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Christmas songs... in Yiddish

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Teaching Anglo concertina lessons at home and on skype all over the globe has been a continuing pleasure. My students come to me for a variety of reasons and I try to figure out just what they need to get the most out of the customized lessons I offer.


A recent example...


Some friends of mine in the theater recommended me to Doug Shapiro. He asked me to teach him how to play a few concertina songs for a theater production, now in rehearsal. He described it as “an audience immersion Avant-Garde show” ... well alright!


His theater company had bought him a pretty little vintage red East German Anglo 20 button box for $50 off ebay. Doug fondly named it “Tchotchke Rosie” but he had no idea how to play it. 


Doug is an actor and singer with a high school level of musical training. He sent me three guitar and vocal audio recordings of proposed original songs. I agreed to meet him for a lesson at my studio here in Brooklyn, New York, to help him join the band for his new show. I thought that this effort was unlikely to work out, given the limitations of a 20 button ebay instrument, but you never know.


When I tried his “Tchotchke Rosie” I was in despair. So crude, so out of tune and a high D/A tuning to boot. I told him that it was unlikely this junk box concertina would work, but I would give it a try and started in playing along with the audio tracks on his red junker. Amazing! It sounded pretty good and the keys they were playing in made the D/A box actually easier than a C/G would ever be.


I made him some paper arrangements on the spot and sent him home to practice. A few days later, Doug had done his homework and could plausibly play complex chords along with the recordings. He impressed his fellow thespians in rehearsal and they decided that Doug should sing and play solo for some additional intermission entertainment. His plan, he told me, was to sing a few well known Christmas songs... in Yiddish.


Oy vay!


Sounds strange, but that’s what they are into. Apparently, Doug has done this sort of thing before, though he’s not Jewish and does not speak Yiddish. Check out his performance of the country classic “Your Cheating Heart.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLkV_QO8fqE


So now, I have had a few more lessons with Doug and he’s a natural concertina player. He knows how to deliver a song, and for him, the concertina just fits right in without effort. I’ve just made him charts for “Walking In a Winter Wonderland” and “Feliz Navidad.” I’m sure he will do fine, singing his Yiddish translations of these fine Christmas classics.


Edited by Jody Kruskal
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Cool story.


My own experience with stagecraft and concertinas was more theater of the absurd.


A few years ago I was asked to teach an actor one tune for a stage production. Sure, I naively said, so I  drove 90 miles to do the deed, only to find out that they intended for him to learn and play - in a week - a long and  complex classical piece in Eflat.  On the  cheap 20 button C/G anglo they found in a prop room.


I told them there was no way an experienced concertinist could master this in a week, and no way it was going to be accomplished on a 20 button C/G .  They thought I was kidding, and were adamant that he play it note for note. But their model was a full orchestral version. What were they thinking?


What I ultimately did was 'compose' something that faintly suggested the classical piece, in C, using an absolute minimum  of buttons.  The actor was happy,  but I don't think the producer shared his joy. They offered me tickets to the play, but I thought it wise not to witness my handiwork.



Edited by Jim Besser
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