Winning tune: Young polka musician takes top prize in international songwriting competition

When Nathan Neuman was 15 years old, his great aunt and uncle gave him the family concertina. Learning to play it led to a passion for the instrument and for polka music.

An avid musician, he started writing his own music and has been performing some original songs and covers of popular songs with his band, and as a solo artist for nine years.

Nathan Neuman was awarded first place in the 2020 International Polka Association Young Songwriter’s Competition for his original song, “Pass It On.” (photo courtesy of Nathan Neuman)

He’s been keeping busy during the pandemic writing and recording new music. And now his talent and efforts are being recognized internationally.

He was recently awarded first place in the 2020 International Polka Association Young Songwriter’s Competition for his original song, “Pass It On,” about passing instruments on to the next generation.

“If not for the generosity of my relatives lending me their concertinas, I may never have become a polka musician,” Nathan said.

This is the first time the IPA, an educational and charitable organization that works toward the preservation and advancement of polka music, has sponsored a songwriting contest, according to Stephen Kaminski, the organization’s director in Chicago. The competition was open to all composers between the ages of 10 and 35 and included all polka styles.

“Since the response from the competition has been so positive it will most likely be an annual event,” he said.

Songs were judged on memorability, lyrics, relatability, originality and musical skills such as melodic structure, use of key changes and chords, Kaminski said.

“They were rated without the judges knowing the composers’ names or ages,” Kaminski said. “He played all the instrumental parts and sang on the recording. That just shows you Nathan’s talent as a composer.”

Playing a variety of concertinas and accordions and putting all those parts together was Nathan’s favorite part of “Pass it On.”

“Each [instrument] was from someone supportive of my music,” he said.

Nathan Neuman performs at an event in Avon Feb. 9, 2019. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

Polka isn’t exactly the music style most young people are listening to, but Nathan believes it has something for everyone.

“There are many polka styles,” Nathan said. “I believe that everyone can find one they like because of its worldwide diversity.”

He believes polka music is becoming more popular with a younger audience because many young people are curious about older things and the internet is making ethnic content more accessible.

“Today’s youth are drawn to authenticity,” he said.

What he likes most about polka music is the people he meets along the way. The happy beat brings out positivity in everyone, he said.

He often posts his recordings on his Facebook page, which has more than 4,000 followers.

As a teenager, Nathan played guitar with his sister, Alicia, in the Bottom of the Hill Band. But now he concentrates mostly on concertina, accordion and his first instrument, the trumpet.

Nathan, who is a member of St, Joseph Parish in Waite Park, credits lessons from former music director Galen Johnson in Albany with helping him learn to play a wide variety of instruments, as well as playing with other musicians, and studying independently.

Many of the polkas he can perform are in other languages, including Polish, and that inspired him to learn the language.

“I am currently learning Polish mostly by daily practice with online friends in Poland,” he said. “They want to learn English more fluently, also, so it’s a good deal for both of us. It is especially fun teaching them Midwest slang like ‘You betcha’.”

Praying the rosary, Divine Office, and daily readings in Polish are also very helpful, he said.

In addition to the first-place award, Nathan co-wrote a song with fellow musician Alli Lange from Ohio that was awarded third place in the IPA competition. “The Next Step” was meant to be featured on a future album. It wasn’t completed, so they worked together to finish it and enter it in the competition.

“It is about taking the next step in a relationship with polka dancing analogies,” he said. “It’s very cute.”

Nathan said he was honored to receive first place in the competition.

”I’ve received compliments from renowned musicians worldwide and congratulations from many fans who have supported me along the way,” he said.

View a lyric video of the winning song here:

For more information about the International Polka Association, visit:

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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