NB Magazine – 175th Year Edition

As our city celebrates their 175th year, many events are planned to pay tribute to our heritage. When the German’s came to Texas, they brought many things with, including their love of music. History tells us that by 1850, German’s made up more than 5% of the entire population of Texas. The central part of the state where New Braunfels is located, was known as the German Belt. The new settlers brought their instruments and musical style to Texas, with the accordion being one of the most popular instruments. During these early days before electricity, the accordion was popular because of its ability to be played loud. Naturally when I think of loud accordion playing, the name Alex Meixner instantly comes to mind. Not only is he an amazing musician, Meixner is well versed in the history of the accordion. I spoke with Alex about the traditional German music and how it also influenced the Hispanic population that were already in Texas when the German settlers arrived.

“The accordion and many of the initial dances, like polka, waltz and schottische, are of German origin,” explained Meixner. “When the Court of Maximillian colonized Mexico, they brought instruments and dances with them. As the settlers and natives integrated, more instruments were introduced such as trumpets and violins from Europe and guitarrons and bajo sextos from Mexico.” When I asked Alex to explain the basic differences between the German and the Mexico styles, he broke it down this way. “The tempos and dance steps are very similar but are generally a bit slower for the Mexican conjunto music because they are more improvisational. The bajo sexto replaces the left hand of the accordion player with bass lines and chord accompaniments in order to free the accordionist for more chromatic lines.” If you are non-musical like me, that last sentence was probably confusing. In short, I think it means when there are other instruments on-stage, the accordion player gets to go crazy and act like a madman.

Traditional polka music that we all celebrate and salute during Wurstfest is often associated with Germany, but in fact it originated in Bohemia, an area now within the Czech Republic. Texas polka styles are different from those in the Cleveland, Ohio region, which was also a popular site of early German settlers. In Ohio, the polka was more oompah-influenced because of the huge German population. In south Texas, polkas had a more Latin influence. In the mid-1800’s, northern Mexico and south Texas was a heavily settled area. When the Texas Germans met the northern Mexicans, they realized that their traditional music was very similar. They called their music musica nortena, meaning northern music while the German settlers referred to theirs as polkas and waltzes. Blending the two styles together was a natural progression over time.

“The Tejano music is a modernized pop approach to the traditional conjunto music,” said Alex, as he continued his music history story. “Much like German music has evolved with more American and international popular influences, Tejano has as well. It must modernize to be relevant to younger audiences. Especially in recent years, there has been a lot more cross pollination between the cultural groups. In 2006 I recorded a Grammy nominated album called Polka Freak Out with Bubba Hernandez. This album was our attempt to bridge elements of both styles in an effort to bring the cultures together.”

As you can see, our dearly loved polka music is steeped in history from Germany, Bohemia, Texas and Mexico. Reminds me of my grandma’s homemade vegetable soup, it takes a lot of ingredients to make it taste so good. So the next time you are at Wurstfest enjoying great polka music from Alex Meixner and the many other polka bands performing, remember all the history involved in the music you are hearing. Or, you could just drink another beer and savor the fact that your live in one of the most diverse music cities in America. Happy 175th Birthday New Braunfels.

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