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How Accidental Was Your Choice Of System?


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Blessed with the internet and this forum, today's beginners can make an informed choice of concertina system, but I'm struck by the possibility that the choice made by long established players may have been quite accidental.

 

I think Tim Laycock plays the Crane because he bought one by chance from a shop without realising there were different systems.

 

Keith Kendrick originally learnt the English without realising that the 'sound' he always wanted was the Anglo. Now he plays both.

 

Rik

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There were two main factors at play for me -

 

Firstly, the two local players who really made me appreciate the concertina both played English.

Secondly, after many attempts and personal tuition and tutor books, I've come to accept that my brain just does not do bisonoric instruments - anglos and melodeons are, to me, completely unintuitive and baffle the heck out of me.

 

So English it is, and very happy I am too!

 

My wife, however, plays anglo and regards the hand position of the EC as a cruel and unnatural punishment ...

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I choose the English system out of a spontaneous suggestion early one morning when I found the mine-to-be instrument up for auction on eBay. It took me just one or two minutes to decide that "my" system would not be the Anglo (as planned) or the MacCann (as considered) but the English, and hit the "buy it now" button...

Never looked back... B)

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I choose the English system out of a spontaneous suggestion early one morning when I found the mine-to-be instrument up for auction on eBay. It took me just one or two minutes to decide that "my" system would not be the Anglo (as planned) or the MacCann (as considered) but the English, and hit the "buy it now" button...

Never looked back... B)

I was looking on eBay for a better Anglo when I saw my Crane to be, but I did research it before bidding.

 

Rik

Edited by frogspawn
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I was first aware of some sea shanty performers who played on the anglo system. But a friend had a musty but otherwise functional English that I was allowed to borrow for a while. I didn't get on with it at all. The hand position was torture - wrong in so many ways! The idea of alternating sides to complete a scale was bizarre, and i just couldn't get used to it, given the very limited time I could even stand to have the instrument in my hands. (although the musty smell made me a bit more reluctant as well.) I admire the sound that can result from the ability to play a sustained harmony against whatever melody because there is no limit on notes available with bellows directon. But not for me.

 

So when I found the anglo in the shop, I knew something about what the choice I was making. At first the bisonoric thing was disconcerting too, but the instrument seems to love being in my hands, so it didn't take long to be able to sort that out, at least most of the time. I'm gradually getting used to choosing the the best fingering to keep the bellows balanced, and choosing whether to make the phrasing smooth or choppy, if possible.

Since my favorite instrument is a 20b anglo, it is often frustrating to be limited in which keys I can play on a diatonic instrument, and I get annoyed with not having the accidentals needed for some tunes and even in the preferred keys, which are common in jazzier styles of music. I started reading an playing music with piano, and have played a number of other instruments, so I do notice the absence. But this past year I bought a 30b as well, so I can use that if I need to play the odd notes. Actually I was already somewhat accustomed to the restriction in available notes on a diatonic instrument from playing whistle, so that isn't really a new thing, and it isn't often a problem with traditional folk tunes, which in England at least are often in G major anyway.

 

I suspect that I would like a Duet system, but I'm stuck in on Anglo now, as I'm never giving up my dear little 20b anglo if I can help it!

 

Edit: This anglo - although tuned to modern concert pitch, is apparently not in equal temperament, and but perhaps some sort of mean tone tuning. I've not had it analyzed, but the 4ths 5ths and thirds all sound very rich and sweet. So that makes it all the more endearing.

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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I choose the English system out of a spontaneous suggestion early one morning when I found the mine-to-be instrument up for auction on eBay. It took me just one or two minutes to decide that "my" system would not be the Anglo (as planned) or the MacCann (as considered) but the English, and hit the "buy it now" button...

Never looked back... B)

 

I was looking on eBay for a better Anglo when I saw my Crane to be, but I did research it before bidding.

 

Rik

 

Well Rik, if I recollect it rightly I had already some understanding of the "English" keyboard logic when acquiring the instrument, but on that very morning I suddenly realised how well it would fit in with my basic understanding of music and making music. And I had it absolutely right as for me...

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I think my choice was along the lines of what Steve Mansfield describes above. My brain seems hard wired against the semi-intuitive approach of the Anglo, but very comfortable with something that directly relates to written music. It was sealed when I went to buy my first concertina and was allowed to 'play' (note the inverted commas - i didn't have a clue what I was doing!) through something like 20 instruments (both EC and Anglo). What sealed it was the sound from the Lachenal Excellsior that I went on to buy - didn't find anything else in either system whose sound I liked as much. Perhaps if I had found an Anglo with that sort of sound the outcome might have been different and I would have persevered against my instinct.

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Anne plays English and I didn't get on with it so I thought I'd try anglo. Love at first twiddle!

 

Chris

 

And how about the concertina?

 

After being inspired by the likes of John Watcham and Sandra Kerr while I was still at school, I waited till I was earning and could afford it then bought an English and an anglo within a few months of each other. The English was in better condition and I had Alistair Anderson's Concertina Workshop to learn from so I tended to do more with that system. Mind you, it's taken me until very recently (say 40 years) to decide that I really don't want to play anglo.

I also fell in love with Tim Laycock's playing and bought a Crane back then as well, which I abandoned after a few years and am just getting back to. For me it depends on what I want to do - mostly fast tunes on English, other stuff on Crane.

 

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melody playing was always my thing, and the possibility of sustaining notes sealed the case for the English. Also I always really wanted a violin and this was the next best thing. Now that I have had Roy Whitely make me a midi version, I can play any instrument on the English -- and also if I wish with earphones and not drive my wife crazy. I have a mint vintage amboyna Aeola that I rarely play and still tend to use a middle quality Lachenal with a lovely tone. The Aeola almost hurts my ears but it is too lovely to relinquish. Also a very nice 12-sided Crabb but a little on the heavy side.

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Also I always really wanted a violin and this was the next best thing.

 

Sorry for sort of drowning this thread with affirmation, but this is very true for me as well - fiddle would have been a very welcome supplement to my playing piano, recorder, guitar and accordion since being a youth, but it never happened (just one year playing the cello under unfortunate circumstances and then abandoning it completely) - and the EC has in fact supplied this want pretty much...

 

However, on SoundCloud there's a guy doing great things with his newly acquired "guitar viol", which might be something to go for in spite of having, playing and loving an EC model concertina now... :)

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For me, the Anglo was just like a handful of harmonicas, which were my musical "native tongue." I first held and tried one at the fantastic NESI Squeeze-In 22 months ago, and because of years of simple harmonica playing, found I could play, albeit only by ear and in home keys and along the rows. I found I could play scales and most tunes already in my head literally that weekend, although I admit my neurological proclivities limit both progress and promise. So what, say I....It's a ton of fun, and people who don't know a lot about the instrument (a vast majority of human-kind, you'll perhaps agree) profess to enjoy the sound. I now have a Stagi C/G 30 B ( old, a bit slow, but sweet toned,) an older Bastari 30 B G/C (quite a bit more responsive, and with metal ends, actually sounds way more "honky") and, most recently acquired, a rather tired-looking but reasonably quick and pleasant sounding older Bastari 40 B in G/D, which will likely become my main machine for my crude forays into ITM, Quebecois, Old Timey, and anything else in those keys. That's the reason for it, and I can play in those keys without much thinking (just the way I like it!.). And, because I am quite thrifty, the total investment (about $700 for the heap) suits me just fine.

 

Now, after all that, I got hooked on the idea of Wicki/Hayden elegance of fingering multiple keys in one pattern, and was also inspired by the play of David B. and Matthew V. on their duets. After much thought, I rented an Elise from the good folk at the ButtonBox, which I soon converted to purchase, and play a lot. For four hundred bucks, it has lots of charm for me. It's loud, on pitch, seems quick and responsive (remember, I am used to old Italian hardware) and I love the logic of Hayden, the (new, for me) freedom of unisonority, and the potential for easy LH harmonies. The bonus is the prospect of muscle-memory arpeggiation, and fast sinle notes someday. I will absolutely keep my eye open for larger Haydens, but the only one likely to slip to my price range anytime soon is the Stagi, and I suspect the Elise may be more nimble, albeit with its size limitations.

 

I get much delight from this kind of thread, and the site as a wholw!

 

Thanks, and regards,

 

David

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Blessed with the internet and this forum, today's beginners can make an informed choice of concertina system, but I'm struck by the possibility that the choice made by long established players may have been quite accidental.

 

Well, there's "accidental", and there's "accidental".

 

One could say that it's a series of "accidents" -- or coincidences -- that led me more quickly down the path which has been confirmed as my "natural" preference.

  • A series of coincidences (which I won't detail here) led me to fall in with the NYC traditional folk singing folks a few years after leaving university. There I encountered a few individuals using concertina to accompany songs, as well as play the occasional tune: Michael Cooney, Louis Killen, John Roberts and Tony Barrand, and one concert by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. I liked what I heard and wanted to be able to do "the same". All of these were using English concertinas (yes, back then John was playing English and Tony was also playing a bit on the English).
  • So I went looking for a concertina. I learned the differences between the English and the anglo and "German" (back then the German-engineered versions were not called "anglo"). English concertinas were expensive and hard to find, but English-made ("vintage") anglos seemed even rarer, with only the "German" bisonorics being readily available. Never mind; I understood that the English was what I was looking for, and I put the word out among my friends.
  • Then one day I got a phone call from a friend in Philadelphia. He had found an English concertina in a pawn shop. No, I couldn't buy it from him, since he'd already promised it to a local friend, but he was having a party that night, so if I took the train down I could at least try it out. I did, and without yet knowing anything about the keyboard, I nevertheless found myself after only a few minutes playing a simple song tune in 2-part harmony... in what I realized years later was the key of Eb. :o I was hooked! But I had no instrument. :(
  • At about this time I also became involved in English country dancing. (I had been doing international, especially Balkan, but due to a non-dancing accident which hurt my ankle, my doctor told me to go easy on the folk dancing. To me that didn't mean stopping, but instead a less vigorous form. ;)) Phil Merrill, the usual pianist for these dances, also occasionally played an English concertina. He was another inspiration, and I asked him if he knew where I could get one. As it happened, a friend of his had one that he wasn't using, and he arranged to let me borrow it. As had happened at the party, the instrument just felt like it belonged in my hands. I could play tunes almost immediately. Song accompaniment became secondary, though not due to any limitation of the instrument. I didn't know where to begin. I had almost no experience with guitar, piano, or song accompaniment of any sort. My musical background to that point had been with wind instruments and singing... either solo or part-singing in choirs.
  • Okay, for 6 months I enjoyed learning/playing the concertina, but then -- oh, dear!, -- I had to return it. I was like an alcoholic suffering withdrawal. For the next 6 months, every time I met someone new I asked them, "Do you know anyone with a concertina for sale?" (Meanwhile, to keep from going totally nuts, I bought a playable 20-button "German" for $15,, on which I did learn to play a few tunes for a local Morris team's practices. But that just confirmed that the bisonoric concept didn't mesh well with my nervous system. It was more of a task than a joy.)
  • Well, one night two different people answered my question with a "Yes." And so I suddenly became the owner (thanks to a loan from my brother) of two 48-button treble Englishes... a somewhat leaky but otherwise quite nice Edeophone and a nicely tight 1950's basic Wheatstone, which became my main instrument for some years. (Back then I knew of no-one who did even basic restoration work on concertinas, so the Edeophone still leaked.)
  • As time went by, I came to own a better English and even a 55-button Maccann duet and a couple of anglos. I even learned to play a bit on the duet and anglos, but I've never yet become as comfortable with them as I was with the English the first time it was in my hands. I've also tried other duets with similar results, though (at least for now) I'm more comfortable with the Crane system than with the other duets.
  • I'm now exploring further the capabilities of the English, and once I get some other issues in my life more settled, I hope to find time do the same with the anglo and various duets, but it's pretty clear that the English will always be my main squeeze. :)
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Before buying my first concertina last year I did a little bit of reading about the English and Anglo layouts, and quickly came to the conclusion that the English much more closely fits the way I think. The more that I learn about music, the more convinced I am that I made the right decision. It didn't really occur to me at the time to consider a duet, but I have since become intrigued by the Hayden layout and intend to give it a shot at some point.

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In my case it was completely accidental - my wife found a Wheatstone EC in a thrift shop for next to nothing, and bought it because because she had had a cheap German 'tina when she was a kid. She didn't like it.

 

I had never really learned to play an instrument (false starts with violin, guitar, and harmonica) and started in without any formal training - couldn't even read music. The EC seems to fit the logical side of my brain and so has stuck. Perhaps compensates a bit for my lack of "ear and talent".

 

Concertinas are quite rare in our area, and so are cheap when I find them as nobody knows the value. Next winter's project is a nice Lachenal metal-ended 30 key anglo I found in a combination junk/antique/tattoo shop. That should be fun to try as I've never tried an anglo...

Edited by apprenticeOF
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