Music to my ears

By Kathy McCully
Isanti County Historical Society

Week 23 since the fire and the holidays are almost upon our lovely county. This weekend I found myself on both sides of the stage—as a performer with the East Central Grad Band, and as a concertgoer at a Celtic Thunder concert. Both made me think about the everlasting gift of music, heritage and traditions.

I have played the baritone/euphonium since 5th grade…almost 50 years now. Remembering band lessons, school concerts, contests in high school, and marching band I have great memories and a few really good stories to tell. The East Central Grad Band is the “frosting on the cake” for me as I get to entertain the community, make friends from all walks of life and of different ages, and play music ranging from contemporary to traditional (depending on conductor Lynn Wedlund’s choices, of course). Never would I have thought in 5th grade that I would be playing with a band now. Music is a part of my heritage, but it didn’t just start then.

Celtic Thunder performed songs and played instruments that are very common in their part of the world in celebrating their Irish heritage, The concert was attended by ages from 10 to 100 and amid the laughter, clapping and cheering (and that was just from the performers themselves), I can definitely say that everyone had an excellent time. What a novel idea…combining music and heritage to entertain!

Our ancestors were also performers and musicians. My great-grandfather, Korp Eric Olson was a notable fiddle player in Sweden, who immigrated around the age of 50 to start a new life in North America. Traveling from Sweden he brought with him two violins, and continued to play until his death. Eric, and other immigrant musicians I am sure, brought with them the musical heritage of the old country, which was played, passed down, and eventually evolved into Swedish-American, or perhaps German-American music. What a wonderful gift to leave those that follow.

In the 1940s, my mom Eileen was given an accordion. She has told me how she sat on the washtub and worked until she finally figured out how to play that accordion. Playing only by ear, she plays some of the Swedish-American tunes, and she even played with a polka band before she was married. She still has that accordion and I marvel at the idea that she plays by ear. Music and heritage at work again!

It seems that not all bands and musicians are as well-known as the East Central Grad Band or Celtic Thunder. Over the past 150 years of Isanti County’s existence, there have been community bands, school bands and orchestras, chorals and choirs, theatrical musicians, traveling musician’s, and even family bands. I have enclosed a photo of a band that was found in the Carlson negatives. I bet this family had a great time performing, sharing their music and heritage to audiences everywhere. If anyone can identify this group and/or the time period, please let ICHS know.

So whether music is in your blood or not, you are an entertainer or performance attendee, as the years pass and generations come and go, remember to share your heritage with others, carry out a long-standing tradition or establish a new tradition this season. Entertain by sharing your memories and family stories, and play that instrument that is collecting dust in the closet. Passing all this on to your descendants is the most wonderful gift of all. Most importantly, keep playing the music … tunes old and new and everywhere in between. Music and Heritage–these things will not change if we don’t let them.

Over the next two weeks, when the entire world will all be busy with family and friends, ICHS is taking a break before the hard-core processing of salvaged materials is started. The office will be taking phone calls and emails, but will not be open until Tuesday, January 3, 2012. Year-end donations toward operating expenses are greatly appreciated and can be made by mail, at our website, or directly at Cambridge State Bank. For all other inquiries, visit, call us at 763-689-4229, email at [email protected] or drop us a letter at 1700 E. Rum River Drive S., Suite K, Cambridge, MN 55008. We are open by appointment only at this time.