By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Nathan Neuman of Avon has made music in a variety of ways for much of his young life, but it was the gift of a concertina nearly four years ago that grew his interest in playing old-time music.
Neuman’s uncle, Joe Langner of Long Prairie, had a concertina that belonged to Langner’s father (Neuman’s great-grandfather). Neuman is now the concertina’s caretaker.
He is a freshman at St. Cloud State University, having just graduated from Albany High School. He began playing with older fellows at nursing homes and then playing with their bands.
“Then I thought it would be fun to play with people my age, too,” Neuman said.
He kept practicing while he considered how to go about it. He listened to polka music to get a feel for the different instruments used in polka music and how they fit together. He learned to play those instruments.
Neuman has a collection of instruments which include both borrowed and his own. There are several guitars, two banjos, a dulcimer, two concertinas and a button accordion.
“I learned how the instruments sound, and how the sounds go together in the music,” he said. “Then I wanted to try my own group.”
Neuman put his dream into action by asking friends he knew from the Albany Community Band.
“I just looked for people my own age who played those polka music instruments,” he said. “A bunch of them were from my school.”
Travis Ramacher plays trumpet, guitar and drums and has been with Nathan’s Old Time Band since its inception 18 months ago. Ramacher is a freshman at Albany High School.
Ezra LaFleur, a fellow Albany Jazz Band member from Avon, is a keyboardist. He is a high school sophomore taking classes online.
“Other people I knew about from friends of mine,” Neuman said.
Dan Ingman of Richmond joined the band in fall 2012. He plays percussion in the Rocori Drumline and tours with a local musical group. He is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I’m the summer main drummer and will be a fill-in drummer during the rest of the year,” Ingman said.
Neuman’s dad, Bill, heard that a friend’s son played drums. Matt Heinen is a drummer from St. Joseph, attending St. Cloud Christian School.
“I also asked people from different schools if they knew someone and found Alli Ruprecht, our backup keyboardist,” said Neuman.
Ruprecht is a sophomore at Holdingford High School and just joined the group this month.
Neuman’s younger sister, Alicia, plays violin with the St. Cloud Symphony and gives violin lessons. She plays fiddle, with her brother on the guitar, as a duo named the “Bottom of the Hill Band.”
“I trained my sister to be backup keyboardist,” Neuman said. “She plays the fiddle with the band too, usually taking the bigger gigs that we play like polka masses and big ballrooms.”
Neuman generally plays the concertina and is the band’s vocalist.
The band plays at polka Masses, dances, parties and other events. They also do four-hour gigs at area ballrooms.
Each band member takes away different things from the experiences.
“What I like the most is all the interesting people we meet,” LaFleur said. “We just played at a barn dance and everyone there was having a really good time.”
“I just enjoy playing; it’s what I want to do,” Ingman said. “I’d much rather be doing this than working at a fast food restaurant. I can’t hang out with friends on weekends, but it’s worth it.”
Neuman is pleased and gratified with the band, something that is both work and play.
“The most challenging thing about running the band is getting players together. Kids are often really busy,” he said.
What makes it all worthwhile is the excitement of bringing polka music to people in fresh and new ways.
“New players have a whole new perspective of it,” he said. “They have been listening to other kinds of music and they see it differently than people who have been playing it for years. They add their own touch to it.”
Bill Neuman is proud of what his son is doing.
“He gave us a run for our money; he was very stubborn and very determined at a young age,” he said. “That determination helped him with his music. Once he found his niche, things turned around. He is financing his college education this way.”
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