Saturday, September 16, 2006

Retired pastor creates polka verses to enliven worship

Sept. 16, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Hey, hey the gang's all here, so let's praise the lord.
That's precisely the theme Ardene Wuthrich had in mind when he wrote the songs that the Jubilee Polka Band will perform during the seventh annual polka mass at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, Sept. 17, at First Lutheran Church, 1515 W. Adams Ave. in Temple.
'I'm no musician by any means,' Wuthrich said. 'I can't read music, play an instrument or sing.'
His working resume offers not even the slightest hint of a musical background. He's a preacher. He's preached at churches, on the radio and to convicts.
A choir master, Ardene Wuthrich is not.
But polka's polka, a melodic breed of its own.
'Polka, I know,' Wuthrich said, matter-of-factly.
He was raised in Taylor, learning the magic of the happy music from his father, the leader of a house band that specialized in German polkas and waltzes.
'Polka became engrained in my brain,' Wuthrich said.
He said he remembers many a Sunday afternoon when he and his family would listen to the 'Czech Melody Hour' on KTEM, a Temple radio station. The program was discontinued several years ago.
'It was glorious. Two or three hours of nothing but polka,' Wuthrich said, chuckling.
So far, Wuthrich has penned and copyrighted six polkas.
The former pastor of First Lutheran Church initiated the polka mass there in 2000, one year after he visited a similar service at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Austin.
Since then, leaders of churches in Cameron, Rockdale and Pflugerville have visited Wuthrich's Church in Temple. They returned to their home churches to incorporate Wuthrich’s material in their own versions of a polka Mass.
“In 2003, I began copyrighting my work to ensure accuracy and have control over how the tunes were used,” Wuthrich said. “It most definitely was not for money. The royalties you get aren’t that much.”
The worship leader is working on his seventh and eighth polkas now.
Wuthrich develops his Christian polkas the way a student might use the tune of a favorite song to help him remember a list of facts for a test.
“First, I find a polka with a melody I like, which is usually a familiar one a lot of people will know,” Wuthrich said. “And then I listen to it over and over and over while thinking of words that fit the message I want to share. I find the rhymes, and then I rewrite and rewrite.”
And then Wuthrich said he polishes and tweaks the piece right up until the moment before it is performed.
“Like a good book, a good polka is never done,” Wuthrich said. “There’s always something that can be changed to make it just a little bit better.”
If he were to do nothing, but sleep and write, then Wuthrich said he could finish one in two weeks.
“The polkas definitely don’t fall out of the sky,” Wuthrich said, sighing at the effort he puts into his polkas.
All of Wuthrich’s polkas speak to the theme of Christianity.
To the tune of the Lichtensteina Polka, Wuthrich paraphrased Psalm 103.
“The message of the psalm is there,” Wuthrich said. “It’s just rearranged here and there to sound like a polka.”
One of his favorites is “Speak Through the Gospel,” set to the tune of the Julida Polka.
It reads:
“We come to You, O Lord, because You call us.
“We come to You, O Lord, because You want us.
“We come to You, O Lord, because You love us.
“Speak through the Gospel, Lord. Open up our ears.”
At last year’s polka Mass, the Harold Strand Polka Band performed “Speak Through the Gospel” as an introduction to a discussion of Matthew 20:1-16
“It brings such a feeling excitement,” Wuthrich said of his gospel polka. “I want the people who hear it to feel excited by the time it’s over, excited enough to stand up and clap and excited enough to want to learn more about Christ.”
And he said he’s pleased with his success with the polka Mass that takes place the third Sunday of September of every year.
The polka program continues to be popular with Central Texas residents with each year’s attendance higher than the one before.
“I’ve been impressed that all ages come to enjoy the show,” Wuthrich said. “The little children are spellbound with trumpets and accordions. Families with little ones tend to pile in the front row, so they can hear better.”
Wuthrich said his goal is to have each year’s polka Mass be different from the one before, so that people won’t tire of it and stop coming.
To add variety to the polka Masses, Wuthrich said that he contributes new polka songs and that the church hires a new band every two years.
“It’s gotta be fun,” Wuthrich said. “It can’t be boring or sad. Some religious music is. I don’t like staid, plain music. Worshiping God is a joyous occasion. The music we use to worship should be as well.”
The polka pastor does have his critics, though.
“Some people think polka music belongs only in the dance halls — and out of the church,” Wuthrich said.
But the retired pastor reminds his critics of Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran church who lived in the early 1500s.
“Marin Luther used the tune of a popular tavern song to teach his ideas,” Wuthrich said. “His method was to use something that people already knew to introduce a foreign concept in hopes they might understand it.”
Wuthrich wants his polkas to act like Luther’s tavern song.
“I want to write my polka in a way people will remember them. I want the melody to become a part of whomever hears it,” Wuthrich said. “Then, without even thinking about it, they’ll start singing it or humming the tune in the shower.”
Last year folks from 40 different communities attended the polka Mass.
Wuthrich said one-third of the attendees were from the Roman Catholic Church. Representatives of almost every faith imaginable attended, and several people came because they were curious.
“Some asked themselves, ‘Polka at Church? This I’ve gotta see for myself.’ And then most of those folks would end up coming again the next year,” Wuthrich said. “I’m happy that everyone feels — and is — welcome to come."

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