My grandmother’s ambition for our family band to go on Lawrence Welk

Margaret in 1982
Margaret in 1982

I’m trying to fathom why my grandmother Margaret Tillotson loved Lawrence Welk so much. What little I know is that they were born around the same time; came from small towns in Nebraska and North Dakota, respectively; and were Catholic, although she was Irish Catholic and he was German and in her mind there was a big difference.

The Lawrence Welk Show started on KTLA in 1951 but went national on ABC in 1955, the year I was born. Margaret watched faithfully and wanted us to have a family band and go on “Lawrence Welk’s,” as she always said. At her behest I started trombone lessons at the age of eight. My sister Kate, who’s fifty-one weeks younger than I, picked up the clarinet at the same time. My mother played accordion, father could tootle a harmonica, and younger brother Dan would come along to tickle the ivories (Margaret saw to our acquisition of an old piano).

For a kid as small as me–I was so short and scrawny–the trombone was ridiculous, but my grandmother may have had a thing for Tommy Dorsey, a nice Irish boy (she had no idea what a devil he really was) and bandleader whose jazzy trombone playing lit her up.

Kate and I took evening lessons in the home of Gene Hazen, a public school music teacher who moonlighted, expending the last energy of his day on the likes of us. Once I got past scales and the simplest melodies, I lost interest, even though the lessons continued until I was thirteen.

Finally, frustrated on the rare day when I tried to practice, I smashed the slide into the concrete floor of our basement. The mangled instrument was repaired, but I never played again. Margaret’s hopes of a family band were dashed.

Kate, on the other hand, continued on clarinet and marched in Burke High School’s band.

Of course, it wasn’t only our grandmother who liked Lawrence Welk. A man of the people, his accent hinting of the Old World, he had a massive audience. It was inexplicable–that show couldn’t have been stuffier. Say what you will about the crackerjack playing of his orchestra, but the format was archaic by the mid-1960s. Yet it continued for season upon season and is still in reruns.

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3 thoughts on “My grandmother’s ambition for our family band to go on Lawrence Welk

  1. That’s a good story. Though it never encountered the concrete floor, my rented violin suffered the same fate, lying untouched until the lessons ran out. After a emitting few awful squawks at practice, I couldn’t see the desired violinist emerging from that instrument. It was a mystery never to be solved, at least not by me.

  2. That is so funny, I played the trombone for four years,HS band,small town in SD. I worked for Mike and Mary for seven years. I was the “office girl,some bookkeeping,receptionist etc. One morning I arrived first and the safe was hanging open. I immediately ran down to the gas station on the corner. I loved working there,they were so good to me . The three guys and I would sit up on the “balcony” and play cards sometimes when Mary was gone. I have pictures of all of us standing outside the office building. Virginia Slusher

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