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Funny Concertina Article From 1877


fkohl
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The following article originally appeared in the New York Times, and was reprinted in the New Hampshire Sentinel on August 30th, 1877:

 

"The Concertina."

 

"There is a so-called musical instrument which is variously known as the accordian, the concertina, or the harmonica. It is modeled upon the common domestic cat. If a cat is either violently squeezed together or pulled out to an unusual lenght the result is a note, or series of notes, of peculiar sharpness and reed-like quality. There is no malignant musician who is not well acquainted with the cat's capabilities as a sound producer, but few men can play on a cat in a way to satisfy a critical audience. Indeed, the cat is probably the most difficult of all musical instruments, and, though small boys frequently attempt to play it, an accomplished cat virtuoso is extremely rare. As a substitute for the cat, some nameless villian, many years ago, invented the concertina. This nefarious instrument is played by alternately squeezing and pulling it precisely as though is were a cat, and the sound which it gives forth is a very close imitation of the sound of the former instrument, although a trifle more nasal in its timbre. Unfortunately, the concertina is as easy to master as the cat is difficult; and it is hence the favorite instrument of the idle and depraved. One small boy of ten years of age has often, with the aid of a single concertina, depopulated a whole neighborhood. The instrument does not, it is true, produce an immediate an effect as does the cornet, and hence the latter instrument is preferred by land speculators who desire to rapidly depress the value of real estate in any given locality. Still, the concertina is sure, even if it is comparatively slow, and there is no surer way of making a handsome fortune than to move into a small house in a good neighborhood, with a small boy who plays the concertina; to buy up the surrounding property at a nominal figure as fast as its owners fly, or are removed to the lunatic asylum, and then to publicly kill the boy to restore confidence and create a rise in the value of the property. Many of our richest and best men have amassed their wealth in precisely this way; and while small boys and concertinas remain as cheap as they now are, the business will be open to all persons of moderate means."

 

"It is generally conceded that lightning is one of the ablest of natural phenomena. The ease with which lightning can find a man in the dark; the celerity with which it can persue him, and the efficiency with which it can strike, have been in all ages the themes of admiration among those who have seen other people attract the attention of the electric fluid. There is nothing that kills a man as thoroughly as does lightning, and it moreover frequently paints a beautiful picture on the breast or back of its victim, and throws it in gratuitously, just as if it were a prize chromo. Scientific persons tell us that a man was once struck by lightning while walking along a country road in France, and that no trace of him was ever afterward found; the intense heat having instantly dissipated him in the form of gases. This beautiful anecdote has comforted thousands of oppressed souls who have remembered it when thunder-storms to which their creditors were exposed were in progress, and it is greatly to be wished that it rested upon some better authority than the assertion of mere scientific persons."

 

"The reader may not at once perceive the connection between concertinas and lightning. Indeed, the lightning has hitherto deplorably failed to connect with the concertina. There is probably not a man living who has not thought what a blessed thing it would be were lightning to invariably hit persons engaging in playing the concertina. In view of the failure of the lightning to strike concertina-players, superficial observers have ventured to hint that the splendid capabilities of electricity have been wasted, while infidels have boldly denied that lightning is any benefit whatever to mankind. What is obviously wanted is a closer connection between lightning and the concertina. The man who tries to play the latter should be made to feel that he is trifling with the former, and that the moment the lightning can get a fair aim at him his crime will be swiftly and fittingly punished."

 

"There has recently occured a joyful incident in New England which will revive public confidence in lightning and kindle hope in the breasts of suffering humanity. During a thunder-shower in a New Hampshire town, a bold, bad man, who was doubtless either an atheist of a positivist, stood at his front door and played the concertina in a way that was little short of blasphemy. He had played that instrument with impunity for many years, and he believed that vengeance had forgotten him, and that he was safe. Suddenly, a blinding flash of lightning darted from the sky and hit him fairly in the mouth. Then the electricity ran cheerfully down his body, scorching him in a way that would have brought smiles to the face of even a deaf person, and finally passing off through the toes of his boots, rendering those organs henceforth useless. The man was not entirely killed, but he was severely injured, and his neighbors are still quite hopeful as to his case. Of course, the incident is generally regarded by the religious part of the community as an instance of the direct punishment of crime, and it will probably be a fruitful theme for sermons and tracts. All good men will rejoice at it and accept it as evidence that the lightning is henceforth prepared to do its whole duty, and it is to be hoped that it will prove a salutary warning to those who are now habitually guilty of playing the concertina. ---N.Y. Times"

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reprinted in the New Hampshire Sentinel on August 30th, 1877:

The New Hampshire Sentinel still exists, under the name of the Keene Sentinel, claiming to be the oldest still-running newspaper in the country. Apparently their accuracy was no better then than it is now!

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The New Hampshire Sentinel still exists, under the name of the Keene Sentinel, claiming to be the oldest still-running newspaper in the country. Apparently their accuracy was no better then than it is now!

Perhaps they didn't get to the concertina playing youth quickly enough before brain damage and the following poor editorial judgement occurred. Perhaps the Union Leader was corrupted by the same musical strain.

Has it not occurred to anybody that our fascination with the concertina may indicate just how far society has fallen since 1870? Didn't somebody once say Nine out of ten British housewives couldn't tell a concertina from a dead cat? ( or perhaps it was Whizzo Butter, I don't recall.)

Dana

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I wonder if we can fit that on the next concertina definition T shirt? Sounds like someone imitating the style of Mark Twain!

 

Ah, but I see the pen of Ambrose Bierce, author of 'The Devil's Dictionary' under the heading of:

 

FIDDLE, n. An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat.

 

- - -

 

 

Regards

 

Del

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I've read that article before, from the same newspaper. It is not the only one of its kind. Back then, anglo concertinas were much, much more common than they are today in the US. In the late 19th century the US was awash with them...the anglo-german ones...and the press then (perhaps as today) was a bit elitist toward the great unwashed who were playing them. Back then, there were no radios, stereos or the like...and the (anglo-german) concertina was just about the first cheap mass-market factory-made musical (read noise-making) item (excepting the harmonica) most families owned. The reaction in all these sorts of articles was similar to that most of us had 20 years or so ago when boomboxes arrived....horror when that sound reached our cultured ears. In tightly packed middle and lower class urban dwellings with no air conditioning, the concertina sound carried like a boom box, and people hated the intrusion on their privacy. And the (now-called) 'traditional' dance music and popular song played on it then was treated like trash by the elitist papers, who knew that classical music was the way to civilization and progress. Last year I posted a little poem from the same time period ('The Newest Angel') that had a smilar message. There were quite a few of these.

 

I'm finishing up a little history of the anglo in the US that will have more such anti-anglo diatribes in it....I am working on it, and will alert the Forum when it is published (soon!). What these period newspaper articles, plus a lot of period photos and other accounts establish is that the anglo was much more popular in the US in the 19th century than many of us (or at least I) had ever assumed, and more popular by far than the current post-1970s 'revival' in this country. Can you imagine the anglo being a popular target of the press today, when perhaps 98% of the public has never seen one? Accordions were popular too of course...but in the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s, the documents I have suggest the anglo concertina was ahead of the accordion...and then lost ground steadily to the accordion in the late 19th century before nearly completely disappearing in the first decade of the 20th century.

 

Cheers,

Dan

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...and the press then (perhaps as today) was a bit elitist toward the great unwashed who were playing them. Back then, there were no radios, stereos or the like...and the (anglo-german) concertina was just about the first cheap mass-market factory-made musical (read noise-making) item (excepting the harmonica) most families owned. The reaction in all these sorts of articles was similar to that most of us had 20 years or so ago when boomboxes arrived....horror when that sound reached our cultured ears. In tightly packed middle and lower class urban dwellings with no air conditioning, the concertina sound carried like a boom box, and people hated the intrusion on their privacy. And the (now-called) 'traditional' dance music and popular song played on it then was treated like trash by the elitist papers, who knew that classical music was the way to civilization and progress.

 

 

Dan

 

Sounds a bit like the anti-morris attitudes prevalent in the UK these days.

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What I like the most in those 19 century paper articles is the language.

The English language stands up from it's current ashes, like legitimate, who would have thought? Please give us more of those, I'll memorize it and will attempt to make it a part of my speech. After all, I'm a foreigner, and should speak oddly.

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*sniffle* its beautiful. i shall take all of it to heart and cherish it forever. i love hawthorne's line, "Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!" but i think "Unfortunately, the concertina is as easy to master as the cat is difficult; and it is hence the favorite instrument of the idle and depraved" is better--though less succinct--because it is so much more based in truth. i think i am going to start introducing myself when i play by saying that i am "habitually guilty of playing the concertina."

 

What I like the most in those 19 century paper articles is the language.

The English language stands up from it's current ashes, like legitimate, who would have thought? Please give us more of those, I'll memorize it and will attempt to make it a part of my speech. After all, I'm a foreigner, and should speak oddly.

 

although i agree with you, i for one enjoy bastardizing the english language. if its gone down the gutter, lets enjoy it!

 

but yes, i too would love to read more! they are truly a gift. think of how few musicians can revel in such eloquently satiating articles declaring the banality of their instruments.

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