Blaskapelle is a Milwaukee band composed of 11 Carroll alumni who have been performing polka at festivals and events since meeting up in the university’s music program several years ago.
The group first formed in the family kitchen of Andy Hacker ’10 with his Menomonee Falls High School buddy, Ryan Voigt ’11, but it was not your typical teenage garage band. Sure, it was about music, but, more than that, it was about understanding the culture behind it.
“It’s all about preserving culture and making sure the traditions that have been established continue on,” said Hacker, who is now a music educator at Hartford Union High School. His wife, Brittney (Johnson) Hacker ’11, also a Carroll grad, is a vocalist with the group.
A busy fall schedule has included a string of Oktoberfest gigs but the group has also attracted the attention of other events that include the Sept. 22, 2016 Harley-Davidson Museum HOGtoberfest and a performance for Leinenkugel Brewing Company’s 150th Anniversary.
Voigt, who plays trumpet and tenor horn, too, appreciates how the music drives an interest in German culture. He said that while his grandpa always loved polka, it was a genre he only began to explore once he joined the band. Normally he might be listening to country music, but nowadays he cranks the polka, saying, “You can catch me jammin’ to our CD. Summertime, windows down. You can’t go wrong.”
Coming to Carroll allowed the group to attract peers who were also studying music, raising the caliber of the ensemble. Among them was Mallory (Herbst) Merkel ‘11, also a Menomonee Falls High School grad, who joined the band when Hacker was looking for a clarinet player.
“I didn’t know it meant we had to wear funny clothes,” said Merkel, a music educator in Menomonee Falls. “It started to grow on me a little bit and I started to enjoy it, seeing the culture and history behind it. It was really fantastic.”
A Carroll graduate in music education, Abby Mazza ’14 plays the trumpet and Flugelhorn and is convinced polka is making a comeback among the younger generation. She is a music educator in Waukesha.
“My parents grew up listening to polka. My grandparents love polka. And it is an older generation’s music but when my friends come out and hear it, they absolutely love it,” Mazza said. “You see so many young people out there dancing and listening and having a good time. It’s not as old fogey as you think and it’s nice.”
Unlike many of his fellow Blaskapelle musicians who are music educators, Walter Gaskew ’10 graduated from Carroll with a degree.
in psychology. He had played as part of a scholarship with Carroll’s wind symphony and jazz ensemble. That’s how he met Hacker and how he was introduced to polka. He said he knew nothing about polka music prior to joining the band.
Gaskew said most of the players, who are all younger than 30, graduated about the same time. They all played in Shattuck, were involved in the wind symphony and/or jazz ensembles. As friends, they’ve built upon similar experiences.
“It’s great to have something in common,” said Gaskew, who also has a master’s degree in counseling with a specialization in forensic psychology.
He said younger people playing polka music is helping to bring it back to life for new generations.
“That’s how traditions carry on. They go from generation to generation. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that with the generation after us,” he said.