An Interview by Barb Miller: Myron Floren

"An Interview by Barb Miller: Myron Floren." Watertown Public Opinion, 1983.

Changing partners—Women at the Myron Floren concert and dance June 21, 1982 in the Watertown Civic Arena gathered around for an opportunity to dance wit Floren during several of the numbers when he came down to the dance floor. Each woman could claim him for only a few turns before another cut in. Here he dances with Gldays Bassett of Watertown while others wait their turns.
Q. When did you first learn to play the accordion?
A. I got my first accordion from Sears Roebuck when I was on a farm back in Day County, S.D. when I was about 7 years old.

Q. Did you like practicing?
A. Oh, yes. Music was the only thing I was really interested in and at the time we were going through droughts and grasshoppers and hailstorms and Russian thistles and things like that on the farm, so anything really looked a little better than farming would be.

Q. Did you have any instructors or teachers from this area that you particularly remember?
A. Not on the accordion. I had 10 lessons on piano from—well, first, I had a few lessons from a third grade teacher, Dorothy Swenson, now Mrs. Foss up around Webster—then I had 10 lessons from Walter Fitzner who came in from Aberdeen and had a few classes at the Roslyn High School. He went on to become the conductor of the Minnesota Symphony a little bit later on. On the accordion actually I just picked up from different people that I listened to, like the neighbor, Johnny Bug, that was near our farm had a little button box accordion and I used to listen to him play at all the house parties and everything. But as far as lessons on the accordion, I never had any lessons on it.

Q. Do you recall the names of any musicians around here whom you played with in the past?
A. Alvin Johnson here in Watertown, and, of course, Leo Fortin used to be with Lawrence. He had left by the time I joined the band, however. I’ve known Leo for many, many years.

Q. At what point in your life did you decide to make music your career?
A. I think that it was probably when I was 7 or 8 years old. I’ve never really thought of anything besides that.

Q. What one person had the most influence on your professional life?
A. That’d be pretty hard to pin down actually. I would say listening to people like Charles Magnante on radio and then, of course, Lawrence Welk. I used to listen to him when I was going to school in Roslyn. But then I used to listen to many of the fine pianists and I used to listen to Paul Whiteman and the band and all the bands I used to listen to late night from all the different hotels all over the country. So, It would be pretty hard to say that any one person had a great influence, but I think maybe when I got into camp shows and went overseas and found out that it looked like I could really make something out of it, then a lot of people, whether they were conductors or musicians or entertainers of one kind or another, everybody gave me a lot of encouragement.

Q. What would you recommend to a young person interested in a career in music?
A. Well, it takes a lot of hard work in order to become proficient on any instrument. It takes a lot of practice time, takes time away from baseball and football and things like that. In my case, it was quite easy because I was sick a lot as a kid and I wasn’t even able to go out for a lot of sports even though I wanted to. I wanted to be a runner like Glen Cunningham and things like that. I remember one time we had a May 17 Norwegian Fourth of July celebration in Roslyn and I ran in my old shoes and beat the whole relay team from Webster. So that was quite a thing. But, I used to love to run and play ball and everything, but just when I was getting into a place where I could start getting into it, I would get rheumatic fever or something like that which would knock me for a loop.

Q. Why do you think the Big Band era ended and do you think it will come back?
A. I don’t think it’ll come back ever the way we remember it because it’s too hard to get fine musicians to travel around like they used to and the one-nighters and so on, it’s just not economically feasible to do that anymore. The ballrooms are pretty much the same ballrooms that were popular in the old days. Those that are left, you know, they only hold 1,200-1,500 people at a time and when we go out with our big band, we don’t play for any dances, we play for just concerts where we can get from 7,000 to 15-20,000 people in a building. That of course stems from the television show mainly and we’re trying to think up some way to keep our band going on at least a part time basis.

Q. How long have you been with the Lawrence Welk Show?
A. I’ve been with the band 32 years now.

Q. How did you get started with him?
A. I was teaching the accordion and playing with a group called the Buckeye Four in St. Louis. This was back 32 years ago, 33 years ago, and Lawrence came through town playing a dance at the Castle Ballroom in South St. Louis. My wife and I went down to the dance and he recognized me as being back from here in the Dakotas and asked me to come up and play with his accordion. I guess I must have done pretty well because he came over in intermission and offered me a job right away.

Q. Now that he’s retired, you said the band will try to continue?
A. We’re going to try to continue. Of course, the television shows are going on as reruns and that makes it a little bit hard to put on another television show that would compete with it, and as far as my understanding is that Lawrence is out of the picture as far as any new shows or anything like that are concerned. We’re talking to various sponsors that have shown quite a bit of interest and we’ve talked to people in the band who are interested in going on. I think we should try one way or another to keep at least te band going and some of the entertainers because we’re the only people that are really reaching the segment of the population that we reach actually.

Q. Then you think he’s really going to stay retired?
A. I think he will, yes. He’s 79, you know. He will be 80 next March. He’s showing signs that he’s been playing the accordion a long time.

Q. What are your plans now, other than trying to continue with the band?
A. I’ve got so many things that I’ve developed over the years that I have no problem. My only problem is getting a little time off here and there. I’m doing symphony appearances, I’m doing theatres in round, I do dances, I do show and dance, I play with about 20-25 different bands around the country. I bring the music along and, in most cases, the bands sound pretty much alike.

Q. Do you ever write your own music?
A. I do quite a bit of writing, polkas, particularly. I have quite a few that are published, quite a number that are recorded, and I record a lot of my own stuff, too.

Q. How do you arrange your schedule so you can spend time with your family?
A. That’s the only hard part about being in the business I’m in is that you don’t have very much time to spend with your family.

Q. How many children and grandchildren do you have?
A. We have five daughters and four are married, and we have two grandchildren. My second daughter is married to Bobby Burgess and they’re the one that have a little boy and a little girl.

Q. Would you ever consider coming back here to retire?
A. No, I don’t think so because all of our friends are living here in California and, of course, we’ve lived there for over 30 years. But, I still want to come back to South Dakota at least a couple of times a year because I have close associations in Sioux Falls and up in Day County, Webster, Roslyn and I never want to lose those connections. One of the first paid jobs that I had, but the way, was right here in Watertown. I played a job that was sponsored by the Lanfield Ice Cream Company. I think I got $15 and a gallon of ice cream or something like that.

Thank you Mr. Floren, and the very best to you, your family and your organization.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller