Those who make regular visits to the city center will, at one time or another, come across the Accordion Women – middle-aged or elderly women wrapped up, regardless of the weather, in conservative clothing and busking with a large accordion either in Buchanan Street or Sauchiehall Street. Despite the fact that they are recognisable figures to most of the city’s residents, very few people claim to know anything about them: opinions vary from them being recent Polish immigrants to members of an age-old network of families whose traditions are finding their way into the streets of Glasgow. Only a handful of people know the truth.
There is one piece of music that the Accordion Women play that is of particular note, not because of its musical worth (although certain maestros with an ear for ancient Slavic compositions would disagree) but because of its unusual properties. The song is not very harmonious – most who hear it being played simply attribute poor skill to the musician – but, like a particularly figurative poem, or a complex painting, one must actually study the intricacies of the song for the melody to be appreciated. It only sounds discordant if you don’t stop to listen – so, the next time you hear a particularly abrasive or lackluster song being played by the Accordion Women, stop. Listen.
The song is intricate, dense, and cryptic; for all that it seems to be the same twenty seconds of a tune played over and over, there are harmonic variations within each canon that suggest subtle skill on the part of the musician. Each of the accordion’s breaths wavers and frays in distinctive ways that calls to mind the breathlessness of a life-or-death chase, the sheer explosive agony of air bursting back and forth between quaking lungs. Every note is like the manic pulse of a rapidly-beating heart on its way to a final, shuddering end. It is normal, once the song is over, to feel out-of-breath, agitated, and the feeling of something dim and distant tickling your engaged paranoia. Leave some money for the Accordion Women, and do not be miserly – they have performed a great service to you, and should be compensated for their sacrifice.
If you can memorise the complex song, with all its variations and flourishes, you are blessed. Whistling or humming the song is said to repel a number of bizarre shadows that stalk those who stare into the abyss of the world’s darker corners – the Accordion Women play this song in the busiest parts of Glasgow in the hopes that at least some will find protection in its discordant notes.