A longtime hotbed for concertina and polka music, New Ulm hosted its first World Concertina Congress in October.
The annual congress and hall of fame induction devoted to the traditional German instrument similar to an accordion – a concertina’s buttons are pushed in the same direction as its bellows while an accordion’s are pushed perpendicular – draws hundreds of enthusiasts of the traditional German instrument each year.
New Ulm’s event at the Best Western Plus was no different, with more than 300 people showing up for a day of concertina music and history.
Tina Losleben, secretary of the Sleepy Eye Area Concertina Club hosting the event, said the group was excited to bring the hall of fame induction to New Ulm this year. She said people came from as far as New York and Virginia for the event.
One who drove from Buffalo, NY, concertina musician Ron Urbanczyk, was among eight inductees to the hall of fame Saturday. He plays in a Polish-style polka band as opposed to the German- or Czech-style groups more common in Minnesota.
Another contrast he mentioned is how many people can play the concertina in the New Ulm area compared to New York. He said at one point he was one of just seven concertina players in Buffalo, whereas there are hundreds in Minnesota.
“The immigrants that came over in the 1900s were the ones who brought the concertinas,” he said, of what led to the music’s popularity in southern Minnesota.
The hall of fame induction, he said, was an honor worth making the long drive for. He said it was especially nice to be among fans of the music.
Seniors attending the conference could actually see some of the concertinas commonly played when they were younger. A table set up at the congress showed how concertinas have changed through the years. Some of the instruments dated back more than 100 years.
While taking a breather from polkaing with a partner to the tunes of the New Prague-based Czech Area Concertina Club, Tom Brazil of Faribault said the congress was a chance for him and others to enjoy the “old-time” music so popular when he was young.
“I’ve been dancing 67 years,” he said. “My mother taught us when we were 8 or 9 years old. It’s the best thing for your system.”
Being around other enthusiasts of the music was also a treat, he said, adding it reminded him of the day of yesteryear when couples would go out and dance most weekends.