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They're Playing Our Song - Part 7

Czech band drum.

Community Bands in Kansas

Ethnic Folk Bands

Many Kansas communities reflected the ethnic heritage of their settlers.

Feeling isolated and homesick, these people continued to practice the customs they'd brought from home. Holidays and other special occasions often called for traditional music learned by watching and listening to elders play.


Volga-German Hochzeit Music

Well into the 20th century, Volga-Germans of Kansas practiced their traditions, including music. Instrumental music often included waltzes, with an occasional two-step and schottische tune.

In the early years, many weddings and dances took place in private homes. Bands typically were small, consisting of a violin, cello, dulcimer, accordion or reed organ, and sometimes a clarinet. By the 1930s events grew too large for homes and were moved to public halls. Larger bands and louder instruments (saxophones, guitars, trombones, pianos) became common.


Czech band vest.

Bohemian Polka Music

In the 1870s, settlers from the area now known as the Czech Republic began to arrive in Kansas. Wilson, Lucas, and other towns organized Bohemian societies with opportunities for educational and social advancement.

Local orchestras furnished music for the many dances organized by these lodges. Young and old alike flocked to the dance floor when "Sveski Valji" (the "Clarinet Polka") was performed.

Wilson's Czech band.Since 1966 the town of Wilson has celebrated its Czech heritage at an after-harvest festival. Each July thousands enjoy Wilson's Czech food, music, and stories.

This vest (top, left) and drum (top, right) are used by members of the Wilson City Band (center, right).

Vest and drum courtesy of Bob Malir.


South Slavic Music

Croatians, Serbians, and Slovenians settled in the Kansas City area. Painting, Musical Heritage of Strawberry Hill (1978).

Each group had a distinct history, culture, and traditions, yet many elements of everyday life were shared by the communities.

By the 1950s, dance bands began to combine elements of Slovenian and Croatian music. This painting by Croatian artist Marijana Grisnik portrays music as a blending of traditions.

Today, South Slavic musicians continue to perform within their own ethnic community as well as at public events. When performing among themselves, ethnic dress is seldom worn and performers usually are not singled out. Public performances, however, include costumes and featured players.


Vihuela played by Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish mariachi band.Mexican Mariachi Music

During the early 1900s immigrants arrived in Kansas from Mexico in search of a better life. Much of their social life centered on the churches they established.

Mexican immigrants founded Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Topeka. A mariachi band was formed through the church. It plays for church functions, weddings, and social gatherings. Traditional instruments include a guitar, trumpets, violins, a guitarron, and a vihuela (bottom, left).Mariachi costume worn by Teresa Cuevas.

"Mariachi music has so much heart. A lot of music is about love; some is lively, some is slow. When you become accustomed to it, you learn where it is appropriate to yell 'gritos!' The yell releases something that you feel. When you start hearing the 'gritos!' from the audience, that's an acknowledgement that they do like the music."
-- Teresa Cuevas, Topeka

Teresa Cuevas, Topeka, wore this costume (bottom, right) for performances of Mariachi Estrella. Cuevas plays the violin for the group.

Costume and vihuela courtesy of Teresa Cuevas.

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They're Playing Our Song: Community Bands in Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. Military Bands
  2. Town Bands
  3. Music in the Schools
  4. Fraternal Bands
  5. Railroad Bands
  6. Cowboy Bands
  7. Ethnic Folk Bands
  8. Circus Bands
  9. Bandwagons and Bandstands