Zupe and The Polka Commandos are making a joyful noise in 2/4 time!

An interview with Zupe, writer of “Dasher, the Reindeer.”

What inspired you to record a holiday song?

I spend a lot of hours on the road, traveling to and from gigs – especially at Christmas time. My home state of Pennsylvania sure can look magical this time of year, with plenty of snow and lots of houses lit up at night. My writing “Dasher, the Reindeer” just came about naturally while on the road, driving home from the various Christmas concerts I performed.

What is your fondest holiday memory as a kid?

My father was the local telephone man in my small hometown. Everybody knew him because, when somebody had trouble with their telephone service, Dad was the guy to go fix it (this was decades before cell phones)! One December evening as the family went shopping, we were met by the store’s Santa Claus, who was hurrying to his post to meet children. But he stopped in his tracks and looked straight at my dad and said, “Hello, Bill. How are you?” I couldn’t believe it! My dad was on a first-name basis with Santa Claus!!!!!

What is your favorite Christmas/holiday song (that isn’t yours)?

I love them all! They are so much fun to listen to and to perform. But my favorites are the classics. “Silent Night” is my favorite religious-based carol (I love the story how soldiers, on the battlefield in World War 1, stopped fighting to celebrate Christmas together, singing “Silent Night”). My favorite secular Christmas song is another classic: “White Christmas” as sung by Bing Crosby. The lyrics paint such a vivid and beautiful picture, yet there’s a wistful yearning to it. And it’s so much more poignant when you consider this song was released during the horrific events of World War 2.

What are your fondest musical memories associated with the holiday season?

A lot of my performances are for the elderly at various assisted living homes. There was one woman, in particular, who seemed to adopt me as her own grandson! She loved my shows, made sure I had plenty to drink, and even wrapped some Christmas cookies for me to take home. She would always slip me a five-dollar bill, and even admonish me if I wasn’t wearing a proper winter coat for traveling! Every year, she would ask me to pose for a picture with her. It’s been several years since her passing, but I still think of her fondly.

What do you enjoy more? Receiving gifts or giving them?

It’s a tie! I enjoy the idea of someone thinking of me so much, that they go out of their way to give me something. What a beautiful and generous thing to do! And to see the delight and anticipation on the giver’s face is just another expression of love.

That said, giving gifts is just as much fun, for the exact same reasons – with the added touch of surprise when you give someone a gift. Again … it’s people caring for one another. It’s love.

What charities do you support?

There are so many worthy causes. I’ve supported St. Jude Children’s Hospital, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Wounded Warrior Project, The Purple Heart Project, NARAS’ Musicares Program, various churches and community projects, and I never pass by a Salvation Army Kettle and bell ringer!

Have you ever gotten a lump of coal in your stocking?

Yes, I have! But in Pennsylvania, coal is big, and coming across the stuff is commonplace. I’m sure it was a gag gift when I was a child. But in my early adulthood, I rented an old farmhouse that was heated by coal. One particular year, a friend gave me a truckload (about a ton) of coal for Christmas! It was a very thoughtful gift that still brings a smile all these years later.

How has Covid altered your holiday plans?

Being a professional musician and entertainer, I usually perform between 25 and 30 concerts every December. Of course, the pandemic changed all of that and my calendar has been quite empty since March. The good news is all of that time, spent at home, allowed me to complete and release my album (including “Dasher, the Reindeer”). The biggest change for me, this year, is being able to take things slowly. I have no where to be and no one is expecting anything of me. It’s not how I like operating, this time of year. I miss people!

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

More hope for everyone. To be honest, my performance calendar for 2021 is just as sparse as this year’s … at least, for now. I know I’m not the only one in this predicament, and I completely understand and relate to everyone suffering through this. But maybe we are starting to see “light at the end of the tunnel.” Not every news report is all “doom-and-gloom,” as it seems to have been just a few short months ago. So I’m looking forward to more hope in 2021.

Did you start holiday celebrations early this year? What did you do differently in 2020?

To support my polka album (Zupe and The Polka Commandos – Na zdrowie! (Nostrovia!) released in August 2020), I’ve been making music videos. This started in September and I’ve made four of them, so far. “Dasher, the Reindeer” is my latest music video on YouTube. Of course, shooting took place in early November, and my living room was one of the sets. My house was completely decorated for Christmas two days after Halloween! Is that too early? Not for me!

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