The Boomgaarden Orchestra

Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden, aka Renee in North Dakota.

Sometime in 1925, the residents in and around Ellsworth, MN were abuzz with the news that Okke Boomgaarden had bought a $3000 accordion for his daughter, Amanda.

Okke was my great uncle, the fifth oldest of the sixteen children in my grandfather’s family. Okke was, officially, a farmer, sort of like how Don Corleone was, officially, an olive oil importer. Okke made his money bootlegging, and his barn was used for dances, not livestock. Okke had regular dances in the barn. He provided refreshments, at a cost, and members of the family provided the music.

Screenshot 2014-09-02 at 8.15.09 PM

Family historians talk about my grandfather and many of his siblings having a natural aptitude for music. All were self taught.

  • Great Uncle George learned to play the fiddle when he was 16.
  • Great Uncle Albert also played the fiddle.
  • Great Uncle Herman was a noted left handed banjo player.
  • My grandfather played the cello.
  • Great Aunt Amelia played the piano.
  • Other family members played the accordion.

In the years before the First World War they were know as The Boomgaarden Orchestra and played for dances, weddings, and harvest festivals in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

After the war, they changed their name to Mandy’s Jazz Kings, and played in Okke’s barn, joined by Okke’s children Georgie on fiddle, Jake on saxophone, and Amanda and Mabel on the accordion.

My father remembers going to some of those dances when he was a little boy, driving to Ellsworth with his parents in their Graham-Paige automobile. I wish I know more about the music the Jazz Kings and the Boomgaarden Orchestra performed.

I wish I knew what happened to my grandfather’s cello. Until I researched for this post, I never even knew he played a string instrument.

Okke died of a heart attack in 1928, and the dances stopped soon afterwards. The older members of the Jazz Kings had their own farms and families to care for and couldn’t play with the band anymore. Okke’s sons Georgie and Jake kept playing, changing the name to The Georgie Boomgaarden Orchestra. Georgie and his band played in the towns around Ellsworth until the 1970’s.

Screenshot 2014-09-02 at 8.14.53 PM

The Depression hit everybody hard. At one point, Jake’s saxophone needed $12.00 worth of repairs, but he didn’t have the money to fix it. The local doctor intervened and paid for the repairs. He had just built a night club in Ellsworth and needed musicians to play for the dances.

My grandfather felt it was important for my dad and his brother to have some kind of music training despite the tight finances. Grandpa drove Dad and Uncle Alvin to Luverne once a week to practice with a drum and bugle corps. This group was comprised of sons of World War I veterans, and you can see them in the photo at the top of this page. Dad played both drum and the bugle – he is the third boy on the right in the back row. He can still play his bugle, and has two of them in his bedroom.

Renee played bass clarinet for Concordia.
Renee played bass clarinet for Concordia.

My children and I are the current Boomgaarden music amateurs along with my husband. Husband plays the cello, guitar, harmonica, and piano. He also sings. You can see me playing my bass clarinet in the Concordia College Band in 1978. Daughter plays the violin, French horn, and piano. She sings in college. Son played the trombone and sang in college. He currently sings in the church choir. I drafted husband to join the handbell choir. He drafted me to sometimes play the bass guitar in a very amateur gospel/rock and roll group.

Why do we do these thing? I have no idea. Maybe Okke will explain it to me someday in the Hereafter.

Who has the talent in your family?

54 thoughts on “The Boomgaarden Orchestra”

  1. great guest bog renee
    your dads smile i that picture is priceless
    youd better have him teach you bugle before its too late
    i see the other family members in the band were 15 to 20 years younger than okke. maybe thats why they didnt continue on. they were all lumped together as the little kids and the leader of the band was missing. life gets busy and there are all sorts of reasons for not continuing on with the music if you want to reach for them but when it calls you it cant be stopped.
    my dad had a beautiful baritone voice and sang in the shower every morning. my mom has an angelic soprano voice and knows one song on the piano (rhapsody in blue) when it came time for lessons i took guitar and wanted to take sax but was told we couldnt do both. my brother took guitar like a duck takes to water ( my sisters had zero interet. when it came to my family my oldest son was singing in day care at age 2 or 3 and led the sing alongs at his home school pre k for all the parents. he ended talking sax, guitar and piano to accompany himself (not sax) oldest daughter played drums and piano, second son was a cello trumpet guitar and voice guy but had a tin ear, (with trumpet you push the valve but with cello you have to find the note) next daughter played piano and oboe and decided at an early early age she wanted to sing now performs with childrens theater and macphail but seems to be heading off in more achedemic directions. youngest daughter played piano and trumpet and she dances, like she is possessed my wife sings like snow white but only 2 bars at a time. beautiful soprano but no inclination to belt it out. i play guitar sort of and sing a bit. i play 8 bar blues on the piano and a little of some other stuff (sax, cello, fiddle and harmonica). and i have always wanted to get the family band together but it is not happening or looking like it will any time soon. one son and daughter would go along with it and maybe we could suck another daughter in. hmmmmm come to think of it if i got those three the other two would join. ill have to come up with a coupe of tunes for the christmas get together. i dont think son in law plays but i gave him a guitar when he expressed interest and should give him lessons to go with it. although you tube is the best lesson plan in the world. i have decided to plant guitars around my house to inspire me to learn a couple new songs a month. hallelujah is the last one i added and im frustrated that i havnet yet got the damn words down . how tough can it be? music is such a magic portal and a vibrant addition to life i am glad i was able to plug it in to my kids lives. its too bad there isnt a smart phone app for an instrument that the kids could diddle with 20 or 30 hours a day, gives me something new to noodle around with.


  2. Morning all. Wonderful piece, Renee. I love the line “sort of like how Don Corleone was, officially, an olive oil importer.” Lots of assorted talents in my family. The talent that I’ve always envied is my mother’s ability to get people to do what she wants, in a way that makes those people feel like she’s really doing THEM a favor.


  3. My brother is the one who, if not more talented (he probably is), is at least more motivated around music than I. He still plays french horn and bass (in separate bands). I gave most of it up once I hit college. Being children of a church organist and choir director there still tend to be Expectations…but, well, people are just gonna have to be disappointed (or at least amused that I now channel my musical interests to teaching elementary students about Aaron Copland while wearing a tutu).

    I have found my talents elsewhere – figuring out how to create a set for a play with very little money and any number of challenges in the space I built for (e.g., no wing space or fly space, can’t nail anything to the floor or paint it, post about about midstage right just far enough onstage to be a nuisance…). Also, finding the right metaphor to translate something technical into something more understandable (who says a liberal arts education is useless?). And sometimes things happen with eggs and flour and sugar in the kitchen.


      1. Yeah, except I fell down on the job…especially the last meeting where not only did I not write up notes, I can’t remember the book (other than that it’s something about art forgery) nor when we decided to meet…


  4. I love family history like this, Renee. And vs is right: that Godfather line is terrific.

    We can forget how recently it was that people first had access to professionally performed music. If you could not make music yourself, you couldn’t hear music. Eventually radios and record players were good and affordable enough that people could enjoy music played by other folks, but not that long ago a lover of music needed to be able to make music. Radios were not cheap or that good in the 1920s and 1930s, and homes typically had a single radio for a whole family. 78 rpm record players were primitive and limited. Music was particularly difficult to access in rural areas like your family lived in, Renee.

    My mother played piano. When she was young, one of her jobs was to demonstrate tunes in a music store. She sat at a piano. People thinking of buying sheet music for one song or another would bring them to her to hear how they sounded. She also pounded the piano in an old cinema theater to bring music to silent movies.

    When I was a kid, radios were still family things with limited distribution. For example, we had a fancy cherrywood parlor radio in the living room, and it was the only radio in our home for some time. Then the Japanese created their breakthrough innovation, the transistor radio, and suddenly it was possible to have one’s own music available in a portable device.

    In our family, it was agreed that the only musical talent lay with my sister, but she eventually tired of getting up early in the mornings to practice. I later taught myself guitar and proved that my sister was the one who had a talent for music in our family.


    1. Fred, the youngest of my great uncles, had Downs Syndrome. He couldn’t talk, my dad recalls, but loved music and played records on the family Victrola all the time.. My dad loved taking the Victrola apart when he was little, and remembers Fred getting really mad at him.


  5. Can’t say I have any particular talent. No one in my family has ever been musical, to my dismay. I always thought it would be wonderful to be Laura Ingalls Wilder and have Pa play the fiddle after dinner every night.

    I do have a little memory, though – just enough to remember to wish Jim a happy birthday this fine morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meant to go under Linda’s comment. Did you notice that there is a new book out, a pioneer memoir by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Unlike the Little House on the Prairie books, this one presents an accurate (not romanticized) version of the family’s story. It is supposed to be good.


      1. We talked about this one at the last BBC meeting… Anna has heard about it. Hennepin Library system has it on order… only 409 on the waiting list so far!!


  6. Good morning. Great job telling us about the musians in your family, Renee. I have a couple in my family that I can talk about.

    Although I love music, I don’t have any skill as a musician. My younger daughter played the saxophone and was skillful enough to become a member of the Macalester College Jazz band. She no longer plays the saxophone. However, while in college she meet and married an extremely talented musician, Zack Kline.

    Zack can play all kinds of music on the violin, and has formed a band that plays outstanding original music which is based in a mixture of music from the folk, jazz and classical music traditions. I am very proud of having a musician with so much skill in my family. A few Babooners have heard performances by Zack’s band, The Orange Mighty Trio.


      1. Renee – I’m Don Boomgaarden, Albert’s grandson. Loved your comments on their Orchestra. I do have Albert’s fiddle and still play it. 🙂


  7. Depends on what kind of talent. Musically, my mom has had a voice that could sing opera, and taught herself to play piano, though later took lessons. Sister and I got SOME of that – I inherited playing by ear, which helped me learn to chord on the guitar.

    My dad’s talent was in basketball as a teen, and later an saving money. Husband has talent in tennis, gardening, fixing things, acting, and saving $. Turns out my greatest talent is dancing, managing administrative details, and matching people up with their books. Who knew?


  8. Great blog, Renee. Bet your dad is relishing the memories.

    Dad couldn’t carry a tune, but my mother’s side of the family was very musical. She and several of her brothers were great singers, and her dad played the accordion. In fact, when he deserted his wife and eleven children, it was the only possession he took with him. My uncle John was particularly gifted with a beautiful tenor voice. He performed regularly in pubs around Drogheda.

    When I was eight years old, I was sent to piano lessons. I loved playing the piano, but wasn’t keen on practicing, and had no particular talent for it.

    My sister and I loved to sing, and if we weren’t arguing while doing the dinner dishes, we’d be singing. I wouldn’t claim that we were particularly talented, but we enjoyed it. Sorry to say that music education wasn’t common in Danish schools at the time, so if parents didn’t pay for private lessons, it just didn’t happen. I believe I was the only one of my high school classmates who played an instrument. What a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, she didn’t, but she was very supportive of me participating in musical activities in school. No one in her family was very musical. They didn’t dance, either.


      1. School is only part of the problem. The two shows I’m lighting is taking most of my time.
        But one down and one to go.
        Then I can go out and mow the lawn!


  9. The real talent in my family line is the writers. My grandfather was his small town’s reporter and photographer; my father, who, like my brother, could remember every detail from about age 4 on, wrote eloquent memoirs describing his life. l’m a decent writer, too, l think. My youngest son is as well. l see this craft as being able to tell stories in very compelling ways which pull the reader into the experiences being told. Everyone has a story to tell. ln fact, every new client who walks in my door is an unread novel and l have the privilege of being the very first reader!

    As to my child hood visions of being a famous concert pianist, well, the countless hours of practicing gave way to my need to be a normal teenager.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My grandfather (who mostly worked as a photographer) wrote one famous story for his newspaper. Because he was irked at the way the paper exaggerated events, he wrote up a mild wind storm by referring to chickens denuded by the high winds and described a prize Hereford bull that was dropped astraddle a barbed wire fence and then blown along that fence, “thereby ruining him for all future farm work.” The story was only meant to amuse the gang in the paper’s offices, but some wags set it and ran it in the paper until production had to be stopped. The issues of the paper with my grandfather’s story were collector’s items in Manchester long afterward.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for the birthday greetings. I am spending most of today getting ready to go on a trip tomorrow to see my brothers-in-law in Kentucky. You will probably be hearing from me while I am away because I am taking my computer with me on the trip.


  11. Uncle Okke’s obituary was very amusing, and must have been written by a family humorist. You wouldn’t know it was funny unless you knew he was a bootlegger. The obit sang his praises for how important his family was to him and how he would do and actually did do just about anything to provide for them.


    1. i think I wrote about him in an earlier post. He was the one who walked the streets of Ellsworth in a long coat that had lots of little pockets on the inside, and people would go up to him, hand him some money, and he would open his coat and pull a bottle of hooch out of one of the pockets.


  12. Coming in rather late on this…busy day. First, happy birthday, Jim! I hope it was a good one.

    No musical talent in my family. I have a distant memory of having piano lessons a long, long time ago…and then I didn’t have them anymore. Pretty sure the piano teacher refused to teach me when I learned absolutely nothing over a period of several months.

    Middle daughter has more talent in her little finger than I have in my entire body. She has very clever hands, as evidenced by her learning to braid her own hair when she was 5 or 6. And I mean it was really braiding – a neighbor told me how good her hair looked and when I told her daughter did it herself, her jaw dropped nearly to the ground. When she does “crafts,” it is more a work of art than a simple craft. Ceramics, sculpture, henna – none of that fazes her (An India native thought some of her henna patterns were someone in India.) And drawing and painting – well, all those tons of scratch paper she went through as a kid have paid off. I think if you want to torture her, just take away anything she can use for art, although she will surprise you with what she can make out of ordinary things (one piece of art was made with cardboard, birchbark, yogurt, and orange juice, along with some more traditional art materials).

    Liked by 2 people

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