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Concertinas In Literature


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#1 John Wild

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 01:57 PM

A posting in a discussion thread in the concertina history forum produced a quote from 'Three Men in a boat'. This set me thinking of other books which contain literary references to the concertina. I have three to start with. firstly I repeat the quote from 'Three Men in a boat', originally posted (I think) by Chris Timson:-

From Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K Jerome:-

I still went on pulling, however, and still no lock came in sight, and the river grew more and more gloomy and mysterious under the gathering shadows of night, and things seemed to be getting weird and uncanny. I thought of hobgoblins and banshees, and will-o'-the-wisps, and those wicked girls who sit up all night on rocks, and lure people into whirl-pools and things; and I wished I had been a better man, and knew more hymns; and in the middle of these reflections I heard the blessed strains of "He's got `em on," played, badly, on a concertina, and knew that we were saved.

I do not admire the tones of a concertina, as a rule; but, oh! how beautiful the music seemed to us both then - far, far more beautiful than the voice of Orpheus or the lute of Apollo, or anything of that sort could have sounded. Heavenly melody, in our then state of mind, would only have still further harrowed us. A soul-moving harmony, correctly performed, we should have taken as a spirit-warning, and have given up all hope. But about the strains of "He's got `em on," jerked spasmodically, and with involuntary variations, out of a wheezy accordion, there was something singularly human and reassuring.

The sweet sounds drew nearer, and soon the boat from which they were worked lay alongside us.

It contained a party of provincial `Arrys and `Arriets, out for a moonlight sail. (There was not any moon, but that was not their fault.) I never saw more attractive, lovable people in all my life. I hailed them, and asked if they could tell me the way to Wallingford lock; and I explained that I had been looking for it for the last two hours.
================================

My second reference is from Charles Dickens.

The concertina is mentioned in Dickens' book 'Our Mutual Friend'.

In 'book the second, Chapter V, 'Mercury Prompting', the character Fledgeby tries to establish a name by asking a question based on rhyming words, and the discussion is between the two characters Fledgeby and Lammle:

Fledgeby: 'is the right name Georgiana or Georgina?'
Lammle: 'Georgiana
Fledgeby: 'I was thinking yesterday, I didn't know there was such a name. I thought it must end in ina.'
Lammle: 'Why?'
Fledgeby: 'Why, you play - if you can - the Concertina, you know' 'And you have - when you catch it - the Scarlatina. And you can come down from a balloon in a parac - no you can't though. Well, say Georgeute - I mean Georgiana.'

I do not know in which year this book was first published, but it must be one of the earliest literary references to the concertina.

===============================

My 3rd reference is originally a book but I heard this in a radio play version. I have not checked the original book text.

In 'the Go-Between', at least in the radio version, there is a scene with a cricket match on the village green. After a player jumps up to make a catch, another player says: 'I thought that ball would sail over your head but you stretched up like a concertina.
==================================

Do others know more? In the old discussion forums we had quite a long thread on concertinas in films. I wonder if this will be a short thread.

Regards,

John Wild

#2 Samantha

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 03:52 PM

I recently read a book about the man who planned and executed the first telegraph wire across Australia (south to north), and at the very end there is a reference to street boys playing the concertina. I half though of quoting it here, but didn't, and have long since taken the book back to the library.
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#3 Perry Werner

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 08:37 AM

Hi Folks:

For those interested in this topic and if you not already aware of it, you might want to read Allan Atlas' "George Gissing's Concertina" which can be found in PDF format at:

http://www.maccann-d...-concertina.pdf

I just last week read this account of author Gissing's "Love"-Hate relationship with our instrument.

If any of this stuff was/is widely believed I definitely have a habit of picking much disliked instruments which to many belong only in the hands of THE DEVIL!!!!!, a belief which I ran across many times when doing similar research into my former instrument, the saxophone. Then again, I'm sure all musical instruments at one time or another have been maligned. I'm guessing that this was primarily due to the frustration or inability to play these instruments by those who propagated these lies!!!

Anyway, Allan's article was fun reading. Now I want to read the complete books.

Happy Reading,
Perry Werner

#4 Chris Ghent

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 06:40 AM

In "Fate is the Hunter", an autobiographical account of his years as an airline pilot in the late thirties and through the war, Ernest K Gann, better known as a thriller writer, mentions buying a concertina because it was small enough to be carried on an aeroplane. He records playing it as part of the ritual of starting a flight. The navigator had an endorsed pinup that had to be in a special place, the engineer had his own ritual, and Gann's was to take the concertina from its storage place beside his left foot and play the tune, "I'll take the high road..." The crew believed if he could get through the tune with no mistakes it boded well for a smooth flight; enough petrol, no fighters, finding home base...

If anyone likes aviation stories, it is a cracker read...

Chris

#5 DDF

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 11:00 AM

I was surprised how little response this thread received so I thought I better get my two fingers into motion.
This is from english author Alison Uttley Born 1884, Whilst living at Castle Top Farm Derbyshire. The book is.Country Hoard.
Our music making was as simple asother recreations on the farm.We had hymn tunes, and folk songs remembered from long ago, and tunes the servant lad heard at the station andbought back as the latest thing.There wereairs we picked up from brass bands and from merry-go-rounds at the wakes.There were songs of servant girls,and songs the irishmen sang when they were harvesting, and plenty of carols at christmas.
My father had a good ear and memory,and he picked out his favourite tunes on the pianoni the parlour,or the ivory keys of his concertina when he sat by himself onthe seat overlooking the orchard and the river valley. There he amused himself,and we crept to listen in delight.He went smoothlyfrom one tune to another for an hour,and we sat entranced by his melodies.When strangers appeared he refused to perform.His untaught music was for us alone,and even we had to stalk him silently,for like a shy bird he stopped his sweet airs when he was aware of too much attention.
He would play to the Irishmen,who were not strangers to us.They had worked at the farm every summer for generations,father,son and grandson.Theycame for my grandfather before Victoria came to the throne.Only the Great War broke hte link inthe strong chain that held us together in freindship,inservitude and comradeship.They came with songs in their hearts and merry jigs in their heels. We welcomed them as folk in the Middle Ages must have welcomed the travelling singers and poets of their day. WE hung round the door of the Irishmen's place and listened to their speech,their songs,their whistling and there pipingThey gave a great performance,a star turn on the last night when the harvestwas gathered.It was an ancient custom,and other generations of childeren must have sat listening to the fathers ofour Irishmen in the same cobbled yard.
The great door of the cart shed was taken off its hinges,and carried out to the level front of the house.Itwas tested byeach one jigging a few steps and wedged to make it firm.Wesat round,my father and mother,my brother and I and the servant girl and man.We were excited as if we were at the grandest london concert.The Irishmen sang songs and ballads of many verses,each performer standing on the oak door,and the others grouped round squatting on their haunches with their eyes keenly watching the man in the centre.We were seated on the low stone wall,the stalls of many a country theatre.The applauase after each item was uproarious.We clapped and the Irishmen shouted Bravo! During the dances there was a continuous hum of approval from them.They danced intricate country jigs, one at a time taking the floor board,or two facing one another,and the music was supplied by a pipe, and by "diddling". Dominick wsa a splendid "Diddler".His tounge waslike quicksilver as he sang"Diddle, diddle,diddle, diddle,diddle, diddle",and the dancer kept step.Sometimes one had a mouth organ, and always their whistling was clear as a bird's.
It was an enchanting scene,out there in the twilight,with the stars just begining to peep and the swallows darting overhead and crying as they wentto the cart shed.The birds were aware there wsa something going on down below,for they made a great twittering and warbling on these harvest nights.Then my father was persuaded to bring out his concertina to play while the men rested We were proud that he could addto the entertainment,and the Irish praised him and encored till his eyes sparkled with pleasure.He had played to the older men when they were young, and they recalled those hard early years.

I hope this gives you a flavour of this charming and evocotive chapter in this lovely little book. I certainly had a lot of fun trying to find having last read it twentyfive years ago. DDF

#6 Robert Gaskins

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 01:06 PM

For those interested in this topic and if you not already aware of it, you might want to read Allan Atlas' "George Gissing's Concertina"

In addition to Allan Atlas's article "George Gissing's Concertina," published in The Journal of Musicology, XVII no. 2 (1999) 304-318 and on the web at

www.maccann-duet.com/atlas/

Allan has another article about the italian concertinist Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins's novel The Woman in White, arguing that the character is modeled after Giulio Regondi, "Collins, Count Fosco, and the Concertina," published in Wilkie Collins Society Journal, N.S. 2 (1999) 56-61 and on the web at

www.maccann-duet.com/atlas/atlas-collins-countfosco.htm

Both make interesting reading.

#7 allan atlas

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Posted 29 February 2004 - 05:44 PM

PERRY AND FOLKS: i'm afraid that it wasn't Gissing's frustration at not being able to play the concertina that led him to employ it in his works as he did. . . . . .rather, there are certain instruments that have simply rubbed the "aesthetes" the wrong way. . . . . . . . .moreover, one has to consider the quality of concertina playing to which Gissing was probably accustomed. . . . . . .it was probably not of the highest quality. . . . . . . . .the instrument is treated with more respect in Collins's WOMAN IN WHITE, where, as i've argued in the article that bob gaskins was kind enough to cite, Collins must surely have had the playing of giulio regondi in mind. . . . . . . . .

again, i don't think it has much at all to do with an author's frustration about not being able to play the instrument. . . . . . .rather it's a reflection of the "social status" that is accorded to various instruments. . . . . . . .

Allan

#8 Patrick Brown

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Posted 01 March 2004 - 02:26 PM

In Annie Proulx's "Accordion Crimes," there is a concertina playing Irish ranch hand.
The focuses mainly on the various owners of a small green button accordion.
The book is very interesting, it seems quite well researched, but Proulx's characters
are really the stars of the book. Proulx's voice has a nice immediacy.

#9 Eric Root

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Posted 01 March 2004 - 06:54 PM

From Jack Vance's _Ports of Call_ (Copyright 1998 Jack Vance), a science fiction book set in the far future, at this point in the story, aboard a space yacht:

The voyage proceeded. Dame Hester discovered an abundance of spare time which rasped
at her volatile temerament. She made a peevish complaint to Myron. "For a fact, I had no idea
that space travel was like this! There is nothing to do but eat and sleep! The routines are
invariable. It is the next thing to catatonia!"
Myron, using tact and delicacy, tried to make light of the complaint. "Some people enjoy the
tranquility. It gives them time to take stock of themselves. Sometimes they learn to play a
musical instrument. Now that I think of it, there is a concertina in the cabinet yonder."
Dame Hester curled her lip. "Sometimes your ideas are almost imbecilic. I am not sure
whether the term 'bathos' applies."
"I would think not. 'Bathos' is when someone tries to make an absurdity seem important or
exalted. I suppose that the idea of you playing the concertina is a bit far-fetched."

#10 John Wild

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Posted 03 March 2004 - 06:46 PM

An interesting set of replies, though I thought there might be more. The science fiction story prompted the thought: In space, can anyone hear you squeeze?

- John

#11 Robert Booth

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Posted 05 March 2004 - 02:07 PM

E. Annie Proulx writes like a sharp knife. The chapter illustrations gave me my first inkling as to the extrordinary variety of squeezeboxes there are. Just one more stick on the fire.

#12 jmyersgoucheredu

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Posted 07 March 2004 - 08:04 AM

In Annie Proulx's "Accordion Crimes," there is a concertina playing Irish ranch hand.
The focuses mainly on the various owners of a small green button accordion.
The book is very interesting, it seems quite well researched, but Proulx's characters
are really the stars of the book. Proulx's voice has a nice immediacy.

I found this book extremely depressing. The poor instrument [button accordion] goes through a number of harrowing experiences, including a metaphorical sexual molestation, before finally and mercifully being run over by a truck. I'm not sure what larger goals Proulx had with this book, but I found it gratuitously disheartening.

Jeff Myers

#13 JimLucas

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Posted 07 March 2004 - 08:35 AM

In Annie Proulx's "Accordion Crimes," there is a concertina playing Irish ranch hand.

I found this book extremely depressing.

Yes, in spite of lots of interesting details, the writer seems to concentrate on episodes of difficulty and even tragedy, but skip quickly past episodes of success and happiness.
...... However, the title was not "Accordion Kindnesses".

#14 wes williams

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Posted 10 March 2004 - 08:57 AM

I found an Australian paperback novel 'Concertinas' by Trevor Shearston, about Australia and the independance movement in Papua New Guinea. The hero(?) plays anglo, and folk music too. I've also got a translation of the works of the Swedish poet Gustav Frohling, titled 'Guitar and Concertina', which is also the title of one of his poems - although how accurate the title translation is we perhaps
needn't pursue. :ph34r:

John Wild's original subject quoted Dickens, but the book was one of his late writings, so I 'word searched' a few earlier novels at Project Gutenberg without sucess, although I did find a reference to a Jews Harp.

On the subject of Sci-Fi, someone posted a link to a photo of 'Lt. Worf', the Klingon Security Chief from Star Trek, playing an anglo, so obviously they do have uses beyond Planet Earth.

#15 jmyersgoucheredu

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Posted 10 March 2004 - 09:05 AM

On the subject of Sci-Fi, someone posted a link to a photo of 'Lt. Worf', the Klingon Security Chief from Star Trek, playing an anglo, so obviously they do have uses beyond Planet Earth.

Surely not Lt. Worf! There is little music in that man. The two pictures I have seen have been of another Klingon whose name I don't know.

Jeff Myers

#16 premo

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 04:58 AM

No-one has mentioned 'Rum, bum and concertina' by George Melly. I haven't read it, but I believe that it is autobiographical.

#17 JimLucas

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 06:53 AM

I've also got a translation of the works of the Swedish poet Gustav Frohling, titled 'Guitar and Concertina', which is also the title of one of his poems - although how accurate the title translation is we perhaps needn't pursue. :ph34r: 

Why not? I'll ask Louise and Pontus about it.

#18 wes williams

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 09:08 AM

Jeff Myers:
Surely not Lt. Worf! There is little music in that man. The two pictures I have seen have been of another Klingon whose name I don't know


Sorry! Most Klingons look the same to me!! I can only recognise Bill Bailey (UK only comprehendable?)

premo:
No-one has mentioned 'Rum, bum and concertina' by George Melly. I haven't read it, but I believe that it is autobiographical.


Only the rum and bum are autobiographical. The concertina is fictional.




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