The common image that comes to mind when talking about German folk music is heavy set older men with thick accents, playing oom-pah tunes while drinking beer.
Blaskapelle Milwaukee, a 18-piece brass and wind ensemble, bucks that trend. Not only is the group made up of mostly 21-24 year olds, it's also made up of people who for the most part had little or no background in traditional German music.
The band's conductor (though he prefers the term "leader), Andy Hacker, grew up immersed in his family's German culture; the music was a part of his life from an early age and he grew up playing the tuba in various groups of different genres.
It was on a trip to Germany a few years ago that he stumbled across some musical charts for traditional German brass band music. On a whim, he picked up about 15 different pieces, not quite knowing what he would do with him.
Upon his return, he was meeting with some friends at Carroll College when he had an idea.
"I pulled out the charts and just went through them with my friends," Hacker says. "We started playing and I asked them what they thought -- not telling them what kind of music it was or anything else about the pieces."
When the music brought a positive reaction, he started formulating his idea for the band which landed its first gig in April 2007. One of the local German societies needed some entertainment for its annual Bockbierfest and quickly, the group came together.
Like Hacker, there were a handful of band members who had background in the genre but the majority were all "outsiders" in terms of the Ethnic community. Quickly, though, they embraced the opportunity and atmosphere.
"They saw and heard how much fun I had over the years at events," Hacker says. "Once we started going around, they really got into it."
In three short years, gigs have become more plentiful, though Hacker and his bandmates don't really consider it to be work.
"We use words like "gig" and "job" only because that's what they're called in the industry," Hacker says. "But really, it's musicians playing because they love to make music. It's fun for us."
Earlier this year, Blaskapelle Milwaukee put together it's first CD. Following a successful spring event, the band headed to the studio and, as Hacker says, just started playing. In one six-hour session, 14 tracks were recorded -- 12 of which made it to the album, which is available at the band's Web site or at gigs.
In addition to traditional German standards, Blaskapelle Milwaukee performs a number of different styles from all over Europe -- and the United States, too. Later this year, the band will add some big band tunes into its repertoire for a New Year's event.
Even with the early success, some are still skeptical about the abilities of a group of 20-somethings to play music traditionally performed by "older" musicians. The number of those people is shrinking, but still, it's a stigma that Hacker and his group are working hard to erase.
"You get the people that kind of raise their eyebrow sometimes," he says. "I still get questions from people calling to book us and they're surprised at first with how young we are."
But by incorporating young people -- especially those with little to no background in the city's German community -- is a key, in Hacker's opinion to preserving the customs and traditions for generations to come.
"We always are told that the young people need to get involved," Hacker says. "Well, here we are."