Sunset Park resident provides music by playing accordion on his stoop

May 6, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
Sunset Park resident provides music by playing accordion on his stoop
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Giving back with the gift of music.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep residents at home and social distancing, musician Paul Stein wanted to cheer up his Sunset Park neighbors by playing his accordion.

Inspired by other countries, Stein decided to play music with the instrument in honor of first responders and locals having a difficult time while staying indoors.

“My partner and I were cooped up in our house and I’m an activist,” said Stei, who has played the accordion for 64 years. “When there are problems, I like to go out and contribute to resolving them. I’ve been a union activist for many decades and many different unions and it was very difficult for me to not be able to leave the house and not be able to go out because I am 71 years old. And I want to protect my health.”

Stein saw people singing from their balconies in France and Italy on the news and then came up with the idea to play on stoop.

He discussed what makes Sunset Park so special.

“It is really diverse,” said Stein, who moved to the neighborhood in 2006. “We have people from many different backgrounds and I call this emergency accordion stoop extravaganzas. I play all different sorts of music. The area I live in Sunset Park is very Latinx and therefore I play a lot of Latin music.”

He also added that he plays tunes for other cultures.

“We have Jewish neighbors,” Stein said. “I play some klezmer music. Neighbors who like to go see shows, so I play Broadway music. I play Polka. I play the ‘Hokey Pokey.’ It gets everyone up and moving. And if I see children out there, whether they’re walking down the block or they are a few houses away, I will play songs for them like ‘Wheels on the Bus.’ People really enjoy songs they know best.”

Since he shouldn’t be going out putting himself and other neighbors at risk, Stein’s accordion reads, “Emergency Accordion. Keep Six Feet Back.”

“Unfortunately a number of my neighbors are considered essential workers and they do have to go out, but anyone that doesn’t have to go out, stay in,” he said. “I stay in the stoop here on a side street. I use a small amplifier. Anywhere from a handful to a few dozen people will come out to listen to the music depending on the weather and what’s going on in their lives.”

Stein knows a lot of his neighbors and has grown very fond of Sunset Park.

It’s a very nice  neighborhood,” he said. “People are very warm and welcoming and I know a lot of them. Before the coronavirus, we sat on our stoops and talked. People love it. There’s nothing like live music. It brings people together when you’re singing along to a number of songs. It raises peoples spirits and it makes them forget about all the sad and tragic stuff that’s going on with COVID-19. People really enjoy it.”

The act garnered international attention, being covered by hundreds of media outlets.

“(I get) emails how much they enjoy it,” Stein said. “There are friends of mine who live in England. They played a video for their granddaughter and she was dancing to the music.”

Stein believes that the tunes bring joy during a dark time.

“It’s something they enjoy, especially during these times because i play uptempo happy music,” he said. “The accordion is known for having a happy sound. It has made a resurgence. Most people have not seen an accordion play live, so even from a stoop or two away you can see me playing the keyboard on the right hand and the buttons on the left hand. It’s interesting. It adds to the enjoyment.”

Stein was a former associate counsel at NYS Department of Health and council leader PEF Division 199 at New York State Public Employees Federation, but always loved music.

“I never really stopped,” he said. “One year, I was abroad living in Oxford, England in 1968. I also played on the main steps of the main synagogue in Moscow.”

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