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Bob Michel

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  1. It's an endlessly discussed question. My take, for what it's worth, is that there's no reason on earth why you can't play Irish music well on an English concertina; many people have done it to a very high standard, including members of this forum. It's true, however, that the bellows work that's necessary to crank out a tune on an Anglo gives the music a distinctive lift or bounce that can be difficult (though not impossible) to emulate on an English box--particularly since mentors in that style are relatively few. On the other hand, emulating the sound of an Anglo isn't the only valid approach to playing Irish music on a concertina. If that *is* the specific sound you're after, though, then it might make better sense just to play an Anglo. In that case you'd want an instrument with 30 (or more) buttons--26 at an absolute minimum, I should think, apart from some very rare custom models with still fewer. D is the most common key in Irish music as it's usually played in a group setting, and to play in D you need a C#, which a 20-button C/G instrument lacks. You can indeed play thousands of Irish tunes on a 20-button Anglo, but it will be hard to play with others, and there are some standard tunes you won't be able to play at all. A new Rochelle costs about what its English-system cousin the Jackie does. A used hybrid instrument (traditional construction with accordion reeds) can sometimes be had for around US$1200-1500.* A new one of these will be $2500 or more--a price range in which you might also find a playable Lachenal. For a new instrument with concertina reeds by a top maker, or a high-quality vintage instrument, the sticker shock can be rather extreme. Bob Michel Near Philly *These estimates are based on prices I see on this side of the pond, where concertinas are harder to come by; you'll probably want to adjust them downward slightly for the U.K.
  2. Song #11 marks our first foray into the hardcore propaganda songs of the period. http://youtu.be/qKK41zQ3Puo The U.S. entry into the war in April 1917 rode a rising wave of popular sentiment, but translating that bellicosity into actual enlistments posed a problem. Six weeks after the declaration only 73,000 had volunteered for service. Wilson's administration had foreseen this manpower shortage, and had begun laying plans for a draft the previous year; the Selective Service Act of 1917 would eventually guarantee nearly three million conscripts. But a large, heavily industrialized army of draftees was a hard sell in the America of 1917, and no effort was spared to capture the hearts and minds of the populace. Tin Pan Alley responded with what can only be called ferocity. It would take a very long time to record even a sizable fraction of the hysterically pro-war songs published in 1917, even if one had the stomach for it. This one merits inclusion not only because its with-it-or-on-it message is particularly chilling ("The Sentiment of Every American Mother!" screams the subtitle), but because it's a forthright response to that extremely effective anti-war song of 1915 (recorded earlier in this series), "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier." The echoes of that song's lyrics in this one seem to me a tribute to just how effectively the earlier hit had challenged the American psyche. The various threads of reform in those years--temperance, pacifism, economic populism, feminism and woman suffrage--were thoroughly interwoven, and made for some pretty odd bedfellows in American politics. And the war complicated everything enormously, splitting the progressive movement in two. There were brave holdouts, who maintained their opposition to the conflict until the end (I harbor a special admiration in this regard for, among others, the reformer Jane Addams, and for the Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who served a prison term for his convictions). But many, many others jumped on the war wagon. This song captures the mood, and the consolidating groupthink, of those first critical months. One curiosity: the song is often described as a response to the U.S. entry into WWI; but my personal copy of the sheet music has this penciled annotation: "Anna G. Hottenstein to Mily E. Hilemann, Mar. 1917, Lebanon, Pa." If that's accurate, it predates the declaration. Not that it much matters. In the late winter of 1917 an American didn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew. Bob Michel Near Philly
  3. That's extremely generous of you, Rod; many thanks! Message sent. Bob Michel Near Philly
  4. I can't let this month's Theme slip away without having a go at "Elsie Marley." http://youtu.be/gS9yi1GHydI Bob Michel Near Philly
  5. It's been done. I remember reading about it years ago on this forum, when I was still lurking here. I think I've even seen pictures of such a box. Colin Dipper's work, perhaps? Bob Michel Near Philly
  6. You're right, of course. But one hates to see a venerable craft die off. And I have a special affection for limited, specialised instruments (one-row melodeon, anyone?). Besides, every time I hear that counterfeit carillon I remember the group of students who painstakingly and lovingly restored the decrepit real one at my college to playing condition. I suppose that was then, and this is now. Bob Michel Near Philly
  7. The frequency spectrum (as Jim called it above) of a particular instrument is critical, since this determines how well it "cuts through the mix" in a group setting. I've experienced this very vividly while playing the mandolin in Irish sessions. More than once I've struggled (as it seemed to me) to make myself heard in a room full of fiddles, accordions and so on, only to be told later, "When I walked in the door of the pub, I couldn't hear anyone playing but you!" With a concertina that effect can be even more pronounced, since the player hears so little of the sound s/he is broadcasting to the right and left. My Wheatstone, with wooden ends, seems far louder to me than my metal-ended Lachenal, and I suspect a meter would confirm that impression. But the overtones of the Lachenal tend to make it stand out in an ensemble (though not to my ears while I'm playing it). And just how well it stands out depends on the particular assortment of instruments in the circle, the acoustical properties of the room, and exactly where the listener is sitting. It's complicated. Bob Michel Near Philly
  8. Live buglers have become scarce as hen's teeth in this part of the world. I've been reading stories like this one for years: http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/music/2015/07/05/Is-it-time-to-play-taps-for-live-buglers-at-veterans-funerals/stories/201507050072 If real buglers are no longer playing even at military funerals, I have to wonder whether there's a camp anywhere that still employs them for more routine duties. Similarly, I live within earshot of a local school's electronic carillon. No doubt I'm showing my age when I say it, but the point of this exercise escapes me utterly. Bob Michel Near Philly
  9. Thanks for that, Steve. Glad you enjoyed it. Bob Michel Near Philly
  10. You're welcome. Quick correction, though; I think this may be the more relevant video. http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=18016 Bob Michel Near Philly
  11. I'm not an English system player, but one of our members recently posted a video that addresses that very question in detail: http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=18023 I like Greg's suggestion, though. If I could lay my hands on a playable Lachenal for anything like the price of a new Stagi, that'd be my first choice. Bob Michel Near Philly
  12. Jackie. It's considerably less expensive than the Stagi, better built, and often comes with a generous trade-up policy. When I started (on Anglo), Stagi was the best affordable choice. I wish that the Concertina Connection models had been around then. Bob Michel Near Philly
  13. Rod-- I've heard "Come to the Cookhouse Door," but I don't know whether it ever had any currency in the U.S. Army. Other, similar mnemonics did, though; I imagine that the practice of singing "You've got to get up/you've got to get up/you've got to get up this morning" to reveille probably predates Irving Berlin. Something else with currency in the U.S. Army (as in others, presumably) is the timeworn adage "It's a soldier's right to complain." It's taken pretty seriously, in fact, though within limits. There's a story in my family about my father, a new draftee, writing home to kvetch about camp rations: he'd been served a dish of sardines and raisins, which struck him as beyond the pale. My grandmother had the bad judgment to write a letter of protest to one of the Philadelphia papers about such inhuman conditions, which in turn prompted an editorial ridiculing (understandably) the triviality of the complaint, and preaching the need for sacrifice during wartime, etc. As a result "sardines and raisins" was a byword in my childhood for silly, pampered whining. It was also a subtle, allowable dig at my father. After all, it's a child's right to complain. Bob Michel Near Philly
  14. Ten songs down! We'll mark the milestone with another nod to the inexhaustible Irving Berlin, by way of one of his better-known hits. It's also the one item in his vast catalogue which he famously performed himself throughout his career: http://youtu.be/WA2v4P06OVc 1917 brought bad news and good news to the songwriter. The former came in the shape of a draft notice ("Army Takes Berlin!" read the headlines): only just eligible at the advanced age of 30, he joined the nearly three million conscripts who would eventually be called up under that year's Selective Service Act. The latter came as reassurance from the Army that he wasn't bound for the trenches. He was more useful to the war effort writing songs. The result of this arrangement was "Yip Yip Yaphank," an all-soldier revue that ended up on Broadway the following year. Berlin himself performed this song in the show, and it became not only his indispensable party piece for the rest of his life, but a perennial Army favorite. My parents, veterans of WWII, taught me the chorus (along with snatches of a dozen other period military songs) when I was a toddler. I remember watching the elderly Berlin, comically got up in WWI uniform, sing it on TV during the '60s. It was so familiar to me that I realized, sitting down to work it up a few months ago, that this once I even knew the verses. Though I take the assertion with a grain of salt, Berlin always claimed that the song originated as a cri de coeur, not intended for publication. He really did hate the Army--or at least the discipline of camp life, from which his unique skills and celebrity status didn't exempt him. But however disgruntled, he was notoriously and sincerely patriotic throughout his career: one of the numbers he wrote for "Yip Yip Yaphank," but decided not to use, was a song which he'd dust off in the '30s, and which became probably his biggest hit of all, at least in the U.S. The song was "God Bless America." I applaud his earlier inclination: I can't abide "God Bless America." This song, on the other hand, I've been humming all my life. Bob Michel Near Philly
  15. Nope. 26 buttons should do the trick. Jacqueline McCarthy plays (or used to play, anyway) a little two-row, 24-button Wheatstone that had been custom ordered (if I remember the story) by a British sailor serving in a WWI submarine. It didn't hold her back! You could swap out some reeds if you like. I'd be cautious about doing that, if only because my playing changes constantly, and with it my needs. For many years I was barely familiar with the lowest notes on my instrument; now I don't think I could get by without them. Even those squeaky high notes are proving more useful all the time. On the other hand, as long as the changes you made were reversible, I don't see why you shouldn't experiment. Any instrument will have its limitations (and particular strengths) that help to shape your personal style. Working within (or, sometimes, against) those limitations is part of the fun. Bob Michel Near Philly
  16. While I'm a big fan of 38- and 40-button Anglos, I tend to agree with Lawrence here. Micheál may now and then play a particular phrase or chord voicing that's not available on a 30-button instrument, but I very much doubt that the extra buttons are strictly necessary to his style. A 40-button box enables you to play some useful reversals of full (1,3,5) chords: e.g., F and D chords on the push that take advantage of reversed F and F# respectively. But Irish music doesn't make extensive use of these. Micheál may use more chords than some other players do, but I don't hear him playing a lot of obtrusive thirds, which don't really suit the idiom and tend to clash with what other players are doing. What I do hear are nice bass runs and accents and really impressive playing in octaves. You should be able to do that, or most of it, on a 30-button instrument (though not perhaps on a 26-button one, which lacks some useful low notes). The extra fingering option I do constantly take advantage of when playing Irish stuff on my 40-button concertinas is the pull-C#: my Lachenal has one of these, my Wheatstone two (!), in addition to the standard push-C# of the Wheatstone layout they both share. I used to fret a little about this, and try to work out fingerings that avoided those buttons, for the sake of more traditional phrasing--until it occurred to me that the reason many Irish players opt for the Jeffries layout is precisely the availability of C# in both directions. Well, I have that, in combination with what strikes me as the superior logic and symmetry of the Wheatstone arrangement. So I learned to stop worrying and love my additional buttons. But--granted that I'm no Micheál O Raghallaigh--I think I could easily do without them if I just played Irish music, even in an unusually harmonic style. So play away, and don't worry that the tool you have isn't up to the job. Finally, if you want to ponder exactly what you *could* accomplish with all those extras, these charts may be useful: http://www.concertina.info/tina.faq/images/finger3.htm Hope this helps. Bob Michel Near Philly
  17. I just played through the Nymrod Hornpipe (it's been a while) and, as I suspected, I don't use any of my extra buttons. The whole trick to getting comfortable in Bb (as I eventually figured out) is a position switch on the left side. If you think of the default finger assignment for the C row (on the push) as ring/C, middle/E, index/G, substitute ring/E, middle/G, freeing the index finger to play the essential pull-Bb on the accidental row. This looks like it would make for a lot of pinkie work to cover the low notes of the scale (Bb, C, D). But given the actual range of these tunes, that's rarely a problem. And you can always shift back to the normal finger assignment briefly, as needed, for a particular run. I also notice that in this key I rely pretty heavily on the pull-c on the left-hand G row, as opposed to the C row push-c on the right. It helps with phrasing. Bob Michel Near Philly
  18. Chuck-- Thanks for the kind words; I'm glad you're enjoying these little efforts. I initially thought about arranging the songs chronologically and/or thematically, but decided I'd be more comfortable jumping around as the mood struck me. Years ago I was given a test that purported to assess my Learning Style, and I scored off the chart as "concrete random." It's fun, too, to mix up more familiar numbers with songs that very few people have sung or heard in the last hundred years. There are plenty of both in the pipeline. Bob Michel Near Philly
  19. Thanks, Jim. I love hornpipes whatever their country of origin (especially on concertina), though the Tyneside/Northumberland ones are especially fine. James Hill has to be one of my three or four favorite (known) composers of dance tunes. Here's a little flat-key excursus from last fall. I was new to making YouTube videos and still a bit distracted by the mechanics, so the timing is a little ragged. But at least it gives an idea of how they sound on a C/G. "Ryan's Mammoth Collection" is a gold mine for this sort of tune. http://youtu.be/oQsDjA9eZHw Bob Michel Near Philly
  20. Here's one from my list of Essential Concertina Tunes of English Origin, "The High Level Hornpipe": http://youtu.be/z3-uN-c7Z8k Of course it's more complicated than that: while James Hill wrote the first two parts, the different accounts I've heard of the third part's origin mainly involve Ireland. And in fact I play it here much as I would at an Irish session: in the key of G, for one thing. I really have to learn it in its original Bb one of these days. I don't find Bb to be at all a bad key on a C/G Anglo, especially for hornpipes. It's no worse than D, at any rate, where Irish-style players spend so much of their time. Anyway, it struck me as a perfect selection for this month's Theme: definitely English Trad, and definitely Beyond. Bob Michel Near Philly
  21. Sentimental it may be, but it's also beautifully written and evocative. Have your father's memoirs been published? I'd love to read them. Both my parents (as I may have mentioned earlier in this thread) served in the European Theatre in the second war. I taught myself to read largely by puzzling over their unit history, "The Story of the 100th" (i.e., the 100th Evacuation Hospital in the American Third Army--the one George Patton commanded). The book had been compiled in the weeks following V-E day, though it had obviously been written over the course of the war. It's an impressive piece of work: thorough, vividly narrated, and decorated with wonderful cartoons (which were what got me interested, as a very small child, in trying to make sense of the text). Its creators, astonishingly, were anonymous--whether as a matter of Army policy or because telling a complex and moving story well was simply another job to be done. I owe to that humble, ephemeral book (I still own a copy) a lifelong respect for memoirists, especially people who maintain an articulate record of events through chaotic times. We see so much through their eyes. Bob Michel Near Philly
  22. Chas-- Well, I'm an admirer of John Kirkpatrick, of course. I hadn't heard about this project, but I'll definitely be picking up a copy. Thanks for letting me know about it! Bob Michel Near Philly
  23. For entry #9 we return to an explicitly war-themed song (as opposed to songs that happened to be popular during the war): "Three Wonderful Letters from Home" (1918) by Joe Goodwin and Ballard MacDonald (words) and James F. Hanley (music). http://youtu.be/OuZtthwi9ug I learned this one directly from the original sheet music, which I've owned for many years. Presumably it's from early 1918, since it's still a full-sized folio, not the reduced format introduced later that year as a wartime austerity measure. At the bottom of page 3 is the legend: "This song has been adopted by all the Public Schools. Ask your dealer for it. LOYALTY IS THE WORD TODAY (Loyalty to the U.S.A.)." My heart goes out to the kids in those classrooms. Though maybe it shouldn't. An unabashed tearjerker like this one may test the limits of modern taste, but why bother exploring the popular music of those years, if not to have one's tastes challenged? Obviously this kind of sentimentality played better to the sensibilities of that age than to ours (the song was a hit). It's a well-wrought number, in fact, and deserves to be played straight. Anyway, I like the way it sits on the concertina. Bob Michel Near Philly
  24. Two jigs on an Anglo: http://youtu.be/MBF22AQvAT0 I just learned "The Recruiting Officer," which is the TOTM for September at www.melodeon.net. Versions appear in the Playford collection and other early sources. "Random Notes," a James Hill composition, I learned from Alistair Anderson's LP "Traditional Tunes," which I bought when it came out in (gulp) 1976. So I can say that I first encountered it as a concertina tune, though of course it was played on an English box. But that was many years before I made my own fateful choice of system. Bob Michel Near Philly
  25. Here's an Anglo version, with the variations. It ain't perfect, but it will have to do. http://youtu.be/Fw_mApRGnMM In the recent thread on Anglo technique called "Chopping" over at Teaching and Learning (http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=17977), I remarked that while generally frowned on, now and then it was just the thing. Well, for better or worse I found myself wanting to chop all over the place in this tune, and I followed that whim. The Scotch Snap, perhaps? I was very grateful for my extra buttons on this one, including that rare and wonderful draw E (which is why I played it on the Lachenal). My whippet, who'd been snoozing peacefully beside me through the first few botched takes, makes a brief appearance at 3:05. Bob Michel Near Philly
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