By Theresa Parker
From November 2015 issue of Texas Polka News
From the minute you pick up Polka Heartland to the second you finish reading it, you won’t stop smiling. That’s because it’s about polka – happy music for happy people. As a polka lover, you can relate. As a history buff, you can appreciate the immigrant story. Author Rick March and photographer Dick Blau may have based the book on Wisconsin, but you soon discover, it’s a national story.
Rick, a squeezeman and mandolin player himself, thought a comprehensive book about polka was long overdue. Not because it’s dying out, but because it’s a story that hasn’t been told.
“Polka is danced and played a lot, but its story is seldom written,” he said. “Polka will never totally die out. It goes through ups and downs – it was up with Frankie (Yankovic) after WWII, down after Elvis and rock and roll, for example. Polka music and dancing is generational. Kids whose parents love the polka, still do it at a wedding, they haven’t rejected it completely. It’s cool and retro.
“The polka has had, along with waltz, the greatest longevity as a general participation dance. You can dance it as an expert, or just get up on floor, and if you don’t bump into any one, you’re fine. The Charleston and Lindy are still known, but the polka has staying power,” Rick explained.
Rick served as the State Folklorist for Wisconsin from 1983 to 2009, and was the radio host of Down Home Dairyland on Wisconsin Public Radio for 14 years. He has started recording his show again for community AM stations. No Internet streaming yet, but he said it will be soon. He noted he enjoys listening to Texas polka radio stations on the Internet.
Polka Road Trip!
Rick and Dick spent nine months traveling to dances and festivals capturing the various styles of polka – Czech, Slovenian, Polish, Dutchman, even Mexican. As the photographer, Dick said his goal was not to teach readers anything, but to get them to feel something. He calls his work “ethnography of the feelings.”
“I wanted to make pictures that bring a song to mind, bring an experience to mind. See if I can get this silent medium to charge up the eyes and ears. I want the viewer to be invited in without being stopped by the frame,” he said.
Dick accomplished his goal. And this isn’t his first polka party book. He also provided the photography for Polka Happiness, published in 1992 by Temple University Press, and authored by Charles and Angeliki V. Keil.
The historic chapters of Polka Heartland are supplemented with extras called Polka Interludes, in which Rick explains such things as the difference between concertina and accordion (it’s like canoe/kayak, he writes), how beer and polka just go together, and the origin of the polka Mass.
Rick hesitated to name his favorite polka, but finally relented and said, “The Wisconsin National Anthem – In Heaven There is No Beer.”
He has been to Texas a few times to attend conventions and perform at the Accordion Festival in San Antonio. “You have smoother dancers in Texas. You just slide across the floor, and we’re up here hopping up and down,” he said.