How Gospel is like polka

From avfl’s favorite Canadian reader, NG:

A story in the Toronto Star of Jan. 28 about Polka Music possibly being removed from the list of Grammy categories next year got me wondering if there are similarities between the Polka Music industry and SGM (excluding Gaither).

Some facts about Polka music:

1. There are at least four different North American Polka Styles.

2. With CD sales declining, polka music isn’t the force it used to be.

3. Four of five Grammy-nominated recordings were produced and distributed by the artists independently. According to one of the nominees, John Gora: Acts are lucky to sell more than a couple of thousand copies of a CD, most of them off stage at performances.

4. Artists say there is little to be gained from a Grammy win unless you’re signed to a major label with access to promotional money and space on store shelves.

5. Though major North American polka festivals still draw multiple thousands, they’ve diminished over the past 20 years.

6. Nominated Artist Walter Ostanek said: “Polka will never die but no one makes a living at it . . . it’s for weekend warriors now.”

7. Another quote from Ostanek: “If the Polka Grammy disappeared tomorrow it will be thrown into one of the roots music or world music categories and then you’ll never hear of guys like us again.”

(Toronto Star did the story because nominees quoted are Canadians.)

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  1. CG wrote:

    I wonder if the Polka bands have switched to tracks, too ;) ?

  2. OlanWitt wrote:

    One difference is you will NEVER hear Polka music being sung with tracks!!!!

  3. Tim wrote:

    It is really sad to see these “art forms” being pushed by the wayside. Kind of like “Big Band” music. It just goes to show that you have to keep up with the times or
    you’ll get left behind.

  4. Steven wrote:


    I can hear that now…YA’LL LIKE THAT…ooh turn that accordian around *hits button*

  5. Ben Harris wrote:

    SG and polka have a lot in common. There’s a slew of 2/4 songs in each.

  6. judi wrote:

    There has been a Grammy category for polka all these years and I didn’t know about it? Wow. I wonder if polka is more popular in Canada than in the USA these days. My last experience with polka was some 40 years ago in Kansas, where it would be performed by local bands at crossroads “camps” or small rural bars, for a family crowd where mostly women danced together while their husbands drank a weekly beer or two. A gentleman I was dating at the time and later married took me to Camp 50 on a few dates so I could sample this local color. (Our church did not forbid dancing, in case you are wondering.) I can tell you, dancing the polka is a strenuous workout. Someone should introduce it into a fitness program somewhere and maybe those polka CD sales would pick up, at least on this side of the border!

  7. Allison Lynn wrote:

    A church in Toronto is hosting a special afternoon service called “Polka Vespers”, featuring music by Walter Ostanek.

    Don’t know what that says, but thought I’d add it into the mix :)

  8. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Southern Gospel is already at a lower status level than Polka when it comes to the Grammys. SG shares a category with Christian Country and Bluegrass Gospel, though SG is arguably bigger and more established as a unique genre than CC or BG. There’s plenty Bluegrass Gospel and Christian Country SONGS, but not that many “Bluegrass Gospel” CDs. A bluegrass group will often include one or two gospel songs on an otherwise secular release. Country, being a bigger genre, has a few artists who do this as well and some big names who will do full length gospel recordings from time to time.

    But back to Polka…Does Polka have any artists who sell product at the level of a Gaither Vocal Band or Ernie Haase & Signature Sound? It seems to me that if SG is forced to share a category (despite having a few bona-fide “A-list” acts), Polka should have been sharing a category all this time as well.

  9. Kyle wrote:

    Back in 1998, the Oak Ridge Boys did a project with Jimmy Sturr….does that count?

  10. natesings wrote:

    Is this why there isn’t more Southern Gospel in 3/4 time? Don’t want to get too close to polka…that dying genre.

  11. Ekim wrote:

    I have had coffee many times with Walter Ostenak, and you would be suprised how similar what he does and what most southern gospel groups do!

  12. Bud Alexander wrote:

    I think polka is both a ministry and a business.

  13. Norm Graham wrote:

    I’m NG. Glad to see folks having fun with this topic.

    A little more info in case you thought, like me, that all polka music is the same.

    Jimmy Sturr, America’s Chicago-style specialist, has won 16 of 23 Polka grammies. Chicago style features horns as well the accordion.

    Ostnek is more traditional playing the accordion-fronted Cleveland style.

    Then there are non-traditionalists from Texas such as polka new-wavers Brave Combo who won in 1999 and 2004. Not sure if they play the norteno or conjunto style which has roots in Mexico and Texas.

    There is also San Francisco or punk style which blends rock elements and instrumentation with traditional polka rhythms.

    Glad that I follow SGM which of course has only one style — four guys and a piano player singing traditionnally. LOL.

  14. Charles Brady wrote:

    Do Polka People travel in Prevosts?

  15. Ben Harris wrote:

    POlka is mostly 2/4 not 3/4. There is a huge amount of both in SG, but 2/4 is something we share far more than other genres…for sure.

  16. RDB wrote:

    I thought I was AVFL’s favourite Canadian reader. Boo Hoo

    Note the correct spelling of favourite.

  17. antipathy wrote:

    I think Polka bands DO travel in Prevost. The paint is usually “polka” dotted. And like SG music, they are lucky to make enough money to pay for gas and the bus payment/lease. But they look good travelling in style.

  18. Derek wrote:

    Polka-dotted Prevosts! I love it! LOL

  19. Derek wrote:

    Let’s not forget the “Big Joe Polka Show” on RFD-TV.

  20. Mickey Mixon wrote:

    I wish Polka well but I’m not sure it’s applicable for an altar service; at least SG has a chance of being performed in Heaven.

  21. Ted wrote:

    I think of the late John Candy as Schmenge×9AaXBFGc

  22. wackythinker wrote:

    Mickey, although I tend to agree with your assessment that polka may not be appropriate for an altar service, I’m not sure there won’t be polka music in heaven. It is an ancient musical form, and may have been what David danced to. :)

    We’ve talked about sg groups blurring the lines with contemporary, maybe someone needs to do some gospel polka?

  23. cdguy wrote:

    Check out this gospel polka story:

  24. Mickey Mixon wrote:

    As I listened to the Schmenge Brothers music, on You-Tube (thanks Ted), I was reminded of the little Mexican restaurant I sometimes dine at. The ambiance, Spanish music always sounds like that. Mexican Polka?! Oh, and the restaurant’s owner’s daughter (who is 22 years old) declarers she loves that kind of music. Olè!

  25. Tim wrote:

    I can hear it now. “Give this guy a chance and he’ll play that tuba right into your heart”

  26. SH wrote:

    Weird Al Yankovic, anyone? Now that man could write some polka.

  27. Montana Man wrote:

    Bud, your post #12 had me bouncing with laughter. Then I wondered if some people were called to polka music, or if they just got in it because their families did it.

  28. Norm Graham wrote:

    Posts #12 and #27 broke me up. There have been so many discussions on SGM boards about SGM as a ministry or business and about being called to SGM. I have to ask which polka players do you think are annoited?

  29. Steven wrote:

    I like mr. yankovich’s music, but the LOONNNGGG hair, and the fact he doesn’t wear a suit really bothers me. :)

  30. Norm Graham wrote:

    For the record, Jimmy Sturr again won the Grammy for Polka Music this year for his album “Come Share the Wine” which I don’t think is an invitation to communion.

  31. Dr Lovable wrote:

    Let’s face it. The only thing that’s going to save SG now is matching Lederhosen!

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