RCAC Member Bios

Wayne Nelson
There is one among us who has played with the best and enviably took lessons from a master.
Growing up in LA, Wayne Nelson lived across the street from three brats from South Hampton.  These boys aggravated Wayne by being the best at everything, sports in particular.  But these boys also played the accordion.  Each one had a different colored 12-bass.  Challenged now, Wayne felt he could do that.  So off he went to the pawn shop to purchase a RED 48-bass for $28 and everything worked.  At the age of 10, he started taking lessons from several teachers along the way. DeAnn’s Dance Studio was a few blocks away.  He studied there from the Sedlon Method books and finished all 12 books in one year.

In high school he worked as print setter for the school paper.  Of course, everything was upside down and backwards for set up in those days.  He saw a picture in the print of an accordion player from Prague who had won 6th place in the world.  He was able to meet and talk to the accordion player and found out from him that Gala-Rini lived a short distance from Wayne in Glendale.  Anthony Gala-Rini lived modestly and gave individual and band lessons in his garage.   Wayne wanted to take lessons from him but found out that he had to audition in order to be accepted.  For his audition piece Wayne played Trieste Overture on a Universal Accordion.  Needless to say, he was intimidated by ‘the old guy’. Wayne’s grandma took him to the audition.  When finished, Gala-Rini said, “very nice, no mistakes.  Now let’s polish it up!!”  (HUH??) At that moment, Wayne was introduced to the infamous RED PENCILS. In the next 25 minutes one measure was polished up.  It took another half hour to finish the next four measures.  On the way home grandma said to Wayne, “Guess you didn’t do too well.”  Wayne practiced that day from noon to midnight, then all day Sunday and again each day until the following Saturday’s lesson.  Wayne played it again and nailed it.  Gala-Rini said that he’d take him on as a student.  The next day was band practice and Wayne was assigned to play the bass accordion.  Now we know why Wayne plays the bass accordion so proficiently!!  He played with Gala-Rini from 1961-1978.  In 1970, Wayne played bass accordion with William Cosby on the accordion to record an album.
During 1968-1970, Wayne spent time in the Army.  This was during the Viet Nam War.  The first six months were spent in Georgia.  One day he delivered some papers to the Captain’s office.  In the corner was an accordion case.  Wayne asked if he could play it and proceeded to play some ‘Gala-Rini nasty stuff’.  The Captain was impressed that he had played with Gala-Rini and asked him to play at the concert THAT NIGHT!!.  He would loan Wayne one of his four accordions and THAT WAS AN ORDER!.   That evening besides playing dance music for six general he experienced some caviar for the first time.  Ahhh, living high.  The next morning, not feeling very well, he was told to get dressed for concert dress rehearsal. They were going on a 3-day concert trip.  As this continued, Wayne got out of a lot of duty, especially washing dishes….. no dirty water on those precious hands.
Then he was sent to Viet Nam and made Sargeant.  He spent 11 months, 29 days, 17 hours and 23 minutes there.  He was never injured but did have to jump out of a burning helicopter.

In 1970, Wayne went back to playing with Gala-Rini.  One of their gigs was a band concert at Shrine Auditorium, the Carnegie of the West.  He also played with a Salvation Army group.  On one of those tours, he was on stage with Slim Pickens and the Lennon Sisters.  According to Wayne, the youngest Lennon, Janet, was a brat and prankster.  One day unbeknownst to Wayne she taped the bottom keys of his accordion.  I guess we know that Wayne was going to have the last prank.  That evening Janet stepped into a shoe full of Redi-whip!  Wayne said that he never felt nervous playing.  One concert he played 12 pieces in front of a crowd of 5000.Dedicated RCAC Club & Board Member Wayne Nelson.

This  page is dedicated to RCAC members whom Bobbie Ferrero interviewed the last few years for our newsletter.  The following are the bios:  Wayne Nelson, Valri Chiappetta, Marlene Meissner, Les Szigwethy

Les Szigethy


Les Szigethy (in case you were wondering also, is pronounced sig’-a-the) was born and raised in southern New Jersey.  His parents always had music playing in the house but neither played instruments. They lived in an Italian community so heard a lot of accordion music.  When Les’s parents suggested that he take music lessons there was no choice.  They wanted him to play the accordion.  But there was no forcing him to take lessons.   Starting at age ten he studied through high school and has always had an appreciation for the instrument.

While in junior high twelve year old Les and several of his friends organized a band called the Twilights.  This band included an accordion, guitar, saxophone and drums.  One of their first gigs was to play for a BBQ held by the local fire department.  The gig lasted TWELVE hours with occasional breaks for a whopping $12 to split among them.  Now that is dedication to the love of music!!

When Les was a senior and preparing to look for a college, he knew he wanted to be a music major.  But at that time there were no colleges accepting the accordion as a degree instrument.  It also hit Les that the accordion was not chick bait.  At the same time his high school music teacher needed a bass for the orchestra so Les was introduced to the stand up bass and eventually used it as his major instrument.   Because he received his master’s degree in music education, he also ably learned many instruments.

During his time in college he wanted to form another band.  This didn’t set well with serious orchestra musicians so he was dubbed a ‘rebel’.  This new band was called ‘Ourselves’.  You can ask Les about the origin of the name???   Les now played the keyboard organ with this group for the next four years and found that there was never a lack of gigs.

After college Les taught music in the elementary school.  He expressed a great love of getting kids started playing instruments.  After eight years of teaching he applied for entrance to a music doctorial program but this didn’t work out.  At the same time he was helping his dad in the construction business as a side job.  Eventually, he became a contractor in New Jersey then Indiana. 

Ever since entering college, Les had put the accordion aside but joined the music unions in NJ and Indiana playing bass guitar and string bass.  In NJ he played in the casinos where he ‘rubbed elbows’ with some popular celebrities such as George Burns (between two blonds), Cher, Kenny Rogers to name a few. 

Les hadn’t played his Excelsior accordion from about the age of fifteen.  In fact, he had lost track of his Excelsior along the way.  In 2008 he and his wife, Barbara, moved to Oregon.  By this time their two children were grown.  One day Les’s brother-in-law called to tell him that he had bought a $150 red accordion in not too good of shape.  Did Les want it?  At the same time he was playing a gig and spotted an accordion in the corner of the room.  Surprisingly, no one claimed it so within a short time Les had two accordions.

Now settled in Oregon, he joined a blues band.  This band eventually fell apart as most bands do according to Les.   But one of the band members also played the accordion.  So Les and his accordion playing buddy formed the band called “Squeezebox Cowboys” with two accordions and a drummer.  Their goal was to play music that was not normally associated with the accordion showing that the accordion is a truly versatile instrument.  Check out the band on Youtube.  This band also ran its course and disbanded about a year ago.

Besides being a musician, Les has also written and recorded his songs.  At one of the future RCAC meetings, he will be entertaining us with some of his original music.  Another composer among us!!

I know you have been wondering why this article is called ‘Woodstock on Woodstock’?  Well, recently during the ‘covid’, Les has been playing memorable pieces from the 60s on the porch of his Woodstock home.    

Les has added for your reading pleasure something that happened on………….
One hot summer day I got a call from Chuck, who was clearly very excited.   Chuck, who was the drummer of our band, had booked a major gig. Our band would be the opening act for a bigtime beauty pageant.  To sweeten the deal, the pageant had kicked in a fancy motor home for our trip up to the program site . And, to top it all off, we would be part of a big spread in Playboy magazine! ROCK ON !

So, the appointed day arrived, we loaded our gear into the shiny motor home, and headed north towards Chicago. After a couple of uneventful hours and a few turns off the interstate, a large fancy sign pointed the way to NAKED CITY INDIANA.  Say what? Our gig was at a Nudist Colony? As we pulled into the gate everything looked normal, people were cutting the grass, washing the car, walking the dog, except…..They didn’t have any cloths on !!. This was not anything lewd or profane, they were just worshipping the sun.  We pulled up to a large and fancy stage, which would be hosting MISS NUDE AMERICA!! Everyone was very friendly, after all, they had nothing to hide!  You learned very quickly to look people in the eye when you talked with them. We were also quickly informed that the expectation was that we would join the fun in the sun by playing naked!  As time came for the opening tune, pressure mounted. Would the band play naked? Did we join the natural crowd?  After all It was a bright sunny day, we were miles from home.  Did we strip and play???

NAH! No way! We were all a little crazy, after all, we were musicians.  But we were not that crazy. We finished our set (fully clothed in shorts and tee shirts), and beat a hasty retreat to our motor home and back on the road.  I later learned that a picture of the band did appear in a background shot in Playboy, fortunately far off and blurry.

So, as the sun set slowly in the west, we bade farewell to Naked City Indiana, sun burned, but in all the right places!






Valri Chiappetta….an accordionist who appreciates all that the instrument has to offer…..

 From her childhood in Bloomington IN, Valri remembers her Granddad from northern Italy playing the button box.  The family waw brought together through the enjoyment of singing along with Granddad’s playing.  Valri’s love though was the piano.  She befan lessons at the age of six and was classically trained.  Mozart and Debussy were her favorites.  Public performance has always been somewhat intimidating for her so music became a pleasure to enjoy on her own.  At one point she had a momentary flirtation with the violin, but because she could not ‘see’ the instrument, she lost interest.  She wanted her musical experience to encompass all her senses.  She continued serious piano studies into college.

After she married Vince, they lived in many places and countries from Boston to England, Michigan, Phoenix, France, California and finally Oregon.  Vince jokingly called it Witness Relocation when asked where we had lived.  It was definitely a busy life with little time to think about music.

At fifty years young, Valri decided that she wanted to play a more portable instrument than the piano and remembered with great affection those evenings when her Italian ‘Nono’ played the button box.  With her ability to read music from piano lessons and knowing the keyboard, the accordion didn’t initially seem so daunting.  It was evident to her that starting at this age, she had a ways to go to gain the muscle memory in order for her music to flow the way accordion players do who started from childhood.

With a touch of serendipity, the Oregoniain published an article about Eileen Hagen just as Valri was wondering how to begin.  The article noted that she was an excellent teacher for beginners.  Valri’s memories of those lessons were that Eileen was a stickler for technique, and believed that it was important to learn the classics first.  She had an ability to understand immediately why a student was having difficulty and could usually suggest a solution.  Valri took lessons for about ten years.  Vince’s sabbatical spent abroad caused her to stop lessons for about a year.  When she returned, Eileen wasn’t taking new students and her friend Kathy Grambsch suggested that Valri should look into taking lessons from Steve Gordon.  After years of classical music lessons, she was ready for the direction Steve took her….jazzy and spicy music.  She, as many of us, love the way some of the musicians can play improv naturally.  But if it is not a natural talent, it must be guided.  Valri has found this guidance through her lessons from both Steve and recently Courtney Von Drehle.

 Once, in the early years of playing, she was practicing with windows open to the spring air.  When she saw her neighbor later, he told her that he initially thought he was hearing the ice cream truck rolling around the area.  He thought this was hilarious, Valri less so.

 Valri’s time for the accordion has been shared with other artistic pursuits.  Her father was a professional printmaker and professor of art.  She also has done various forms of printmaking.  Her favorites are the monoprint and collagraphy, both of which produce one of a kind prints.  She has also had a life-long interest in fiber art and has done quite a considerable amount of art quilting, as well as some useful quilts, mostly for welcoming new babies into the family or community.  You can follow her arts at:    valrichiappetta.com

 Valri has attended the RCAC camp for several years where as she states, “That wonderful environment is filled with people who love the accordion.”  She appreciates all avenues that the accordion has offered her…. A stabilizing schedule with daily practice, meeting new people, and the ability to appreciate hearing other play music which might not be her style.  “It was a godsend during the first two years of Covid.  With other activities curtailed, there was delicious time to practice!”  As you read this, you saw that Valri embraced and worked hard to offer herself to this magical instrument.  She looks forward to practicing every single day and has taken it with her on vacations as well as renting an instrument from a music store in Bergerac for a month while staying in the French countryside.  “Playing along ouside to the fields and vineyards of France was a lovely experience.”

 A big THANK YOU to Valri for volunteering to be RCAC board vice president.  The club is always eager to hear new ideas.

Dedicated RCAC Club & Board Member

Marlene Meissner

Marlene Meissner could be coined MS OKTOBERFEST.  She is a familiar musician at many of the Oktoberfests in Oregon from the Mt. Angel Volksfest (formerly Wurstfest) to Mt. Angel Oktoberfest to Oaks Park Oktoberfest.  Besides a repertoire of polkas and waltzes, Marlene performs many genres at the RCAC club meetings, RCAC annual camp, church and senior centers.  Her many club and camp board positions over the years show Marlene’s passion to continue opportunities for accordion players in the Portland area.

So, how did this love of the accordion begin?  Upon the suggestion of her parents, Marlene started lessons at the age of ten.  Like many who played the accordion after the boom in the 40s and 50s, Marlene found that the accordion was being shunned.  After playing “Repasz Band” flawlessly, by memory, in high heels, and with a much-too-large borrowed accordion, she went underground and refused to play in front of her peers.  But luckily several years later the first Oktoberfest was held at Mt. Angel and again the accordion was cool.  She has played at almost every Mt. Angel Oktoberfest since 1966.  For twenty of those years she played with her own six-piece band, the Tyrolean Village Band, and now at Volksfest with the Bavarian Echoes.

Initially, Marlene took lessons from two teachers who were not specifically accordion teachers but did give her a solid foundation.  For a number of years she was a student of the late Joe Baccellieri who she felt was knowledgeable about all aspects of music and the accordion along with being a good match to her personality.  It was her good fortune to have studied with him.  She is particularly fond of arrangements by Gordon Kohl and the religious semi-classical pieces arranged by Galla-Rini.  Because Marlene worked, she only had time to practice in the evening.  Since retirement, practice is now her priority.

One of the memorable highlights of her performances was to play at the Sunday Mass during the 2001 Oktoberfest.  It was just a few days after 9/11 and everyone’s emotions were high.  She led “America the Beautiful” at the close of Mass.  About 800 people were in the church, singing with great intensity.  Marlene also put everything into that song – just Marlene and her Petosa.  It was an honor and a humbling experience to her.

Recently, after losing a battle with a can opener followed by playing at club with tenacity and dexterity using only four right fingers, she is having the tendons of her right index finger repaired.  We all wish Marlene a successful surgery.Marlene Meissner