HJ/EDMarch 27, 2006

LP youth shares loves of music with his grandparents

By Dave Cox
Staff Writer

Ten-year-old Blake Klaustermeier of Lester Prairie plays concertina and has a simple goal.

“I would like to learn enough songs so I can play at nursing homes. I want to be able to entertain people, and I like to make older people happy,” Klaustermeier said.

Klaustermeier is the son of Paul Klaustermeier and Michelle Klaustermeier.

When Blake was three years old, he sang along with tapes of Bill Makovsky’s Wee Willie Band while riding in the car with his grandparents, Marlys and Hillard Klaustermeier of Lester Prairie.

“I’d like to meet that Wee Willie guy someday,” Blake told his grandparents.

He got the opportunity to do just that, in June 2000, when his grandparents took him to Jake’s Polka Fest in Hutchinson.

Makovsky is a band leader and plays concertina. His Wee Willie Band plays American, Czech, and German polkas.

On his fifth birthday, Blake received a button accordion from his aunt and uncle, John and Lynn Klaustermeier.

“If I could read and write, I could write songs and play them,” Blake told his grandparents.

Blake continued to listen to music, and went to see his favorite bands perform whenever he could.

One of his first public appearances was when Makovsky had Blake play his button accordion with the band when it performed for a program on KEYC Channel 12 in Mankato.

During that performance, Makovsky introduced Blake as his youngest fan.

When Blake was six years old, his grandparents rented a concertina for him to see if he would like it.

It was a Lily concertina that was built in Germany in 1930.

“If you push in or out on an accordion, you get the same sound, but on a concertina, you get one sound pushing in, and a different sound pushing out,” Blake explained.

Blake plays a 102-key concertina, which has 52 buttons. This gives a concertina more range than an accordion, Blake said.

Blake met Leon Olsen of Klossner, Minn. at Jake’s Polka Fest in Hutchinson in 2005.

Blake began taking lessons from Olsen in July.

Prior to that, he had been learning on his own.

“He had lots of bad habits to break, but now he is doing pretty well,” Marlys commented.

“My teacher treats me like a son,” Blake said.

Olsen has been teaching concertina for 26 years.

In September, Makovsky invited Blake to play a few songs during a dance at the Lakeside Ballroom in Waconia.

“The first time I played in front of people, it was nerve-racking. I was scared,” Blake commented.

In January, Olsen played at the Lakeside Ballroom, and he also invited Blake to play a few songs.

Blake’s favorite songs to play are polkas.

“It is easier to play in front of 500 people than it is to play in front of five people,” Blake said. “When you play in front of five people, they are all staring right at you. When there are a lot of people, some of them are looking at other things.”

Last November, the Klaustermeier’s purchased a Stradivarious concertina for Blake from Fritz Lucas of Lester Prairie. Lucas builds and repairs concertinas. The Stradivarious concertina was made in Italy.

“It is easier to play because it is a lot lighter than the Lily,” Blake explained.

Both of Blake’s concertinas are C concertinas. They are also available in the keys of B, B flat, E, and E flat, Hillard said.

The Klaustermeiers have learned a lot about concertinas and their history since Blake started playing.

“Some of the best concertinas are Hengel concertinas. They are made in New Prague now, and they were originally made in New Ulm. They can cost from $8,000 to $10,000,” Hillard said.

Part of the cost is due to the fact that the instruments are very labor-intensive to make.

It can take 40 hours to tune one after the reeds have been installed, according to Hillard.

Blake was going to lessons every week, but has been going less often lately since he started playing basketball.

Blake also plays guitar.

“I like playing guitar, but I don’t like it when it gets to the hard spots,” Blake said.

“My grandparents encourage me through the bad times and the good times,” Blake commented.

Blake said he enjoys the music, but sometimes after six hours of it, he gets bored with it. Some of the polka fests he has attended have gone on for three days.

And, as much as he likes music, he has other aspirations.

“I don’t want this to be my whole life, just a part-time job,” Blake said.

His goal is to become a veterinarian.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I have cared for animals, and I live on a farm,” Blake explained.

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