By Martin Relles
About the time I turned 12 years of age, my mother decided that I needed a little culture in my life. I excelled in my studies at St. Mary’s School, but other than that, sports seemed the only thing that captured my interest.
So, mom did some checking with the neighbors to see what their kids did. She found that both Danny Petrocchi and Randy Puccetti took accordion lessons from a River Park, high school student named Delbert Alberti. Delbert excelled at playing both the piano and accordion, but specialized in teaching accordion. When mom asked if I might be interested in learning, I responded, “yes.”
Subsequently, mom rented an accordion for me, and Del began coming weekly to my house to teach me to play the instrument. He proved an excellent teacher. He started with the basics, such as how to read a sheet of music. He taught me the musical scale. Remember the lines: E, G, B, D and F (every good boy does fine) and the spaces F, A, C, and E (face). I soaked up this information and soon began actual practice with my newfound instrument. Amazingly, I was pretty good.
I learned to read music, but rarely read it as I played my songs. Basically, I memorized every song I played then just played the notes. I learned to play polkas and marches mostly, songs like Beer Barrel Polka, the Stars and Stripes Forever, and Lady of Spain.
Mom thought I should practice every day, but I didn’t. Honestly, I didn’t have to. Playing the accordion came easy to me, and I enjoyed it.
At the end of the first year, Delbert hosted a recital at his home in River Park. All of his students played one song each for their parents and family. I played: Lady of Spain. I was nervous, but I played it perfectly.
After the recital, we ate cookies, drank punch, and Delbert handed out some awards. I won the award for best new student. I kept that trophy for years and I bet it still dwells somewhere in a closet at my parent’s house on Janey Way.
Soon after, Delbert completed his studies at Bishop Armstrong High School, and went off to study at the University of the Pacific, effectively ending my career as accordion virtuoso.
Delbert’s parents hoped he would become a pharmacist. He kept that as major for one year than switched to education. Following college, Delbert went on to become a teacher—a very good one. He eventually earned accolades as a California teacher of the year.
After that, he went on to become a principal and eventually, a School Superintendent. Ultimately, he was a great teacher and an outstanding leader. He had given indications of that, years earlier when He taught me how to play the accordion.
Delbert passed away, too young, about a year or so ago. I read his obituary in the newspaper. I think about him often. His instruction, helped make me a better and culturally richer person. I haven’t played the accordion for years, but my memories of my teacher Delbert and of playing the accordion, have continued to inspire me throughout my life.