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Greg Jowaisas

The Seductive Concertina

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A post in the Buy and Sell forum under "Concertina Wanted" revisited the ongoing discusion of concertina vs accordion reeds.

 

With the approach of my 2nd anniversary of infatuation with the anglo and renewed interest in the english, it made me think a bit of how fascinating and consuming the concertina can be.

 

I started this current journey with a "concertina reed" sound in mind inspired by the recordings of Alf Edwards and Aly Anderson and the leaky 1960s Matusewich Wheatstone I had "fooled" with for 20 years. After an intense two years of listening, playing and sometimes buying every concertina I could find I have come to a renewed appreciation of the wonderful craftsmanship of the legendary vintage makers and applaud the modern miracles the current concertina makers are creating.

 

I'm curious about what qualities of the concertina, perhaps including your own instrument, that make it so intiguing and satisfying to other members of this forum.

 

I've met a number of people who prefer the "rounded" tones of accordion reeded concertinas.

 

I still lean toward the "edgey" concertina reed sound. Within the bounds of that preference I enjoy a Lachenal that has more of a "clarinet sound". I love that "Jeffries honk" in a bouncy hornpipe. Who can forget the uillian pipe sound, complete with regulator overtones, that Noel Hill squeezes from his Linota?

 

I can lose myself while staring at the intricacies of an instrument's fretwork.

 

The warm feel of well shaped bone buttons under my fingers...well, my wife better not catch me going there!

 

So what aspect(s) of the concertina intrigues you the most?

 

Regards,

 

Greg

Edited by Greg Jowaisas

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Thanks for doing that, Greg. I'm copying my original post to here as being a more appropriate place for it than Buy & Sell:-

Take reeds, for example. The perception, put forth by some and heeded by some neophytes is that English-style reeds are somehow "better" than Italian-style reeds. This misperception is perpetueated by some contributers.

Not better, no. More appropriate for the concertina? Well, maybe. I speak as one who owns and plays concertinas with English reeds (Dipper, Jeffries, Lachenal) and accordion reeds (Herrington, Morse). I like them all, and play them all, but I have to say, when I take it all into account, I like the sound of the English reed in a concertina more than I do the accordion reed. The English reed is, for me, the sound of the concertina. Similarly I like my melodeons to sound like melodeons, and were such a thing to exist, I wouldn't like an English reeded melodeon as much (again I know whereof I speak - remember we own an Accordeaphone, which is basically an English-reeded accordion with an English concertina key layout). I would be really sad if the sound of accordion reeds were to be generally accepted as the "right" sound for concertinas.

 

Frank, I am curious. Let's imagine for a moment that somebody was mass producing English reeds of quality, and that you as a maker could therefore offer English-reeded instruments for at or near the price of your accordion-reeded concertinas. After all, in an infinite universe... Anyway, what would you do? Would you continue to make accordion reeded concertinas, or would you change to English reeds? Or would you offer both? And what would you choose to play yourself?

 

Cheers,

 

Chris

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I'm curious about what qualities of the concertina, perhaps including your own instrument, that make it so intiguing and satisfying to other members of this forum.

Five years ago I played in a concert performance of music from Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera" with the Columbia Festival Orchestra in Chatham, NY. I played the "Small Accordion" part on my Hayden Duet Concertina. I posted a lengthy discussion of the experience on rec.music.makers.squeezebox. You can read the whole piece at Google Groups. Note the addendum at the bottom, supplying a line or so of text that got glitched out of the original post.

 

Here is an excerpt (today's edits in [square brackets]), relevant to the question at hand:

 

[P]racticing late at night [a couple days before the concert], I had an interesting epiphany. Up until then, I had been playing on my pride and joy, my beautiful handcrafted ridiculously expensive Wheatstone with the hundreds of individually crafted moving parts and sonorous concertina reeds. But I didn't want to wake up my wife, so I dug out my old (quieter) standby, the funky assembly-line Bastari (Stagi) with the peeling veneer and the mass-produced stamped-out accordion reeds and the leaky bellows held together with duct tape on the outside and silicone caulk on the inside. It was more work to play it because some of the buttons stick out at funny angles and the wrist straps don't fit as well, but when I started playing, I realized that this was likely much closer to the sound Weill's "small accordion" would have made. I decided to bring both instruments to Chatham and let Gwen [the conductor] choose between them.

The day of the concert (two days ago [five years ago]), I [...] asked Gwen if she had any thoughts about which instrument to use. She consulted with one or two other musicians and ultimately suggested I start with the Wheatstone.

[...]

When we had played through the tango, Gwen asked me to try it on the other concertina (the Bastari). So I took it out of the case and punched out the first couple of chords of the tango. It was immediately apparent that everyone in the room thought the sound of the cheap accordion reeds was more appropriate ("Wow, Argentinean!" said the trumpet player). So that's the instrument I wound up using for the performance.

Edited for minor formatting errors.

Edited by David Barnert

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My condolence on having to play the Stagi, but I'm not suprised it sounded "right" for the small accordion.

 

This thread seems two-fold, attraction or allure of the concertina and reeds.

 

English reeds, yes. I am encouraged that Richard Morse is now developing his duet with traditional (English) reeds for I understand the next project will be a tenor/treble EC with traditional reed pan. Assuming optimistically that I shall be gainfully employed and on the right side of the sod when this day comes I shall join others in line for one. I have been very happy with my Albion and look forward to what I expect will be an astounding and complete concertina playing experience.

 

As an object of desire: yes, I just love holding it and as I let slip, smelling it. I too can get lost looking at the details of the makers craftsmanship. I am unable to verbalize it other than to say that holding one and regarding it says within me "home" and always brings forth emotion. Man, that sounds nutty, but it is what it is...right.

Edited by Mark Evans

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As an object of desire:  yes, I just love holding it and as I let slip, smelling it.  I too can get lost looking at the details of the makers craftsmanship.

 

I feel this way about many well-made machines, regardless of age (though age gives things an additional alllure sometimes). I think that a concertina is a complete sensory experience: visually pleasing , with enough pure geometry to look a balanced whole, and enough "organic" fretwork to please the eye artistically; a solid heft of weight (purposeful-feeling) and a directly "connected" feeling as it is played..a union of thought and response almost; and certainly a variety of pleasant odors, such as wood, leather, etc...most of the smells that seem to inspire memories for me at least.

 

My Jackie is still new, but the wear and patina of age will most likely only add to the "shabby ambience" that I like in well-maintained but well-used tools and machines.

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Greg, a quick memory associated with motorcycles I had pass across me mind as I read your post...Bultaco motocross bikes. My first motocross event and the first time I saw one live. It was that distinct odor of the exahust and the low notes the expansion chamber produced. Ah! :P A powerful experience.

Edited by Mark Evans

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For me, it was the first car I helped my father work on...a pumpkin orange 1967 Mini that we transplanted a 1500 cc Austin America motor and Weber carb into...I was hooked on machines ever since. I still own my first sports car and my first motorcycle....as well as the first instrument I ever owned! :)

 

My wife doesn't appreciate the sensory pleasures of objects as I do. One person's treasure is another's clutter! :angry:

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The sensation of manipulating the column of air between my hands, being able to add dynanics to the natural note by said pressure is what I like a lot about the instrument. Little do I know about the difference between the two kinds of reeds, but the instruments that I have heard, both live or recorded, all seem to have unique voices; on some, chords sound better, while on others the single note sounds clearer. The individuality of the instrument adds a lot to the character of the music.

I like it! :)

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My condolence on having to play the Stagi, but I'm not suprised it sounded "right" for the small accordion.

I'm sorry, let me be clearer. What I played was not the Stagi that is currently available but the Bastari, which isn't (and in my opinion was a much better instrument).

 

As I mentioned elsewhere:

 

It seemed a reasonable assumption to me that Stagi had merely reactivated production of the old Bastari line, with (perhaps) minor cosmetic alterations. [...T]his is simply not true. The instrument appears to be a completely new design.

 

post-65-1115667387_thumb.jpg

 

Here is a picture of my Bastari. Note the features described in my prose in the previous post (peeling veneer, leaky bellows held together with duct tape, buttons sticking out at funny angles, etc.). Contrast it with the picture of the newer Stagi model, below.

 

post-65-1115667580_thumb.jpg

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Frank, I am curious. Let's imagine for a moment that somebody was mass producing English reeds of quality, and that you as a maker could therefore offer English-reeded instruments for at or near the price of your accordion-reeded concertinas. After all, in an infinite universe... Anyway, what would you do? Would you continue to make accordion reeded concertinas, or would you change to English reeds? Or would you offer both? And what would you choose to play yourself?

 

I'm still curious :)

 

Chris

 

PS Before Jim leaps in, I should point out that the above sentence should be taken to mean my sense of curiosity is still active on this topic, not that people should expect to find me curious. Although perhaps they should ... :unsure:

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I still cannot get over my initial response when first seeing a concertina,

that such a lovely instrument could be packed away in a box eight inches square.

Al :)

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Before Jim leaps in, I should point out that the above sentence should be taken to mean my sense of curiosity is still active on this topic, not that people should expect to find me curious. Although perhaps they should ...  :unsure:

Chris, the very fact that you play concertina makes you a curiosity. Me, too, though at least in my case there are independent reasons for applying the label. :D

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On Frank`s point about Italian Reeds,I really like the sound of the hand built Italian Melodions,Castagnari for example a lovely sounding instrument.The concertina is not a traditional instrument in Italy, or I think they would have moved into this market and if it matched the quality of their melodions, then I could see there would be a lot of interest.

I also think makers like Frank would have no fears about this as my feeling are that the market is on the rise.Much of it has to do with the really cheap concertinas wetting peoples appetite and moving on to better instruments.I think in the near future hand built makers will not keep up with the demand and these instruments will be welcome.

Al

Edited by Alan Day

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I mentioned at the start of this thread that I had played "around" with english for a number of years before finding an anglo and deciding to really work on Irish music.

 

I have fallen in love again with english concertina and am working harder than ever at it. Marvelous, logical instrument!

 

But I must confess that I have really come to appreciate what a special instrument the anglo concertina can be. In playing dance music the instrument and its bellows movement takes on a life of its own. Almost like holding your heart in your hands and...yes, keeping the beat.

 

I remember the first six months of practice and how it was almost impossible to separate my own breathing from the bellows movement. Now the challenge is to allow the instrument to pulse with the accents of the music in moving the dancers along.

 

Great instrument! Why didn't I do more of this 20 years ago!

 

Greg

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Quote: "Great instrument! Why didn't I do more of this 20 years ago!"

 

Since this post was an impatience induced duplicate of the previous one, I'll start answereing my own question in the edited post:

 

1. I wasn't ready to have this much fun!

 

2. The right instrument hadn't come along.

 

3. You Can get smarter as you get older.

 

4. Live long enough and you will get lucky!

Edited by Greg Jowaisas

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I still hold firm that I prefer the sound of GOOD italian reeds (not Stagi reeds, but those found in the newer mid-level boxes).

 

I've heard both sounds. I admire the sound of the english style reed, but I prefer the sassiness of my italian reeds. It's not a purely traditional sound, but then again, I'm not a purely traditional type of person.

 

Lately, I haven't been playing Irish Trad much on my Anglo, I've been working on Sea Shanties. I'm not sure what drew me to them, but I'm having a wonderful time with it. The sound of the accordian-style reeds works wonderfully into the sound I wish to pull out of the box with those tunes. Odd though, I'm deathly afraid of water and playing sea shanties...something ironic in that.

 

Next I plan on exploring contra-dance and since I'm in Pittsburgh, Old-Time is ALWAYS around. In both, I think the sound of my Morse will fit just dandy. I just want to explore all my box has to offer.

 

In the end, it's a matter of taste. If you claim that one sound is inherently better than another, you are fooling yourself. Now, if you claim that one reed-type QUALITY is inherently better than another, that's an argument of another stripe. My playing style is more slow and steady though, so my Morse does me just fine.

 

Would I accept a Vintage Style instrument if it fell into my lap? Likely. However, the Morse would still be the one I play most of the time. It's just what I enjoy to listen to.

 

You cannot account for what people like in their musical tastes. After all, Brittney Spears sells out concerts. To each his/her own.

 

 

Now, what draws me to my instrument? I love how it fits into my hands just perfectly. I love the feel of the bellows as I move it. I love how I lose myself in it. Mostly, I love the joy in my 16 month old son's face that lights up every time I start playing a tune. I'll keep that feeling with me forever.

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I like the sound of the reeds in my Morse as well. When singing there is this all or nothing thing with their response that can leave me suprised. Traditional reeds take less air pressure to keep sounding and for that reason alone I miss them.

 

Were I to be able to afford another concertina and it just work out that a vintage instrument would come along...well, I can only say it would go home with me. In fact I would love a brass reeded instrument just for singing.

 

I've been playing in the yard for the last two days. My Koi and goldfish start breeching when I really get going. They seem to enjoy it...or am I just fooling myself.

Edited by Mark Evans

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Hey Greg,

 

I loved your post. Music is fun and now can be the right time to be playing and learning and jamming and just having a heck of a lot of fun.

 

Helen :P

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