Hey r/ethomusicology! Quit Calling Volksmusik Polka Music!

Christina Bishop
3 min readJan 24, 2023

umbrella term (plural umbrella terms)

  1. A term used to cover a broad category of things rather than a single specific item.

When I try to talk to people about Volksmusik as it does exist in the Midwestern States and many other German-Speaking communities in America. One ugly word and umbrella term that pops up is Polka Music even from members of my family who are of immigrant descent and have no idea what xenophobia was like for the generation before us. I have even heard members of this community call it this ugly name without respect for all its various genres in Volksmusik Cannon such as Volkstumuliche, Schlager, Tanzlmusik, and Blastermusik. I have had commenters call my work r/badmusicology without knowing the history of Germany, Austria, and of German-Speaking Americans including important figures like Harold Loffelmacher, The Comedian Harmonist, The Von Trapps, Edith Moller, and Franzl Lang.

r/ethnomusicology, have you any idea that I’m a fourth-generation granddaughter of German immigrants? My Grandmother’s family name is Krappmann which means “One who dyes fabric red” with Krapp being the name for the Sumac Plant. It’s a name given to patriots and fighters like my Great Bavarian Opa who fought hard to find a job making barrels and then made tanks for the Second World War, My Uncle Gorge who was a soldier, and Jaggerkonig of the Kopling Society’s Hunting Club. My Grandmother Lill had the nickname Kuniguthe which means Warrior Queen. If you asked any of them if their music is called Polka Music they would scoff at you and tell you that it’s Duchtmen’s Music!

Also, the Polka Industry much like Country Music which was stolen from both German and Irish Immigrant music, is an Ole Boys Club, and an occasional female in the Hall of Fame like Frankenmuth’s Linda Lee is a rarity. Why has no ethnomusicologist devoted their study and data to how many men compared to women are members of the IPA (International Polka Association)? Also if it claims to be international should it not be inclusive to Volksmusik? They frown upon Volksmuisk too because it’s too German when there are many countries and nationalities in Europe who want the genre to thrive and not die out like the dinosaurs like the IPA is doing to Dutchmen.

Yet in German, the word Voll not only means everyone but is a philosophy of learning and preservation of a genre that is dying under people’s feet in German America because of the community being exclusive than inclusive to young people like me and other young people discovering Volksmusik on Youtube, Spotify, and Pandora. Imagine a classical violinist seeing someone like Martin Bruger of Ursprung Buam on Youtube but his community of German Americans in Philadelphia can’t teach him the Zillertaler Hochzeitmarsch for his brother’s wedding? I as a tuba player had the same dilemmas along with being a Frau with Asperger’s which is why I named my big red tuba Hubert after Hubert Kern of Kern Buam. If I had a Volksmusik Groupe I would name it Gewerkschaft after Michigan’s Union Culture because for Musikanten music is a labor of love.

And call it Volksmusik, not Polka Music.

Originally published at https://www.reddit.com/.

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Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra