Why Polka Music

 I love and appreciate Polka Music. Very sadly, it has become a largely forgotten genre and if it is remembered, it is regarded with humor, and relegated to a funny little ditty played at a wedding reception. 
    Yet, when a polka is played, just watch the reaction of the people. They WILL dance to it with a passion that is just not seen. Young, old, everyone in between.
    But let me tell you the significance of Polka Music and its niche in Western Culture:
     The word "Polka" is said to have originated in Poland and means "Dancing Lady". God knows what it really means, if anything. The music genre originated in northern Europe sometime around 1850 and quickly spread throughout all of Europe and was brought across the Atlantic Ocean by the thousands of immigrants who came to America, and then on to other western countries. Each European country had its own style of Polka music, a music that nearly instantly became a European Folk Music.  The "Oompa" Style polka played with a tuba as bass is known as Bohemian and originated in the Germanic region of Europe. In the mid-Twentieth Century, that style was recorded by such artists as Whoopie John Wilfart, Romy Gosz, the Six Fat Dutchmen, and the list goes on and on. This style is popular throughout Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and wherever you will find communities of German ethnicity.
      Another popular style that centers around the American midwest is Slovenian Style or Cleveland Style Polka. This style was popularized by such heavy hitters as Frank Yankovic, Johnny Pecon, Eddie Habot, Walt Ostenek, and etc. This style is recognizable by its use of one or more accordions, upright acoustic bass, and usually a banjo used a percussion instrument.  The Slovenian songs mostly told sad stories of families being separated by force immigration, and lost loves and such things. Later on, both genres began to include dance songs that joked about beer; such songs as "In Heaven There is no Beer", "No Beer Today", and the "Beer Barrel Polka".  
    During the height of European Immigration, ethnic folk music was of great importance to the people trying to find new places to live in a new and strange world with an unfamiliar language. Ethnic music allowed immigrants to retain something of their culture and identity. As certain ethnic groups began to cluster in certain regions (such as the Germans in Wisconsin, and the Slovenians in Upper Michigan and Ohio), ethnic music dominated the cultural life of those ethnic communities and became entrenched in that region, long before the invention of radio and television. The music they identified with became part of their identity. 
     Today, Polka Music has lost many listeners. It is a sad thing, because while Americans brag about their ethnicity ("I'm Irish" or "I'm German" or whatever ethnicity you claim), they know nothing of their ethnic heritage. In the endless and mindless drive to be like everybody else, the younger generations have given away what their ancestors and grandparents and parents tried so hard to preserve and pass on. 
    There are a large number of people in the region where I live who are fiercely proud of "being Finnish". But they are not Finnish, they're Americans. They don't speak the language of their ancestors, they don't often belong to the same religion their immigrant ancestors held; they don't wear any clothing that would link them to Finland; they couldn't even name the capitol of Finland.  They certainly don't embrace the music their grandparents danced to. So why, then, bother claiming to Finnish? I say the same to those claiming to be German. No. You're American, and so is your culture. You gave up your ancestral culture so the guy up the street would think you were more like you. Well, go claim the heritage you brag about coming from. Embrace the music of your grandparents. Get them to teach you the dance steps before they are gone and have taken the art with them. Once they are gone, it'll be too late. 
   Remember: Individuality is not against the law.....yet.
northguy northguy
46-50, M
1 Response Sep 25, 2012