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Dan Worrall's 'house Dance" -- Great Stuff!


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I have been reading (and listening) with great pleasure to Dan Worrall's book House Dance. I highly recommend it, both as a wonderful window into concertina history and an education in how to play the Anglo like the real old timers.


I am a newbie on the concertina; I don't think I'd even qualify as a toddler, yet. But as someone who has played harmonica for years, and who acquired a melodeon shortly before acquiring an anglo concertina, I began my concertina playing without much in the way of instruction. Since I already understood the structure of the scale and how the buttons worked, I just dove in, transferring some of my harmonica repertoire over to the squeezebox.

Rather quickly, and instinctively, I started playing some tunes in octaves -- at first along the row, and then discovering that I could move down to the G row in order to gain notes above A on the left hand. The same trick work on the right hand, too!

Eventually, messing around on the web, I found that this octave style was indeed one of the ways folks traditionally approached the instrument, and I discovered Worrall's House Dance, which focuses on just that style of play. Octave playing was once the most common approach to the anglo (or German concertina), used to gain volume and reinforce the beat when a single unamplified concertina might be the only source of music for thirty couples dancing across the dirt floor of a settler's home in South Africa -- or across a wooden platform laid down at some Irish crossroads.

I mentioned "listening" to House Dance. The "book" is delivered on CD as a set of well-illustrated web pages and associated audio files. So, as you read about the differences in the octave playing of Scan Tester and William Kimber, you can actually listen to recordings that illustrate the point.

The first six chapters of House Dance provide a historical exploration of the concertina's place providing music for dance in the late 1800s and early 1900s in England, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa. The second six chapters look in depth at the playing of traditional concertina artists from each of these countries -- and provide a tutorial in the octave style.

The huge number of recordings that accompany the text are a wonderful resource. And these are not recordings that you're going to find on Spotify. (I know; I've looked!) They are from private collections, museums, and other hard to find sources. In addition to music, there are also recordings of interviews with old-time players, talking about the octave style and the house dance context in which it was used.

The whole thing is just a flat out marvelous piece of work -- and not just for the historian. There's plenty to learn about playing the anglo in the "pages" of House Dance.

I've gone on enough. I ordered my copy of the CD from the Button Box. But there are other places to get it. Worrall's website will point you to the options. All the profits from sale of the book go to the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

It's just an excellent piece of work. Dan deserves plenty of thanks for creating it.

Happy Squeezing!


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Many thanks, Greg, for those exceedingly kind words. Always great to know that someone out there discovers and appreciates such an effort.


As one who started down the Anglo trail via Bertram Levy's wonderful tutor of thirty plus years ago, I remember Bertram's comment to the effect that learning to play the Anglo is a lifelong journey. One can certainly spend one's time traveling along one single highway, exploring it in great depth to great enjoyment, or one may find that there are many other highways too that beckon. The House Dance CD was done with the latter strategy in mind. Having put it together, I was amazed that the old patterns of playing the instrument in various locations were really quite similar - to the extent that we can say today from a limited set of old recordings. I'm still amazed by that, and love to play in octaves. Glad there is another octave aficianado out there.



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I don't want to speak for Dan, 'cause he's the expert, but House Dance makes clear a lot of the traditional octave players were in fact playing 20b instruments, in many cases, of German style or manufacture.


He has this great photo of a traditional Irish player with a great, big ol' 20b, double-reeded box.



Mary Ann Carolan (1902-1985) holding her German concertina
at the Drogheda Folk Festival, c.1977.
Photograph by Joe Dowdall, courtesy of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.


"Mrs Carolan played a C/G German concertina that had double banks of reeds tuned an octave apart, which meant that when playing in octaves she was sounding four reeds for each melody note, which gave a full, accordion-like sound. In a 1985 RTÉ interview she makes it quite clear that volume (one of the benefits of octave playing) was an important part of her dance music." – Dan Worrall, House Dance

He also noted that she tend to play reels in single note mode, rather than in octaves, in order to keep up her speed.


In my limited experience, if you're playing in one of the two home keys and aren't playing flash stuff with a bunch of accidentals, 20 buttons is plenty sufficient for playing in octaves. Dan's book has a tutorial in the style, and it's really quite intuitive.


Playing in C, you drop to the G row for the higher notes (typically making the shift on G). Playing in G, you can jump up to the C row for the low notes. The only complicated bit of it is that the notes aren't always on the same button on the left and right hands. I've been using it mostly in C, but I'm working on a couple of G tunes so that I have that down as well. I'm too much of a newbie to have played around with D and other more complicated keys, yet.



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  • 9 years later...

This CD-ROM publication has been republished as a book by Rollston Press and I've just bought a copy. I was unaware of its existence until a recent mention of the publication in another thread.


It is a fascinating read, focusing on Anglo concertina players playing for dance up to about 1920, with lots of QR codes (100+) linking to relevant recordings, many of them historic.


Geographically, Dan tracks how things developed in England, Ireland, Australia and South Africa.


This book reveals the early history of our instrument as a fascinating story which has been largely forgotten with today's focus on playing 'Irish-style' or 'Harmonic' style. 


Highly recommended !!!!!!



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