cupped his head in his hands as if to say, I didn't know that anyone could play like this. Once in Stockholm, Sweden, I was walking the halls of the concert stage up on the third balcony when I heard applause break out. I open the doors to the auditorium and I was shocked at the volume of the noise. He had just finished one of his encores, they were standing, and they too could not believe that anyone could be this superb as a musician on that instrument. In short, Anthony Galla-Rini was the greatest classical accordion player in the world up to that time, and perhaps forever.

During these years he really was idolized. People would come back stage after one of his concerts for autographs and stay for up to two hours while he gave autographs. He was famous for his memory. Once a woman by the name of Vivian Coffman introduced herself to him behind stage. She did not see dad for another thirteen years. When she walked up to him at that time, he turned to her and said Vivian Coffman. She was astounded. They remained friends till the end of her life. In 1941 he composed his first concerto and played as soloist with the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra. He would play it with many more orchestras in the next decade. In those days he was already famous for his ability to conduct, arrange, compose, teach and perform. He really was idolized in the accordion world.

So, what was it like behind closed doors in his home? Again, what forges a man to become bitter, or humble and forgiving? Where he could have turned bitter, in our home he rarely expressed anything against any man or woman entering his life. A hard, austere father, one who denied him a schooling, being uprooted from his home at age seven, traveling all alone as a seven year old across country produced no antagonism within him. One can imagine the fear and sense of loneliness that he must have felt. He lost two brothers to tragedy. He felt that he was betrayed by two individuals in his life who were very close to him. He kept that all within in our home. Their names were never introduced by him in a wrathful sense. He endured throughout his playing career much back-bighting by lesser souls. He loved his mother enormously, but was brutalized by her death by a drunken driver; his very own father. I did not learn that fact until the end of his life. He endured the four year long death and subsequent deterioration of his wife of 33 years, my mother. Throughout, he was loving and faithful. He died never having had the satisfaction of seeing the world-wide musical community accept his beloved instrument as a truly classical one.

Where he could have turned vainglorious, in our home he never, not even once exalted himself to us, or to anyone else in any way. Not once. Where he may have been considered the greatest performer ever, in our home, he was silent. Fans would line up for up to two hours to get his autograph and to talk to him personally. His arrangements were superb and numbered over a thousand. He was considered a great teacher, of both individuals and of ensembles and orchestras. He played with symphonies, judged in Russia and Europe, played in Europe, played in movies, was called on a first name basis by such people as Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, Dmitri Tiomkin, and was simply idolized by some. Such things never translated to his personality. To mom and myself, he was always loving, gentle and respectful. He was a loving father, and he was a loving husband. What you saw in public was what I saw in private. The man on the international stage, was the same man eating Dina Galla-Rini's spaghetti at Eagle Rock, California.

Did dad see his dream? Partially, yes. I think of the many accordionists who have accomplished so much these last 50 years. I will not mention names lest I insult some. I think of the excellent musicianship and even scholarship across our country, throughout Western and Eastern Europe and throughout Russia, and I know that he was encouraged. Today, accomplishment within our own accordion world, tomorrow, acceptance by the musical community worldwide.

The last year or two of dad's life were hard for me for obvious reasons, but one observation stands out above all else. His mind still wanted to accomplish, his body told him no, "you can no longer do so", and even though he never mentioned it, I knew that he understood that fact, and it must have hurt him deeply. About five years ago, My wife and family asked him to be baptized. This was no small thing. Dad caught pneumonia quite easily, and he was a little leery of doing so. So was I. He did so and gave his life to the Lord and I was able to comfort him in the following days. "Dad", I would tell him, "you're going to be with Jesus forever, and he's going to require of you accomplishment. You're going to conduct, compose and arrange forever." This comforted him. So up until the end, his mind never stopped.

It was time for him to go.

August 12, 2006


Some Recollections of Time Spent in the Presence of
Anthony Galla-Rini by Joan C. Sommers

Anthony Galla-Rini came to Kansas City, Missouri, USA to give solo concerts several times during his concert career. My teacher, Cecil Cochran, sponsored him every time, whether it was for a solo recital or for the many days of group rehearsals and workshops that he also presented. When I was 14 years of age, arrangements were made for some of Mr. Cochran's students to play a solo for Galla-Rini, who was a very handsome, well-dressed gentleman whom everyone thought was really an Italian Hollywood idol who could play this fantastic music on the accordion. Naturally, we were absolutely terrified and, in fact, my younger brother was so scared that he began fiddling with an open window and it fell on his fingers, making him just that much more anxious and far less able to play well. However, in spite of the surrounding excitement and general angst among both parents and students, I performed one of his recent arrangements for him and apparently he was pleased.

From that early performance for Anthony Galla-Rini, however, I received the invitation to travel to New York City to be a member of his master-class session he was holding. The invitation was only valid if I would learn about 15 solos that he assigned for me to learn in the next few months. I turned 15, began to learn all of them and was given a scholarship that covered my travel expenses so my mother and I took our first airplane ride and flew to the big city of N.Y. Needless to say, the experience had a great influence on me. It was my real introduction to Anthony Galla-Rini as a teacher, one who became my lifelong friend and mentor as well.

Tony came to Kansas City for several summers and would stay for a period of three weeks, perhaps, while he rehearsed our accordion orchestra, although they were often called bands in those days. He would send many of his arrangements but would also include a few from Europe that he had obtained on a recent tour or from his overseas friends. Our orchestra would practice the parts and then Tony would come to Kansas City and really put us through the wringer. It was indeed a wringer since, at that time, no one had air conditioning and the summers were hot and humid! We worked many hours a day, day after day after day, until we were ready to perform in Chicago during the NAMM Convention period, sometimes sponsored by Galla-Rini in Kimball Hall and other times sponsored by either the Titano or Giulietti Accordion Company during their trade-show concerts. It was an exciting time and on each of these concerts, Tony would premiere the newest of his hundreds of accordion orchestra arrangements, always conducting from memory with great dignity, a trait that never diminished or faltered even at the age of 100 when he needed to sit while conducting. None of us in the orchestra, or those in the large audience, could ever forget the first time we played his arrangement of the Finale to Tschaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. That arrangement, along with the Dance of the Buffoons by Rimsky-Korsakov, probably became the absolute favorite competition piece performed by all accordion orchestras in the United States for a very long time.

During these same concerts, Anthony would play several solos, always new and always with at least one selection that no one else would ever have attempted because of the intricate technical passages required in the left hand. What others always thought impossible, Tony would attempt and prove that there was always more the accordionists' left hand could do. At that time, he could only switch to move between the various octaves, there were no free basses for a few years yet. But switch he did and he made his students learn to do so as well. In his workshops, he gave us page after page of melodic exercises in which we were required to mark the correct switches, and fingerings, in order to stay in the exact pitches written on the music. He always thought the left hand should be equal to that of the right hand and did everything in his power as a teacher to help his students to achieve that. To this very day, I have stacks of the numerous exercises he wrote out for us to practice.

Anthony Galla-Rini did not focus only on left-hand technique; he also taught right hand technique, but always with a hint of a music theory teacher's viewpoint, I think. We did not just play exercises; we learned theoretically what it was we were playing. Galla-Rini was a real teacher and introduced us to the books that served as his resources for his own volumes of "treatises" on various musical topics with multitudinous subject matters, often far above our comprehension at that precise moment. Those early lessons have continued to be valuable throughout the many years of my own and many others' teaching careers.

During one long period of time, Anthony Galla-Rini served as the Chief Examiner for the Accordion Institute of America's yearly Syllabus Examinations in Kansas City. Students, including myself, were given the usual examinations regarding repertoire performance, aural tests of all sorts, and written music theory. It was a grand occasion when Tony would set up his "testing room" where he would hold examinations for several days at a time and he would rejoice as much as the candidates when they passed each successive syllabus level. He was a strict adjudicator but one who often gave second chances when needed! And during the evening hours of relaxation, while enjoying a dinner, a fine wine, and friendly conversation, he was full of fun, tales of his work in the movies with famous stars or directors, with musical wit as well as the latest news from his colleagues throughout the accordion world. There was another example of Anthony Galla-Rini's personal character, also, when it came to paying the restaurant bill for the evening: Tony always remembered when it was his time to pay or at least share the costs. Yes, he was a true gentleman in addition to being a great musician and these were during times when I am sure he, as the case with most musicians without a weekly salary, needed to watch his pennies. Regardless of all the work he did and of all the thousands of arrangements he made that were published, Tony had to work hard for his money and he did so his whole life.

There are many musicians born with absolute or perfect pitch, but none who could have surpassed or even approached the accuracy exhibited by Tony Galla-Rini! He could hear everything; there simply was no way to fool him. Of course, he also knew every note of every piece, solo or orchestral, so he knew what he was supposed to be hearing. His arrangements were never equaled in his day because of his total devotion to writing them as the composer would have written them originally, as if for the accordion in the first place. His tremendous knowledge of music theory and harmony, coupled with his own genius as a composer, arranger, and performer, simply made him better than all others. He omitted nothing; if the composer wrote it, he put it in. If there were cuts made, because of time limits or lack of suitability, he always seemed to make the correct ones! While other arrangements might sound thin, without the inside middle voices, or perhaps even with wrong notes, Anthony Galla-Rini's were always correctly analyzed in the first place. And in the second place, he knew how to put it on manuscript. He knew how to use the abilities of the accordionist and he knew the possibilities of the instrument. His accuracy in doing so was simply superb and without fault to the very end. Even in his very advanced age of 99 and even 100, he continued to write those very distinguishable, recognizable and readily readable notes on the page without mistakes, truly another of his remarkable qualities!

His understanding of how the left hand mechanisms worked caused him to merely open up the instrument, cut off the offending 5th of the dominant and diminished seventh stradella chord buttons. Galla-Rini was thereby again paying homage to the rules of harmony and, in so doing, allowed all accordionists far greater opportunities for use of the stradella chords. He was an innovator but it was always for the benefit of the music.

Switches on an accordion were placed there to be used, not just to decorate or sell the instrument. Tony used them and he made his students use them properly. I have already alluded to this uncanny ability of his left hand to play tremendously difficult passages and play them in the correct octave. He was just as obsessed with teaching his students the need for understanding correct pitches or octaves in the right hand and how the switches should be used. Middle C was not allowed to move willy-nilly over the keyboard unless the correct switch accompanied the move. It was during these many sessions that I, personally, began to be fascinated with orchestral scores, particularly, and how to understand the different qualities of timbre and their relationships to the accordion. He opened my eyes to the works of so many composers, including those of the familiar traditional keyboard repertoire, but perhaps most especially to those of the great orchestral works.

Anthony Galla-Rini was a demanding person, not only of others but also, especially of himself. He expected the best from himself and from his students. There was friendliness and kindness, but always with a firm understanding that he was indeed the master. This was perhaps a throwback to an earlier era, but most certainly warranted in the instance of this great man who came to be known as The Maestro in his later years at his many music camps. Even then he exhibited the elegance required of and demanded by such a title so lovingly bestowed upon him.

Literally hundreds and hundreds of players have shared the genius of Anthony Galla-Rini through the playing of his vast numbers of arrangements for solo and orchestra. While some of those were made in response to the dictates of a certain period of time, many others will remain in the repertoire and libraries of accordionists, valuable for both teaching and performance, for students and professionals. His two concerti were perhaps his finest efforts at composition, an art he thoroughly understood. Anthony Galla-Rini also knew intimately each and every instrument for which he wrote and because of this, he composed every note for every instrument; the orchestrations were not left to anyone else. His Concerto No. 1 in g minor is undoubtedly the most performed of any accordion concerto, at least in the United States, if not in the world.

His wife, Dina, came from a famous accordion family and was a person who doted on her husband; she sat and listened to every note, every day, wherever and whenever. After she died and Tony remarried, his second wife, Dolly, was the same; she also traveled with him and listened to everything he did with great admiration. I considered it a great privilege to share many good times with both Dina and Dolly and to have had them as my very good friends.

I, like hundreds of other accordionists, have many wonderful memories of Anthony Galla-Rini and they will never be forgotten. The world will never forget him since he was a giant in the history of the accordion in so many different ways. From his early years as a child performer growing up in vaudeville and continuing on through practically his last days on earth at the age of 102, his story is well known through the hundreds of articles written about his life and his many accomplishments. But my memories include not only those I have read about but, also, the ones I had the inordinate privilege of sharing as a student, friend and, eventually, a colleague. God blessed us all with the presence and life of Anthony Galla-Rini. He was a good human being and a great musician! May his legacy live on forever.

Submitted by Joan Cochran Sommers, August 4, 2006


From the Memorial Service in Memory of Anthony Galla-Rini

Speech by Kevin Friedrich - President
Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes, (CIA)
As President of the Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes, (CIA) and as a Board of Director for both the American Accordionists Association (AAA) and the Accordionists and Teachers Guild, International (ATG), it is indeed a privilege and an honor to be here today, representing thousands of accordionists from around the world, at this glorious service celebrating the extraordinary life of 'the Maestro', Mr. Anthony Galla-Rini.

Mr. Anthony Galla-Rini was one of the founding members at both the AAA and ATG and served as a Vice President for the CIA.

Our CIA member nations from some 30 countries around the world and AAA and ATG members across the USA send their sincerest condolences to all of the family members and friends who have assembled here to remember our dear friend Anthony Galla-Rini, a brilliant man, who has had a profound impact on all of our lives.

Galla-Rini was truly a pioneer, a brilliant individual who paved the way for numerous generations of accordionists by devoting his life to furthering the accordion and its rightful place in the music world.

Each of us here today have had our lives touched by the spirit of this living legend. We fondly remember Mr. Galla-Rini as an incredibly dignified man, and at the same time, a man bursting with energy, talent, wisdom, knowledge, integrity, enthusiasm, attention to detail, inspiration and of course humor.

Starting in show business as a mere child performing with his family on the Vaudeville circuit, Galla-Rini went on to devote his life to the accordion, establishing a lifelong legacy that will be idolized for years to come.

As the Vaudeville era came to an end with the advent of motion pictures with sound, Mr. Galla-Rini began his legendary work in the accordion field which focused on and encompassed the roles of performing, composing, arranging, teaching and leadership.

In 1938 he was a founding member of the American Accordionists' Association (AAA) and in 1941, a founding member of the Accordionists and Teachers Guild, International (ATG). Surrounded by his esteemed colleagues such as the great Pietro Frosini, Charles Magnante, Pietro Deiro Sr. and many others, Galla-Rini constantly strove to enhance the accordion movement.

His leadership and work in helping form these two national accordion organizations has given a lasting benefit to our accordion fraternity. To this day, both the AAA and ATG proudly continue the work of their founding fathers. A loyal supporter of the ATG, Galla-Rini went on to serve for decades, as President Emeritus.

He attended the annual festival in person whenever possible, where he delighted in conducting the festival orchestra, often in works he had arranged or composed specifically for the event. Even when he was unable to attend, he offered his advice and support during his frequent conversations with his life long friend, former student and current ATG President Joan Sommers. Galla-Rini was the first recipient of the ATG International Accordion Hall of Fame Award, and the ATG named several of their International Competitions in his honor.

In 1951 while representing the ATG at the CIA General Assembly Congress and 5th Coupe Mondiale in Paris, France, Mr. Galla-Rini successfully petitioned the ATG membership into this prestigious International organization. He continued his association and support for the CIA serving as a Vice President and a member of the International Jury. The CIA recognized Mr. Galla-Rini's outstanding contributions to the International Accordion Movement by honoring him with the CIA Merit Award which was presented to him in person at the 1984 Coupe Mondiale in Folkstone in the United Kingdom.

Following the tremendous ground work carried out by Mr. Galla-Rini more than half a century ago, the ATG has continued its CIA membership to this day. It is fitting that next year, the AAA and ATG, the two organizations that Galla-Rini helped begin, will combine forces and continue to promote the international accordion movement, by co-hosting the 60th Anniversary Coupe Mondiale in Washington, DC.

After some 20 years performing coast to coast on the Vaudeville circuit, Galla-Rini gave his first formal solo classical concert on April 23, 1940, sponsored by the Casanova Accordion School, in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Central Auditorium when he was 36 years old. Things progressed rapidly, and in the Spring of 1941, Galla-Rini set out to compose his first concerto, which was subsequently completed and then premiered by him on November 15, 1941, at the Fine Arts Auditorium in Oklahoma City, with James Neilson conducting. This concerto has been one of the most performed in the history of the instrument. The first formal concert tour by Galla-Rini occurred during the fall of 1941 at 37 years old, when he presented a series of 17 concerts.

Galla-Rini's extraordinary vision and desire to continually enhance various elements in the accordion industry, resulted in many 'firsts' during the course of his stellar career.

In 1924, he was the one who eliminated the 5th from the Dominant 7th chord in the stradella system, and he was the first to use two left hand bass chord buttons simultaneously, which was explained in his 1931 Method Book. In 1936 he published a chart revealing the actual pitch of the left hand reeds, and he was the first to use the full chord notation for the left hand. In the concert field, he was the first to give formal solo recitals in such halls as Philharmonic Auditorium in LA, the Shrine Auditorium in Detroit, the Civic Opera House in Chicago, the Town Hall in New York City.

He was the first US accordionist to be presented in concerts in Europe and first to conceive coverting the chord buttons of the stradella system into single tones in order to achieve a covertor free bass system. He designed the register markings for both hands, which were adopted by the AAA and ATG as standard, and also the first to begin the annual Accordion camp concept, an important gathering that will continue for years to come.

With passion in his heart and a sparkle in his eyes, the Maestro spent his life composing, arranging, teaching, conducting, inspiring and leading. The magic mind and golden fingers of Anthony Galla-Rini have left their mark on accordion history for all time.

We, as the CIA and the two national US accordion associations are eternally grateful for the lifelong work of our dear friend. Today, as we offer our sincerest sympathies to all the Galla-Rini family and friends in this time of loss, we also offer our heartfelt appreciation for his legacy, that we will continue to enjoy.

We will always cherish the lifelong inspiration and international contributions made to the advancement of the accordion, by our beloved friend and master, the magnificent, the one of a kind, the Maestro.... Anthony Galla-Rini.

In Loving Memory of Anthony Galla-Rini - January 18, 2004 - July 30, 2006
August 12, 2006 - Corona, CA


Remembrance of a Great Musician and Gentleman

by Harley Jones - Director
Accordions Worldwide

I remember my first meeting, at 16 years of age with the famous Anthony Galla-Rini for a lesson in California, while travelling on the way to the Coupe Mondiale in 1969, in New York.

Anthony Galla-Rini's warm personality, friendly manner, his absolute attention to every detail of the music made this lesson with him a real experience and a great pleasure.

Later years, I had the joy of him attending some of my solo performances in the USA and also with the Air New Zealand Accordion Orchestra. Galla-Rini was also a special invited guest when the New Zealand Accordion Association hosted the Coupe Mondiale in New Zealand in 1980.

His contribution to accordion development as probably the most prolific accordion arranger of all time plus his pioneering work in accordion education and with USA associations make him an icon for all accordion players now and in the future.

Harley Jones - Director of Accordions Worldwide
Saturday, August 12, 2006