Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Bronco York | Staff Photographer

Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’

A bulky, boxy suitcase sat tucked under Alex Borg’s bed on the third floor of Nordenberg Hall during her first year at Pitt. During moments when the dorm sounded a bit too quiet, a lucky few crowded around with eager ears as Borg’s accordion emerged from its hideaway. 

Bridget Armon met Borg in the Music Living Learning Community during their orientation and said it wasn’t long before she saw an accordion in Borg’s hands.

“There were about seven of us packed in her dorm room, sitting around on the floor while she was in her chair with a massive accordion in her lap,” Armon, a sophomore English literature and writing major, said. “It was a major surprise — when she told us she played accordion, I thought she was joking.” 

Another resident of the third floor, Borg’s future roommate Freya Norwood, said the massive case made Borg look like she just arrived at Ellis Island. Her new friends’ surprised reactions weren’t unexpected, Borg said. 

Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn. (Bronco York | Staff Photographer)

“Not really many people, especially my age, play the accordion — it’s kind of a dying instrument, which is sad, but I think they’re shocked, they’re a bit interested,” Borg said. “They’re kind of like, ‘Why?’”

Borg, a sophomore linguistics and German major, played clarinet in her high school’s marching band in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. She discovered her next musical curiosity upon hearing the accordion in songs like Billy Joel’s “Vienna” and the soundtrack to the Broadway musical “Hadestown.” After persuading her mom, Borg scoured Facebook and drove half an hour to Lambertville to borrow an accordion from a music center. The love affair didn’t stop there. With some practice, Borg got her own and left for Pittsburgh — accordion in tow.

Since arriving on campus, Borg’s exploration of the accordion has touched on a multitude of genres. With her right hand resting on white keys and her left laid on a bevy of black buttons, Borg said she gets occasional requests from her Ukrainian grandmother to play her preferred polkas.

“She’s Ukrainian, and she likes Ukrainian folk music, so she’d be like, ‘Oh, can you play this?’” Borg said before launching into a rousing polka. “I just think it’s fun. I think it’s a happy sounding instrument — it’s also involved in a lot of different cultures, and a lot of different folk music, which I think is really interesting. The history of the instrument is what drew me to it even further.” 

In addition to polkas, Borg is partial to playing waltzes, and hopes to spread her appreciation to anyone who will listen in Oakland. She said exposure will teach concertgoers to dance in 3/4 time.

“I think people underappreciate waltzes — I feel like they should find their way into the DIY scene,” Borg said. “They can learn.”

Borg inhabits a musical household in Pittsburgh — her roommate is Norwood, a sophomore music and film major. Since sharing a room in the Music LLC, playing music together became the cornerstone of their relationship. Norwood recalled a musical moment she shared with Borg and her accordion before she left to study abroad in London.

“I normally keep a keyboard in our apartment because I gotta have something, I gotta have that access to music. But my family had picked it up to move me out a week early, so I was without my keyboard and just itching,” Norwood said. “I sat Alex down and I was like, ‘Alex, I need you to play chords for me.’ And so, it was leading up to Christmas and our other roommate was out, and so we took the opportunity to sit in the living room while she played chords and I sang Christmas carols. We did that for, I think, an hour or two. It was the most perfect little send-off.”

When Norwood enrolled in an orchestral composition class last semester, Borg got the opportunity to take her accordion playing to the next stage. Norwood said she composed a piece for Borg to perform at a classical concert with the Pitt orchestra. 

“It’s a very big thing to get told that you’re supposed to write something and 60 people will figure it out, so I wanted to narrow it down to doing something I’m comfortable with, which is participating with people I love, with my friends,” Norwood said. “I was like, ‘Hey, Alex, this is crazy, but would you consider doing this?’ She said yes on the get-go … I was like the proudest parent, honestly, to go and watch the performance.”

Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn. (Bronco York | Staff Photographer)


Norwood and her professor, Roger Zahab, find that accordionists carry a goofiness that’s essential to their ethos as musicians. Norwood said composing for Borg’s accordion presented an opportunity to look at musical composition through an unconventional lens.

“I sing with the Heinz Chapel Choir on top of that, and so I think I’m very comfortable with the voice. I think I thought of the accordion, a little bit, as a voice,” Norwood said. “I mean, it’s a wind instrument — you do get it to sing and to crescendo, and I think that’s the beautiful part about also watching her get to sit up front in front of the orchestra. The accordion is such an expressive instrument — you literally get to see it breathe.”

Borg relished the chance to share her accordion chops with the public.

“It was really fun — it was really nerve-wracking, because I obviously don’t get a lot of opportunities to play the accordion in public, unless I want to sit on a street corner and busk, which I could,” Borg said. “My friend Bridget [Armon] and I, we want to start doing that when the weather’s nicer.”

Borg got a taste of busking outdoors as her accordion became the bedrock of blossoming friendships throughout her first year. Armon said together with her guitar, Borg’s accordion and Norwood’s vocals, the trio serenaded Soldiers and Sailors with the sound of their soulful stylings, playing impromptu covers of Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens.

“I remember one time last year, we all took our instruments on a really nice night out to the Soldiers and Sailors lawn, and it was the middle of the night, it was dark, but she was playing her accordion, I was on guitar and our other friend was singing,” Armon said. “We were just trying to figure out how many songs we could both play that would fit with the guitar and the accordion.” 

Months later, on Sept. 2, 2023, Borg and her fellow musicians discovered their next musical infatuation — the late singer Jimmy Buffett.

“He unfortunately passed away the day before their housewarming party, so Bridget and her roommates put up photos of Jimmy Buffett and we kinda turned it into a Jimmy Buffett-themed event,” Borg said. “We started listening to more of his music — and we were like, ‘OK, he’s kind of a fun guy, it’d be kind of fun if we played some of his music.’ And so it kind of evolved from there. We haven’t played any gigs yet, but fingers crossed.”

With a repertoire of exclusively Jimmy Buffett covers, Borg and Armon became a burgeoning band. They enlisted their friend Lauren Shutyto play the keyboard. Jimmy and the Buffetts, a moniker born of an ad hoc quip on a dating app, is an up-and-coming outfit hoping to cater to Oakland’s niche of Jimmy Buffett accordion enthusiasts. 

“I was asked if I perform music on a dating app by someone who runs a venue, and I said ‘Yes, I’m actually in a band with an accordion player, and we only play Jimmy Buffett covers, and we’re called Jimmy and the Buffetts,’ which wasn’t true at the time,” Armon said. “But we did start practicing … we’re waiting to get a gig. We’ll see.”