Polka or Polka dot?

Album cover from Brave Combo

It’s impossible to separate polka music from the ubiquitous polka dot. The fabric and fashion of precise dots is linked to the polka craze of the mid-nineteenth century. Polka came out of Bohemia to Prague, then to Paris, London, and the US. It even may have helped James Polk win his US Presidency! With the dance craze and its quick two-step came polka everything. Pudding, socks, dresses, and of course music.

One of the joys of the oompah beat must be its adaptability to all sorts of music. Today there are polka tunes from every corner of the world, the Czech of course to American Indians to Cajun Canadians. Its popularity has faded but it remains alive wherever folk music is played.

Here’s some early sheet music from 1860. A society lady has commissioned this piece to be written by “kitty.”

Pussy’s Polka by Kitty. Courtesy UNC-Chapel Hill Sheet Music Archives

How is polka viewed today? It depends on where you live, and who your ancestors were. In All Your Pretty Dreams the main character Jonny Knobel has a love/hate relationship with it. He grew up in a polka band in Minnesota and learned to play his grandfather’s accordion at a young age. But polka doesn’t speak to him the way it did to his father and grandfather. He wishes it did but he’s a product of the rock and roll age as much as a polka dynasty. Like the beer barrel, music and generations roll on.

All Your Pretty Dreams will be released next week! Look for it in e-book formats everywhere.

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