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A Scottish Concertina?


aeolina
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It is just over one year since I received my new, bespoke miniature concertina made by Andrew Norman. The instrument was commissioned to explore the idea of a modestly priced, lightweight and portable box specially designed for the playing of Scottish traditional music. The English concertina is good for Scottish music but I have long felt that there is scope for refinement and in my own playing there are many notes on my 48 button Aeola that rarely or never get played and ornamentation can sometimes be challenging. Those concentrating on the bagpipe repertory only require the nine notes of the chanter and just a small extension of that would accommodate  80% of the popular fiddle canon.

 

The keyboard layout is based on the classic English concertina system but with a greatly reduced range. Some of the deleted notes are substituted by duplicates to provide alternative fingerings and to facilitate the performance of bagpipe and fiddle melodies with appropriate ornaments such as cuts, triplets and birls etc. The use of high-quality accordion reeds was intended to produce a strident timbre more suited to the traditional session than the concert hall, in the manner of the Anglo heard in Irish music.

 

Having 'test driven' the instrument over the past months I have now posted a set of tracks to show its capabilities and to elicit feedback and thoughts of the wider concertina community. Lockdown restrictions have largely prevented me from testing the box with other instruments and playing it out in the field.

 

Listed here:  https://raretunes.org/stuart-eydmann/

 

All comments welcome.

 

Stuart Eydmann

Edinburgh, Scotland

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An  interesting idea  Stuart,

'

although    I am  generally  not  in favour  of  '  limited  use'  keyboard  instruments.  Limited as in being aimed at  a single  musical  genre.

 

Perhaps  we  look at  this  from  somewhat  opposite perspectives;  you  being  a Fiddler    and  I  being  a Piper.  I  enjoy  playing Irish and Scottish  music  on the English  concertina  and  see it as my  fiddle, having the same  range  of  notes.  Although I  play  the Irish Pipes,  with its  two octave chanter  capability,  there is  still a large amount of  fiddle music  that does  not  sit  really well  on my pipes, so  I  prefer to  use the  standard  EC  keyboard  to  give access  to  almost  any  music  that  I'd like to play.  You ,of course, still have  the 48k Aeola  when  you  need it.. which  brings me  to  my  next  point:

 

Although  some  might dispute it  the  English keyboard  does  become  intuitive  and  for that  reason  it  is  perhaps  best  to  keep  its  standard patterns  especially  when  one  has  and plays  two  or  more  EC's.  Swapping the  low  G#  for  an F natural  has been quite common    on 48  Treble instruments  but  would it  suit  someone  who also  uses a  Tenor ( or Baritone)/ Treble ?  So,  I  hope  your  'notes in  unusual  places'  do  not  confuse    you,  oh  and  I  think the  tone  is  very pleasant ... Happy  music!!

Geoff.

 

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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6 minutes ago, Geoff Wooff said:

An  interesting idea  Stuart,

'

although    I am  generally  not  in favour  of  '  limited  use'  keyboard  instruments.  Limited as in being aimed at  a single  musical  genre.

 

Perhaps  we  do look at  this  from  somewhat  opposite perspectives;  you  being  a Fiddler    and  I  being  a Piper.  I  enjoy  playing Irish and Scottish  music  on the English  concertina  and  see it as my  fiddle, having the same  range  of  notes.  Although I  play  the Irish Pipes,  with its  two octave  capability,  there is  still a large amount of  fiddle music  that does  not  sit  really well  on my pipes, so  I  prefer to  use the  standard  EC  keyboard  to  give access  to  almost  any  music  that  I'd like to play.  You ,of course, still have  the 48k Aeola  when  you  need it.. which  brings me  to  my  next  point:

 

Although  some  might dispute it  the  English keyboard  does  become  intuitive  and  for that  reason  it  is  perhaps  best  to  keep  its  standard patterns  especially  when  one  has  and plays  two  or  more  EC's.  Swapping the  low  G#  for  an F natural  has been quite common    on 48  Treble instruments  but  would it  suit  someone  who also  uses a  Tenor ( or Baritone) Treble ?  So,  I  hope  your  'notes in  unusual  places'  do  not  confuse    you ... Happy  music!!

Geoff.


 

I agree with you. One one hand, to me, it seems severely limiting. But, on the other hand, if all the OP does is a specific genre, I can also see the advantages of a purpose built instrument.

 

and like pipes, that limitation could really help to focus on certain idioms and cliches. And working within this limitations can really be helpful.

 

regardless.. I think any new approaches and innovation is a good thing.

 

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I'm quite interested in this sort of experiment. I had Andrew Norman build me a semi-miniature 19 button G/D anglo some time ago. It worked well, except for being a bit short of air. But then I gave up anglo anyway. I sold my Jeffries G/D but kept the Norman.

 

In my experience the vast majority of British folk tunes lie in the compass d to b' (or D4 to B5 as I would prefer). My theory for this is that it is the practical limit for a D penny whistle and also the comfortable range for a fiddle (without using the bottom string or moving from the first position).

 

Your "Scottish" English has exactly that compass so should be quite useful, but for broader application I would have added the g# and the d#'; which you could do without interfering with your other special buttons.

 

I've listened to some of your recordings but didn't find any using the drone. Is that because it is too loud, as they often are?

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Nice looking wee concertina with a good sound. Listening to your tunes it’s clear it works well for your repertoire.

I particularly like the grace notes, doublings etc as they enhance the melody and importantly the rhythm which can be tricky on English.

I also liked the jigs which sound very Scottish and use the right kind of ornamentation.

 

This is pushing the boundaries in a particular way and will be interesting to hear your playing as it progresses to this instrument’s potential.

 

 

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A few years back I adapted a Wheatstone Mayfair 30 button EC which I bought in the 70s. I think it was £70, which was pretty reasonable at the time. It sounded good for playing Scottish tunes but I had other concertinas and it was relegated to a top shelf.

On rediscovering it, I had a well known concertina repairer to make me new wooden end plates as I felt the metal ones were contributing to a slightly tinny sound. He did a great job. The result was a much mellower tone but it’s good quality accordion reeds still gave it that edge for the Scottish stuff. I fitted pine baffles which mellowed it further but dampened the sound so they came out.
Further adaptions followed including Henrik Muller inspired handrests/ straps which vastly improved the bellows control and consequently the rhythm.

It’s now a great wee box and a necessary companion in sessions,  good for group and solo playing. Here it is.

36F3CA43-6F2E-44EA-9ABC-432FABE54C9B.jpeg

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