Gary Malner
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Gary Malner

Date: Sept 24, 2019
Ask Gary Malner for his recipe for success and he’ll respond with commitment, a friendly attitude, fearlessness and a dash of fate.

Like many young musicians, Malner got tossed into learning an instrument by his parents.

“They felt I was too energetic as a child, and they decided I should play a heavy musical instrument to burn that energy,” Malner recalled.

“Mom said, ‘We should get him an accordion.’ Well, Dad liked that ’cause it was heavy. So they decided that I should play the accordion, and then one thing just led to another since then, and now it’s 65 years of playing nonstop. Somebody was always there to continue the chain of music.”

He started lessons on Oct. 10, 1950, on Chicago’s south side and soon began performing for friends of his family.

“They realized that practicing in a room only goes so far and then it starts to work against you if you let it, because you grow tired of just playing for all the things in the house,” Malner chuckled.

“My folks would always say to the people we were visiting, ‘Would you like to hear Gary play the accordion?’ and they were just the sweetest people.”

At 13, he joined a small band made up of older musicians, and as he saw others play, he realized the value of his commitment to the instrument.

“I, like a lot of teenagers, I didn’t think I was that good. But then I started to notice that a lot of them, that were a lot better than me, they quit.”
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A career of teaching and some other work eventually led Malner to Yakima, where he moved in the early 2000s to be closer to his daughters. Now, he performs an average of seven to nine times a week at retirement homes, birthdays and other events in the Yakima Valley.

Malner insists that he couldn’t have done it without his wife, LaRayne. After arriving in Yakima, he started playing at the West Valley Nazarene Church, where one of his daughters worshipped. There he met LaRayne, and she quickly started helping him develop ideas, write music and take advantage of opportunities in the area.

“We’ve been married 10 years, but we dated a year before so 11 years in all. He thinks it should be 50, and it probably should be,” LaRayne laughed.

LaRayne found opportunities for Gary to play and he ended up finding two retirement centers that booked him right away.

“They just heard my voice over the phone. I asked, you know, ‘How could you do that? How could you just hire me without having spent any time with me, seeing me, etc.?’ and they both pretty well agreed that I just sounded like a nice guy and I sounded musical,” he recalled with a laugh.
Since moving to Yakima, Malner had the opportunity to meet and play with one of his idols, Dick Cantino, the longest solo performing act in Las Vegas and a well-known accordion player worldwide.

Malner asked Cantino for some advice on making a career in music. Cantino told him to be himself and not to be afraid of making mistakes.

“He said to go ahead and make those mistakes because if you’re making mistakes, you’re risking. You’re stepping out of your comfort zones, and when you’re out there you’re gonna discover something about yourself. So make those mistakes, just cover them up, go right through them, and get on with the song. He said don’t be afraid of your mistakes.”

Malner doesn’t take for granted how fortunate he’s been.

“Life keeps giving me the chance to play music. Of course now at my age, 42,” Malner joked, “I’m more excited and more grateful, you know, to have my health, especially where I play. … Some of the places where I play those people have been in wheelchairs for 10 years, 12 years, and I have the responsibility to go in and try to create some happiness, and take the mind off the worries, the anxieties, and pains for a while. It’s such a wonderful challenge, to have that opportunity.”

Malner said he feels very fulfilled in Yakima, but isn’t sure what’s next on the horizon.

“I’m getting a little bit concerned now, because I’m running out of geography and I’m wondering where I’m gonna be sent next. I’ll say, ‘LaRayne, are we going to Hawaii?’ and LaRayne says, ‘No, we’re going to Italy. I want you to see where your accordion was made.’”

Kaitlyn Bernauer, Seattle Times
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