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Crazy overzealous concertina acquisition thread


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Hello everyone

I have never held or seen a concertina in person. I cannot read standard musical notation, I find it difficult to memorize to some extent, and I cannot really play any instruments. I have some experience singing and reading Gregorian chant notation. I listen to and sing a lot of folk music by my self or rarely with friends casually, especially Irish, some scottish, old timey, cowpoke style country/western. The Irish I gravitate towards is more of the slower paced narrative driven kinds, sea shanties, war songs, etc... The fast paced dancing jigs/reels are nice but I dont spend much time with them. My vocal range is probably in the baritone/tenor area, not especially talented in alto, and can sometimes hit bass notes decently. I think I am looking for a 30 button anglo in c/g, like the rochelle 2 like most beginners. But I am not sure. I would love something that I could accompany my singing with in both Gregorian chant and folk songs. If it could also have some versatility in accompanying other people if we sit down to play common things together. I probably will never try to play complicated classical music. I have some skill and experience in woodworking, sewing, leatherworking, general craft, though not expert. I have a large shop with space to work in and some basic tools (of which I can get more if need be) I am building up a career in woodworking and am looking into profitable niches. Presently im developing rustic christian devotional objects

Some folk songs Im interested in

Dubliners:   will you come to the bower, patriot game, one morning in march, leaving of liverpool, greenland fisheries, fiddlers green, foggy dew
Archie fisher/ fisher family: Jock stewart, western island, school days over, donal ogue, I am a freeborn man
Marty Robbins (western): Strawberry Roan, Utah carol, they're hanging me tonight
Gregorian chant: flos carmeli, adoro to devote, salve regina, ave maris stella, crux fidelis, dies irae, the modes of the divine office

My state in life is low stress and I have time, willpower and if need be some decent funding. I could see spending up to $1000 if it is a safe investment, but I don't want to do that unnecessarily.

I'm not a stickler for sound quality. I want a nice, memorable sound, but technical perfection is not my goal. I like listening to rough recordings of semi-skilled folk musicians. For me it is about a connection with the people and the history who lived the music more so than an attempt to be a virtuoso. For me, too polished a sound is not always a good thing in folk music.

I think this instrument is for me because it can accompany and play the music I listen to the most, it is small and not dependent on electric (I will be traveling), I can sing while I play, it (I presume, correct me if I am wrong) can somewhat emulate simple organ music such as would accompany basic gregorian chant. If you did not know, typical church organ music is often far more complex than chant accompaniment which is not polyphonic.

So what I am really wondering is
1. Is the 30 key anglo what I am looking for?

2. would something like a baritone concertina be better for accompanying singing and emulating organ music which accompanies chant?

3. would an english be superior to an anglo for the simplistic nature of chant?

4. Ive considered simply making a concertina myself using accordian reeds, I feel competent in the whole process though I would need assistance with the lever/reed/button layout positioning and perhaps some oversight to say "oh boy don't do that". If the insturment is decent and durable it would be worth it to me I think. Do you think an amateur could make something enjoyable to use? what quality level, price equivalent do you think it might be once complete? would it be a piece of junk with sentimental value or a real instrument?


 Perhaps if I take to the making process and it goes well I could make more for variety and even later for sale. My state in life is low income, low spending. I live for stability and time for prayer and an ordered life, I do not need to make lots of fast money.

I appreciate you taking time to read this and look forward to any advice. I was planning to record some singing but none of my stuff wants to work right now so I may update that later in the thread. I attached the gregorian notation for something I might sing. Of course I would probably spend an equal or greater amount of time singing folk, but I figure yall are plenty familiar with that stuff already.

Pax Christi!

flos-carmeli.jpg

Edited by vos
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So many interesting questions!  I will begin by saying that I only play 20 and 30 button Anglo concertinas.  My musical interests are not dissimilar to yours, minus Gregorian Chants and plus a few fast jigs and reels.  I do use my concertinas for song accompaniment.  Although I don't play English or Duet concertina, I have seen/heard them used successfully to do the things you mention, and suspect (as much as I love playing Anglo) that a non-diatonic systems might suit you better.  Others with actual experience may chime in.

 

In theory a 30 button concertina can be played chromatically, but in practice most players don't/can't stray too far from the two home keys and their relative minors and modes, and one or two "cross-row keys" (e.g. D Major on a C/G instrument) by reaching into the accidentals in the third row.  There are too many missing notes and ergonomic challenges to make fully chromatic playing on a single 30 button instrument practical.  Also, as you drift further from the home keys you defeat the instrument's designed ability to harmonize with itself.  If you play a tune in C Major on the C row of a C/G concertina you can play the melody and know that anything you also do in the C row in terms of chords, oompah, etc. will probably sound right, just because of the way the notes and push/pull are organized on the keyboard.

 

Anglo players have 3 (2 typical, and 1 less typical) ways of addressing the diatonic limitations:

 

1) Lots of concertinas in many different tunings (my approach- I have C/G, G/D, D/A and Bb/F, all of which I have used for singing, depending on the song). Given your budget this would be a problem, unless you went for cheap 20 button instruments.  The advantage is that you don't need to learn additional finger patterns to play different scales.  i.e. the fingering you use to play a tune in C Major on a C/G instrument will play the same tune on a D/A instrument, only in D Major.

 

2) Lots of buttons- Find or have made an instrument with 38, 40, or more buttons, with a greater selection of accidentals, duplicates and reversals to allow for a wider range of keys, and more options for left hand accompaniment.  These tend to be much more expensive than your budget, and require a level of commitment to learning additional finger patterns on a fairly arbitrary and illogical keyboard.

 

3) Be born a musical genius who is somehow able to transcend what appear to be limitations to mere mortals. There are 2 or 3 of these people alive right now.  I listen to them, then go lay down in a dark room until I regain my composure.

 

I am loath to dissuade anyone from the One True Path of concertina playing that is the Anglo, but I don't think it would be versatile enough for what you are contemplating.

 

Edited by Bill N
typos and clarity
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vos,

 

For song accompaniment, I think the perceived key limitations of anglo are a bit of a red herring. Some years ago I learned a song off a record, working out open chords (2 notes) that worked and gave a nice arrangement (to my ear). When I was done, I asked myself, "What key is this song in?" Turns out it was in Bb minor (5 flats)! On a C/G anglo. Mind you, have I haven't done this many times, but it was telling for me. Every instrument has limitations, and part of using one musically is working within the limitations and finding the corresponding strengths of that instrument. I don't think it is much of a stretch to play melodies in Bb, F, C, G, D, and A on C/G anglo, which is chromatic from the A below middle C up more than two octaves (just how high depends on the layout of accidentals, Wheatstone vs. Jeffries, etc.). As Chris Timson says, every kind of music has been played on every kind of concertina.

 

Another bit of experience in many other threads here is that your brain may work better with some systems than others. There is no substitute for holding and trying various types of concertinas (anglo, english, etc.) - it is very individual. What part of the world are you in? We may have members nearby who can give you a try for free. It is hard to intellectualize one's way through this choice.

 

I wish _I_ could read neumes! (Gregorian notation)

 

As for the thread title, our host and owner here, Paul Schwarz, many years ago called a related malady Concertina Obsessive Acquisition Disorder (COAD). I definitely had it for a while myself, but it took me 12 years (long before the internet) of looking to find my first concertina. Hope the hunt for your next musical step is shorter for you.

 

Ken

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You don't see neumes everyday. If you start playing concertina from neumes, you will be creating the newest of the ever expanding notation systems that players use. Neumes were the first notation I ever saw as a child, singing in a boys choir in a cathedral. That was before I reached the age of reason, and started playing trumpet in the school band. Trumpet was better because we got out of class a half hour early on Wednesdays.

Edited by Jim2010
typo
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you are probably going to be mainly focusing on chords to accompany your singing? I think an Anglo, or a duet would be preferable to English.

 

depending on what key you sing most in could push you towards one Anglo over another c/g d/g Bb/f. 
 

then depending on your range of singing and where you think the accompaniment would fit. You may want to look at a tenor/ bari.

 

That said.. a duet, could really be the optimal choice. Mirrored hands gives you easy chords on both hands. The same shapes  on each hand.  And or chords on one and fills on the other. Which may punctuate your singing. 
 

also depending on how you’re wired. Different notes on the push/ pull can be very intuitive. Or completely baffling.

 

both the Anglo and duet offer a lot of potential. They are just different. Anglo as a platform, will give you more options in terms of moving up and changing scales.

 

The duet, arguably, can play (hypothetically) equally easy in any key, given enough buttons.

and will have more shared chords shapes that you just move around.

 

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wow, fantastic replies so far which are really getting my wheels spinning. Ive read them all a few times over.

Im going to make some specific replies here, but firstly I wanted to make an overview of what I'm seeing.

Between here and the facebook group where I posted my same original post (concertinas are cool, 3k members) the information here has been more technical and I really appreciate that.

Im seeing that I might not have understood my questions as well as I thought I did. I was under the impression that because gregorian chant is for one voice only it was not chromatic but rather diatonic. Are you people talking about chromatic because I want versatility to play folk and chant ?

for some context, this is the kind of chant I'm referring to
not that I think people don't know what Im talking about but because I need to make sure im not confusing people with a bad explanation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTBNt1ortDA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilBEZNKjPtM

and here is a copy of the flos carmeli for example in standard notation, which may explain the ranges im dealing with better than I can

https://cdn.imslp.org/images/thumb/pdfs/dd/41cd9ede99387714a7bfda736916acb431bfba33.png
 

@Bill N I think I understand what you are saying about using a variety of concertinas with similar fingering. I think it would be safe to say that extremely complicated setups would be out of my reach and make for a frustrating start. Your post and others are making me think that perhaps I should learn one style before learning the other, perhaps on different concertinas, rather than trying to have one which can do it all. Originally I was under the impression that chant would be so simple that anything could handle it.

@Ken_Coles I live in Ohio :) Northern. Yes, my ability to read the neumes is even limited. They are helpful. I understand the accents, pauses, certain emphasis and flow from them. I can get a good idea of what the proper pitches are (especially if I stop, and follow do re mi fa etc to find the note I need), but Im not fluent enough to hear the music straight off the paper. I learned most of it through just singing along. Either way its very helpful to read while I sing and Im able sing well with talented cantors if they are leading strongly. I appreciate the advice to try something hands on. In my head anglo sounds more complicated, but I wouldnt be suprised if I liked it. hmm. Hopefully I can get moving before the 12 year mark. What was your first purchase?

@Jim2010 haha nice. I do sing from the neumes, but I was considering playing it either by ear once I got comfortable enough, or transcribing to standard notation (a lot of them are already transcribed) and just learning it. eh. well see.

@seanc Im ignorant in regards to accompanyment. Your post is making me think chords are best to accompany singing, right? I think that makes sense. Would I would be playing the melody or harmony more often with accompaniment? I think harmony right? Thats in regards to folk. If I understand in chant I would be playing and singing the melody since there is only one voice?

after reading your post I had to google the difference between key and scale. A particular key is a standardized type of scale yes? The duet does sound attractive because of the versatility, Perhaps if I am going to be learning it all from the ground up (first instrument) I might as well start there?

-------

Thus far my brainstorming is making me think that I should have 2 separate concertinas. One like a standard 30 button c/g, and another perhaps baritone in c/g (if I figured that right).

As crazy as it sounds, I have the time and perhaps the patience, and I would probably be happy with moderate sound quality; perhaps I make a 30 button c/g  in my shop in a standard fashion to get a handle on what I am doing, then make another concertina that is custom made with only the keys for gregorian chant on it, perhaps in baritone. That way I am working with something more standard to something less standard. Could be a fun and unique project. I know a lot of people who chant who would like to have a mini accompaniment organ with them.

of course maybe my manufacturing skills would be trash and id end up with a piece of junk.

Brass reeds sound like the way to go for going with vocals from what Im reading.

Opinions and guidance much appreciated going forward



 

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From the little I know…

Chant does not specify a specific key. That is going to be up to the singer to determine their root note/ tonic/ base note. And then the notation is relative to this starting point.

 

so… it would be helpful for you to try to determine what key you sing in. You may need to enlist a friend to kind of dial that in. 
 

if you are pretty much singing in say.. f#, or c# or B.. then an Anglo may get difficult.

 

as for accompaniment. For a chant… I ASSUME.. that you will tend to playing a chord/ drone and then singing on top of that. As (in my extremely limited experience) it tends to be an a capella type thing, you would primarily be using the concertina as more of a drone reference. Much of this may just be a simple one note or that one root note and it’s octave to not get in the way of the singing. Being the same as blowing the pitch pipe. But letting it ring throughout the song.

 

for a folk thing.. I would assume more playing the basic chords and singing on top of that. Then possibly adding some bass walk downs. Or possibly adding some higher, call and response type fills.  At its most basic approach.
 

an Anglo or duet. Could work in either situation. 


But, I would suggest looking seriously at the duet.. and probably am Elise as a starting point.

 

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@seanc Yes everything you said about chant sounds exactly correct.

Here is an example of organ accompaniment I am referring to (which you described well). In fact it may have been more helpful if I had just posted this in the first place.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yD4T-H6aoE

In regards to vocal range
, Indeed we can start 'wherever' basically. C can be where we want it to be.  I was under the impression that if I am say a natural baritone or tenor I would be able to sing greater than one octave in range anyway. If that is the case would I not be able to sing in f#, or c# or B in any case? But this question is not essential, I could simply talk to the local schola master and find out what key I sing in as you said, im just trying to understand it. Do you mean the note I generally like to start on given my personal preferences?

I will check out the elise duet, Ive seen it around but ill keep that on my list of serious consideration.

 

Edited by vos
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Your priority will be supporting your singing. So while you may theoretically be able to sing in several keys. There is probably one key/ range that you are most comfortable singing in. In an Anglo selecting the right key/ range can come into play.

 

if, for example you sing best in E flat. You could get a c/g or g/d and struggle. But a Bb/f would be a “more” natural fit for your voice in what would be a closer “home” key. Unlike a guitar tuning down a half step or “capo”-ing up does not work as well on a concertina.

 

in the example you posted above. What I hear is that the organ is being used more a reference tone. Or a constant pitch pipe that everyone is referencing. In this case though. The pitch mostly is above the singers. Which is generally different from a typical drone tends to be under the singers (esp Indian tanpura). And can be easily done on anything.

 

But in that circumstance it may actually may be more interesting done with a synth and some LFO stuff giving a lot more texture and movement. I know that may be sacrilege on this site to say. But as a listener, I’d be much more interested. a concertina as a one note drone for 3-10 minutes would not be all that interesting. As you want to add texture. And have some sort of color and movement. In a chant situation, the instrument has to be there but not in the way. And hitting a single key on a keyboard, stepping on a sustain pedal and concentrating on the singing may be the easiest,  cheapest, fastest learning curve and best (tonal) solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, seanc said:

The duet, arguably, can play (hypothetically) equally easy in any key, given enough buttons.

and will have more shared chords shapes that you just move around.

 

As I understand it, that is only true of an unusually large Hayden duet, probably not the sort of instrument a beginner would buy. On other duet systems the pattern changes when you shift to a different key. Most Hayden concertinas suffer from running off the side of the keyboard if you try to play in a key that has too many sharps or flats (sometimes you can work around it by playing an enharmonic button from the opposite side of the keyboard, but that breaks the pattern).

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@vosWell, I got my first concertina, a red MOTS (Mother-of-Toilet-Seat, i.e. celluloid) 20-button Italian anglo in C/G from Bruce Cunningham, an instrument repairman in Battleground, Indiana in 1992 for 50 dollars. Played it for four years and really learned where the notes and partial chords are, played across the rows, and so on. Using it for so long really got it all into my head, though I'm still finding new possibilities (now on 30-button C/G) today.

 

As you can see below my name I have reason to travel across Ohio between PA and IN a lot. I may pass close to you or far away; I'm perhaps 3 hours from Cleveland and at least 5 from Toledo. After three trips in the last few weeks, however, I'm taking a break from that to catch up on work. 😎  If I get anywhere near you I can share with you sometime; I have examples of three systems (Anglo, English, an Elise) hereabouts.

 

Ken

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@seanc I really appreciate your insights and advice. In the case of Chant I would not want to make it sound more exciting, there are designated modes of parts of the office which relate to the meaning of the words. Meaning is transmitted through the way the music sounds, so the miserere mei deus (have mercy upon me o lord) is played in a different mode than the magnificat anima mea domino (my soul doth magnify(exult, praise) the lord), I would be staying within a tight boundary anyway in that regard.

It sounds like I should start on a duet, Im getting that a lot from various places im poking around in. The versatility will be well worth it in this regard I believe.

@alex_holden thanks for the input. Im looking around at some lachenal mcann duet 46 keys presently, which wont cover everything in the world but perhaps will cover much ground. I also hope it is something I can stick with for a while and just learn it without jumping around too much, sounds like it would be of decent quality from what I am reading.

@Ken_Coles haha that is fantastic, I sent you a pm


 

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1 hour ago, vos said:

@seanc I really appreciate your insights and advice. In the case of Chant I would not want to make it sound more exciting, there are designated modes of parts of the office which relate to the meaning of the words. Meaning is transmitted through the way the music sounds, so the miserere mei deus (have mercy upon me o lord) is played in a different mode than the magnificat anima mea domino (my soul doth magnify(exult, praise) the lord), I would be staying within a tight boundary anyway in that regard.

It sounds like I should start on a duet, Im getting that a lot from various places im poking around in. The versatility will be well worth it in this regard I believe.


 

If you have some sort of phone or computer. You should be able to download a free synth app. Or even a concertina app. And do some chanting over both to see what may work totally. And also, possibly by hitting various keys, get a feeling for your singing range.

 

and I was thinking primarily of a synth tone with some slight lfo to give it some small phasing, pulse swells, filter sweep. So there is something subtle going on to give it enough variation to give it a bit of life. 

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To add to what @seanc says...after years as a Luddite (no smart phone) I got my first tablet (an iPad air) two weeks ago. Which apps to get first was obvious: Michael Eskin's; he offers several concertinas and a bunch of other instruments. Just a couple of bucks to download if you happen to have an iOS device. You could get some idea of how the fingering works if that is an option for you.

 

Ken

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I live 5 miles from the Holy Trinity Russian Orthadox monastery in Jordanville NY. It may well be of interest for you to google it.  Lots of pictures and some you tube chanting and videos.  It is a spectacular place and is open to visitors and has a museum.  A good friend studied there as a youth.  It is near Cooperstown, in a great area to visit with museums, Opera, and the Baseball Hall of Fame set in beautiful hills and lakes.  If you should be tempted to visit I could let you try a couple of duets (both Jeffries but completely different sound) and an inexpensive English.

 

cheers

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3 hours ago, wunks said:

I live 5 miles from the Holy Trinity Russian Orthadox monastery in Jordanville NY.

Do you ever pass through Albany (an hour and a half drive) with your concertina? Maybe we could meet. The closest I generally ever get to Jordanville is the Glimmerglass opera.

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