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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Apolkalypse Now

I've been researching about the Polka. It occurred to me that there are not many modernist musical works in this form, and I'm tempted to write one just to see if I can do it.

I'm a little late to make a big splash in this idiom, since the Recording Academy has decided to do away with the Polka category for their annual Grammy Awards. But Polka is everywhere and the 2/4 dance meter and signature"oom pah" beat lives on.

I guess that I'm not the only one with Polka on the brain.

The virtuoso Canadian violinist Lara St. John has formed a 7-piece Polka group named Polkastra. She is better known for her performances of Bach and Vivaldi (the Four Seasons - of course), but she has also gone out on the limb to perform the Berg Violin Concerto and various contemporary works. For example St. John has an album with pieces by John Corigliano (b. 1938) and the young Australian composer Matthew Hindson (b. 1968).

The debut album by St. John's new ensemble Polkastra carries a cute title: Apolkalypse Now. As with the Polka, puns will never go out of fashion.

Polkastra broadens the definition of Polka by substituting contra-bassoon for the traditional tuba. There are even a few songs that call for the didgeridoo - an instrument invented 1,500 years ago by the indigenous Aboriginal tribes of northern Australia long before the Polka became a craze. The accordion is a Polka staple.

Polka lovers everywhere have reason to rejoice. Go ahead, have that pint of beer and kick up your heels.