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Central Florida Accordion Club
Featured Member
September 2004
Rose Marie Jisa
Growing up as a first generation American-Slovene in Avon Park, a small enclave of Slovenian families within
the city limits of Girard, Ohio, I became involved in the Slovenian culture at a very early age, singing folk
songs in a children’s chorus and dancing Slovenian polkas and waltzes.  
I loved the music then as I love it now . . . .
Mom and Dad felt very strongly
that each of us four children
learn a musical instrument even
though money was scarce.  That
being said, they always found
money for lessons!  My oldest
sister played the accordion, my
next oldest sister played the
saxophone, I played the
clarinet and the drums, and my
younger brother played the
My two sisters played in a polka band in the 40’s and 50’s . . . a rarity for women
to be playing out at that time.  Memories are still vivid of their practicing in the
living room and my singing many of the old standards with them like Peg of My
Heart, Sentimental Journey, and Besame Mucho as well as Slovenian polkas and
waltzes.  I was just a child, but surely knew all the words to those songs!
The clarinet is my primary instrument, although in high school, I played tenor saxophone, flute, and violin as
well as being a majorette in the marching band.  During those same years, the Girard VFW Junior Military
Band gave me the opportunity to spend two weeks of each summer of five summers at Chautauqua Institute in
New York State playing in Chautauqua’s famous outdoor amphitheater and also playing as a guest with the
United States Navy Band.  What experiences those were!  My five years in this band were some of the best
years of my life!  We traveled to many state and national VFW conventions including those held in Miami,
Chicago, New York, and Milwaukee.  We always took the first place trophy!

My high school music teacher wanted me to further my education in music, but it was “burn out” for me.  
However, I did play clarinet in the concert band at Kent State University for one year; then, it became a relic!
So, where does the buttonbox come in?  In the Slovenian community in the early 70’s, there was a revival of
the buttonbox (or “harmonica” as it is called in Slovenia!).  Everyone wanted to play one including me!  But
locating a buttonbox for sale was next to impossible.  Luckily, my girlfriend’s mother knew a gentleman in
Slovenia who made them in his home.  She was able to bring a buttonbox back for me in 1975!  I was
ecstatic--learning to play the buttonbox, an instrument of my ethnicity!  Wow!  Frank Novak, one of
Cleveland’s best buttonbox players, was my first teacher.  He taught only “by ear.”  Unfortunately, having a
family and being a school administrator consumed most of my hours, so there was little time for practice.

From the late 70’s through 2002, I played the buttonbox off and on (mostly off!), taking lessons from two
other teachers, Chris Benda and Benzy Rathbone, learning again “by ear” and “by numbers” respectively.  
Still, there just didn’t seem to be time for practice!  

It wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that wanting to take buttonbox  lessons again became a goal. This
time, though, playing from written music was a must!  I located a teacher, Al Battistelli from Lorain, Ohio
who was taught by maestro Mario Mosti from Pennsylvania.  A few lessons from Al made me realize the
potential of the instrument.  In addition, Vern Corbin from the CFAC, another great teacher, is teaching me
music theory and fantastic bass techniques, both helping me gain confidence in my playing ability.

Setting my clarinet down in the late 50’s without a thought of ever playing again didn’t really happen.  Here
is the “rest of the story.”  Retiring in 1992 from education, I moved to Bonita Springs, Florida.  The Bonita
Springs Village Band played at a community event, announcing that they needed more musicians.  Could I,
after not playing for more than 38 years, even play the thing? To make a long story short, I not only played
the clarinet, but also became the Associate Band Director, directing the band for three years.  It was
during this experience I realized that my high school band director was probably correct in suggesting music
be my major!  Currently, the Deutsche Musik Vierein in Cleveland, a 30-piece German brass band, is my
musical outlet for the clarinet.   In July, 2005 we are planning our second concert tour to Germany within
the past 5 years.

Music has always been a part of my life—playing instruments, singing, and dancing.  It soothes my soul.  In
particular, Slovenian polkas and waltzes exhilarate me beyond explanation.  The simple melodic harmonies of
the folk songs touch my heart . . . oftentimes giving me “goose bumps” when I hear them played!  In my past
there just had to be an ancestor who loved music, for that love of music has certainly been passed along to
me . . . .  oh, to be so lucky!

As for life outside of music, my two children and seven grandchildren keep me busy as do traveling, dancing,
reading, golfing, and swimming.  I’m totally involved in Slovenian genealogy, chairing two groups here in the
Cleveland area as well as having given genealogy presentations in Ljubljana, Slovenia and in Ohio,
Pennsylvania, and Michigan over the past several years.  In addition, I own my own business, doing consulting
work in office administration.  

My plans for the future . . . PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE my buttonbox to satisfy my own
expectations of becoming a really good buttonbox player!

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