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The Concertina And How To Play It

("Including 250 Patriotic and Sacred Songs and well known Melodies")

By Paul de Ville
(Carl Fischer, 65 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012) Price: $9.95

Review by David Wallace (, 1999

[click here to order]

This 80-page book is really a bargain for what you get, and is also a very charming book. The copyright date of the book is 1905 (MCMV, for you purists), so Carl Fischer Music has been selling this book for 95 years now, and, like other classics, it is just as applicable to our needs today as it was when it was written. We may assume, too, that Carl Fischer Music has done quite well on the $50 or whatever it was they paid Mr. (or Monsieur?) de Ville for his book.

The first section of this book is "The Rudiments of Music", and the very first sentence of this book is:

"Let us say to the beginner, here at the start, that no art, science or branch of industry can be successfully mastered or acquired, unless the strictest attention is paid to the rudiments of first principles."

So you better listen up, kiddies, or you're gonna get rapped on your knuckles with a ruler. But he's right, you know. Ah, Paul de Ville, where are you now that we really need you? This sentence should be posted in every school and workplace in the country-- except that strict attention to first principles is not a popular concept in our society. It would not be considered politically correct, and might even damage someone's self-esteem.

The first section of the book, starting with "first principles", as he does, teaches the reader how to read music and understand the various notations and symbols used. It is very thorough, and this section is a very good thing to have if you don't already know how to read music, because you sure will when Paul is finished with you. I have seen a number of books on "How to Play the Concertina", and not one of them had a word - or even a note - about how to read music. That's pretty bad First Principles, if you ask me. So, if you don't already know what an Appoggiatura is, you better get on the stick, because your First Principles are woefully inadequate.

Mr. De Ville next follows with sections explaining:
1) the description and types of concertina,
2) how to hold the thing (a good thing to know),
3) a very nice "Diagram showing the notes to be obtained from each key" (drawn for us by Mr. De Ville), and
4) an Explanation of Letters and Figures, so you know what key to push, what hand and finger you should use to push it, whether to Press in or Draw out on the bellows when you push the key, and what note you may expect to honk out at you if and when you have followed all the instructions properly. Neat!

But that's not all, folks! In addition to all of the above instruction, you also get "Scales for the German Concertina with 28 keys, and three rows of keys", and a section entitled, perhaps not surprisingly, The Concertina, in which Mr. De Ville shows us ALL the notes that can be obtained from the instrument, with examples of same.

All the music in the book (you know how to read music now, right?) is also accompanied, note by note, with clear and definite (hoo, boy, is he definite!) notation on which hand and finger is used to produce the note, and whether you are supposed to be pushing (P) or pulling (D, for Draw) on the thing, and what the note actually is (he even shows you the actual letter of the note, too). This is because Mr. De Ville is a realist. He knows damn well that you ain't gonna learn to read music before you have a go at playing this thing, so he tells you how to play it even if you can't read music. But he does make it pretty easy for you to do this AND learn to read the music, too, because his notation is so clear and complete.

He next offers exercises for the Right Hand, for the Left Hand, for the Left and Right Hand (separately!) and (wow!) for the Right and Left Hand Together!

So -- That's IT!! Now you can play the concertina! So you are ready to go on to:

Popular Melodies

Well, "popular" is a cultural and temporal thing. There are no Songs of the Beatles or New Age Concertina Favorites here. These are 19th Century popular songs, which means a lot of Irish (and even Scottish) music, but there is quite a bit of "high-brow" concertina music also, in case Aunt Letitia comes for a visit. You can serenade her with songs from Rigoletto and Lucia di Lamermoor, and even play Auld Lang Syne on New Year's Eve. There is some other useful stuff, too, like "Hail to The Chief", in case the President drops by your place. There is even "Arkansas Traveler", in case the current President drops by. Lucky you. Just keep him away from Aunt Letitia.

Even though this is a 19th Century book, some of the titles seem surprisingly up-to-date, such as "Gay and Happy", for those nights when you want to rap out a hot concertina melody at your favorite same-sex singles bar. I really couldn't find too many of the "Patriotic Songs" advertised on the cover, but that wasn't really the main reason that I bought the book, anyway. But there is a section with lots of waltzes (yes, there is The Blue Danube), in case you are going to do the Street Musician Thing in Vienna. You should find a friend with a tuba, I suppose.

There really is a section that is entitled "Sacred Melodies", but you could have fooled me. I never heard of most of them, except for Adeste Fideles, which is always nice around Christmas, or even Chanukkah, or Kwaanzaa, or The Winter Solstice, if you happen to know any solstice-oriented druids.

For some reason, most of these "Sacred Melodies" have one-word titles, all of which appear to be place names, like Peterborough, Windham, Moulton, Conway and Dover, which are in New Hampshire, and Colchester, Cambridge, Effingham and Dallas, which are somewhere else, I suppose. Don't ask me why these tunes - or towns - are considered sacred, because I have no idea. They don't seem all that sacred to me, but the tunes are nice, and the concertina notation is very thorough, which in itself is a sacred thing, of course.

In short, this is a very good book if you or a loved one would like to learn how to play the concertina. It's also got a charm that most books of today do not have. And it even has a moral, which is: Remember First Principles. So get this book. It will improve your life. What more could you want -- or get -- for only $9.95?

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