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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Heralding the Greatness of my Great-Grandfather

Today marks an auspicious occasion - it is the 90th birthday of my great-grandfather Popi, known to many others as Pete Spagnoli!

My great-grandfather Popi and me,
his little protege accordionist
*Note: this blog post contains many exciting videos and links, plus a special note regarding Popi at the end!
Popi and I are soul mates separated by four generations. Though we are currently the bookends of our entire family on the Spagnoli side - he is the eldest and I am the babiest - we have so much in common.

For instance, we are the ones who say the least at family dinners opting for hand gestures to communicate what we need to say. Once upon a time, Popi talked more, and I certainly have those proclivities for the future, but for now we parse our words and use them sparingly. Also, we both walk only with assistance. And it isn't a bad deal either as others do the hard work and we enjoy extra attention.

Back in his heyday as a famous accordionist and bandleader, Popi was easily the center of attention everywhere in the Big Apple from musical gigs and Italian restaurants to family settings. Now I, as a famous baby, am also already an accomplished attention grabber as well. In fact, if we are in the same country, we seem to be in friendly competition for attention, which is good for both of us still honing our skills. 

Obviously, I have inherited his charm. Popi is already the most popular resident already at his new home after just three months. All the aides there, pretty young women, are enamored with him. Same with me at school. From female babies my own age to the young women who teach the classes, they are all wrapped around my delicious little fingers.

I hopefully have inherited his musical abilities, but that remains to be seen. I have been known to dance to a beat, tap to the rhythm and respond to music before even my own name. And now I have an accordion too. We shall see if I rise to his level of musical prowess, but even so, I have a deep appreciation and respect for the famed Italian Valtaro music that Popi performed in the tri-state area.
My first trip to Magnanini's

... and my first wine tasting! (Not really.)
Ultimately, what sets us apart from the rest, is our magnetic personalities. On September 10 of this year Popi was the star in a room of more than 200 people at Magnanini's Winery in upstate New York. Actually he was the reason for the party, which was planned in his honor for his contribution to the American accordion scene and more specifically for his advancement of the particular type of music he played, Valtaro, which hails from his birthplace, Borgo Val di Taro in Italy. (A place also famous for Porcini mushrooms!)

In keeping with the rest of his life, Popi attracted a large crowd for this party and had a constant queue of Pete Spagnoli enthusiasts lining up at his table. I was honored to be one of his many devotees who lined up for a handshake. Even better, I got what no one else in the room did - a nap in the arms of Nanni right next to Popi! Talk about getting a seat of honor.
Mid-dinner I recharged for the rest of the festivities,
oblivious to the din and chaos 
I'm at peace with Nanni and Popi wherever that may be.
Even at LOUD Italian parties.
How special and timely to be in the US for this occasion, which was like an extended family reunion of our family, paisans, fans of Popi from the past few decades and even an Armenian accordionist (not me!) from Connecticut, to round out my own heritage. A representative from the municipality of Brogo Taro presented Popi with a commendation from the mayor himself! It was an august moment to be sure. 
The commendation all the way from Italy!
The music of the day was coordinated by Popi's star pupil who is now a famed accordionist and bandleader in his own right (not to mention he played at the all-important wedding of mommy and abba), Dominic Karcic.
Me surrounded by musical greatness - Dominic and Popi
I'm learning a few notes already!

I am ready to start practicing on my very own accordion 

This instrument is a bit more complicated that I thought.
Plus it weighs way more than I do.
It was a five-hour event that began with a walk near the vineyards, a tasting in the wine cellar, a lot of food and ended, ultimately, with very full stomachs, relieved only by incessant dancing. Apparently all this is normal for Italian occasions. Mommy said you can expect each course - and there are five - to take about an hour since it is interspersed with dancing and wine. 

But every moment was beautiful and cherished. Even my nap. 

Finally, if I may, I'd like to make a birthday request for Popi to all of you: Please keep Popi in your thoughts and prayers on this occasion. While today is his special day, it is sort of an un-Happy Birthday. He is spending it in a hospital and, of all days, is scheduled to go through an uncomfortable scoping procedure. I pray that he weathers it with grace and aplomb and that all the results come back with good news. I wish I could be there to add to his charm and let it pervade the hospital, but I'll be sending vibes from Jerusalem for now. 

All the best, Popi, and may all the happiness you have sown in your 90 years come back to you today! I have a lot to live up to, that is for certain. You set the Spagnoli bar very high!

The Spagnoli clan, from 1 to 90!

Here are some entertaining videos of the music from that day:

Note Popi tapping away on my play accordion - the notes are still alive and well in those fingers! 

More great music and all of us soaking it in.

Here is a wonderful version of Tutti Mi Chiamano Bionda (Everyone Calls me Blondie),
a family favorite and Valtaro classic. As you will see, we can all barely 
contain our silliness that this song (and the wine) seems to draw out.

You can read more about Popi's history and accomplishments here. ( This great article was written by Mimi, another writer/musician in the family. 

And, if want to practice your Italian, Popi made the cover of the Parma Gazette (Gazzetta di Parma)!! His cousin, Carlo Spagnoli, called from Italy to say he saw the article while drinking espresso in the friendly piazza of Borgo Taro, so we found the article on the internet. What a small world!  


  1. Daniel, you made me laugh and cry! Such a sweet birthday gift and poigniant honoring of your dear Popi.

  2. I worked with Pete Spagnoli many years in his band and as a front man I will always remember him

    Alan Russell