Happy Boombadears look to expand into Schuylkill; keep love of boom-ba alive
Strike up the music, the Happy Boombadears are ready to play.
After bad weather forced cancellations of performances in January and February, the members of the Reading Chapter opened their 33rd year on March 16 at Genesis HealthCare, Orwigsburg Center. Adorned with green hats for St. Patrick's Day weekend, the members clanged and clashed on the unique percussion instrument called the boom-ba.
"Every other booking someone will want to know about them," said Arnetta Weller, chapter president.
A boom-ba is a 5-foot pole with a variety of instruments attached. Common features include a tambourine, cow bell, wood blocks, Swiss bells and cymbals. A decorative object, usually a beer tap or stuffed animal, is placed on top to cover the pointed end of the pole.
Among the members of the Reading Chapter to play in Orwigsburg were Weller and her husband, David. The Schuylkill Haven residents are two of three members of the chapter from Schuylkill County. Weller said the group plays in the counties from which the members reside, which includes Berks and Montgomery counties.
"You don't want to favor one place and then you have people from different counties come play with you," she said. "Whatever counties our club members reside in we also try and play there, too."
The Happy Boombadears originated in 1974 in Allentown. A few years later, in 1981, nine members wanted to extend into the Reading area and broke off to form their own chapter. Currently, the group has 21 members, ranging in age from 60 to 93. In addition to music, the nonprofit group donates to two charities each year. They also provide music for the MS Walk at Gring's Mill, Wyomissing, which will be held May 4.
Despite a slow start, Weller said the group is approaching 20 scheduled performances this year. Last year, the group had 43 bookings.
Weller, who does public relations for the group, said she is on the phone a few times a week trying to book venues. She said most of the venues are nursing homes or assisted living facilities, although she is trying to spread to different events, such as church outings.
"Sometimes they are just a lot of curiosity calls and then it's like, 'Can you send me information and phone numbers and I'll talk to my group' and sometimes I'll get the calls back," she said.
Being from Schuylkill Haven, Weller said one of her goals is to expand into the county. Last summer, the group performed at several nursing homes in the southern part of the county, including Rest Haven, Schuylkill Haven; Seton Manor, Orwigsburg, and ManorCare, Pottsville.
"They really love us up here, the ones that know us," Weller said.
For example, the group has made an annual trip to Golden Living Center York Terrace, Pottsville, in October for a Halloween show. She said the group plays spooky songs before getting to their forte, polka.
"We are tying to keep the polka music alive," she said.
An issue the group faces is finding different polka songs to play. Weller said it has become difficult to find tapes of polka.
Weller said they like to start performances with the "Pennsylvania Polka." It is a well-known song that gets the crowd and club members moving. As the performance continues, the members will dance with the crowd. At the nursing homes, they make sure to get permission to interact with the residents.
"We have dancers in the Boombadears and we encourage staff and residents to come up and dance also," she said.
Weller said the group does venture into other genres, such as country/western and holiday songs.
"We also expand a little by not just playing an hour of polka music," she said.
Although it's the folk dance music that is dearest to the boom-ba players.
"It just seems like that's what we are and if we ever went anywhere and didn't play polka music, I think we would be at a loss," Weller said.
Weller said the most pressing issue for the group is participation. The group not only has to look at its size, but also the age of the members. Weller said the group has been affected by other factors such as health and members moving away.
"We encourage everyone to come out to even a booking just to get an idea of what we are like and what we do," Weller said.
In Weller's case, it was a friend who introduced her to the unique musical instrument. She said her best friend was involved and she went to see the group. The friend handed Weller a clacker because she knew she had rhythm due to her musical background in piano and singing. She said the friend bought her a membership as a gift and she decided to stick it out.
Part of her goal to extend in Schuylkill County is getting members from the area. She said her husband and herself are willing to provide transportation to events.
"When I talk to an individual â¦ I encourage them to come to our dinner, have lunch with us, see what our meeting is like then I also say we have a booking at such a place if you would like to come see us," she said.
Weller said she always has applications at events for interested people. But the key to getting new members, especially younger people, is to see the group and the instruments.
"If you want to get to see what a boom-ba is, what you can actually do with it and see how much fun we have, then come out and see us first," she said.
While the music is fun, Weller said it's the experience of performing for a crowd that is rewarding.
"It's when you get out to the different places that we play, you get to meet new people," she said.
The 2014 officers for the Happy Boombadears are:
Arnetta Weller, president
Ron Brossman, vice president
Leota Brossman, secretary
Rosemarie Werner, treasurer
Francis Palmer, membership
Ingrid Breitenstein, sergeant at arms