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Solo Concertina As The Whole Band?


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I love playing tunes with my buddy Marty on harmonica.

 

I think that what Marty is doing has direct concertina cross-over technique possibilities.

I agree.

 

A direct copy on a single row of an anglo should be obvious. But that style should also be easy to reproduce on any English or duet, as well.

 

Do you hear how he is implying the band roles of guitar and banjo in his solo performance?

Actually, no.

 

Three things here:

  • My concept of "a band" is much broader and more varied than what you're implying here.
  • In my experience the roles of guitar and banjo in different bands -- or even at different times in the same band -- are far more varied than the limited accompaniment Marty uses in your example.
  • I've long been familiar with that style on the harmonica, and I think I even encountered it before my first encounter with a band of the sort you're suggesting. So if I thought either was trying to imitate the other -- which I don't, -- it could be the other way around.

Marty is not sounding like a band exactly. Rather, he is letting the musical roles that are usually the provence of other instruments in a string band inform his solo playing on the harp.

Is that how he views it? Or is he -- as suggested by others regarding piano, guitar, and other instruments -- simply taking greater advantage of the harmonica's capabilities than many people do? He's certainly not the only one I've heard play in that style. And I've also heard harmonica players with bands do just rhythmic chording for a while, something that violin and mandolin players also commonly do. (And mandolin can do the sort of thing Marty's doing, though violin played with a standard bow is much more limited.)

 

This effect is subtle but clearly there to my ear. But how does he do it?

I don't play harmonica, but I know how it's done. While playing melody, several holes of the harmonica are in the mouth but all but one at any given time are covered by the tongue. Lifting the tongue briefly from one or more of the covered holes allows those notes to sound as well.

 

A more interesting question might be... how could I do it on the box?

Isn't it just a simplified version of what you already do? To imitate adding notes by lifting the tongue, you just press the equivalent buttons. And use your bellows to imitate any emphasis he adds via breath control.

 

I remember you (many years ago) describing your style on the anglo as "as many notes as possible at all times". Isn't Marty's style, in fact, just fewer notes most of the time?

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I have noticed a tendency among concertina folk in particular, to go off into hair-splitting dead-end byways over, terminology, labeling, nomenclature and taxonomy in a manner that is often very literal. I will never forget that thread by someone who was SIMPLY OUTRAGED that cdbaby had the TEMERITY to be cheeky, humorous, and playful in a receipt email after a purchase. Monty Python could not have come up with a sketch that unintentionally hilarious.

 

Anyway, it seemed obvious to me that the OP meant "the whole band" in a "quote-unquote" sense. This is a phrase that piano teachers have used for eons about the piano and nobody takes it literally. Accordionists also say this (and in a dance-hall setting that could almost be true of piano accordions and CBAs). Fingerstyle guitarists in the alternating-bass style also say it. But everybody knows it's just a manner of speaking.

 

I personally find concertinas and bandoneons most beautiful and expressive as melody instruments (or, largely melody, with just light touches of bass or counterpt).

 

But in the spirit of the thing, I would suggest the guitar work of Lasse Johansson, who has done a recently-reissued, gorgeous CD of Jelly Roll Morton stuff arranged for fingerstyle guitar. He also has other CDs of old rags, and is an exquisite player and arranger with numerous Youtube clips--for example, SEE, "Wildcat Blues," on the 'Tube. Or, "Buddy Bolden Blues." LJ is really special.

 

There is also marvelous Mary Flower, who plays acoustic blues guitar in the alternating-bass fingerstyle manner. She, too, is viewable on Youtube. She has an all-instrumental CD that really showcases her style, titled "Instrumental Breakdown," wonderful stuff such as, "Black Rat Swing," and more. Sample clips are at Amazon Music.

 

The many solo or complex bandoneon clips viewable on Youtube also come to mind. Olivier Manoury, Guillaume Sabatier, Anibal Troilo, Piazzola natch.

 

The "whole band" thing is kind of a challenge on 30button Anglo concertina, though. You can really do it on bando, PA, CBA, even EC. And it is the selling point--or perceived selling point, anyhow---for many who take on duet. Don't know about 38b Anglo, but 30b is a challenge. With Anglo and "the whole band" concept, I guess it's like the devotees of the Holga camera--for Holga lovers, the camera's inherent limitations create a doorway to creative invention.

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Ceemonster, I think you and I view this "single instrument as band" from a similar perspective, although it sounds as though we differ markedly in our preferences. For me the appeal of concertina tone is in the interplay of the overtones that sometimes do such weird and wonderful things when playing chordally/contrapuntally. Fistfuls of notes, preferably with added drones! :)

 

From the perspective of one who is a player of "all of the above", I'm also not sure I agree that a "whole band" feel is technically any more difficult on a 30-key anglo than it is on one with more buttons, or -- in practice -- than it is on a duet keyboard. As you suggest, the limitations of the instrument force certain choices, from key to individual notes, but it's more than possible to develop complex arrangements on a 30-key instrument.

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Hi ceemonster,

 

I don't think it's fair to reduce the dissent as expressed to just being about "nomenclature", "hair-splitng" asf. - IMO it's of some importance how we capture our personal goals (and therefore I wouldn't mind or criticise anyone else who's really contented with the "whole-band" concept).

 

However, you could blame me for disrupting the process of sharing soundfiles and videos, but to my understanding introducing a certain concept was part of the original post (so that we would have in fact two threads in one, and could of course seperate the one from the other).

 

As far as I'm concerned the "whole-band" concept (which I actually never heard or encountered in the context of piano lessons or talking about the "Schifferklavier") is misleading insofar it is suggesting an interpersonal interplay and sound/tecwise diversity which can't (or at least shouldn't) be faked.

 

Maybe this is in a way personal as I neither as a pianist nor as a concertinist (with the "English" system) would aim at accompanying my own "melody" playing.

 

I repeat myself in telling the story of my first visit to England when I as a juvenile used to hammer out some decent blues but completely failed when asked to play "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", trying to play melody notes with the right hand and chords with the left, which sounded really awful. That was a lesson to me, prompting me to develop a much more "compact" style in later years, which I now apply to the EC as well.

 

Hope I have made myself clearer now...

 

Bes wishes - Wolf

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As far as I'm concerned the "whole-band" concept (which I actually never heard or encountered in the context of piano lessons or talking about the "Schifferklavier") is misleading insofar it is suggesting an interpersonal interplay and sound/tecwise diversity which can't (or at least shouldn't) be faked.

 

Wolf -- likewise as a classical pianist I never encountered this, but I suppose to an extent on piano you just take it for granted that what the instrument is doing is self-contained.

 

I wouldn't agree that anything "shouldn't" be faked. Somebody, somewhere will find a way to do all sorts of things successfully, and more power to them. I would venture to suggest, though, that many that do this sort of thing very literally (and I think guitarists / bass players can be particularly guilty of this) often seem to forget to make any actual music while achieving blinding technical feats.

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But in the spirit of the thing, I would suggest the guitar work of Lasse Johansson, who has done a recently-reissued, gorgeous CD of Jelly Roll Morton stuff arranged for fingerstyle guitar. He also has other CDs of old rags, and is an exquisite player and arranger with numerous Youtube clips--for example, SEE, "Wildcat Blues," on the 'Tube. Or, "Buddy Bolden Blues." LJ is really special.

 

There is also marvelous Mary Flower, who plays acoustic blues guitar in the alternating-bass fingerstyle manner.

 

Lasse Johansson and Mary Flower are indeed marvelous guitarists, and their appearance in this discussion suggests a new way of looking at the "whole band" question. They're revivalists who draw their inspiration, and a lot of their arrangements, from the first generation of ragtime-influenced guitarists: folks like Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and (especially) Reverend Gary Davis (also blind, as it happens).

 

These players weren't perhaps trying to sound like a "whole band," but they were quite deliberately trying to make a guitar sound like a piano--specifically like a ragtime piano, with the left hand keeping the beat and the right hand "ragging" (syncopating) the melody. The ragtime guitarist approximates the left hand piano part with the thumb on the bass strings, and the right hand part with (usually) two fingers on the treble strings. Gary Davis managed it all with just thumb and index finger, which still makes me a little dizzy when I think about it.

 

The point is that a piano (along with related keyboard instruments) has been regarded for centuries as adequate to the challenge of complex, polyphonic music, whether in the form of original compositions or of transcriptions from orchestral arrangements. Of course, strictly speaking even a piano can't be a "whole band," but we're used to hearing it in that role. The ragtime guitar innovators were trying to get as close as they could to that kind of complexity and versatility on an instrument that was more accessible, affordable and portable: a "lap piano," as George Van Eps called his (admittedly seven-string) instrument.

 

In concertina terms, I suppose we'd want to say Knee Piano.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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I wouldn't agree that anything "shouldn't" be faked. Somebody, somewhere will find a way to do all sorts of things successfully, and more power to them. I would venture to suggest, though, that many that do this sort of thing very literally (and I think guitarists / bass players can be particularly guilty of this) often seem to forget to make any actual music while achieving blinding technical feats.

 

I agree here, partly correcting myself and thus coming to a new conclusion as follows:

 

The "whole-band" thing is about faking (which may be a good thing, but not of much interest for me at the moment) in the end, whereas my aim is rather providing a solo performance (at times with a single line, like in the most recent "Bourrée Anglais" recording, but mostly with added harmony) which is full-fledged but in an especially homogeneous sense...

 

Apropos faking it, I just sprang to my mind that I have to plead guilty of aiming at a fiddle-like sound in general... -_-

 

Best wishes - Wolf

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Well, this discussion is going into a funny direction... I don't think "faking" has anything to do with it.

When I listen to a band, I am able to identify distinct instruments, voicings, functions, colors, approaches - which all blend into the musical experience as a whole.

It is no coincidence that the guitar has been used numerous times within this thread as an example of something that accomplishes the same effect but using only one player and one instrument. it's logical because the guitar has (as far as I understand it as a life long afficionado and part time player wanna be of the guitar) undergone an evolution as a "band in one instrument - " roughly along the lines of the folk revival in the 80's, guitarists have explored polyphony in the sense that Bob mentioned - emulating the piano by using the bass strings as the sphere for the bass line that works sort of independent of the melody line.

But that's only the first step of the evolution. Guitarists have really explored that "piano" band type of thing in depth, and I'd see Guy van Duser* and Kottke as Masters of that "two dimensional" style - there were many others back then in all kinds of musical styles, from the folk baroque style by John Renbourn to almost classical players like Chet Atkins. What mostly remains from that time these days is the "fingerpicking paradigm" somewhat symbolized by arrangements like Ralph McTell's Streets of London. I deliberately exclude other Masters like Al di Meola from that movement because he belongs to a school that mostly plays single albeit very complex melody lines.

Now around the mid eighties another dimension was added to the degree of polyphony explored on the guitar - roughly with the appearance of Michael Hedges, guitarists employed strong percussive elements, using the guitar body as a drum set ALONG WITH the above already existing polyphony. Ever since then, that third dimension has been explored in depth by people like Adam Rafferty, Claus Boesser Ferrari or Don Ross. There practically is no practicing guitarist who does not incorporate some kind of tapping, back beat slap or emulating a rhythm track on the guitar top (like in the Andy McKee video I posted initially) in his or her playing.

When I think of "a band in a single instrument," I think of this very issue - several truly independent voices as well as "instrumental dogmas" that are both individually distinguishable as well as part of the complex arrangement. The only thing that's missing is different individuals playing the individual voicings, but I wouldn't consider that faking or anything else with a negative connotation.

The closest I believe a concertina can come to this interpretation of "band in one instrument" is the two dimensional ("piano emulation") level which attempts to separate accompaniment from the melody line and achieving highest possible independence of both (possibly creating poly rhythms). Ragtime with its polyrhythmic nature, for example, has been proven possible on the concertina. I have also tried myself on an arrangement of Stars and Stripes forever, and it is absolutely doable for example on a Crane (I just can't do it, at least not to a degree that's fun to listen to, for sure not within the next twenty years), but in terms of fingering, it's much easier than on the guitar. However, I don't see the concertina allowing the full possiblilities for groove that a guitar allows for; I don't see how you can emulate short stops, slaps, rest strokes and all the other effects that are possible on a concertina. But there is a lot of potential in the concertina that hasn't been explored yet, I'm sure...

Sorry for veering off and thanks for reading (in case you've made it up to this point).


*The arrangement of Stars and Stripes forver by Guy van Duser already foreshadowed the more complex band arrangements in that he alternates the melody line between the brass band voices and the piccolo voice and tries to emulate the dynamics of the rhythm section by attack. But I'm pretty certain that a more modern arrangement would do what he does but on top of that use some of the free fingers to do real percussion on some of the so far unused parts of the guitar.

Edited by Ruediger R. Asche
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We've had a great discussion so far, with some interesting differences in interpretation and points of view and some impressive example performances, but I think it's time to take another look at Jody's original post.

...solo harmonic concertina can be a very cool thing and when I’m playing that way, I do my best to supply all the elements that a band provides. Melody, bass, internal lines, answering voices, parallel harmony and the most important element of all... rhythmic groove, mostly provided by the bellows.


Whatever you wish to call it, I believe this is the heart of what Jody is getting at. Jody calls it standing in for "a whole band", presumably because that's been his primary source for experiencing such full and varied arrangements. (I might argue some circularity here, since playing in such bands has been a major part of his career.) In my own experience, "a band" is only one of many ways of realizing such a combination of properties (or various subsets), and they all "borrow" from each other, without any one -- piano, "band", guitar, "ensemble", accordion, etc. -- being more significant than the rest.

 

Returning to that list of properties, I don't believe any of the examples we've been given -- even by Jody -- embodies them all. Nor do I -- nor, I suspect, Jody -- feel they have to. To Jody, "the most important element of all" is the "rhythmic groove", and I suspect that's why Jody is so taken by his friend Marty on the harmonica. Marty plays some following harmony along with the melody, but the most important "addition" is the "rhythmic groove" of his chords. Other examples display other combinations of the listed properties.

 

Now we've each taken this discussion in different directions based on our own experience, in particular our understanding of the meanings of various words, the types of music we're most familiar with, and the importance to us of different elements in music. I hope we've all learned a lot and gained new perspectives... without having to give up our own. I know I have.

 

P.S. I might yet have some specific responses to specific things posted along the way, but they belong in separate posts.

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The closest I believe a concertina can come to this interpretation of "band in one instrument" is the two dimensional ("piano emulation") level which attempts to separate accompaniment from the melody line and achieving highest possible independence of both (possibly creating poly rhythms).

 

Rüdiger,

 

I can't resist to repeat myself with strongly denying this (re the reference to the piano)!

 

The piano is not at all about "separating accompaniment from the melody line" - this is a myth (presumably kept alive by non-pianists).

 

I seem to recall some Duet concertinist who - presumably rightly - denied this of their playing the concertina too. A Duet will provide certain extra chances for separation, but obviously can be used for creating complex and interwoven music as well (as proven by former member Dirge and others).

 

I agree when it comes to suspended or complex rhythmical patterns which may require a huge amount of independency between the left and the right hand asf., and the piano will be perfectly well-suited for this purpose.

 

But separating the melody line from the rest of the music played is - as main idea - debatable IMO, and one of the things I rather (not always) try to avoid. The melody should always be kept recognisable and (as a fellow member once put it) "shining through", but this doesn't necessarily mean to split the music played...

 

Best wishes - Wolf

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We've had a great discussion so far, with some interesting differences in interpretation and points of view and some impressive example performances, but I think it's time to take another look at Jody's original post.

 

...solo harmonic concertina can be a very cool thing and when I’m playing that way, I do my best to supply all the elements that a band provides. Melody, bass, internal lines, answering voices, parallel harmony and the most important element of all... rhythmic groove, mostly provided by the bellows.

Whatever you wish to call it, I believe this is the heart of what Jody is getting at. Jody calls it standing in for "a whole band", presumably because that's been his primary source for experiencing such full and varied arrangements. (I might argue some circularity here, since playing in such bands has been a major part of his career.) In my own experience, "a band" is only one of many ways of realizing such a combination of properties (or various subsets), and they all "borrow" from each other, without any one -- piano, "band", guitar, "ensemble", accordion, etc. -- being more significant than the rest.

 

Returning to that list of properties, I don't believe any of the examples we've been given -- even by Jody -- embodies them all. Nor do I -- nor, I suspect, Jody -- feel they have to.

 

Jim, I'm inclined to follow the direction taken by you. In fact I myself am considering a (rudimentary) counterpoint the most important of the issues listed above, particularly when it comes to playing the concertina. Or, the other way 'round, I chose the concertina partly due to its (her?) strong abilities in this regard.

 

Rhythm, OTOH, is a subtle affair which would have to be applied to good single-line melody playing as well (or even more so), wouldn't it? But admittedly rhythmic groove would be a different thing, although I'm not sure to which extent it would have to be supplied by "separated" parts of the music, or rather by the music in its entirety...

 

Best wishes - Wolf

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Hi Wolf,

I don't think we are in disagreement here. Like you I strongly believe that a piece of music without a recognizable melody line doesn't have a lot of value. The purpose of any polyphonic arrangement (be it on a single instrument or in a "real" band context) should be to support the melody voice such that the listening experience makes sense as a whole. Sorry if I should have been unclear; I never meant to imply that the different voices ought to be equally weighted. The pianist's left hand should certainly not dominate the piece or outweigh the right hand (unless of course the piece is meant that way).

My point was that a good arrangement of a piece adds all the individual voices meaningfully in that their blend sounds interesting, natural and serves the piece best. Every voice has its place there, and the listener will be able to both enjpy the mix or focus on the individual voices and enjoy their contribution at his/her discretion and discover a lot of subtle details in each voice that blend into the whole. For that purpose, it doesn't matter whether the individual voices are contributed by different instruments or individuals or by different voices played simultaneously on the same instrument.

I believe it's best explained by what Tommy Emmanuel says about Chet Atkins' playing in this intervew: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGpY1SCD2LY

His father couldn't believe (like many others) that there was only one guitar playing Windy and Warm. Many others couldn't either, but it was just Chet. He didn't weigh his voices equally, but he played an arrangement which sounded, well, like more than one.

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Hi Rüdiger,

 

fair enough, I can and do agree with most of what you're saying in your recent post. Polyphony certainly is about voices, and any counterpoint or bassline offers a chance for a different focus - this is what I love about really good recordings of "classical" music: go into the details, follow a line, switch to another, then turn back to the overall sound, or soundscape...

 

It's just that I'm primarily interested in finding out what the certain instrument I'm playing can provide...

 

Best wishes - Wolf

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I have noticed a tendency among concertina folk in particular, to go off into hair-splitting dead-end byways over, terminology, labeling, nomenclature and taxonomy in a manner that is often very literal.

Regarding terminolology, I find that here on concertina.net we tend to have discussions rather than arguments. They aren't dead ends, at all. They are how we learn to understand each other's meanings and points of view instead of coming to verbal blows over failures to understand. I certainly believe that's what's happening in this thread.

 

I'll try to continue this process with a couple of examples from your same post:

 

..."the whole band" ... is a phrase that piano teachers have used for eons about the piano and nobody takes it literally. Accordionists also say this (and in a dance-hall setting that could almost be true of piano accordions and CBAs). Fingerstyle guitarists in the alternating-bass style also say it. But everybody knows it's just a manner of speaking.

I don't dispute that this is your experience, but it's not mine, at all. I've known a number of both teachers and players -- including full-time professionals -- of piano, accordion, and guitar and have never heard that expression uttered by any of them in connection with their instrument.

 

I personally find concertinas and bandoneons most beautiful and expressive as melody instruments (or, largely melody, with just light touches of bass or counterpt).

I personally love unaccompanied melodies for their own sake, including a number of baroque "solos" without the associated keyboard parts written for them by their composers. But I also enjoy nice arrangements -- even very rich ones on concertina, -- and I don't consider either to be inherently more "beautiful" or otherwise superior. Meanwhile, I also know other folks who don't think "music" is worth listening to unless it's accompanied by such a heavy "background" (chords, percussion, or whatever) that I'm unable to pick out a melody even when I know which instrument is playing it.

 

Yep, tastes vary from individual to individual... but so do experiences and the points of view and "definitions" we derive from those experiences. That's one of the reasons why we engage in discussion.

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Hi Wolf,

Like you I strongly believe that a piece of music without a recognizable melody line doesn't have a lot of value.

 

I think a rendition of a melody-less minimalist piece like Phillip Glass's "Einstein on the Beach" might work quite well on the concertina. Has anyone attempted it? As far as emulating guitar slaps, there's always the option of sitting on a cajon and drumming with your heels!

 

Lincoln

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I think a rendition of a melody-less minimalist piece like Phillip Glass's "Einstein on the Beach" might work quite well on the concertina.

Being able to play it and being able to enjoy it could be quite independent concepts, at least for someone who feels a need for melody. B)

 

As far as emulating guitar slaps, there's always the option of sitting on a cajon and drumming with your heels!

Or you could have a friend stand beside you and beat your concertina with a stick. You could call that method "slapstick concertina". ;)

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