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American craftsman

Concertina maker now U.S. citizen

There are perhaps only five true concertina makers in the world, William Wakker says. His not only is made in America, as of Tuesday it’s truly American-made.

Wakker, a Dutch classical musician-turned instrument maker, was one of 32 people taking the Oath of Citizenship before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno in Spokane on Tuesday.

For the past three years, the Dutch-born Wakker has been making concertinas in his Valleyford home with his wife, Karen, a native of Spokane Valley.

A former concert musician and teacher who received a graduate degree at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, Wakker taught and did postgraduate work at the University of Denver where he met Karen. He studied theoretical design and 19th-century free-reed instruments, including the concertina, until one day he took a leap.

“I decided I was going to learn to make and restore those instruments myself,” Wakker said.

The concertina was popular among the nobility of Europe until it fell out of fashion around the turn of the 20th century and ended up a folk instrument. It’s now a favorite of Irish musicians.

There are three basic types of concertinas: the English, the Duet and the Anglo. Wakker makes all three, as well as custom instruments. They range in price from $5,000 to $12,000 and there is a three-year waiting list for them.

When he says there are only five concertina makers in the world, Wakker is talking about craftsmen who make all the pieces of the instrument, including the focal steel reeds, honed to hundredths of an inch.

“You have to be able to work on small objects and you have to be able to hear the harmonics on top of the note,” Wakker said.

In addition to making fine concertinas, Wakker also designs entry-level instruments made in China that sell for $300 to $400, and he has just begun producing an intermediate instrument in Europe that sells for $1,800 to $2,800.

The Wakkers moved back to the Spokane area from the Netherlands, which they found too crowded, and Wakker decided to become a citizen because he wants to be more a part of society and to vote.

“We live here,” he said. “We are going to stay here.”