Monday, June 2, 2008

Gasp! No more Polka Masses?

In days of yore, when knighthood was in flower, and I was a lot spryer than I am today, I was known to rattle the rafters with my polka style now and then. My style was sort of the "bumper car" style from amusement parks.

Like with many traditions, with the demise of the third, fourth and fifth generations, many customs seem to get abandoned. You hardly hear anything about Sittende Mai or Svenskarnas Dag these days in Minneapolis; most folks who turn out for St. Patrick's Day couldn't find Ireland on a map or tell what color it was associated with. And now the polka, the national dance of Eastern Europe (and a few Germans) seems to be sliding by the wayside. And with it, the Polka Mass.

Another of my many claims to fame that I get to boast about here is that I know Father Frank Perkovich, the Polka Padre, from Chisholm, on the "Iron Rainch" of Minnesota, the devisor of the Polka Mass, who in 1983 with the specific approval of Pope John Paul II, celebrated a Polka Mass on the High Altar of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, has had to suffer the crowning insult, barely 25 years later, only 35 years from when Fr. Frank came up with the idea. He was also one of my study hall monitors in high school.

Dennis Schnurr, the Bishop of Duluth has forbidden further celebrations of the Polka Mass on the grounds that it was undignified. Undignified?!?! Aaaaaiiiiiiiii, the Horror!

The polka lovers were hoping for some new blood.

Not that the people who hustled out on a dance floor at the edge of Fall Lake near Winton on Saturday afternoon were complaining — they did, after all, have four hours of ripping good polka music, a beautiful day and knees that could still shake a two-step.

The polka jam was organized by Michael Jankovec of Ely TV, a community access channel that’s found a niche in bringing polka — tapes of polka performances account for about one-tenth of their broadcasting — to the masses. Jankovec has operated the station for about five months, and he knows how the locals love their polka.

But where were the young people?

“Polka has come on hard times,” Jankovec said. He advertised that anyone younger than 40 who came to Saturday’s jam would get in for free. Judging by the abundance of silver and salt-and-pepper hairdos at the packed saloon, though, few had taken the bait.

Two signs that polka is dwindling in northern Minnesota, once a stronghold because of the strong Slovenian heritage: This will be the last summer the Polka Fest will be held at Ironworld in Chisholm. The longtime event died for lack of interest, though organizers said it may go on elsewhere.

And the 35-year Iron Range tradition of the Rev. Frank Perkovich Polka Mass, which blended polka music with the regular liturgy, was dealt a blow this spring. A request for Perkovich to perform a polka mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Gilbert during the city’s upcoming centennial celebration was denied by both the Rev. Joel Hastings at St. Joseph’s Church and by Bishop Dennis Schnurr of the Duluth Diocese. Both felt that the polka mass tradition, while popular with many who grew up hearing it, doesn’t fit with the dignity of a Catholic mass. Duluth News Tribune

I wonder if Bishop Schnurr knows about the Polka Mass at St. Peter's in Rome?

Comment on Feb 15, 2009: I'd betcha that Bishop Schnurr, now Coadjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati, didn't know about the very nice Polka Masses at St. Anthony parish in Nordeast Minneapolis: I went there last Fall for their Parish Festival and to attend their "Polka Mass." There was a very good small ensemble and they performed the music to "Walz beats." I think that is a good compromise to preserve a bit of ethnic tradition now and then without bringing up images of rowdy carousers wreaking havoc on a dance floor.

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