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Dan Madden

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Everything posted by Dan Madden

  1. I have been working on the English Concertina for several years, without a teacher and so on my own. I also play a few other instruments. I have found the various ideas that come out of this forum very helpful, but for me at least, not always practical. I am sure that with a proper teacher, my technique, and thus my playing would be better. Since the original poster seems to be learning the way I did, I thought my history might be useful. From the beginning, using three fingers came quite naturally. But that is because I stuck with the keys of C and G for my first few tunes, so basically 3=2 for most of this stage. I devote one finger to each column in C and brought in the third for one note in G. As I branched out to the "black keys" the third finger seemed to be in the right place a lot of the time. When it wasn't, I just gave up on the tune. I figure that there are plenty of great things to play, so why not concentrate on the ones that come easily. As I got better, more tunes fit this category including some that had been previously abandoned. Over time I expanded the keys I could play. Tunes with accidental notes started becoming possible, and they are always fun. My technique evolved, not to where a teacher would have pushed it, but to a point where I am definitely more versatile. Right now, here is where I find myself. 1. The same note twice: I am getting better at using one finger and taking it on and off. It is probably better to use two fingers, but this is still only in my future. For speed or for a particular tune, I will still use the bellows if that comes easier. 2. Two successive notes in the same column: I stick with the finger devoted to that column. My biggest problem is getting one hand or the other on the wrong home keys. Any time I try to pick up speed by breaking the column rule, I cannot get back to home dependably, so I for now at least, I don't try. 3. Bellows control: I ignored this at the very beginning, but as my button work became more confident, I have learned how to use the bellows for phrasing and better sound. Here is one place where a teacher would definitely help a lot. 4. I have resigned myself to waltzes and slower reels when playing solo for someone else. Well, not entirely, and as I improve this is changing. Again I try to force myself to play what comes easily, and I let practice and experience determine my true repertoire, not just the things I have tried to learn. 5. Expanding octaves: In the beginning, I did what I could within an 8 note range. Not always c-C, but no more than an octave. This helped a lot with my problem of losing my home position. I still venture into newer keys with the same caution, but again there is nothing like practice to expand your horizons. Very quickly my range expanded, and I probably have a tune or two outside C with a two octave range. In a few of the things I know best, I can change a whole octave on the fly. There are some tunes I play, only with others, where I have ignored the actual tune and replaced phrases with 5-ths or octaves to restrict the range. This is for sessions or with close friends so as not to upset the purists. An unexpected harmony may get me the occasional look, but not as glaring a look as when I play a phrase with my right hand one column or one row off. Anyway, my playing is coming along fine by my standards. Still I really am a pure amateur, and I play entirely for my own amusement. The above works for me. Dan Madden
  2. I have taken one or another of my concertinas on a plane with me several times, domestic US flights only so far. It is true that all the levers that appear on the xrays often set off the security people, but not always. Usually I am asked if they can open the box. Of course I say, "Yes" and try to add, "It's a musical instrument." Mostly a quick look inside satisfies them, and it often sparks a brief but friendly conversation. I have, however, been subjected to much more attention, and twice I became very much worried about how they handled the concertina. Both times they took the instrument out of the box to test it for the odor of explosives. The first time, I made the situation much worse by giving the standard concertina warning: "Don't open it up without pushing one of the buttons." In retrospect, this is obviously not something to say to someone who thinks they might be dealing with a bomb. The security person's rebuke was instantaneous: “I’m not pushing any buttons.” My immediate (even though subdued) alarm was picked up by the adjacent guard as well as mine, and after that everything about me got careful attention. I certainly lost any control over how they handled the concertina. The next time I flew, I rigged up a cord that, sort of, held the air lever on my Wheatstone open. It worked, but not dependably. I encountered no problem getting through either airport security checks. After that I didn’t bother to try to rig it up again. The second time the concertina got checked out of the box, I knew enough to not say anything, and tried not to watch. I did add, “It’s fragile.” to saying it's musical. The agent was careful, and didn’t come close to pulling it open that I saw. Here the caution of dealing with something odd worked in my favor. I was still concerned, although I tried my best to hide it. If I ever take the concertina on a longer trip with multiple stops or heightened security, I will definitely consider preparing it for being pulled open while not being played: either just a strap holding it closed to discourage pulling or a easily reversible adjustment inside. (There must be one valve flap I can live without in transit.) But under normal circumstances, I probably will take my chances. I definitely will not try to give handling instructions or express any alarm at the concertina being removed from the case, and definitely not say anything about pushing buttons. Those of you that have bellows straps to hold your concertina shut should have less to worry about. I believe that most airport security people fully understand that not treating things carefully as they inspect them is counterproductive in many ways. Just try not to do anything that makes them want to take a closer look at what you are carrying, and hope for the best. Dan Madden
  3. I know nothing about it, but it is intriguing. If it really is a faithful reproduction of a real instrument -- as it appears to be, -- it's an English with some interesting features. <{POST_SNAPBACK}> I saw a framed version of this same poster in the Restaurant in the Chicago Airport Hilton about a year ago. I asked if anyone else had noticed it in this forum, but no one replied. It looked to me like the Chicago poster was an antique, and not a reproduction. It was behind glass though. It is very large and of an appropriate size for a theater marquee. Also I seem to remember the Chicago version having more text on it, but that it said nothing specific. There is no question that the Concertina (English wood ended with a definite, but unreadable maker’s badge) was drawn from life or a photo. As I recall even the player's fingers were located correctly. Dan Madden
  4. I will second that. It was as good tasting as it was good looking. I remember thinking that it was a shame to cut it; well, right up until I had my first fork-full and then I had an abrupt change in attitude. All in all it was a wonderful party, good people and good music til the wee hours. Dan Madden
  5. Actually this is the second time a concertina has appeared on Mythbusters. The first concertina, however, gave up its existence as a musical instrument to provide a way to inflate a raft to escape from Alcatraz (as I recall.) I only got a glimpse of the concertina so I cannot identify the brand, but it looked like one of those Chinese things that had long since seen its best days. I remember at the time wondering why, of all the throw away bellows instruments one might find in a California junk shop, they ended up with an anglo concertina. This last show probably means that it was already in someone's closet.
  6. I am suprised that no one has pointed out the other side of bid reneging, and that is shill bidding. There was a recent news story in the US press about fraud arrests involving a group of ebay sellers who bid up each other auctions to raise the selling price on each others items. Certainly an ebay seller who is victimized by a fake bidder should consider seeing if the second highest bidder is still interested in buying. But that buyer needs to be cautious as well. If you are a second winner you really should look at the entire bidding history and see how you "winning" bid occured relative to the top bidder and others as well. If you think that you ended up at the final price because of insincere bidding, then I think it is best to take a pass. If your "second winning bid" would have prompted you to "buy it now", then why not make the deal. The fact is that Ebay has been around long enough that major problems are increasingly frequent. Their premise that people are basically honest might indeed be correct, but it only takes a few people to take advantage of a system based on that premise. I hope that Ebay works out better auction procedures because it is a great service that I'd hate to lose. But for now, it is best to be cautious.
  7. As Jim points out, the popular keys in American are C, D, G and A. I'd add the occasional F and E. If there is a 5 string banjo in the session, there is a way to narrow down the key faster. If the banjo doesn't have a capo on, its probably C or G. If it's got a capo, it is probably on the second fret, and that means the key is either D or A. Usually the banjo player will retune to make a switch between C or D and G or A. If the capo is on some other fret, try F or E, but don't count on it. All this changes if the banjo is a "long neck". Then the open tuning is probably F; capo up 2 is G or D and up 4 is A or D. This seems more complicated as I write it down, but it still might help.
  8. That bring up a question. What can be done about repairing cracks on the sides of wooden concertina, in particular, the higher end models with the more delicate fretwork?
  9. I think that Dan and Kurt's calculations make my point. The comparisons they make are fair, and although they only use two examples, I think the conclusion is clear. The prices that vintage and antique concertinas fetch on Ebay are not really high. They are in keeping, in adjusted value, with prices paid for the same concertinas in the 1970's. Polly really has no reason to justify her reasonable attempt to get a really good looking instrument. Even her reason for not going further made perfect sense. In the first post in the thread, Greg questioned not only the amount of the winning bid, but also the risk that winning bidders took buying a sight-unseen instrument made after the golden age. Risk is a personal matter, but in neither of the two cases in this thread does it seem that bad. If you buy old concertina unrestored, you should be adding in about the cost of restoration. A generous estimate going in is $1,000; that way, anything less will seem like a bargain. Even with this, the prices cited were not bad for a player’s instrument, especially one that will give you the pleasure that Kurt describes. Like Greg I wish that I had the money to take the risks of entering these auctions, but I am happy that I have been able to get very nice instruments for a still reasonable price. I do believe that now is a great time to be buying a concertina. Fine old instruments are still available, and even very good ones are affordable, if not particularly cheap. (The definition of affordable does vary, I realize.) The great news is that there are several options for new instruments. I have a Geuns-Wakker English Baritone and it is a fine instrument, and a great value for the price. Given the comments on this board, Edgley, Marcus, Tedrow anglos are all good deals, and wonderful instruments to play. All of these are available, and there are other makers out there producing fine concertinas at there own pace. I hope, along with Ken, that this is just the beginning of a concertina building renaissance. All it would take is one breakthrough in the production of high quality and low cost reeds. Wim W. thinks he is already there. If others follow, we may not really have to follow Ken’s exercise regimen to see it. Dan Madden
  10. I know that some people are going to find this irritating, but I wonder about the basic premise of much of this discussion. Has the apparent rise in concertina prices hit the point where the instruments are selling for more than their intrinsic value? Is $5,000 US (purchase price + restoration) really an outrageous price for a decent playing concertina? Musical instruments can be quite expensive. A handmade instrument by a good craftsman really cannot be cheap. Even the ubiquitous mass produced guitar can cost a fussy player $2000 without getting close to the collector market. Further concertinas have to be among the most complicated instruments one can build, and right now they are only built by hand. Also, I think that an objective observer would conclude that the prices that makers of quality new instruments are currently charging are quite reasonable given the work that they must put into building the instrument. Probably because of this, there are only a few makers of player’s concertinas, and they all seem to be interested more in the artistic aspects of the business than the economic ones (although practical concerns require attention to both.) Still these makers struggle to keep prices below $2,000. Instruments with (arguably) the best reed sets are not that far from $4,000. Think about the two concertinas that started this thread. I doubt that anyone could make a new 55 button concertina for under $2,000. The cost of an exact reproduction of the amboyna Wheatstone would easily exceed $4100 if such a thing were even possible. So the supply of new concertinas is limited, and their prices are low compared to the cost of making them. Vintage and antique concertinas are still suprisingly available. Now consider the demand. If we ignore beginning players and beginner instruments, my guess is that there more new concertina players appear each year than there are new concertinas being made. It might be that these numbers are close for anglos, but further apart for English, and definitely far apart for duets. The number of people who need a certain quality of instrument is increasing faster than the supply. This means prices go up. Again I ask, is $5,000 really an outrageous price for a decent playing concertina, old or new? Yes, if you started playing (and buying) concertinas 10 or more years ago. Yes, if you cannot foresee having $5,000 to spend on a musical instrument in the near future? But I think the answer is definitely no, if your only alternative is to make one yourself. Also it’s no, if you don’t have several years to wait for a Dipper or Suttner. So the time to buy a great concertina is 20 years ago. If you missed your chance, it looks as though the time is now. Order your custom one now while prices for an Edgley, Marcus, Tedrow or Geuns-Wakker are still (yes) cheap, or buy a vintage one from The Button Box, Concertina Connection or Barleycorn while they have them. Prices aren’t going to go down and there is only one other direction. The only other alternative I see is to discourage any new players from getting to the point where they will drive up prices any further. Hey………………………., come to think of it maybe you really can’t play Irish music on an English concertina. Dan Madden
  11. Last Friday I found myself with an unexpected overnight stay in the Chicago Airport because of weather. Thinking fast, I reserved a room in the airport hotel before trying to rebooked my canceled flight. I got one of the last few, and it turned out I needed it, being far too old to sleep in an airport lounge. I went down to the resturant, and as I was leaving a large framed antique poster caught my eye. It was of an single man playing an English Concertina. I thought I had memorized the name under the poster, but it seems that the three dinner drinks had already worked their magic on my memory. I only remember some thing like Rocca, Musical. Anyone out there know about this? Is is really an antique? (It looks like it.) If so , who is the player? Dan Madden
  12. Also, for what it is worth, my Jeffries English was purchased in the late 1970’s by a friend from a NZ Salvation Army family. There seem to only be 2 such creatures known. New Zealand’s concertina history might be a very interesting research project. Dan Madden
  13. Boy oh boy, does Morgana’s rant resonate with me. I am a mathematician in real life. Most of the time this comes up in conversation with someone new, the person proudly announces that they never could do mathematics. On a trip across the Pacific a few years ago, I was seated next to a women who was meeting her husband in New Zealand to begin a concert tour, she was an pianist. She was unmathematical and very happy to begin her conversation with me explaining this in great detail. During her monolog, I hatched a plan to devote my turn to describing music as often inoffensive diversion that could effectively drown out more unpleasant noises. In the end, I didn’t proceed. I realized that she would never get the connection with her point of view, and I would probably just end up as an uncultured scientist in one of her after-concert stories. Rather I told her that I played 3 (at the time) instruments and that, although I listen to all sorts of music, I play tradition American music. She asked about my formal training in music, but alas I have none. She then proceeded to tell me about the advantages of knowing music theory. Then I went to sleep. At the end of the flight she took one last opportunity to proclaim her ignorance of mathematics, but to suggest that I could never really appreciate music until I studied the classical form more. In the end, I am sure that I became the uncultured scientist in her after-concert story. Oh well.... Dan Madden
  14. There is the well-known fiddle tune, Mississippi Sawyer. "Sawyer" is a American (?) river boaters term for a piece of driftwood hungup on something below the waterline. A river current can cause a tree trunk to bob up and down with great force, perhaps entirely below the surface. A sawyer can remains in one position until it breaks free, or swing about over a wide area. A large sawyer can present a severe hazard to even large ships, yet be invisible to the eye and be totally unpredictible. Dan
  15. I agree with Jim that I've heard enough arguments about what kind of music is appropriate in what circumstances to last me, but as we all realize, Morgana's topic idea was distinctly more light-hearted than this. The "odd" tune on the "odd" instrument can be very entertaining for musician and the listener. Mary McCaslin plays a clawhammer banjo version of the Who's "Tommy" that is a pure delight. I read Morgana's request as more of a challenge to think of something that missed it's whole point if played on a concertina. The old popular song, "I Love a Piano" might do, but that loses it's point on any non-piano. "Dueling Banjos" has probably attracted a pub round or two for members of this board; and that is certainly not inappropriate ever. The best I could think of was "The Typewriter" By Leroy Anderson. Since the lead is entirely monotone, it's not a good concertina tune, but also not for any non-typewriter. If you don't know it, or have forgotten it try Leroy Anderson Official Page When I found the site, I remembered "Syncopated Clock and "Plink, Plank, Plunk" the second of which would make no sense at all on the concertina, but is no doubt possible. So I will end my personal quest for an inappropriate concertina tune by chosing ""Plink, Plank, Plunk" by L. Anderson. I promise never to try to play it. Dan
  16. There are a lot of waltzes in the American Fiddle tradition that work well on the English Concertina. Ashokan Farewell is definitely one, once you solve the problem with that lowest note. In general, the popular fiddle contest waltzes seem to move to concertina well. Midnight on the Water, for example, is worth a try. It is often played in a cross tuning with a great deal of double bowing, and this can be duplicated on the concertina without much adjustment. If you get to play with a fiddle player using double bowing on a slow tune, just duplicating the second string in their double bow and holding it as a drone until a cord change can make for an interesting accompaniment that fits the tradition. You can just keep this up as you turn it into a concertina tune.
  17. There is a Jeffries English at the Horniman, and I think that one can find a picture of it on their site. I have another one. I will try to post a picture or two early next week. Dan Madden
  18. Yes, it does seem all forums are the same. They forgot one thing though. The question was "How many forum members does it takes to change a light bulb?" A careful tallying of their correct detailed answer that accounts for multiple posts produces the final answer: three forum members.
  19. I often play my English with a friend who is very accomplished at the autoharp. Anytime this happens in public, we tend to stop traffic. The two instruments complement each other perfectly. If we pick the right tune and the right tempo (waltzes easily, reels after more attention), he can match me note for note on the melody. Any embellishments I add really stand out, and his instrument produces natural harmony lines. We have played other instruments together for 20+ years and I am sure that this helps a lot. Still, a good autoharp player can make a middlin' concertina player sound pretty darn good. Dan Madden
  20. Well, being in America, I suppose I should also in fairness point out that I also own a number of firearms... (*) (Grin) --Dave (*) Of course, that in itself also makes you a potential target for theft, they just have to make sure no one is home... Ah, the difference is between expensive and valuable. To most reading this forum a musical instrument that is one is expected to be the other. To the typical thief deciding what to carry off, these two qualities may not be the same. A computer may be less expensive than a metal ended Jeffries, but to a thief, a more valuable thing to steal. Many years ago a friend of mine came back to his apartment to find it broken into. On the bed he found his mandolin case open, but the LL F4 Gibson still in it! Missing was some clothing, a clock radio and 3 quart jars of pennys and nickles - at most $50. If one person can only carry so much, why not take the money? Try running with 3 quarts of coins, and you will see why one might leave some weird looking tiny guitar for the next guy. As for the atypical thief, if one understands the value of a quality instrument, hanging around sessions is the best way to identify who has what available for taking locally. And as far as that goes, concertinas are cheap compared to other instruments; so probably not worth the bother unless a surprise opportunity presents itself. Finally, if there any readers of this forum planning a career of stealing expensive concertinas from owners around the world, be aware that the big money in this occupation is most likely from selling the movie rights for use as a slapstick comedy after you are caught at home in a room that looks like Chris Algar's web site picture. Again, most emphatically Dan Madden
  21. I have three great Englishes: Tenor treble edeophone, A Jefferies A Geuns-Wakker Baritone I also have a very early bottom end Wheatstone not currently (perhaps never to be) playable I am also 1/2 way through the wait for a Suttner Dan Madden
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