The Polka Dots
By Sarah Hall
Lorna Brown observes that when people retire from their careers, they return to what they love most.
Music is Lorna Brown’s passion, and the accordion is her vehicle for sharing her love of music with others. During her years of modeling, teaching in special education, motherhood and selling real estate, her accordion stayed nearby, ready to entertain family and friends, though not played as often as during her musical youth.Now she says music is “what I’d rather do more than anything else. And I plan to keep playing, even when I get so they have to set the accordion in my lap.”
Foster Owen has managed to make music throughout his life, and minored in music at Catawba College in the ’60s. Even when he was Salisbury’s assistant city manager he found time to play banjo and brass and to sing. Perhaps you have seen him playing in the pit orchestra for Piedmont Players or with Doc Young and the Music Makers, or singing in a barbershop quartet.
George Hill played trumpet with the U.S. Army Band in Europe after he was drafted in the Korean War. But music fell by the wayside for about 25 years as he attended college and seminary, served as a preacher, then sold insurance.
While travelling for the insurance company, he stepped into a music store and bought a cornet. He took it back to his motel room and started playing it. And hasn’t stopped.
Since retiring and moving with his wife Sara to her hometown of Salisbury, he has been performing steadily, volunteers as librarian for the Salisbury Symphony, and helped start a new band for the Salvation Army.
Lorna, Foster and George are three-fifths of the Polka Dots polka band, bringing polkas, waltzes and standards to the Salisbury music scene.
John and Anne Cave round out the quintet, but with retirement still a ways off for these junior members of the group, it can be a challenge to make time for music. Clarinettist John is a physician in the Hefner V.A. Medical Center emergency department full-time and also works for the Rowan Regional Medical Center Hospitalist Program as needed.
Anne, who sings and plays piano and guitar with the Polka Dots, is a graduate student at UNC-Greensboro and plans to return to teaching music in the school system. She has been performing since age 5 and met John in New York City, where she was teaching and performing.
She says he didn’t tell her he played clarinet until they had been married two years. Even when he bought her a piano instead of a diamond (at her request) when they got engaged, he failed to mention that he was also a musician.
Lorna is the driving force behind the Polka Dots. Foster calls her a “polka evangelist” as she goes about spreading cheer with this happy music and educating the public about ethnic roots of folk styles.
She has a collection of arrangements from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s given to her by a friend, an accordionist formerly in a band at New York’s Tavern on the Green.
She has searched for and found a variety of other arrangements ó 61 Czech polkas, 41 Czech waltzes, German Oompah band songs, some popular American Standards, patriotic music and holiday arrangements. But these scores are becoming increasingly difficult to find, with much of this style of music going out of print.
Lorna says one of her fondest memories was discovering an accordion on board a yacht sailing the archipelago from Stockholm to Helsinki.
“I picked it up and began playing old Swedish folk songs,” she says. “Everyone was amazed to hear an American lady playing Swedish music from long ago. I have always felt a love for the music of ‘the old country.’ My father played the concertina in Sweden. This experience encouraged my parents to begin lessons for my sister, first cousin and myself on the accordion here in America.
“Accordions were very popular in the ’50s and ’60s and our accordion teacher had more than 100 students. He ordered our accordions from Italy with his last name on them and sold them to his students. I still play on the Neronde accordion I purchased from him in 1955.”
The accordion was Lorna’s talent in the Miss Sacramento and Miss California pageants and as third runner-up for Miss America 1957, when she played “Dark Eyes” in the talent portion.
The accordion declined in popularity as the guitar rose, fueled by rock ‘n’ roll. Lately it has become a cool instrument among young people tired of guitar bands, reversing the trend.
Lorna stuck with her accordion through its ups and downs, and ins and outs. Her focus now is to rekindle the musical heritage of Rowan County. She points out the numerous German surnames that continue to fill the Eastern part of Rowan County, and the Scotch-Irish heritage that pervades Western Rowan.
She says this possibility of a group specializing in German and other ethnic music took shape when Foster, performing on tuba, added the “oom” to her “pah-pah” as she played German polkas at a private party.
Observing how happy their tunes seemed to make everybody, and noting the absence of polka bands in Rowan County (the Browns [Brauns] had to look out of town to hire a German band for their reunion), they decided the polka market was wide open.
They wanted a band, not just a duo. Foster recommended the Caves. And you can’t have a German band without cornet, so George was recruited.
Coming up with a name proved to be a challenge. They couldn’t agree.
Lorna told her hairdresser, Tracy Everhart at Salon 125, that they were having trouble naming themselves. Tracy suggested “Polka Dots.”
Lorna took that back to the group expecting them to shoot it down, but instead they all liked it.
Their gigs have included the Waterworks Family Fun Day, and Historic Salisbury’s OctoberTour, where Lorna says it was especially heart-warming to see children, parents and grandparents sitting together enjoying the music. They also performed for the Arc’s Festival of Trees and the Symphony Guild’s Christmas Home Tour.
Group members are available together, separately, or in combination for public and private occasions.
For bookings, contact Lorna Brown at 704-636-3024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Sarah Hall at email@example.com or 704-797-4271.