If you’re attending Night in Old Fredericksburg this weekend, you’ll want to be sure and catch the performances by Eurofest and The TubaMeisters, both from San Antonio. One is a newly formed group and the other has been performing for 20 years. Tuba player Ray Grim belongs to both and offers his thoughts on German vs. Czech polkas, upcoming gigs, CD plans and why the tuba is such a cool instrument. Eurofest was formed earlier this year. How did that come about? It is primarily comprised of performers who were formerly members of the well-known group, The Sauerkrauts. When the leader, Gary Trumet, decided he wasn’t taking any more bookings, other members of the group decided to not let the talent of the group go to waste. Members of Eurofest are: Robert Atwood—extremely talented accordionist, who performed with The Sauerkrauts for 20 years; Kevin Hatcher—vocalist, yodeler, and former bandleader, who performed with The Sauerkrauts for 20+ years; Ray Grim—tuba, a former high school band director, also a member of The TubaMeisters, performed with The Sauerkrauts for six years; Eric Miculka—drums, a frequent substitute performer with The Sauerkrauts; and Suellen Grim—clarinet, Ray’s wife, and a new member to the group.
How did the TubaMeisters get their start? The TubaMeisters became a group in 1992, and performed at Fiesta Texas in San Antonio every weekend during its first season. We specialize in good quality music, interspersed with good, clean fun. Members include: Ray Grim—tuba and vocals; Richard Wallace—tuba and euphonium, a retired school band director, who now conducts the Alzafar Shrine Band and founding member of the band; Al Tapia—euphonium and vocals, a retired U.S. Army bandmaster, who presently serves as the director of both the Comal Community Band, the New Braunfels Village Brass Band, and the Beethoven Concert Band. He was a founding member of the TubaMeisters; and Ezra Johnson—euphonium and vocals, a former middle school band director who takes music very seriously. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and former Longhorn Band member.
Do you have CDs or plans to record one? Both groups have two CDs. The TubaMeisters are planning to begin recording another next month.
Are you all about German music? Although we may be more German, we like that good old Czech music and Tejano tunes as well.
What are the top three tunes y’all like to play for each genre? That’s a difficult one to answer. Probably each one of us has a different answer. Here’s my take: German—Auf der Autobahn, Bergvagabunden, Die Kleine Kneipe Czech—Corn Cockle Polka, Musicians, Come and Play, Polka Time in Texas Tejano (or similar style)—Viva Seguin, Rancho Grande, Peanuts Polka
Is there a difference between a German polka and a Czech polka? Yes. The German polka tends to follow the rules better. The phrases in Czech polkas can be a little irregular. Although I’m almost 100% in my German heritage, I believe I like the Czech polkas better. They have better melodies.
Did the guys in both groups all grow up attending polka dances? Come from musical families? As far as I know, none of the members of either group grew up attending dances. Most have been to dozens of festivals. We all have come to truly like the music we play. I’m not really sure about everyone else, but there is a definite line of musicians in my family, but we never had any kind of family band. My oldest son, Hans, is a professional musician in the Ft. Worth area. He plays piano and sings. He serves as music director for local productions, performs at weddings, directs choirs, etc. His wife, Mary, performs in professional musical productions. My younger son, Evan, along with his wife, Adell, performed for several years in our church orchestra, along with Suellen and myself. Evan plays trombone and Adell plays trumpet. And, of course, my wife Suellen plays clarinet. Both Hans and Evan were in band and choir in high school. I have had the pleasure of performing in the pit, for a couple of productions that Hans has directed. So, there has been a good deal of family involvement.
Where are you originally from? I grew up in Gonzales, Texas. From time to time, I pop in to see John Zavadil, while he is hosting his polka show (on KCTI AM 1450). He is a very, very nice guy. He plays our music, every once in a while. And, lastly, I have a brother, Paul, who assists with the brewing at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner. So, I have roots in the Czech/Bohemian area of Texas.
Y'all were part of the Mollie B taping in Ennis, right? What was that like? Were you happy with your performance? We did perform on the Mollie B taping. It was our very first performance as a new group and the very first polka gig my wife ever played. I’d call that a “baptism under fire,” or something like that. The event was very well organized. It was good to hear some really fine bands, and the audience was terrific. Mollie B and (her husband) Ted (Lange) were very professional, as well as being warm hosts for the event. I would have to describe our performance as OK. We will definitely be better as time goes on. All in all, though, it was a very enjoyable experience.
What other gigs do y’all have for the rest of the year? We’re still working on that. For Eurofest, we have a couple of major fests. We will perform at the Ernte-Fest, in Freistaat, Missouri, in August, and at the 47th Annual Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia), the first week of October. With the TubaMeisters, the major performances include North by Northwest Oktoberfest in Austin, Fredericksburg Oktoberfest and Tomball German Christmas Fest. Both groups will likely be invited to perform at Wurstfest, in New Braunfels, which, of course, is one of the largest festivals in Texas.
Why is the tuba such a cool instrument? I believe most tuba players have come to appreciate the SOUND. It stirs something inside of both the listener, and the performer. When played well, the tuba is a very versatile instrument. In my opinion, it is an under-utilized resource. For convenience sake, many bands use an electric bass, which is both easier to play, and easier to last for a four hour gig.