It is my thought that the histories of particular instruments, if they are known, might be gathered in a central place for others to read and be inspired by the influence that they may give to others. The following story is very complete but, sorry, there's no pix. I hope others will research their own instruments so that a large assembly of documents may be read in one central place.
LACHENAL ENGLISH CONCERTINA #80303
A true Family and Personal Friend
This 48 button Lachenal (pronounced “Lasch-en-awl”) instrument and the associated equipment was purchased sometime between 1873 and 1878, by William Grey Cuthbert (1849-1926) to take to NSW when he, at age 31, with his wife Jessie (nee Easton, 1851-1930, aged 29) and some of his family emigrated from Brownrigg, near Glasgow, Scotland, aboard the “Lizzie Iredale” to settle in Newcastle, NSW. William was a coal miner and dust irom the mines in their new home, irritated his lungs. Then, the family moved to Annandale, NSW, and ran various corner shops. His final position was that of Caretaker of Annandale Council Chambers. He was a Master, Masonic Lodge and a good player of the flute. But the dust damage made flute playing more and more difficult, so, the concertina became more and more his instrument of choice. He is buried in Sandgate Cemetery near Newcastle. The concertina was a popular instrument back then with hundreds of thousands of them made and played worldwide. This one found its way into various community bands in Newcastle at the time and played part in the parades and [political?] depression street marches in the 1880s and 90s.
The instrument was passed to William’s son, John Bruce Cuthbert (1876 - 1944) some time after he went to work for the Post Master General of NSW as a telegrapher, working at different stations around the state. He used the instrument as a means of recreation. He had learned to play it as a child and his repertoire contained mostly songs from the British Isles. While stationed at Bombala, he met and married in 1904, Agnes Matilda Binstadt (1877 - 1980) from Bibbenluke, NSW. Years later, the story of their betrothal was set to verse by their third daughter, Sylvia, in her poem, “Loveletter” (see below). Agnes, of German extraction, was a piano player who worked in her father’s way-station at Bibbenluke on the Monaro Plains in the Southern Highlands. It is not known whether the young couple played music together but it is thought to be so. The concertina moved with John’s family to Arncliffe, NSW, later moving to Stanmore in inner Sydney. John was appointed post master at St Peters, NSW, and held the position until he retired at age 65. He died in 1944, aged 68, just six months after his only grandchild was born.
Sylvia (1913 - 2010) learned the rudiments of playing the concertina from her father at about age ten. She used the 1922 edition of the “Metzler & Co.s Tutor for the English Concertina” by R. S. Pratten, bought for 2/6d from Nicholson’s, a long-standing musical retailer in George Street, Sydney, as her guide. This book is still with the instrument. She became a more-than- excellent player with a repertoire that stretched from high classical, through British folk, to popular songs of her time. Sylvia’s sister, Jesse (1910 - 1882?), was an accomplished classical and popular pianist of high standing who was the chosen accompanist by many of the top-line entrants in the yearly City of Sydney Eisteddfod in the late 1920s and early 30s. While Jesse perfected her parts, Sylvia effortlessly played the featured melodies as a melody player for the best amateur musicians (some from radio) of their day. Both the young women were very adept sight-readers of written music. One has just to view the two bound sheet music books, “Roylance’s Gems for English Concertina and Piano-Forte” by Haydn Millars, (bought from Howard & Co., Woollarhra, a Sydney suburb and also still with the instrument) to realise the accomplishment level and sheer talent of these two young women and the high level of music to which the concertina can reach. After Sylvia’s marriage in 1939, the concertina was still very much a part of family life. In 1942, it went with her to her new home at Kingsgrove, then an outer suburb of Sydney. In 1953, Agnes and her two eldest daughters also moved to Kingsgrove. Many were the weekend afternoons and nights of family gatherings for music until way into the 1960s. It was at these times that Sylvia’s son (author), at age six, was encouraged to learn to read music in order for him to become “useful” by turning pages on the piano’s music rack at the correct time for the players.
Although he was always curious about the concertina, Sylvia did not pass on her skills to her musician son, Warren, who had different music and instruments to interest him. However, the concertina has been lovingly cared for by Warren and kept in playable condition for more than forty years. The tuning kit and tools have always remained with the instrument and maintained. The family sheet music collection passed to Warren after Jesse’s death in 1982?. The titles covered more than two hundred years of music writing. A goodly part was passed on to other musicians who expressed interest in the pieces. Warren held on to most of the songs and pieces that he remembered from his early years absorbing the music at the gatherings where music was such a large part of the family interest. Agnes played the songs of her life, playing until a few days before she passed away at 103 years. She performed songs from the 1830s (passed down from her grandparents via her parents), through to popular songs from vaudeville and dance music of the 1890s and on to those of the 1950s. Jesse had such a very wide knowledge of music from the 1700s to the 1970s. In her later years, she wrote many original works. Sylvia was a child of WW1, blessed with a beautiful singing voice and a perfect ear, who, like many people, briefly dabbled with the ukulele, so popular in the 20s. She, and her then boyfriend, fiancee and husband, Noel, were graceful ballroom dancers. All day, she would sing the songs of her time - those of the 1920s, to those of the early 60s, as well as the ones she had learned from her mother. and father. She was “music”, through and through. Always, “Lachie”, the Lachenal #80303 English Concertina, was part of it all.
Sadly, Sylvia ceased to play the concertina at age 67 when she lost her right arm to an aggressive melanoma. More sadly still, the instrument then fell silent. She had always drawn in charcoal and painted in oils. Sylvia turned her creativity to writing heritage poetry and to her oil painting, done left-handed, two books of which are due for publication in late 2020. Seven of her poems have been set to music by Warren and recordings will also be available. What a wonderful musical journey this instrument has led him through.
This history was prepared specially for the player who becomes the next owner of Lachenal #80303 so that that person may appreciate the depth and breadth of the music that has been played on it and the joy it has brought to those to whom it spoke during its 150 years. Cherish it.
“Lachie”, I salute you.