Joan Cochran Sommers established the accordion degree program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music in 1961. It was one of the most comprehensive accordion programs in the world where performance majors, secondaries, and non-music majors used the accordion to earn Undergraduate and Graduate, Baccalaureate through Doctorate, degrees. Upon her retirement from full-time teaching, she was voted the title Professor Emerita due to her distinguished university career.
Professor Sommers has been honored numerous times by the American Accordionists’ Ass’n., the Accordion Teachers’ Guild, Int’l., the Confederation Internationale des Accordeonistes, as well as other musical organizations for her ongoing dedication and contributions to the field of music, especially that of the accordion, an instrument she began playing at the age of nine. She earned the right to represent the USA in the Coupe Mondiale in both 1955 and 1956, events that undoubtedly developed her interest in accordion activities worldwide. As a performer she uses the piano accordion, but she teaches all types of systems regardless of arrangements of keys or buttons. Many of her students play both chromatic and keyboard instruments.
Courses she designed and taught at the Conservatory of Music were: Applied Private Accordion, Accordion Orchestra, Accordion Chamber Music, Arranging for the Accordion, Accordion Literature, and History of the Accordion. In addition she taught Accordion Techniques, a specially designed course for the non-accordionists majoring in music education or music therapy. There was always a great emphasis on sight-reading as well as orchestra and chamber music since Professor Sommers believed the skills developed in those areas helped prepare the performer for the professional world of music.
Her students have won numerous top awards, including the U.S. Championship competitions in both the AAA and the ATG, and have been candidates to the Coupe Mondiale many different times over a long period of time. Foreign students under her instruction have also represented their countries in the Coupe Mondiale at various times. Some of the most outstanding accordion professionals, both men and women, have been her students and have earned music degrees at the UMKC Conservatory of Music.
Accordion orchestras under her direction have won innumerable First Place Awards in many competitions and have presented concert tours throughout the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, England, Scotland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and, most recently, Italy. She has performed with other groups under her direction in Greenland, Nova Scotia, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, The Philippines, Guam, Okinawa, and Korea. Professor Sommers has taught and adjudicated in many other countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Poland, France, Norway, The Netherlands, and the People’s Republic of China, as well as throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The UMKC Accordion Orchestra has released several recordings, the most recent being a set of six CDs. A new CD will be released soon.
Joan Cochran Sommers served as Assistant Dean in the Conservatory of Music for 12 years as well as Professor of Music for 40 years. After retirement in 2001, she continues to teach part time at the Conservatory and be actively involved in presenting workshops and conducting accordion orchestras in many different venues. She has held elective and appointed offices in both national and international accordion organizations and is the newly elected president of the Accordionists’ and Teachers’ Guild, Int’l., a post also held in several previous years. Professor Emerita Sommers is also the Vice-Chairman of the Music Committee for the Confederation Internationale des Accordeonistes.
Dr. Sommers is now getting ready to go to Portugal and Spain to adjudicate the world competitions. In December 2005, Dr. Sommers has been asked to adjudicate in Moscow for Russia’s international competition that they sponsor every 5 years. She is really excited about going.