accordion guy

Eli Secosky, known as the "NC State accordion guy," plays the concertina in the Free Expression Tunnel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. "I play at the Free Expression Tunnel on campus because I know it is very inspiring for people, and they really enjoy it. I have been able to make friends because of it," Secosky said.

Oftentimes, students walk through the Free Expression Tunnel with earbuds blaring music, either overlooking or admiring the variety of art that covers the walls, simply trying to make it to their next class on time. For many, their daily walk to class may include another sound to accompany them. Eli Secosky, a 17-year-old from Raleigh, has made a name for himself as the tunnel’s very own “accordion guy,” playing his concertina atop the Free Expression Tunnel as students walk by.

Secosky has played the concertina — what many mistake as an accordion — for four years, and after taking a mental break from homeschool and working at a local Food Lion, he decided to share his hobby on NC State’s campus while earning some extra cash.

“I used to play my mountain dulcimer in the Brickyard,” Secosky said. “And a guy I was working with at the time was like, ‘You should put out a tip jar.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that's a novel idea.’ So I did. I made some money, and I didn't get much attention with the mountain dulcimer because I guess it's kind of a boring instrument. And so I brought the accordion and people love that. And so I was like, ‘Okay, this is cool. I can work with this.’”

The concertina isn’t the only instrument Secosky plays. Learning from a few lessons and mostly by ear, he has picked up many instruments over the years. He inherited his love of music, and several of the instruments he plays today, from his late uncle.

“I find more than you can count on one hand … banjo, guitar, bass guitar, resonator, mountain dulcimer, ukulele, concertina, harmonica, didgeridoo, piano, a little bit of violin,” Secosky said. “I have a violin [but] I'm not particularly good at it. My ocarina, I have this sweet Zelda ocarina, if you're nerdy like that. … Native American flute as well … hurdy-gurdy, electric guitar … and saxophone. I like to include a harpsichord and pipe organ in there, [too].”

Music isn’t Secosky’s only hobby. Other hobbies vary from aviation, after spending a year and a half in Civil Air Patrol, to lockpicking. Secosky has had time to focus on these hobbies as he’s taken a step back on what he finds to be monotonous, overwhelming aspects of life.

“I recently dropped out of high school last year,” Secosky said. “It was stressful on top of working, and I kind of just thought it was superfluous. And, like a lot of the stuff that I'd be doing, I'd never ever, ever use in my life. I didn't want to go to college anyways, so it kind of just felt like I was doing it for nothing.”

After being able to focus on music, Secosky began to expand to performing for others at NC State. With minimal public performances, it was Secosky’s connection to others at NC State along with his admiration of the campus itself that brought him to play for others beginning at the start of spring 2021 semester.

“I was spending a lot of time on campus anyways,” Secosky said. “Just because I have connections over there. And I wanted just a place to play where it was just not at home … and that's kind of nice, because [the Free Expression Tunnel is] very sunny … you get this really nice view. And there's like, a lot of people.”

The large crowds can be overwhelming for anyone performing in public. Despite all the attention, Secosky is not immune. Nevertheless, his passion for what he does, alongside his positive outlook and feedback from many students, kept him coming back to his favorite spot.

“So far, I haven't had anybody that's expressed any negative words about what I'm doing, which is nice,” Secosky said. “But if somebody does, then it's not a big deal, because I have adoring fans; I'm kind of mini-famous. I go skating around State. And sometimes I have people that stop me and they're like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re the accordion guy!’ … I guess people are gonna think how they're gonna think, and I don't really have a problem with it. As long as they're not trying to affect me negatively.”

These positive interactions have led to Secosky garnering not only an audience that will recognize him in the tunnels, but a name for himself as a hidden gem of NC State’s campus culture.

Pratina Kandru, a second-year studying business, said she appreciated Secosky’s music and presence.

“I think he's amazing,” Kandru said. “Every time I see him, I raise my hand. I'm like, ‘Good job.’ He definitely adds something that no other college campus has. … Everyone should put their thumb up at him.”

Madalen Hagee, a second-year studying statistics, said she agrees he’s a positive contributor to the atmosphere on campus and an element to campus culture in his own right.

“I love the sound,” Hagee said. “Even if you had a hard day, you were walking through there and then it was radiating through the tunnel. … I think it's kind of this unspoken thing that you have to find for yourself. It's like an on-campus Easter egg.”

While many know about the stranger hovering above the tunnel with an instrument and music to share, plenty of people are shy to interact with the mysterious guy they know nothing about.

Danielle Hahn, a second-year studying math, recalls only positive experiences with hearing Secosky despite never actually physically interacting with him.

“I was just getting through my day,” Hahn said. “And I heard that and I was like, ‘Where is that coming from?’ And then I looked up and I saw him playing the accordion. Oh my gosh, that made me so happy — immediate smile on my face.”

While Hahn recognizes the way his presence facilitates communication between others that see him in the tunnel, Secosky wants to encourage everyone to not feel shy or worry about interrupting his playing.

“Don't worry about interrupting,” Secosky said. “Because I love talking to people. It's fun. A lot of times they're scared that they're interrupting, but it's really easy to just stop for somebody if they want to ask questions or something. … But I just love having people coming by. And people that want to see me, if they like it, know I'm there and they want to come by then, that makes me happy.”

Beyond seeing him in the tunnel, Secosky’s music can be found on Instagram.