It’s No Svet, Accordionist Says As He Hits Heights

It’s No Svet, Accordionist Says As He Hits Heights

By LIBBY CUDMORE • allotsego.com

Edition of Thursday-Friday Oct. 16-17

When Frank Svet picks up his accordion, he’s fulfilling a promise he made to his mother, Millie Krish, years ago. “I was an electrical engineer, but I told my mother that I’d play polka music in my retirement.”

Frank Svet plays polkas before a packed house at the Farmers’ Independent Benevolet Society’s annual Polka Fest at Cornfield Hall, Fly Creek. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO)
Frank Svet plays polkas before a packed house at the Farmers’ Independent Benevolet Society’s annual Polka Fest at Cornfield Hall, Fly Creek. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO)

Svet, a Richfield Springs native who now lives in Dayton, Ohio, was on hand Sunday, Oct. 12, to play Cleveland-style polkas at the annual Cornfield Hall polka fest and dinner dance. “A Cleveland-style polka has a march beat, it’s a little slower than a European-style polka,” he explained. “When they came over to America, the Slovenians blended many of the genres together.”

Later in the day, he was joined by three other accordion players, Herm and Charlie Schwasnick, and Frank Albrecht. “Four accordions all playing at once is something you don’t see anywhere else except the Cornfield Hall,” said Jim Bell, Cooperstown. “It’s our tradition.”

Svet took up the accordion at age 7, when he was assigned the tuba at school. “I brought it home and my mother said, ‘I am not going to listen to a tuba’!” he said. “The next week, I had an accordion.”

He’d grown up listening to traditional music, so he took to his new instrument gladly. On Sundays, he would go to the Fly Creek Hotel to play for his Uncle John’s customers.

He quickly became known around the county for his talent, playing at one of the Busch family’s wedding and at a fundraiser for President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was a teen.

In 2012, he retired from a career in engineering, where he worked on the Disney World monorail and obtained a patent on the “hood” over the lights at railroad crossings.

He’s recorded three albums of polka music – “No Svet” in 2010, “More Svet” in 2012 and this year’s “Don’t Svet It,” which are available at Spurbeck’s Grocery on Railroad Avenue in Cooperstown.

In 2012 and 2013, Svet was nominated for the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in the musician category and in 2012, “More Svet” was nominated for Album of the Year. This year, “Don’t Svet It” is up for Album of the Year, and he is up again for Musician of the Year.

And while it’s no surprise that polkas are still popular in Europe, he was surprised to see that they’re becoming hip again along the Texas border. “There’s a lot of Czechoslovakians along the border, so you’ll see 1,000 people at a dance hall, in their cowboy hats and boots, dancing a polka,” he said.

He recently played the Memphis Oktoberfest, which, for the first time in city history, featured German/Slovenian music. “There were 3,000 people there,” he said. “I was two blocks from Sun Studios, where Elvis recorded.”

And while he’s on stage, his wife, Marilyn, helps out on the dance floor. “There was this little boy in Memphis, just watching us,” he said. “She got him out onto the floor to do the ‘Chicken Dance,’ and he really enjoyed that. He came up to the bandstand afterwards and I signed a CD to him – his parents said they’d bring him back next year if I was playing!”

But this may be his last time playing his hometown Polka Fest. Svet has been hired to play for 1,800 people every Friday and Saturday night at the new Hofbrauhaus in Columbus, Ohio, a beer hall franchise styled after the 400-year-old Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany. “They’re looking to attract a younger age group,” he said. “A polka is something everyone, young and old, can enjoy.”