Articles, activities for boomers & seniors
Summer is music season in the Lehigh Valley, with a huge variety of concerts and festivals that attract people from hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Each event allows people to share a common passion, some good fellowship, and food and drink.
If anyone knows first-hand how music works to unite people, it’s Walt Groller, internationally and locally renowned orchestra leader, composer and performer.
Groller has lived the music scene in the Lehigh Valley since he was fourteen. “Bringing People Together Through Music” is his motto, which has fueled his career.
Groller was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1931. His parents, who were Austrian immigrants, gave him a small accordion when he was four years old. He taught himself to play the Austrian folk songs his mother sang to him. Groller formed an orchestra at age 14 that is still performing today. They played at country hotels, parties, dances, church carnivals and picnics.
Groller recalls that picnics were among the most popular types of gatherings for families when he was very young. On Sundays families frequented picnic groves, where they could often find a carousel, bowling alley, dance hall, roller coaster and arcade. Some of these picnic areas were later turned into amusement parks.
Walt was drafted into the Army in 1952 and deployed in the Korean War, where he joined a military touring band. When he was discharged in 1954, he regrouped his orchestra, began recording and had a radio show on WKAP-AM every Sunday. That was when families listened to the radio together, before TV was prominent in homes.
According to Groller, one of the most thriving social venues was the ethnic clubs, such as the Liederkrantz in Allentown and the various Saengerbunds and Maennerchors (https://tinyurl.com/y9al8fez). “All the nationalities had clubs, with functions every weekend. It was well-intended, good clean fun.” Families “met there to socialize, form musical groups and sick and death benefit societies, and get the latest news”. Clubs held themed events, such as “King and Queen Night”. Dancing was extremely popular, as children were taught dancing in school, and everyone knew how to dance. There was always delicious food, including a Sunday meal and “dollar nights.”
The Walt Groller orchestra was famous for polka music, but they also play big band, country and popular music. Groller comments that country music was extremely popular.
Walt’s orchestra has traveled throughout the US and in Europe. With his wife, Marilyn, Walt organized tours and cruises for his followers, sharing his music in Europe as well as the US. He has performed in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and on cruise ships throughout the Caribbean.
The Grollers’ kitchen was the birthplace of the Bavarian Summer Festival in Barnesville, PA, which ran from 1969 until 1983 and drew nearly half a million people by the late 1970’s. Walt collaborated with the founder and invited the first Austrian musical groups, whom he had encountered on his European tours, and emceed the festival, as well.
Groller has received numerous awards for his humanitarian works here and abroad. His orchestra continues to play for the annual Viennese Concert and Ball in Pottstown, which benefits the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania. In addition to donating to charitable organizations, Walt’s orchestra members have always been eager to help other musicians in times of need.
“If someone in another group was in an accident or needed an operation, we’d play a charity concert,” he recalls.
In 1986, Walt Groller was inducted into the International Polka Association’s “Hall of Fame” and in 1988 he was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1990 the Austrian government presented Groller with the Austrian Decoration of Merit in Gold, an award given in recognition of those who help to preserve Austria’s culture. Groller also received letters of commendation from President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.
Walt has played at Musikfest for the 33 years. If you visit Musikfest, you can hear his orchestra on Saturday, August 5 from 12:00 to 4:00 pm at Festplatz.
Everywhere Walt Groller plays music, people come together to have fun and celebrate friendship, family, and their love of music. You can find the 2017 Walt Groller Orchestra schedule at www.waltgrollerorchestra.com/calendar.