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Minot accordionists take concerts online

Pandemic doesn’t deter Minot music makers

Jill Schramm/MDN Jerry Schlag’s image is picked up on a tablet during an accordion session in a portion of his home turned into a studio for Facebook Live shows, performed each week with accordionists Marla Rose and Karen Stevens.

A viral pandemic might grind much of society to a halt, but the music goes on.

Rather than let COVID-19 derail his concert schedule, long-time entertainer and accordionist Jerry Schlag of Minot took his show online as soon as it became apparent in March 2020 that life was about to change. Initially performing on Facebook Live by himself, he recruited accordionists Karen Stevens and Marla Rose for shows that aired every Monday and Friday. Since last fall, the shows have been just on Mondays, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Jerry Schlag’s Facebook page.

Recently, senior living centers have been relaxing visitation rules, enabling in-person concerts to resume in some instances. However, Schlag isn’t giving up his Facebook show just yet.

“It’s so much fun right now that I don’t know when we’re going to quit,” he laughed.

Schlag, 80, has been a regular at Minot and area assisted-living and nursing homes, often with Stevens and Rose, performing 90 to 100 shows a year. Through the Council of the Arts, they would play at the pioneer museum in Rugby as well as playing each year with the accordion band at Norsk Hostfest and at area churches. Schlag also has had standing engagements at the Sakura restaurant in Minot and at a Williston steakhouse.

Schlag and his wife, Laurel, were visiting their daughter in St. Paul, Minnesota, in March 2020 when it became apparent that COVID-19 was on its way to disrupt their concert schedule. Their daughter suggested Facebook Live concerts as an option.

Laurel Schlag sets up and monitors the Facebook Live broadcasts and serves as narrator.

Jerry Schlag played alone for several weeks due to the uncertainty over COVID-19. Eventually Stevens and Rose felt comfortable joining him in his home for the concert sessions.

“Through the whole pandemic, we couldn’t play anywhere so it kept us in practice. We learned so many new songs,” Stevens said.

There’s a camaraderie in playing together that would have been lost but for the Facebook Live sessions, Stevens said. She misses the interaction with the seniors, too, but added, “You can picture some of those people and hope that they can listen.”

Rose also said it’s been encouraging to have so many people tune to watch and become regular followers.

“When you know that you are making them happy and you are pleasing them with your hour and 15 minutes, that’s pretty rewarding for Karen, Jerry and I,” Rose said. “It’s kind of like spending an evening with a group of friends who are watching us and enjoying our music, and because they make comments on Facebook, there’s a dialogue that goes on.”

Viewers make comments on the music or make song requests, and Rose said she knows some couples are dancing in their homes. Rose said they often personalize their performance if a viewer is celebrating a birthday or an anniversary.

Interest in the online concerts hasn’t waned over the many months, either.

“We have had anywhere from 100 to one night we had over 1,000 visitors,” Schlag said of the number of logged-in users. “We get responders from Arizona, California, Washington, Montana, Maryland, New York, Florida. Here a couple of weeks ago we even had some response from Norway, and one from New Zealand.”

He added they have a following as well from the Cleveland, Ohio, area, which has a strong base of accordion music enthusiasts.

In addition to tuning in live, viewers can check in anytime to listen to past concert recordings. Around 85 shows currently are in the recorded collection.

What viewers will see and hear when they sign in is three accordionists who are as entertained by performing together as they are entertaining to their listeners. Rose said the level of personal enjoyment wasn’t something they saw coming when they decided to air their music online to assisted-living and nursing home residents and others spending more time confined at home.

“It’s delightful to sit and play,” she said. “It’s always fun to play the accordion with Jerry and Karen, no matter where we play.”

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