I have held the following views for some time. Let me first explain what finally prompted me to write this.
Today I was reading some older concertina.net articles, including one of a review of Noel Hill's school in 2000. I have to admit I've never attended this school, but it seems like the focus was largely on beginner or intermediate players, as most workshops in the U.S. are. Instruction was given on scales, learning fingering and ornamentation and Noel taught attendees rolls/crans towards the end of the week. So I think it's safe to say that most of the people attending this workshop were beginners. I doubt there was one "professional" musician in the crowd. Altogether, it seems like an appropriate venue for the beginner or hobbyist to improve his/her technique.
And then I read the following sentence and was absolutely floored: "For those who are afflicted with Concertina Envy, this was a veritable heaven. There was one Dipper, two Suttners, one Connor, about 4 Jeffries, 4 Wheatstones and about 5-6 Lachenals."
Now, these aren't Noel Hill's personal instruments we're talking about. As far as I'm concerned, Noel Hill can have as many fine concertinas as he wants. These are instruments belonging to the workshop guests! People who are just learning scales and rolls!
Now, could someone kindly explain why players of this caliber require Dippers and Suttners? Surely a Lachenal or even a Stagi would be sufficient for their purposes, but these people think they need instruments that should be reserved for the top tier of anglo concertina players in the world!
This phenomenon surely isn't restricted to attendees of this school. Far too many of the great anglo concertinas in the world are sitting on the coffee tables or in the attics of middle-aged American hobbyists with money to spare.
This is an open letter to the anglo concertina community to stop this insanity. I feel that we all need to learn the distinction between needing and wanting.
A caveat: I won't say that this syndrome afflicts Americans exclusively; there are great concertinas around the world being misused or unused. But here, the problem is ubiquitous.
I can already anticipate responses to my opinion: "I might not be the best player in the world, but I have a right to spend my money how I want. It's a free country." Or, "There's no law saying only the best players can have a top-notch instrument. I've spent thousands and waited years for my instrument."
True, anyone can order a Suttner today and pay $6000 for it a few years from now. A hobbyist or "collector" has invested as much time and money in this process as an aspiring professional doing the same. Some might call this entitlement. I call it selfish extravagance. The same "if I want it I should be able to have it" attitude is what puts mammoth SUVs in driveways across America and four patties on that Burger King cheeseburger instead of one. You may want the best instrument you can get, but do you need it?
For those of you who are considering buying your first concertina or upgrading your current one, I beg you, please ask yourself several questions:
1. What instrument would be suitable for my level of playing now and in the near future?
2. Would someone else's playing do my chosen instrument justice while mine would not?
3. What are the consequences of purchasing a fine anglo?
Rarely are these three questions asked.
Let's examine that third question. What's so wrong about having an instrument that far surpasses one's abilities?
We all know that excellent anglo concertinas are hard to come by. This is a recent trend that doesn't seem to affect other instruments. There's no shortage of quality Irish flutes (you can get a Grinter in under a year) nor is there a shortage of professional-level button accordions (go to The Button Box and get an excellent Castagnari today.) Even Uillean Pipers don't have this much difficulty procuring a top set of pipes.
However, the relatively few number of superb vintage concertinas and makers of superb new concertinas combined with an increase in popularity has put the instrument-seeker in a terrible bind. This problem has been exacerbated beyond reason by the multitude of people who view music as a diversion rather than a life pursuit. Not only does this unnecessary demand put the current available stock at virtually nil, it multiplies wait lists and vastly inflates prices. You'd be hard-pressed to find a top flute player or accordion player who payed more than a few thousand dollars for his/her instrument. Now we see restored Jeffries going for $8000 or more. Even prices of Lachenels and other mid-range instruments are being inflated by this trend, creating hardships for beginning and intermediate players as well.
My first concertina was a Stagi. Learning to play Irish music well on a Stagi is all but impossible. With the value of a concertina largely determined by its feel and response, a player simply can't improve on an inexpensive instrument that won't respond fast enough for reels or most ornamentation. The Stagi and Lachenal I later owned never did my technique justice. I've had amazing musicians play my old concertinas and even they couldn't make them sound decent. On the rare occasions when I would be able to play another's Dipper or Jeffries, I always surprised myself with the sound of my playing, which had previously been obscured by an instrument that couldn't move nearly as fast or precisely as my fingers. It's a very sad and frustrating moment to have reached the limitations of your instrument and have nowhere to go. And for many, there really is nowhere to go.
I scour the internet on a weekly basis for the next concertina. I have turned to the internet because in the U.S., the reality is that you're not going to find a Jeffries at a garage sale down the street. The situation might be better in Ireland and England, but probably only marginally. Many times have I dishearteningly watched a Jeffries or Suttner put on eBay and sell at ludicrous prices, far beyond the budgets of most. I always wonder how many of those bidders have valid claim to that instrument. How many of them are looking to get that instrument in time for the next Fleadh Cheoil? How many have recordings to make or concerts to play? Few, if any. They want the best and must have it just because it's the best.
I hardly expect any reader to suddenly proclaim, "You're right, you need this Dipper more than I do. Here you go." All I ask for is a little restraint. I know there are many musicians out there like myself who plan on playing music as their primary objective in life. The current climate of concertina sales discourages us from choosing the concertina as a means to that goal. This only serves to hurt the concertina as an art form. Had I known the hardship I'd later face, I would've chosen another instrument. If this environment gets any worse, it will likely discourage promising players from continuing study of the instrument and perhaps some from even starting. I wouldn't be surprised if this is already beginning to take effect.
I invite your responses to this. I expect there to be plenty of negativity regarding what I have written, but I welcome you to defend your viewpoint if feel you belong to the group of people on which I have focused my criticism.
Edited by dpmccabe, 27 October 2006 - 04:37 AM.