Polka makes for church fun

Published 9:39 am Thursday, May 20, 2010

All week long, I can’t get this song out of my mind.

You know the one that goes: “Come now and worship, come now and worship the Lord. See what He’s doing, Praise to our God and adore.”

Still don’t recognize it? Try humming it to the tune of “Beer Barrel Polka.”

That’s the one we were singing at beautiful Six Mile Grove Lutheran Church, rural Lyle. last Sunday morning. If only the Rev. Lydia Mittag knew then what she knows now, she might have started it sooner so popular did the idea become.

The idea — allow a polka band to play their special old-time music in church, during a worship service — has proven Scandinavians have a sense of humor.

Sure, Catholics started it. Witness St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at Johnsburg, where German Catholics have been tapping their toes, swaying to the beat and singing along with the infectious music for decades.

You would expect that kind of behavior from the Smiths, Heimers, Kramers, Golombowskis, Schaefers and their friends at Johnsburg, but the good folks at Six Mile Grove Lutheran Church? What were you thinking Russell Sampson?

Everyone has heard Garrison Keillor preach how shy Lutherans are inside their churches.

Well, who better to make a joyful noise unto the Lord than polka musicians?

That’s what they did at Six Mile Grove.

Big Ben and Brian’s Concertina Band provided the music. Ben Stuart, Brian Klouse and Leo Meitner first played their old-time music here six years ago and have been coming back each year since.

The love affair with old-time music was evident before Pastor Mittag called the worshippers together. As members and guests entered the church, polka music was heard and the band had its first request: Waltz of the Angels.

None of the songs were disrespectful of the church environment. Polka melodies were accompanied by hymn-like lyrics.

After the service, Stuart, Klouse and Meitner talked with fans. The band performs in churches six to eight times a year, usually in the spring and fall. The musicians also perform at small town celebrations and polka festivals. Once they performed their music at a funeral.

“I can’t think of anyone who has complained even at the funeral, which was in a Catholic church,” recalled Stuart, “We got with the Father before the service and he said it was OK to play polka music as the people left the church. The family insisted upon it because the man was such a polka music fan.”

According to Meitner, polka bands borrow music from each other all the time.

“‘Waltz of the Angels’ has become very, very popular all over even though it has been around since the 50s. Bands all over play it in churches without changing a single word of the lyrics,” Meitner said.

Stuart’s explanation for the continued popularity of old-time music is simple, yet profound. “It’s something new and fresh,” he said, “Even though it has been around for ages, when it’s played in a church setting, it’s different from anything people have heard played in a church before and there’s a new audience for it.”

A special guest at Sunday’s event will be Mel Bronstad, leader of the legendary Mel’s Polka Stars band.

Brian’s parents, Merle and Diane Klouse, were busy with another son, Randy, one of the high school graduates honored last Sunday. That left this reporter in the hands of Merle’s grandfather, Marvin Klouse, who with his wife, Mavis, transported me from Austin to the rural Lyle church to hear their grandson play the concertina.

When the service ended, they spirited me with them for a trip to St. Ansgar, Iowa, with a brother of Marvin’s and his ladyfriend.

We enjoyed dinner at Marvin’s expense and then took a tour of projects the man’s concrete business has accomplished.

“We’ve been in the business for 34 years and most of our work is done down here in Mitchell County,” he said, as we drove by foundations for new homes (St. Ansgar is in the midst of a building boom) and the industrial park, where Marvin pointed out more concrete projects.

Mavis sat quietly in the back seat of the Klouse car unable to get a word in edge-wise.

Today, I want Marvin to know I was listening to every word he said, but just couldn’t get his grandson’s polka music out of my mind.

It does that to you and it feels good.