Lifelong musician Ruth Marty still remembers the first song she learned to play. Her father taught her on accordion. “He was the one that had a little schwyzeröergeli, which is a little button accordion, and he wanted me to play that,” Ruth said. “I played my first song I ever learned on that.”
At the time, Ruth and her family lived in Barron County. Her father bought her a more advanced accordion and scheduled occasional lessons. When Ruth’s family moved to southern Wisconsin, she sought lessons from a well-known accordion player and teacher named Rudy Burkhalter.
“I really felt I had some more things I should learn, and Rudy had me play and then he said ‘Well, I think you don’t need any more lessons. You can be a teacher for me,” Ruth remembered.
Soon, Ruth married and had children. Although she still gave lessons to her children and later, her grandchildren, she did not play accordion as often. That changed on a vacation in Switzerland in the early 1970s, when Ruth and her husband met a group of musicians from the historically Swiss town of Highland, Illinois.
The musicians had been coming to Puempel’s Tavern in New Glarus and playing over Labor Day. Ruth was invited to play accordion with them.
In recent years, she’s also started playing more often with another bandmate: her granddaughter Sarah. Sarah remembers learning to play the accordion from her grandmother. “I was probably five or six years old,” Sarah remembered.
More recently though, Sarah began playing with her grandmother more and more. After Ruth and Sarah hit the recording studio, Sarah produced a CD and organized a secret launch party. When they arrived to play, the house was packed. Ruth and Sarah provided the music on accordion while friends and strangers danced and sang.
“That’s when it’s the most fun, because you can see people enjoy themselves,” Ruth said. “We like to see them get out and dance.”