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Jim Besser

Concertinists: Are We Stuck In Ruts?

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[Take a Dirge "taking a break" for example, after his Duet was called a "cumbersome heavy tanker" by an Anglo player.]

 

this isn't quite what happened. I remember that thread because I made a comment on it prior to the contretemps and only remembered to check back to the discussion weeks after the kerfluffle, and was surprised to see what had ensued.

 

A fine concertina maker opined that duets over 58 keys were a struggle to handle, and quipped that they were harder on the player, if not the listener, also quipping a comparison to trying to turn an oil tanker around. A duet concertina player (Hayden) agreed about finding the big guys more of a handful, noting that he gained new love for his 46-button Hayden after trying an 82-button Hayden at the US concertina HQ the Button Box, comparing his attempts to handle the 82-button Hayden to like trying to play a "jet engine."

 

No one maligned the duet belonging to the poster who took a break; that person plays a large Maccann among others. no non-duet player threw mud at the duet. and no one maligned playing classical music on large concertinas, which from the "taking a break" post seemed to be what the "breaker" thought was going on.

 

 

a few months ago I acquired a gigantic crane duet "aeola." gigantic as in, 8 pounds (though only 67 buttons--the size & weight are due to long-scale reeds). It needs a going over by a fine-tuner, but it is a quality instrument and I'm very pleased with it. and you know what? compared to my small concertinas, playing it is like....playing a jet engine..... :rolleyes: I might mind if it was a stiff, blocked-up low-quality instrument, but since it is quick to respond, I could care less since I play lap like a bandoneon and, being an accordion player as well, it is pounds lighter than my "featherweight" cba and no heavier than my little button accordions....

Edited by ceemonster

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[in France we use the word "accordion" as well as for diatonic and chromatic "accordion". Melodeon is only the one row diatonic accordion. In US or England, melodeon seems to be "our" diatonic accordion, 1 or 2 or 3 rows...)]

 

not in the u.s. we say "accordion" for everything, unless you're clued in to call the one-row a "melodeon". but that's as far as most go over here. i personally began to use "melodeon" in the broader sense, to include bisonoric button boxes of however many rows, after hearing the word used this way from the irish and the uk-ers....

 

 

I'm sure this varies by region and musical community within the US. Within the morris dance community in the mid-Atlantic/Northeast, I most frequently hear 2- and 2.5-row D/G instruments called "melodeons". I sometimes hear them called "button accordions", but never just "accordions".

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My, how the conversation has wandered (interestingly) singe the original post which wondered whether concertinists (or at least Anglo-ists) were stuck in a rut while the 2 row melodeon is enjoying a renaissance as a virtuoso instrument.

 

My background in playing is that I started on harmonica, got heavily involved in Morris dancing, spent a few years knocking tunes out of a 2 row melodeon in the unimaginative oom-pah (bass-chord) style, lost interest, then one day for no apparent reason fell in love with the Anglo. I now play the Anglo mainly in the harmonic style, with very little oom-pah.

 

A few years on, I find that the Anglo is considerably more capable and versatile than I am, but I need to work hard at it because of its unique combination of rational design (the Richter tuning)and Heath-Robinson developments (the fit 'em where you can accidentals). I also find that, yes, a lot of young melodeonists - and a few of the old ones - are now taking the 2 row melodeon to a whole new level.

 

I don't see any conflict in this. The Anglo (or any other concertina) is incredibly versatile. Compare it to a flute, trumpet, oboe, etc. which can only play one note at a time) or a violin which is almost exclusively a single note melody instrument. Most popular, traditional, pop, jazz, blues and classical melodies that you could play on one of these instruments will fit within the compass of the concertina. There's not much you can't play on a concertina if you set your mind to it.

 

Soon after I started playing, I had a few lessons with the Derbyshire virtuoso, Keith Kendrick, who plays both English and Anglo. He told me that the Anglo is "the thinking man's piano" - and it was only a year or so after I had stopped having lessons with him (for geographical reasons) that I fully understood what he meant.

 

With the right mindset and application, the "limitations" of the Anglo are simply its "characteristics" and you can find a way of playing anything you really want to. My own repertoire includes mainly Morris and traditional tunes, but also a couple of "standards" like "Ain't She Sweet", a few Playford tunes, and odds and ends of country and western, Buddy Holly, and the like. My current teacher plays in a concertina trio, and there appear to be no limits to what they will have a go at playing together.

 

If the original post meant "Can we take our Anglos a step further like melodeonists have?" then the answer is a resounding "Yes".

 

And melodeons: louder doesn't mean better.

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The developments in melodeon playing coming out of continental Europe aren’t simply developments in technique in isolation – they are part of a development of musical genres in which traditional musical forms are given a modern feel . The diatonic accordion is central to these genres, so it is inevitable that playing styles will evolve alongside the music itself. Outside South Africa, the concertina isn’t at the heart of any genres to the same extent, so has to go looking for a role.

 

The developments in melodeon playing are also accompanied by an evolution of the instrument itself. Many players in this modern style are using 3 row instruments, usually 2 rows + accidentals (interestingly, moving towards the design of the anglo) with 12 or 18 basses which might be unisonoric. On grounds of size and playability there probably isn’t much scope to extend the concertina in the same way.

 

I think we are in danger of overlooking the huge leaps forward in concertina playing that have already taken place. Compare the modern cross-row Irish style with the older up-and-down-the-rows playing, or ‘harmonic’ English/morris styles with playing in octaves, and it seems to me that the anglo concertina has already gone through the revolution which the melodeon is only now experiencing. It is only because both these styles are now commonplace that we don’t see it. I think there is a case to be made that the melodeon is only now catching up.

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The developments in melodeon playing coming out of continental Europe aren’t simply developments in technique in isolation – they are part of a development of musical genres in which traditional musical forms are given a modern feel . The diatonic accordion is central to these genres, so it is inevitable that playing styles will evolve alongside the music itself. Outside South Africa, the concertina isn’t at the heart of any genres to the same extent, so has to go looking for a role.

 

The developments in melodeon playing are also accompanied by an evolution of the instrument itself. Many players in this modern style are using 3 row instruments, usually 2 rows + accidentals (interestingly, moving towards the design of the anglo) with 12 or 18 basses which might be unisonoric. On grounds of size and playability there probably isn’t much scope to extend the concertina in the same way.

 

I think we are in danger of overlooking the huge leaps forward in concertina playing that have already taken place. Compare the modern cross-row Irish style with the older up-and-down-the-rows playing, or ‘harmonic’ English/morris styles with playing in octaves, and it seems to me that the anglo concertina has already gone through the revolution which the melodeon is only now experiencing. It is only because both these styles are now commonplace that we don’t see it. I think there is a case to be made that the melodeon is only now catching up.

 

 

Good answer!

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If the original post meant "Can we take our Anglos a step further like melodeonists have?" then the answer is a resounding "Yes".

 

 

Agree!

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I agree absoultely with the last posts. In my opinion the melodeons almost until 50 years or less they were as lorries, trucks or tractors compared with the british made concertinas, that were a wonderful work of adjustment and precision. Although today the quality of them are higher many melodeons, not the best of them, are in a middle quality and difficult to compare with concertinas. I have several good old melodeons (Dedenis, Munot, etc.) from the beginnings of the 20th century and they can't resist the comparison with the british made concertinas that are more as a watchmaker work, and also with the modern good melodeons.

The traditional three row melodeons were in G/C/F or F/Bb/Eb and the revolution was when the 3rd row was converted to a accidental row.

Neverthless hohner made diatonic accordions with an third full accidental row but with only 10 basses, that I think it was its main limitation.

I play mainly with 2 and a half row melodeons with 12 basses and I play in a very traditional way but the most revolutionary players are playing with three rows and 12 or better 18 basses. Of course as a player can be revolutionary playing also in 2 1/2 as Andy Cutting and other players, the versality of the 3 row and 18 basses for playing in a wide range of keys, harmonies, etc. it is undoubted.

 

The "modern" style was developed mainly in France and Italy, and it was spreaded to another countries, to Spain recently, etc.

It is similar to the influence of irish and scottish music in other musical styles, i.e. galician and asturian. Its influence is present in newly composed music, styles and technic of playing, etc.

 

I think also that probably the revolution of the concertina was time ago when it was at the core of certain musical styles and genres but it can be still can bound to another limits.

Sorry, I am thinking about the anglo concertina mainly.

The problem that I see, in myself, that I play the concertina some times as if it was an accordion or thinking about it as a substitute of an accordion and it isn't, it can do also many things that the accordion do, but it has also another possibilites, limits and advantages.

Edited by felix castro

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Each instrument is a world. I think it is no possible to compare differents instruments like concertina, melodeon or other accordion or instrument because they were made for different kind of music, different kind of dances, different kind of songs and different culture.

 

We can play many songs and play in different styles. However, there are song taht sounds better with concertina, and there are tunes that sounds better played in other instrument. But we can play them, of course. And we can try to get an own style of playing, I think this is very important.

Edited by tamborileru

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I think that comparison is always possible, they are played by human people and constructed using the same principles, ergonomics, of course wind instruments are better comparable in the same category.

It is more difficult compare instruments in different categories, i. e. string instruments and wood wind instruments. Principles of playing, constructing, and styles can be applied from one instrument to another.

Other matter are the different styles and tunes, there are tunes composed with an specific instrument in mind, because it is the main instrument in that tradition (if we speak about traditional music).

Some times that a particular tune sounds better in one or another instrument is a personal or cultural taste.

Music and styles are permeable and many part of the evolution of the instruments are made in the cross roads of the musical different cultures.

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And in the US a melodeon was a early type of reed organ - just to confuse things even further.

 

Specifically, reed organs that worked on positive pressure from the bellows were known as harmoniums, while those that worked on negative pressure (suction) were known as melodeons.

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Taking this thread back to OP question, here are my two cents:

Yes, I think that concertina community is stuck in ruts, they are just wider and may not be obvious at a first glance. I'll take Jody's list as an ilustration to my point (nothing personal Jody, it is just great example)

 

Old-time southern fiddle tunes, blues songs, college fraternity and sorority songs from the '50's, tin pan alley and American song book standards, Irish and English session tunes, humorous novelty songs from way back, early country classics from Jimmie Rogers and the Delmore Brothers etc., Playford dance tunes from the 16-18 hundreds, New England contra dance tunes, Scottish pipe tunes, Northumbrian pipe tunes, Quebecois, Shetland, Breton, Basque, Oz, Morris and Sword tunes, Beatles, Dylan and Neil Young... blah, blah, blah, on and on.

What is the common denominator of almost everything on this list? It is public domain and decades or even centuries old (I know that Jody and some other players here write their own music sometimes, but usually within a well established, traditional genre).

...

OP question was asked in comparison to a melodeon - just another folk instrument, with comparable historical applications.

 

So you're saying that the melodeonists are also stuck in ruts? Wouldn't that make Jim B.'s comparison meaningless?

 

We as humans tend to look at smaller and smaller details as we specialize in something, be it art, science or our musical taste. Trad player will see a huge difference between Breton, Morris or Scandinavian folk, but for someone with entirely different taste or musical background it is all FOLK. In other words - playing scandinavian folk might be "out of the rut" for an english player, Breton may be something new for an american Blue Grass player, but it is still going in circles...

Not for them, it's not. The fact that a particular music or style is familiar to someone else doesn't make it a "rut" for me. If that were true, then there would be no point in my trying something like punk, heavy metal, rap, or whatever is the latest fashion, because I would still be in somebody's "rut".

 

I think it's another kind of rut to deprecate what are actually significant differences among different folk traditions, while suggesting that something punk is somehow inherently different and rutless, at least for a concertina. (To me, the most "out of the rut" thing about Thomas' recording is not the genre nor the arrangement, but his instrument, which is a far greater departure from previous concertinas than a 3-row-18-bass melodeon is from a rutty old 2-row.) For those who grew up only with punk and its successors, learning to play -- or even just appreciate -- Swedish fiddle harmonies, ragtime, or baroque can be a radical leap out of their own rut.

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As I first understood, the OP question was aimed at the whole concertina community being stuck, but then it was somehow narrowed to Anglo players and it seems that I simply missunderstood the scope of original question.

 

You're right Jim, that nobody is in any rut as long as he pushes himself outside his comfort zone - that is why I wrote about the instrument applications and not any specific player or single genre.

 

In any way I didn't meant to depracate any kind of folk. I myself am a huge fan of klezmer, balkan and scandinavian folk and recently - breton tunes. My comment was simply to point out, that there is awfully small amount of non-traditional music played on a concertina (at least to be found on the web) in comparison to the most versatile and recognized instrument of the squeez family: an accordion.

 

And yes, I think that comparing to the melodeon is a narrower scope - not at all meaningless, only a bit limiting: it misses how much is going on in many modern or non-dance genres and other instruments. To be honest, I deeply regret, that the only person on the web trying (succesfully) to play modern game/film music is Toru Kato (with exception on maybe to Monkey Island theme played by two other players). And that I cannot listen to any rendition of scandinavian folkmetal on a concertina, while there are literaly hundreds of such accordion videos on YT. TOTM moved mostly to the soundcloud, so our collective effort to record more concertina music is a bit of an inside thing, not drawing much attention. We often complain about concertinas not being popular and I tried to link that to being somehow stuck in a rut of a folk niche. I found many of my favourite accordion YT players by searching for music of modern artists, very often covered in dozens or hundreds of videos, on many instruments. I even found a great cover of Tool's "Lateralus" played on a Koto ensemble and spend an evening on finding anything I could on this instrument - much more exotic for me than concertina. But concertinists don't really do covers, so they are impossible to be found this way.

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yeah, but another way of viewing what feels to you like a scarcity of concertina players doing game/film themes, is that many if not most game/film themes are themselves pastiche of various long-established forms, such as world music forms or jazzy stuff. "monkey island" is a good example of what i'm talking about. it could have fit perfectly in the soundtrack of "amelie" or Kusturica's "time of the gypsie,s" or in the coen brothers' "fargo" along with the modal swedish stuff they did throw onto that soundtrack. and there are concertina folks out there playing all those genres. most of them just haven't gotten around to the game themes, but the "types" of music pastiched in most game themes are types played on concertina...

 

can't help with the dearth of "covers," since my interest in concertina pertains to instrumental music in which the concertina is playing lead, not vocal accompaniment or rhythmic backup....

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Not all covers are vocal and one can make great instrumental arrangements of vocal music (a great example, "Toxicity" by System Of A Down played on a piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Be-loLSUWT0&list=PLvpAJmwTOeU4G0UKTxLMzogYXfnupm3tZ&index=2)

 

Of course "amelie" is modern written but based on well established forms. You're right, that great mass of modern instrumental music is a pastiche of old genres which are played on a concertina. But that is not my point.

 

I'm not arguing, that covers or game/film music are in any way superior to folk or early jazz music etc... Only that if we want wider popularity of our instrument we should lean toward more popular genres and proove to general public, that concertina is not a folk-niche instrument. Today, if someone wants to start playing concertina not because it is a traditional Irish instrument, but because it is a compact, light, versatile "accordion", and wants to play modern music he has almost zero learning or inspirational concertina material and may turn to other instrument, simply because he will have anyone to compare to in his chosen genre.

 

Again, I'm not in any way arguing, that concertinist should abandon folk, or that exploring folk music of various regions or historical times is in any way inferior to playing modern music. I'm just sad, that my beloved instrument is percieved by a generall audience only as a folk instrument and a novelty.

 

To put my point of view to one phrase: we as concertina players rightly don't see or feel ourselves as being stuck in any rut (especially on individual level), but general audience may well percieve us (as a whole) as such.

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The reality is that a great many concertina players (especially among members of c.net) have apparently come to the concertina via their interest in folk music, rather than the other way around. It takes some determination to become a concertina player - they are not found in many music shops so they're unlikely to be a spontaneous purchase, and unless you've found your grandfather's in an attic something has to have attracted you to the instrument. That's more likely to be folk music than modern music of any genre, because for several generations the instrument has been a folk-niche instrument - it hasn't played any significant part in popular music since probably the 1930s. I realise this is the point you are making, but that's how it is - it's chicken-and-egg I'm afraid. It isn't the current generation of players who have made it a folk instrument, that is a result of history, we've simply responded to it.

 

Speaking for myself, I'm not very interested in playing modern music on concertina, not because of any perceived limitations in the instrument but because that's not where my musical interests lie. I'm certainly not interested in doing so because I feel that I ought to be doing something to broaden the appeal of the instrument. If others wish to do that, that's fine by me, but I have other things to do.

 

It's probably different in Poland and the rest of continental Europe, but in England the accordion has an even worse public image than the concertina, and is associated firmly with folk music, Scottish Country Dancing, and buskers. It is very uncool. At least the concertina has some curiosity value.

Edited by hjcjones

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Well, since the flood of cheap chineese instruments on ebay and introduction of Rochelle, Jackie/Jack and Elise the cost of at least trying our instrument has dropped significantly and people are trying it without prior interest in folk music. At least some are.

 

And about accordion fame in central and easter europe: it had a very negative public image for the last 50 years, being associated mostly with annoying gypsy buskers and wedding party music, but it is changing rapidly. CBA accordionist Marcin Wyrostek has won the "Mam talent" show (polish edition of "Britain's got talent") in 2009, there are many new bands playing a folkrock or indie music incorporating accordions, brass sections and other not-so popular instruments. There are many great bands in Ukrain and Belarus, pushing accordions and fiddles to something called gypsy-punk, a mix of rock, punk, gypsy, klezmer and balkan folk and many of their arrangements are far from simple rhytmic accompaniment. One of my favourite tunes of Gogol Bordello https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mymLWGvvDu8 (there is even an accordion solo at 5:15) And Gogol Bordello is an internationally recognized main-stream band, playing on the biggest open air festivals and is hardly the only one. There is a huge movement also in scandinavian folkmetal to incorporate CBAs (try Korpiklaani for example) with a huge base of young fans starting their jurney with CBA because they like the power of such music. And CBAs are becoming very cool. We have nothing of that.

 

There is a lot going on with 'squeezed' music in many popular genres, but concertina misses this almost entirely by being, well, stuck in a rut of reconstructory folk, dance hall accompaniment and other traditional applications. We even have some problems in recognizing duets as true concertinas, as they have no well defined traditional repertoire. And again - I'm not trying to change anyone's musical joices or interests. Just trying to put a concertina in a wider scope than Anglo vs Melodeon. Nobody should feel offended by my point of view, as I really enjoy good folk and I'am trully inspired by some of folks here on c.net playing solely folk music on Anglos and Englishes. For me, the term "being stuck in a rut" has no negative value to it. This thread is more of an academic debate for me, than personal finger-pointing.

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Maybe its size works against it - something so small couldn't possibly have a useful range, or be taken seriously!

It's all perception

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