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Bob Michel

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  1. Some of the songs in this little archive ("Tipperary," "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning") are still well-known. Some ("Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land," "I've Got My Captain Working for Me Now") were big hits a century ago, less familiar now, but easy to track down on YouTube (etc.), in period recordings and even occasionally in modern covers. But some are more elusive. This selection, #19, is in the third category: http://youtu.be/m6yMM3vXWNc I bought the sheet music on eBay about fifteen years ago because I liked the cover and was touched by the sentiment, as poignant an example of wishful thinking as you'll find in American song this side of "Over the Rainbow." But I've never heard it sung. It's one of a genre--postwar reunion songs--that's always struck me as just a bit heartless, for the obvious reason that not every faithful "young girlie" had a homecoming to celebrate. But I'll give this one a pass because it's just so...silly. I mean...what was she...? Oh, never mind. Thus did the Brave claim their deserts from the Fair. You can find the music (and the wonderful cover) at: http://digital.library.msstate.edu/utils/getdownloaditem/collection/SheetMusic/id/34971/filename/34972.pdf/mapsto/pdf Bob Michel Near Philly
  2. Many thanks, Stuart. I'm having a great time doing it! Bob Michel Near Philly
  3. Even if you're playing mainly in a linear, melodic, "Irish" sort of style, there's almost always more than one fingering available for a given passage. Choosing one of these as a default and sticking to it is mainly (I think) a well-reasoned pedagogical technique, a way of cleaving a path through the forest. If some students who have been taught this way infer from this approach that the style requires just these fingerings, and that it frowns on others, well...so much the worse for the future of the style. But about those frustrating times when you seem to be going backwards: one wants learning an instrument (or most anything else) to be a straightforward accumulation of new knowledge and skills, but in my own experience I've always found it to involve a lot of bewildering switchbacks. There's an enormous amount of revising--and even forgetting--involved in learning. You're constantly breaking down last week's secure, comfortable sense of mastery by saying, "Yes, but what if..." You work hard to achieve Control, only to find that you have to relinquish it almost immediately. At times it seems that you're doing a lot more relinquishing than achieving. With its confusing alternative fingerings and its completely different scales for each key, the (Anglo) concertina is an unusually good model for the process. When I started, I wanted to play in Irish sessions: I worked hard (not to say obsessively), and within a year or so I had a formidable repertoire of session tunes. I doubt I play any of them in the same way now. That early "mastery" was pretty illusory, and involved massive doses of wishful thinking; there was a lot of unlearning to be done. Good thing I didn't know that at the time! With any luck at all, I'll feel the same way in ten years about the way I play now. It can seem like a thankless process, but every day you play you really do get it better than you did the day before. The crucial thing is just to keep playing. Bob Michel Near Philly
  4. Welcome to the world of concertinas. As others have said, don't worry too much about the cramps. You're asking your muscles to do something unfamiliar. Just don't overdo it, and they should pass quickly. As for accompaniment styles, no; you're not totally off. It is indeed easier just to learn a few chords, and the "three chord trick" is a reasonable place for an accompanist to start. But odds are you won't want to stay in that place. You can also use a concertina to play melodies and countermelodies, bass runs and bass/chord combinations. If you stick with it, you'll probably find yourself wanting to incorporate these techniques, too. There are lots of good players on YouTube to give you ideas. (Some are members of this forum as well; e.g., have a look at Steve Wilson's videos if you want a goal to aim at). It's not an either/or proposition: scales, arpeggios and chords all work together, and learning how that happens is part of the fun. So by all means start wherever you're most comfortable, but with the realization that your comfort zone is about to get a lot bigger! Bob Michel Near Philly
  5. Whether or not this offering actually surprises you depends on whether you've followed the thread on songs of the WWI period in the "Videos and Music" sub-forum. http://youtu.be/-w7NkFtDrXo But since I've never heard anyone else play W.C. Handy on a concertina, it seems reasonable to cross-post the link here. For background, see: http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=17935&page=6&do=findComment&comment=173565 Bob Michel Near Philly
  6. For entry #18, we return to W.C. Handy*, via one of his best-known songs, which also happens to be one of my favorite songs from the nineteen-teens: http://youtu.be/-w7NkFtDrXo (The title is given here as it appears on my copy of the sheet music.) There are countless wonderful recordings of this one, but few that I've heard preserve the distinctive balance Handy struck between Tin Pan Alley conventions and the traditional blues. My version (such as it is) sticks pretty close to the original. (Parenthetically, in order to learn it I had to clear my head of Charlie Poole's very different string band adaptation from the '20s, which is often performed in American old-time music circles, and which I've been singing for nearly forty years.) As for the accompaniment, though I'm still in the early stages of figuring out how it might be done, playing the blues on (Anglo) concertina turns out not to be such a great stretch. Mostly I try to hear what a harmonica would be doing. True, the instrument lacks a harmonica's ability to bend pitch; but after all blues pianists manage pretty well without that trick. For all the many charms of American popular music in the WWI years, now and then you catch in a period song a whiff of much bigger things right around the corner. Nowhere more than here. Bob Michel Near Philly *Cf. his "Yellow Dog Blues" from earlier in this series: http://youtu.be/eFm023F8I8k
  7. Thanks, Daria. I like yours too--lovely harmonies! Hope we get to hear more duets, coerced or voluntary. Bob Michel Near Philly
  8. Here's my effort: http://youtu.be/Dbmuvg1BfLo Probably I'm mostly channeling (within my limits) Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin's lovely version, which is the one I know best. But I tried to work out some ideas of my own in the accompaniment. Bob Michel Near Philly
  9. The Button Box stocks the companion CD to Bramich's "The Irish Concertina": http://www.buttonbox.com/instruction-concertina.html It appears to be available through amazon.com as well. I wonder whether the other books don't reference at least some of the same audio tracks. Bob Michel Near Philly
  10. The extra F on the left-hand G row is in the lower octave--like the F in the left-hand C row, but on push rather than pull. The extra f in the right-hand C row is in the high octave--like the f three buttons away on the same row, but again on push rather than draw. Bob Michel Near Philly
  11. It's an eighth note followed by a triplet. There are a number of different ways of playing the triplet, of which no two sound quite alike. Using two different buttons as you're doing is certainly an option, and practice will make it sound less disjointed. Another approach is to roll the A using the first two buttons on your right hand C row--on the pull, d and (upper-case) b (when I type the character in question I get an idiotic smiley). Play the A on the left hand C row, play it again, then tap those two right hand buttons, then play the A again. The rhythm is dum-dum-ditditdit--or, with a very slight lag on that right hand tap between d and B, dum-dum-dittlydit. Either is OK. The trick is to play the d and B with so quick and light a touch that the ear can barely make out the actual notes being played, if at all. It's a rhythmic, percussive ornament rather than a melodic one. If you're playing a 30-button instrument (I can't remember whether you've got hold of one yet), you might consider learning the tune in D from the outset. Not only will other musicians want to play it in that key; the fingerings and ornaments you use will also be quite different. That said, techniques like the roll described above can be learned on a 20-button and carried over when you make the switch; they just won't be applied in precisely the same way in a given tune. Bob Michel Near Philly
  12. Squabble they did, for a time, but once war was declared the Wilson administration wasted no time in silencing the antis. The Espionage Act of 1917 (extended by the Sedition Act of 1918) was pretty draconian, and it was used to suppress all kinds of political dissent; its most famous target was probably the Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. Then after the War came the Red Scare... They weren't banner years for freedom of speech. But yes, the songs, both pro- and anti-, stand on their own! Bob Michel Near Philly
  13. It's good to have a workaday spare, an instrument that will get the job done minimally in an emergency, or under tricky conditions. It's better, if you can manage it, to have a couple of fine instruments, each with strengths of its own, either of which may suit you better in a particular context, but both of which you play regularly. At one time I owned three good Anglos (all C/G). For various reasons I found that the Herrington sat idle most of the time, so I sold it to a friend. It's a beautifully crafted instrument that deserves to be used, and it's better off where it is. For years after that I regarded my Wheatstone as my primary instrument, my Lachenal (which needed some work) as a plausible backup, which only came out on rare occasions. But after a couple of overhauls (and a lot more experience), I find that I give them close to equal time, with the Lachenal having perhaps a slight edge. What all this has taught me is that "spare" or "backup" needn't be a life sentence. Needs, tastes and skills evolve. The one constant is that a quality instrument ought to get its share of playing time. Bob Michel Near Philly
  14. What it captures, I think, is the bewilderment and revulsion in this country at the first reports of the fighting in 1914. America was pretty deeply isolationist and (hard as it is to credit now) barely had a standing army. There wasn't much popular understanding of what was going on in Europe, apart from its being some corrupt Old World tomfoolery or other. That changed very quickly. A year later, especially after the sinking of the Lusitania, no American house would have published this song--or indeed any song featuring a sympathetic German storekeeper like Herr Snider. There was still little enthusiasm for intervention, but public opinion had begun the about-face that finally led to the declaration of war in April of '17. It's not anti-war, surely, in the same sense as the angry songs of soldiers who'd actually been in the trenches, and it's not a song with any sort of portentous political agenda. But it reflects what was a very strong (and arguably very naïve) strain of mainstream pacifism in the U.S.--one that wasn't long for this world. Bob Michel Near Philly
  15. Entry #17 is easily my favorite American anti-war song of the pre-intervention years, and one of my favorite period songs in any genre: http://youtu.be/PIfbHYZhKdY I like it well enough, in fact, that I'd already recorded and uploaded a different arrangement last spring, playing uke and whatnot: http://youtu.be/LZOc1DCIXlo But I can't omit it from the current project. So once more, with feeling, and this time with a concertina. Alexander Herzen famously wrote that "Voltaire's laughter was more destructive than Rousseau's tears," and it's been said that the most powerful anti-war movies are those--like "Duck Soup" or "Dr. Strangelove"--which refuse to take war seriously. You could make the same point about anti-war songs, citing this one as Exhibit A. Plus it's just sublimely silly, in that time-honored "Storybook Ball," "Toy Story" way. Deep down we've all known since childhood that inanimate objects come alive and raise Cain when we're not around to keep an eye on them. Here they do it wearing their national colors. Bob Michel Near Philly
  16. Some of the late (50,000+) Wheatstone Anglos are pretty uninspiring, but the better ones can be quite nice, and a considerable bargain compared to their earlier concertinas. It's true that they don't have riveted action, but that's something that can be retrofitted later if you like. And speaking of riveted action, I'll echo what Greg said above. If it's properly set up, a Lachenal with hook-and-lever action can be a joy to play, and easily quick and responsive enough for Irish music. One of my two Anglos has riveted action; the other doesn't. All other things being equal (as they never are), I'd go with the former. But it's worth keeping in mind that a lot of great Irish music has been played on hook-and-lever instruments. Elizabeth Crotty (Lachenal) and Chris Droney (late model Wheatstone) come to mind. I know that lots of players would disagree, but I wouldn't pass up an instrument I liked in other respects just because it lacked rivets. Bob Michel Near Philly
  17. I own one, a 1953 Wheatstone. You can see it in some of the YouTube videos I've made (e.g.): http://youtu.be/z3-uN-c7Z8k It was presumably made for the South African market, and it's certainly optimized for playing rich harmonies (it's great for vocal accompaniment). But I've played Irish music on it for many years, and I've never felt the longer bellows to be a disadvantage in that style. It's a very air-efficient instrument, and I use only as much of the bellows as I need for a particular piece. I alternate between the Wheatstone and my six-fold Lachenal without worrying much about air capacity either way. Both are adequate; neither is excessive. You make little adjustments. Bob Michel Near Philly
  18. Here's "Ringnesen," a popular reinlender (schottische) from Norway: http://youtu.be/3-TlG3Ar1fE Hardanger fiddlers play it in E, so I decided to have a go at it in that key on the C/G Anglo. Bob Michel Near Philly
  19. Entry #16 steps away from the War once again, in the direction of pure vaudevillian silliness from 1917: http://youtu.be/kxxM850VcAs Like "Red Wing" transformed by Woody Guthrie into "Union Maid," this song's place in history is probably better secured by a parody: T-Bone Slim's "The Popular Wobbly," which appeared in the legendary Little Red Songbook of the IWW. But it's enough of an earworm that it still gets performed occasionally with the original lyrics--which were, after all, pretty parodic to begin with. Joseph McCarthy, the lyricist, also collaborated on "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (another wartime song I vaguely mean to work up at some point) and "Alice Blue Gown," among others. And Fred Fisher, the composer, left a pretty hefty legacy of memorable tunes, what with "Peg O' My Heart," "Chicago," "Your Feet's Too Big" and (my favorite; I do go for the silly ones) "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine." Fisher's family name was Breitenbach, which he changed to "Fischer" when he immigrated to the U.S. from Cologne. The "c" in that invented name went missing during the War, when like many other Americans of German background he was doing what he could to disguise his heritage. Popular prejudices ran deep, and were known to turn violent. I can't hear or sing this song without vividly imagining it being performed in a vaudeville setting. Maybe that's why, although it's not remotely connected with the war drums of 1917, it evokes that year for me as well as any other selection I can think of. Bob Michel Near Philly
  20. I've always disliked the inevitable responses in a thread like this one that begin "Well, if you could spend a little more--." That said... A very good used hybrid can be had within that budget. A year or so ago a student of mine scored an absolutely gorgeous Tedrow Aeola-style, actually for slightly less than that. But that find involved me knowing he was in the market, playing it in the shop for a demo video, calling him immediately and saying, "Buy. This. Now." The point is that--making due allowance for the slightly different concertina economies on either side of the ocean, and substituting "Marcus" for "Tedrow" or "Norman" for "Morse" as necessary--I suspect that in that price range you might indeed find a lifetime instrument (as opposed to a makeshift, false-economy one), but there might be a long wait for it. Or not, of course; you could get lucky this afternoon (a very motivated private seller can change everything). But you're not far shy of a tier--I'll guess £1500 or so; more knowledgeable U.K. members may improve on my estimate--where there will be multiple choices available right now, possibly including a decent 30-button Lachenal should you prefer that route. Ordinarily when people say, "I'm willing to spend this amount," I'm inclined to respect that and not try to nudge the figure upward (clearly I've never worked in Sales). But given the wonderful energy and eagerness to learn (and amazingly rapid progress, of course) in the videos you've made, I'm not sure how long you'd care to wait for the instrument you want/need. Just my thoughts. Bob Michel Near Philly
  21. I'm sure it's a dreadfully inaccurate cliché, but my mental image of those early ECs always involves prim young ladies playing light classics in well-appointed middle class parlors. You want bawdy, go Anglo. Bob Michel Near Philly
  22. I'll second Jim's recommendation of a small recorder like the Zoom H4n (I have an older model Zoom H2 that's seen heavy duty), and just add that since you already have a computer, it's not even necessary to acquire a new, separate recording device, unless you want to maximize your mobility. The computer itself works quite nicely with the addition of an analog-to-digital interface into which you can plug your good microphones. There are dozens if not hundreds of these on the market; you'd just need to choose one with a couple of XLR inputs. After trying a number of makes and models over the years, I prefer this one for sound quality and simplicity of operation: http://us.focusrite.com/ios-audio-interfaces-usb-audio-interfaces/itrack-solo This particular model has only one XLR input, but there are other, more versatile models in the line. They have the added advantage of being optimized for use with an iPad, should you decide to go that route at some point. It's all I use for recording (and mixing/mastering) now. Once your sound file is on the PC, whether you record it there directly or transfer it from another device, don't overlook (as voyager says) the free program Audacity for editing and enhancing it. It's powerful, versatile, and even fairly intuitive as such things go. Regarding your recording environment, once more Jim gives good advice. You can do a lot with mic placement and subtle sound treatments to make nearly any room in your house a passable studio, but in the end your ear has to be your guide. Of course a room with excellent acoustics will produce the best results, but a judicious amount of reverb and other effects can be added in postprocessing on the computer. Bob Michel Near Philly
  23. I actually worked it out directly from the sheet music in Eb first (on a C/G Anglo); I liked singing it in that range. It's not such a forbidding key, especially if you're mainly vamping chords for vocal accompaniment (though I appreciate my 40 buttons, including the C drone, when it comes time to play an Ab or Cm chord). But with the key of D just a half step away, playing it in Eb seemed a pointless exercise. Bob Michel Near Philly
  24. Entry #15, an early hit for Al Jolson in 1918, is one of the more interesting American songs of the war years. http://youtu.be/WWumQJTQ7ko My interest in the songs of the nineteen-teens didn't begin as a musical enthusiasm at all. Back in the mid-'90s I used to frequent a wonderful restaurant in Philadelphia (long gone, alas) called The Water Wheel. It was an old-school glatt kosher deli, and its walls were covered with framed sheet music covers, mostly from the heyday of vaudeville. I already owned a few similar pieces that had been given to me as gifts, but it was while eating sandwiches on Sansom Street that I started to develop an eye for the different styles and illustrators of the period. My favorite of these commercial artists was, and is, Albert Wilfred Barbelle (1887-1957), who in addition to his prolific output for the music publishing house of Watson, Berlin and Snyder later (1930) produced the illustrations for the first Mickey Mouse book. Barbelle's covers are among the cleverest and liveliest of the period. Here's a selection (including, as it happens, one for October's TOTM, "Red Wing"): http://ragpiano.com/artists/barbelle.shtml The current selection's cover can be seen at: http://irishsheetmusicarchives.com/Sheet-Music-Catalog/Hello-Central-Give-Me-No-Mans-Land-IF-SL-01-331.htm So it was the Barbelle artwork (which now hangs framed on my wall) that led me to today's song. Only much later did I have a look at the contents, and a listen to Al Jolson's recording, as well as some others. Its structure and harmony are a bit more sophisticated (and challenging) than a typical Tin Pan Alley song from 1918; I wonder whether Jean Schwarz, the composer, wasn't something of a Puccini buff. Still more strikingly, though it's heavy on sentiment in the style of the day, this piece is far from pro-war. The relative complexity of the music does more justice than usual (I think) to the emotional situation it evokes, and the fate of the absent father is pretty deftly implied. I confess I didn't much care for this one when I first heard it, but it's grown on me (and I enjoyed working it out on concertina). It almost seems to belong to a later decade of American popular music, and while you wouldn't mistake it for a classic by Gershwin or Kern (or Berlin), it points in that direction. Despite the slightly maudlin lyrics there's a refreshing maturity to it. The War was changing things at home. Bob Michel Near Philly
  25. After playing around with the dance tune all week I finally realized that what I really wanted to do was have a go at the song: http://youtu.be/9T5-C0A5lbc Learning the original lyrics (which involved temporarily scouring my brain clean of "Union Maid") put me in mind of a gig I played maybe five years ago near Lewistown, Pennsylvania, where I was asked to perform a song of local significance, "The Blue Juniata" (1844) by Marion Dix Sullivan. It has some historical resonance as the first American hit written by a woman, and as the marching song of William T. Sherman's troops in Georgia during the Civil War. The lyrics to "Red Wing" aren't anything to write home about, but compared to "The Blue Juniata" ("Loose were her jetty locks/ In many tresses flowing," etc., etc.) they sound like Shakespeare. It's roughly the same scenario, though, with the same sentimentalized Indian maiden from Central Casting who reliably showed up in American song five minutes after the actual native population of any particular region was subdued and uprooted. "Juniata" has a pretty boring tune, though, whereas "Red Wing" is catchy as hell. Plus there's that whole redeeming Woody Guthrie association. Bob Michel Near Philly
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