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Old-timey concertina style

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at least one gang of players didn't object to the free-reed sound...

I've been playing old-timey music on Anglo in my area for at least 25 years or so. Some of the local players like it, some think it's inappropriate and some tolerate it. I usually play it safe and try to play in groupings where I already know at least some of the people there.

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here is a youtube done at Clifftop of Bertram Levy on concertina in an oldtime jam....camera is behind him, but it does focus on the concertina intermittently, and the music is good...

 

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I wonder whether traditional musicians in the USA had already established a repertoire on fiddle etc and Anglo players on C/G instruments couldn't break in, in the keys they played in. In Ireland it took a Paddy Murphy to work it out in the common fiddle keys. William Mullally was apparently unusual in having a good Englsih made Anglo concertina tuned in D.

 

 

 

I do accept what Dan says about people playing on their own in octaves , in C etc for dancing but the impact of records by top musicians may have had the effect of putting amateur musicans off. I don't know but it is worth looking at the reasons for the tailing off of concertinas whereas cheap accordions remained in popular use in various communities.

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[in Ireland it took a Paddy Murphy to work it out in the common fiddle keys.]

 

this is an interesting phenom in itm history. this story is often narrated as if it was a radical move of some kind. but it really was just a matter of people starting to figure out what the 30 buttons were for and beginning to use them as they'd been designed to be used.

 

before it got to ireland, the english-made bisonoric concertina grew to 30 keys and beyond precisely to enable playing in added keys (and to enable added phrasing choices). when bisonoric fell out of fashion with the drawing-room set in england in favor of EC and discarded bisonorics sailed to ireland for sale to farmers at cheap prices, rural irish folks took a little while (years? decades? i'm sure gearoid has studied this) to grok what all those buttons were for, and played them the same way they had played the cheapie german ones with fewer keys. paddy murphy (and a few of his contemporaries) were the point where people started to get it. it's funny....playing "across the rows" is to this day referenced here and there as....well, "controversial" is too strong a word....perhaps i want "suspect." which is odd, given that this is what the added buttons are for....

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[the impact of records by top musicians may have had the effect of putting amateur musicans off.]...i don't think it's that...the michael coleman records are as daunting as hell but they electrified would-be fiddlers when they hit ireland....i think it is something else. interesting question.

 

 

[i don't know but it is worth looking at the reasons for the tailing off of concertinas whereas cheap accordions remained in popular use in various communities.] on that one i can quote (paraphrase) monsignor charles coen, who saw the concertina "tailing off." he told a catskills class in conversation with Gearoid O'H that the concertina ruled when the kitchen was the main situs for irish dance music, and the "tailing off" happened when the situs became noisy music halls in both ireland and america. it was then superseded by the accordion, which cut through the noise better for the dancers. he also made an educated guess that advances in amplification technology were a big factor in the renaissance of concertina...(again--i'm paraphrasing here)

 

interesting, eh?

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I think accordions in D tuning were introduced quite early on as witness P J Conlon so thay could do what fiddlers did. C/G Anglos limited players at first but I agree that the accidentals on 30 button concertinas were there for chromatic use of the box as witness Fred Kilroy et al.

 

 

 

I'm stillvery interested as to why the anglo didn't stick around in the US.

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he told a catskills class in conversation with Gearoid O'H that the concertina ruled when the kitchen was the main situs for irish dance music, and the "tailing off" happened when the situs became noisy music halls in both ireland and america. it was then superseded by the accordion, which cut through the noise better for the dancers. he also made an educated guess that advances in amplification technology were a big factor in the renaissance of concertina...(again--i'm paraphrasing here)

 

interesting, eh?

 

Very interesting indeed!

Music doesn't exist in a vacuum - it's very much part of our culture. And as our culture changes, so does the music, and with it the instruments we use. This is not confined to folk music, either! The harpsichord was replaced by the piano, because people like Beethoven had to play to a concert hall full of paying ticket-holders to earn their money, and needed a loud instrument, whereas Bach and Scarlatti could earn just as much by playing to a wealthy patron and a few of his friends in a private salon.

 

I'm just back from a holiday in Iceland, where we had a very interesting tour guide - she turned out to ba a coloratura soprano, but the way she sang traditional Icelandic songs, you'd have thought she was Enya's sister! Anyway, she pointed out that traditional Icelandic music is very much a vocal music; the reason being that Iceland has hardly any trees, so most wooden artefacts used to be made of driftwood, and driftwood suitable for harps or fiddles was hard to come by.

 

And why is Irish music, whether instrumental or vocal, single-line and highly ornamented? Because, in the old days, a lot of scattered communities had only one singer or one fiddler to entertain them!

 

A culture's music says a lot about it!

 

Cheers,

John

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I spoke to Chris Foster who lives in Iceland and he said they sing a lot in 1,5 harmonies and play slim dulcimers tuned that way. He also said the irish monks were there in their skin boats before the Vikings. Did the Inuit reach there?

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I spoke to Chris Foster who lives in Iceland and he said they sing a lot in 1,5 harmonies and play slim dulcimers tuned that way. He also said the irish monks were there in their skin boats before the Vikings. Did the Inuit reach there?

 

Mike,

Yes, our tour guide also said that singing in 5th harmonies is a typical form of Icelandic music.

 

Another Icelandic specialty is mixed time signatures. As an example, she sang us a song with the first bar in 4/4, the second bar in 3/4, the third bar in 4/4 again, and the fourth bar in 2/4 time, with this sequence repeating throughout the song. The Icelandic song book that I brought home as a souvenir has even more complex time signatures in it.

 

And yes, Iceland wasn't settled by the Vikings until the 10th century. The supposed voyage of the Irish monk Brendan via Orkney, Shetland, the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland to the American continent would have been around 550. Our guide referred to some caves that were reputed to have been inhabited by Irish monks (probably temporarily - perhaps on the way to America?) before the settlement.

 

And no, we heard no mention of the Inuit. Iceland would probably be too hot for them. The average winter temperature is +1°C, because of the Gulf Stream!

 

As to trad. instruments, there's the bowed, plucked or hammered zither "langspil" and the bowed "fidhla" (also a zither) which are apparently all the old Icelanders had until the harmonium arrived.

 

Cheers,

John

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Old-timey fiddle tunes are delightful on the English concertina. If you can't find other old-time squeezers you can always follow the fiddle line, which is probably a good thing to do anyway, since that'll open you up to a huge amount of tunes. Once you get used to that you can start doing accompaniment or embellishments that sound more concertina-y rather than "I'm pretending to be a fiddler".

The hardest thing for me when switching old-time tunes from fiddle to concertina is dealing with the fact that I can't slide into notes, and figuring out how to invoke a drone-y double-stop sound that's so common in the style. Really punching the rhythm is something to learn too, since Irish players tend to be a bit smoother.

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Old-timey fiddle tunes are delightful on the English concertina. If you can't find other old-time squeezers you can always follow the fiddle line, which is probably a good thing to do anyway, since that'll open you up to a huge amount of tunes. Once you get used to that you can start doing accompaniment or embellishments that sound more concertina-y rather than "I'm pretending to be a fiddler".

The hardest thing for me when switching old-time tunes from fiddle to concertina is dealing with the fact that I can't slide into notes, and figuring out how to invoke a drone-y double-stop sound that's so common in the style. Really punching the rhythm is something to learn too, since Irish players tend to be a bit smoother.

 

 

Think Like A Banjo

 

I might suggest that you think like a banjo. Just as the melody often plays against the 5th string, you can do the same on the concertina albeit an octave lower. In fact the fiddle does this as well, playing against the A (second string) as in for example “Granny” or “Cluck Old Hen” or against D as in “Old Molly Hare”. Similarly in the lower strings the fiddle plays a bar A, E, (AE), E (or the open GD) as well as in for example “the 28th or January” or “Growling Old Man and Woman”. Also like the banjo, you can do all the double thumbing techniques. And then there are all the offbeat double stops. Lots of things to work with without needing the slides.

 

You can hear many of these techniques in the CD “the Bellow and the Bow” with Kirk Sutphin and myself or actually study the notes in my tutor “American Fiddle Styles for the Anglo Concertina”. True the tunes in the book are really a vehicle for expanding the knowledge of the instrument but the techniques for playing the style, as described above, are all there. While the tunes are written with fingerings and bellow movements for the anglo, there is no reason they can’t be done just as well with the English system.

 

Bertram

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Old-timey fiddle tunes are delightful on the English concertina. If you can't find other old-time squeezers you can always follow the fiddle line, which is probably a good thing to do anyway, since that'll open you up to a huge amount of tunes. Once you get used to that you can start doing accompaniment or embellishments that sound more concertina-y rather than "I'm pretending to be a fiddler".

The hardest thing for me when switching old-time tunes from fiddle to concertina is dealing with the fact that I can't slide into notes, and figuring out how to invoke a drone-y double-stop sound that's so common in the style. Really punching the rhythm is something to learn too, since Irish players tend to be a bit smoother.

 

 

Think Like A Banjo

 

I might suggest that you think like a banjo. Just as the melody often plays against the 5th string, you can do the same on the concertina albeit an octave lower. In fact the fiddle does this as well, playing against the A (second string) as in for example “Granny” or “Cluck Old Hen” or against D as in “Old Molly Hare”. Similarly in the lower strings the fiddle plays a bar A, E, (AE), E (or the open GD) as well as in for example “the 28th or January” or “Growling Old Man and Woman”. Also like the banjo, you can do all the double thumbing techniques. And then there are all the offbeat double stops. Lots of things to work with without needing the slides.

 

You can hear many of these techniques in the CD “the Bellow and the Bow” with Kirk Sutphin and myself or actually study the notes in my tutor “American Fiddle Styles for the Anglo Concertina”. True the tunes in the book are really a vehicle for expanding the knowledge of the instrument but the techniques for playing the style, as described above, are all there. While the tunes are written with fingerings and bellow movements for the anglo, there is no reason they can’t be done just as well with the English system.

 

Bertram

 

Oh, I'm aware. As I said, there are plenty of things that are easier to do on the concertina than fiddle that sound great, and slides aren't at all necessary. I was just noting that when switching an old-time tune from fiddle to concertina that's the first stylistic difference I notice.

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Old-timey fiddle tunes are delightful on the English concertina. If you can't find other old-time squeezers you can always follow the fiddle line, which is probably a good thing to do anyway, since that'll open you up to a huge amount of tunes. Once you get used to that you can start doing accompaniment or embellishments that sound more concertina-y rather than "I'm pretending to be a fiddler".

The hardest thing for me when switching old-time tunes from fiddle to concertina is dealing with the fact that I can't slide into notes, and figuring out how to invoke a drone-y double-stop sound that's so common in the style. Really punching the rhythm is something to learn too, since Irish players tend to be a bit smoother.

 

 

 

Yes, shame about the slides but I'm in agreement about the fun that can be had with the English Concertina in Old-Time music. For this I use an EC which has a very fast response to dynamic changes. This gives great 'attack' and punch especially in chordal off beats.

Another thing I enjoy is changing octave to spread the 'band sound'; Banjo and guitar in the bottom, fiddle an octave up, concertina an octave beyond in the Mouth Organ range.

 

Sometimes I use the Pedal fifths as suggested by Bertram and sometimes I try thirds, as if playing a harmony fiddle part.

Suppose I'm lucky, considering where I live, to have a few old-timey musicians who frequent a local Bar.

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Old-timey fiddle tunes are delightful on the English concertina. If you can't find other old-time squeezers you can always follow the fiddle line, which is probably a good thing to do anyway, since that'll open you up to a huge amount of tunes. Once you get used to that you can start doing accompaniment or embellishments that sound more concertina-y rather than "I'm pretending to be a fiddler".

The hardest thing for me when switching old-time tunes from fiddle to concertina is dealing with the fact that I can't slide into notes, and figuring out how to invoke a drone-y double-stop sound that's so common in the style. Really punching the rhythm is something to learn too, since Irish players tend to be a bit smoother.

 

 

 

Yes, shame about the slides but I'm in agreement about the fun that can be had with the English Concertina in Old-Time music. For this I use an EC which has a very fast response to dynamic changes. This gives great 'attack' and punch especially in chordal off beats.

Another thing I enjoy is changing octave to spread the 'band sound'; Banjo and guitar in the bottom, fiddle an octave up, concertina an octave beyond in the Mouth Organ range.

 

Sometimes I use the Pedal fifths as suggested by Bertram and sometimes I try thirds, as if playing a harmony fiddle part.

Suppose I'm lucky, considering where I live, to have a few old-timey musicians who frequent a local Bar.

 

Hi Geoff and Fiddlehead Fern

 

Sounds like you guys are really on top of the Old Timey techniques – great to hear. I don’t know whether you have ever tried this but its sort of a slide by using the half step. For example in “Chicken Reel” – a classic sliding tune – I first play the F natural and then, while holding it down, I play the F#. As I execute the F# I add a slight amount of bellow pressure to blend the two notes and then relax the bellow as I finish the note and continue on with the descending arpeggio A,F#,D etc. I do the same in “Cripple Creek” where I start on the G#, then play the A above using the same bellow technique and continue on with the G#,A,F#,E etc. Though it is not a true slide – it does convey the same feeling and is an attractive embellishment.

 

Bertram

Edited by BertramLevy

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Old-timey fiddle tunes are delightful on the English concertina. If you can't find other old-time squeezers you can always follow the fiddle line, which is probably a good thing to do anyway, since that'll open you up to a huge amount of tunes. Once you get used to that you can start doing accompaniment or embellishments that sound more concertina-y rather than "I'm pretending to be a fiddler".

The hardest thing for me when switching old-time tunes from fiddle to concertina is dealing with the fact that I can't slide into notes, and figuring out how to invoke a drone-y double-stop sound that's so common in the style. Really punching the rhythm is something to learn too, since Irish players tend to be a bit smoother.

 

 

 

Yes, shame about the slides but I'm in agreement about the fun that can be had with the English Concertina in Old-Time music. For this I use an EC which has a very fast response to dynamic changes. This gives great 'attack' and punch especially in chordal off beats.

Another thing I enjoy is changing octave to spread the 'band sound'; Banjo and guitar in the bottom, fiddle an octave up, concertina an octave beyond in the Mouth Organ range.

 

Sometimes I use the Pedal fifths as suggested by Bertram and sometimes I try thirds, as if playing a harmony fiddle part.

Suppose I'm lucky, considering where I live, to have a few old-timey musicians who frequent a local Bar.

 

Hi Geoff and Fiddlehead Fern

 

Sounds like you guys are really on top of the Old Timey techniques – great to hear. I don’t know whether you have ever tried this but its sort of a slide by using the half step. For example in “Chicken Reel” – a classic sliding tune – I first play the F natural and then, while holding it down, I play the F#. As I execute the F# I add a slight amount of bellow pressure to blend the two notes and then relax the bellow as I finish the note and continue on with the descending arpeggio A,F#,D etc. I do the same in “Cripple Creek” where I start on the G#, then play the A above using the same bellow technique and continue on with the G#,A,F#,E etc. Though it is not a true slide – it does convey the same feeling and is an attractive embellishment.

 

Bertram

 

(I tried to put in the chicken reel mp3 but couldn't figure out how to get it in)

Edited by BertramLevy

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That's great! Sometimes I've used the half step to get a slide-like effect, but I'll have to try the different pressure with the bellows to blend it.

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Ahhhhhhhhhr, Bertram you are an absolute Gentleman... yes yes I hear you doing that and like fiddlehead fern I have been known to do things like this but with your degree of bellows manipulation it sounds better.. will try that !

 

best regards,

Geoff.

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