I thought I'd have a bash at starting this off - but on reading it through most of it is not about the future, more the present. However, the future is inevitably grounded in the present and the past, so I make no apologies. I'm a recent trainee Duet player with big L plates up. I'd considered taking up concertina some 18 years ago, but had only known about two types - the Anglo, which I discounted (reckoned that the push-pull principle would fry my brain) and the English, which I was told would be suitable for accompanying song, and gave the same note on push/pull. Right ... sorted! However, for many and varied reasons I never followed through. A chance meeting with a tall thin musician at the Bismarcks' last gig in Godalming in late 2006.who later suggested expanding my talk with unaccompanied songs on Lucy Broadwood into something with addition of concertina backing (it's now a bit more than that),finally brought me into touch with the instrument which another musician recently jokingly described as being "of the Dark Side" The musical beanpole was Ralph Jordan, and the tina was the Maccann Duet .
Up until then I had never heard of a duet (of any sort) and what it could do. I was given the chance to try one out and it was at that point that I became hooked. The L plates are still up, and are likely to be for quite a time, and I'm sad in a way that I've probably come to it too late in life to become really good at it. I shall, however, be giving it a damned good try and enjoying myself.
On the basis of my limited experience as a player of only one type of Duet I have one or two observations about the situation as it is now . Encounters with other concertinists over the last two years suggest that the duet is viewed in a rather odd light by more than a few people. One question crops up frequently - "Which system are you learning - Anglo or English?" The response "Maccann duet" usually achieves an air of shock, indrawn breath ... and on several occasions "Wow, you need two brains for that!". Although I take a certain perverse delight in that reaction, it strikes me as very odd. In my teens I learned to play piano (admittedly not to a very high standard), and used to sight read three lines of music - two for the piano, and one for vocal line, and sing to my own accompaniment. As far as I'm aware no-one says that to piano players!! I've more than once been told that the Maccann is an "illogical" system. I learned to touch type in my teens - the qwertyop keyboard has NO logic at all that I can see. I can identify a certain degree of perverted logic in the Maccann fingering system - in fact far more than in the typing keyboard! All of which suggests that a duet is viewed and promoted by some as difficult to learn to play. Maybe it is - I shall never know, since I never tried any other system than the Maccann. Comments like these seem to be fairly persistent ... so when considering what system to take up potential players are likely to be put off by negative word of mouth or indeed, like me, lack of knowledge of any alternative to the English or the Anglo. I was fortunate in that,having never heard of either duet or Maccann, I was "educated" by an experienced player and never heard a word about "the difficulties" until it was too late (thank goodness for that).
For an Anglo or an English learner, there seem to be masses of people you can turn to for tuition if you want it, not to mention modern instruction books written specifically for the instrument, and dedicated workshops at folk festivals. As a duet player what few tuition books there are are mostly rather out of date and somewhat staid (useful though).Unless you know someone living close to you who plays the instrument the chances of discussing it/obtaining lessons are limited in the extreme - and even then you have to hope that the tutor is a good communicator and able to teach !! So in the absence of a teacher and motivator I suspect you may need a fair amount more determination to persist in self-tuition than with other systems ?
I wonder if another barrier at the moment to taking it up may be the fact that duet players are not exactly immediately evident in huge numbers.I found it interesting that at a gig that Ralphie and I had in Birmingham recently one other Maccann player, Pam Bishop, turned up ... three Maccann instruments in the same room !! As he said at the time, critical mass or implosion might have been on the cards .... but you'd never say that if you saw three Anglos in the same place. It's clear from the research that Al has been doing that there are a number of players who are not known to each other, simply because they practise their Dark Art in secret - for personal pleasure, or, indeed, in a totally different area of music from the majority. So again, the profile of the instrument is perforce low, as there are few obvious exponents of the Art who can inspire and promote in full view.
Then of course, there is the matter of the cost of taking the instrument up which in itself can be prohibitive, not to mention finding a reasonable quality instrument of this type on the market as well - or is that just a misled perception on my part? Interestingly enough I know of at least two people who own Maccanns that don't play them - in this case not because of any intrinsic investment value, they just gave up on them.How many others are loafing around in similar situations or sitting forlorn in a loft?
So I wonder if this means, at the end of the day, that people who have already taken the thing up are dedicated nutters? At the moment there are so many things apparently going against it - perceived difficulty of system , lack of contact with other players and lack of immediate availability of current recordings with which to inspire new potential players, difficulty in obtaining any tuition etc etc.
None of this answers the question - has the duet a future? Well, it's already got a distinguished past - you only have to look at the likes of Al Prince, Rutterford, Honri, Tommy Williams - more recently (and still with us of course) Michael Hebbert, Gavin Atkins on Jeffries, Tim Laycock on Crane, and the likes of Iris Bishop and Ralphie Jordan on Maccann . There's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't have a far more shiny future than in the recent past.... I suspect that what is necessary and lacking in more recent times is positive publicity to counter negative word of mouth/perceptions , improved contact between players maybe, and a more public awareness of what the instrument can do. Maybe not an easy task in view of the apparent low numbers of good players with their heads over the parapet at the moment.Hopefully 2010 and beyond may counter that with some quality CDs to provide evidence of what can be achieved by good exponents from the Dark Side and also flush some of them out into the open
Sorry about the length of this, and the inordinate ramblings of a humble student ... I should have been practising ... and going to bed in that order !!! I'd be interested to see what anybody else has to say (hopefully more cogently)....
Edited by Irene S, 11 January 2010 - 11:42 PM.