Ten Free Accordion Lessons

When I was a very little kid, I spent a great amount of energy trying to get my hands on “free stuff.” Pushing the coin return button on pay telephones. Searching fields and alleys for discarded pop bottles and Icee Bear points. Carefully cutting Donny Osmond 45s off boxes of sugar-coated cereal. Saving Kool-Aid packages for frisbees and beverage cups and the like.

One day my mom answered the phone, spoke briefly with the caller and then hung up to look at me quite sternly. Seems she had grown weary of my scavenging, and the phone call had provided confirmation. I had obviously filled out one too many prize entry forms. The call had announced that I had won ten free accordion lessons.

The only catch was that I was required to buy a new accordion to get the lessons. In those days when no one had heard of a telephone solicitor, I’m sure that Mom was quite embarrassed by the whole thing. She told me it was a come on, a scam. I couldn’t understand her response because, to me, those accordion lessons were the first thing I had ever out-and-out won!

Needless to say, I didn’t collect my winnings. And the incident has stood as a family joke ever since. I went on to play the piano, the guitar, the trumpet (musical instruments we already owned) – and even win a few random free things along the way – so I never thought too much about not learning to play the accordion.

That all changed this past month while vacationing in Slovenia, the northernmost country formed in the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia. On the banks of the stunningly pristine Lake Bled (look it up on the web – I PROMISE you will be impressed!), I met Drago. Drago is an older man, blind since the age of six, who is an accomplished accordion player. He learned music at a school for the blind and spent his career playing piano and organ. He even attracted his wife with his musical artistry.

Drago’s wife tragically died in childbirth 13 years ago. Now in retirement, Drago raises his teenage daughter as a single dad and makes Lake Bled’s high cliff castle and picture-perfect island cathedral fully magical by serenading the tourists. He plays all the best accordion songs. Haunting, really – The Blue Danube, Edelweiss, Santa Lucia, Blue Spanish Eyes.

Of course, the tourists are generous with Drago, and drop plenty of Slovenian tolars, Euros and British pounds into his accordion case. And – I am not making this up – Drago uses the money to buy PCs and adaptive equipment for other blind folks like himself.

Drago’s music lessons led him to a full and successful career. A loving spouse and adoring daughter. A pleasant retirement and the means to help others. The opportunity to bring a bit of light and pleasure to the lives of passing strangers. He got a lot and he gives a lot.

In listening to Drago’s music, I regretted terribly that I don’t know how to play the accordion and cannot thus add to the world’s collective pleasure. I got to thinking about how my life might be different, where I may have landed, whom I might have met if I’d said yes to those ten free accordion lessons.

I know the common wisdom these days teaches that we need to say “no” more often, but perhaps this is not at all the answer. Maybe what we really need to do is learn when to say yes, recognizing those moments and offers that may lead to profound change in our lives.

Not every come on is a bad deal and few salesmen are peddling snake oil. Those of us in fundraising know this better than others. We daily ask people to do something that they are not necessarily inclined to do. But the offer we make is legitimate and the potential rewards are real.

Ten free accordion lessons may be a come on, but it also is a nudge taking one into the fantastic world of music. Likewise, prompting the gift of a new donor leads that person down a path of new possibilities, for himself and for others. Success is assured for the fundraiser who makes certain her donor hears the beauty that lies beyond today’s gift.

Strong Leaders / Strong Stories

Strong leaders have strong stories, and a solid sense of "self" as a leader.  But too often, even strong women view themselves or are perceived as being very good at "getting things done," but not as valuable strategic resources. What can you do to change this?  Find Out More Here