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John Wild

Concertinas In Literature

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Damn!!! I was just reading through to see if anyone had mentioned McTeague and you beat me to it Stephen.

I'm sorry about that Phantom Button, as he's obviously much more meaningful to you, living in "his" neighbourhood, though I guess not much of it (except that cherry tree) survived the calamities of 1906?

 

You remind me of some of my own experiences in London, realising that the friend I first stayed with in Paddington, when I moved there, lived just around the corner from where Jeffries' shop once stood, or finding that both George Jones and George Case had lived (and in George Case's case died) off the opposite side of the Leyton High Road to myself, or that my Irish girlfriend lived only a couple of streets away from Charlie Jeffries' house in Kilburn, etc.

 

So what type of "plebeian" concertina did McTeague play? (A German 20-key maybe?) :unsure:

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Here's one that's recently been listed on eBay: "McTeague - A Story of San Francisco" by Frank Norris.

 

Synopsis

Frank Norris's MCTEAGUE, about a San Francisco dentist who sinks into degradation, poverty, and crime after he is exposed as a charlatan, shocked readers when it was first published in 1899. But as Norris said, "I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me?" He died a few years later, at the age of 32.

 

At first McTeague has a simple but satisfying life, surrounded by three symbolic possessions: a caged canary, a concertina, and a gold-plated molar he wants to use as his shop sign. McTeague can be seen as the canary, imprisoned in his gilt cage by the forces of society and heredity; the concertina represents his pleasure in plebeian culture* and the molar, his crude profession. Norris also shows the effects of striving for social status. McTeague comes from a family of poor miners; as a dentist, he is barely on the cusp of professional respectability. Described as "hopelessly stupid," he reverts to his innate brutish roots. His wife, Trina, comes from equally humble origins, but apes what she perceives to be the habits of those higher up the social scale.

 

*Must've been a Chemnitzer! ;)

 

No need to rush, there are 100 copies available, in a 2007 paperback reprint...

 

No need to go to the dreaded eBay for it....you can read it in full for free at GoogleBooks: http://books.google.com/books?id=fXp1WhVM5...certina#PPP5,M1

 

I've come across McTeague several times....interesting work. I was never able to find mention of a type or maker (you can easily and digitally search the text for concertina if you are in a hurry). It could be anything, since all he played on it was a group of six mournful airs. I thought that a bit odd for someone who liked the concertina as much as the author claimed he did, since most of us have a hard time putting a concertina down after just six tunes....until I recalled that I know a grand total of three childhood pieces on the piano, and no more. Every few years I'll sit down at my wife's piano and play them, just to see if I can still remember them!

 

Cheers,

Dan

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I'm surprised no one has mentioned Cicely Fox Smith.

 

Here is a verse from Sailor Town

 

You can hear the gulls crying, and the cheerful noise

Of a concertina going, and a singer's voice—

And the wind's song and the tide's song, crooning soft and low

Rum old tunes in sailor town that seamen know.

 

This poem was set to Music by Dick Miles.

 

Casey's Concertina

 

There are lights a-flashing in the harbour from the ships at anchor where they ride,

And a dry wind going through the palm-trees and the long-low murmur of the tide …

And there's noise and laughter in the foc's'le, and the bare feet beating out the tune

To the sound of Casey's concertina underneath the great gold moon —

Creaky old leaky concertina underneath the great gold moon.

 

There's a milky glimmer on the water, and the lonely glitter of the stars,

And a light breeze blowing up the roadstead, and a voice a-sighing in the spars,

A-sighing, crying in the backstays, and the furled sails sleeping overhead,

And the sound of Casey's concertina, singing of a time that's fled —

Leaky old creaky concertina singing of a dream that's dead.

 

This poem has also been set to music.

 

Geoff

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Of a concertina going, and a singer's voice—

 

To the sound of Casey's concertina underneath the great gold moon —

Creaky old leaky concertina underneath the great gold moon.

But that's about the accordion, not "konzertina".

In many places button accordions are called concertinas, and even today many people, in the US including, when see buttonbox of small size, argue that it's concertina.

"Creaky old leaky" - definitely accordion.

Just like when they mentioned "Car" it didn't mean "automobile".

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Stephen Booth's 2003 mystery novel, Blind to the Bones, set in the Peak District of England, features a Border Morris side called the Border Rats, whose members are principally from one family which features prominently in the plot. One of the important characters plays concertina in the band which plays for the dancers. According to the author's foreword, he learned about Border Morris through the Black Pig Border Morris side from Nottinghamshire.

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From "Goodbye to Berlin" by Christopher Isherwood (this is the novel that inspired the stage and screen musical "Cabaret"):

 

"Down in the murky pit of the courtyard where the fog, in this clammy autumn weather, never lifted, the street singers and musicians succeeded each other in a performance which was nearly continuous. There were parties of boys with mandolins, an old man who played the concertina, and a father who sang with his little girls."

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My second reference is from Charles Dickens.

 

The concertina is mentioned in Dickens' book 'Our Mutual Friend'.

 

In 'book the second, Chapter V, 'Mercury Prompting', the character Fledgeby tries to establish a name by asking a question based on rhyming words, and the discussion is between the two characters Fledgeby and Lammle:

 

Fledgeby: 'is the right name Georgiana or Georgina?'

Lammle: 'Georgiana

Fledgeby: 'I was thinking yesterday, I didn't know there was such a name. I thought it must end in ina.'

Lammle: 'Why?'

Fledgeby: 'Why, you play - if you can - the Concertina, you know' 'And you have - when you catch it - the Scarlatina. And you can come down from a balloon in a parac - no you can't though. Well, say Georgeute - I mean Georgiana.'

 

I do not know in which year this book was first published, but it must be one of the earliest literary references to the concertina.

 

I've been reading 'Our Mutual Friend'...don't remember that line...I'll have to go check now.

 

An interesting set of replies, though I thought there might be more. The science fiction story prompted the thought: In space, can anyone hear you squeeze?

If your not in a vacume. :P

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“Three Fevers” by Leo Walmsley was published in 1932 and is a kind of “docudrama” novel, describing the real lives of fishing families working out of Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire, England. There’s no added drama to the book other than the realities of life there in the 1920’s though a constant undercurrent is the fact that they launch their fishing boats off the beach so may be unable to get back in if the weather turns bad, yet they must fish all year round…..

 

A concertina appears in chapter four where three fishermen are in their workshop preparing gear on a winter evening, two brothers, Marney & John and their father, Henry. Marney is adding the netting to a lobster pot frame. “Lobster fever” is enthusiasm for the next seasonal fishery, in this case lobsters, hence the book’s title, “Three Fevers,” lobster, salmon and cod.

Chunks taken out marked “……”

 

(Hurrah for OCR!)

 

 

“Suddenly the warehouse door was opened, letting in the full sound of the sea and the wind, and a puff of smoke blew furiously from the fireplace. It was John, washed and in a clean guernsey, and carrying a concertina under his arm.

…….

 

John struck a chord, and then smiled broadly as he observed his father’s concentration.

“Lobster fever, eh ?“ he said ironically.

“You’re making those meshes a bit too small,” said Henry, likewise ignoring his eldest son. “You’re using twice as much twine as you need.”

John winked at me, and began to play a popular song. John was never really gloomy when he had a musical instrument in his hands. He played with considerable skill. Marney by this time had netted one end of the pot, and was going along the roof.

“If you’ve got nothing better than that muck to play,” said Henry suddenly, “you’d better give me hold of it, and start making a pot.”

John stopped.

“It’s clear you’ve got lobster fever. Why don’t you make a pot? What do you want? ‘Abide with Me’?”

“It would be better than that muck,” Father replied

……

 

[John] began to play “Abide with Me.” Nell lifted her eyes soulfully, made a faint howl, then closed her eyes again. He played “Rock of Ages” and “Jerusalem the Golden,” and two of Moody and Sankey’s fervently mournful compositions, and by then Marney had completed both ends of the “roof” of the pot, and was putting a row of “starting” hitches on the square left half of one side.

 

John put his instrument down, and became intent upon the pot.

…….

 

“Give me that concertina, and don’t have so much to say” Father answered.

Henry took the concertina, and with his eyes still on the lobster pot, played pianissimo the opening bars of “Abide with Me;” Then, chapel fashion, he stopped and started again, singing the air in a very pleasant baritone. John joined in the bass. Marney contributed a rather husky, but musical tenor.

 

Henry played slower than John had done. They sang with a religious fervour: but the plaintive sensuous harmonies of that hymn, attuned with the sounds of the storm, were as remote from chapel religion as the clear song of a lark is remote from a city slum.

……

 

Marney said. “,Let’s have ‘Lead Kindly Light,’ before we go and get our suppers. It’s the finest hymn there is. What do you say, brother John?”

“No,” said John. “Give me ‘Eternal Father.’ It’s got a champion bass.”

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There are a few references to concertina players in Jean Rhys's 1928 novel Postures (later published as Quartet) which is a story set in Paris. Just one example, the first one in the book,

"the drone of a concertina sounded from the courtyard of the studio. The man was really trying to play " Yes, We Have No Bananas". But it was an unrecognisable version, and listening to it gave Marya the same feeling of melancholy pleasure as she had when walking along the shadowed side of one of those narrow streets full of shabby parfumeries, second-hand book-stalls, cheap hat-shops, bars frequented by gaily-painted ladies and loud-voiced men, midwives' premises..."

 

The evocations of the concertina.

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To add to the oeuvre:

 

From John Dos Passos' USA trilogy:

"...Joe Hill... was in California for the S.P strike ( Casey Jones, two locomotives, Casey Jones), used to play the concertina outside the bunkhouse door, after supper, evenings, (longhaired preachers come out every night) had a knack for setting rebel words to tunes (And the union makes us strong)"

 

Helluva novel, that one; highly recommended.

 

Alan Lomax, in his Folk Song USA ( compliments of Old Gold Cigarettes), waxes positively purple in celebrating "Red River Valley":

 

"There emerges a chorus of great simplicity and a lazy little tune that drifts straight into your heart like smoke from a lonely cabin rising and disappearing into the prairie sky. Breath this one softly through your harmonica or pump it gently through your old concertina. You'll hear the summer wind swinging the tall grass. You'll see the sky of the west with its drifting herds of stars."

 

Guess I'll go play that one right now, as a maudlin mood doth approach from afar.

RB

 

 

Edit: Bold face is type my addition, all else as published.

Edited by Robert Booth

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Reviving this old thread to add this pic of McTeague and his concertina:

 

4ade810ae7a07fc67cb60210.L.jpg

 

Damn!!! I was just reading through to see if anyone had mentioned McTeague and you beat me to it Stephen. Someone came up to me one night when we were playing for a dance and handed me a copy suggesting I read the book since I live in McTeague's neighborhood and I'm a large bearded concertina player. I loved how McTeague was described as playing "lugubrious slow airs" on his concertina – something I love to do as well. I enjoyed reading it while sitting in neighborhood cafes close to where the story takes place down on Polk Street. The author lived in the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th Century and based the story roughly on the location and local characters at the time. I even found an old cherry tree referred to in the book right around the corner from my house up an alley I never walked down previously.

 

One day when I was sitting in a cafe on the same block where McTeague's dentist shop was located, an old fella dressed smartly in a suite complete with a walking stick came by and when he saw me reading the book he startled me when he declared, "McTeague!" And he nodded and smiled as he walked by. I like to think he was a time traveler.

 

  • polkstreet.jpg

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From Drink Down The Moon, by Charles DeLint-

 

 

 

"Lend him your fiddle," Tuir said to Johnny.

"He can't," Jemi said. "He'll need that for where we're going.

"I can't play one anyway," Henk said. "My instrument's the concertina."

 

"Anglo or English? " Loireag asked.

Henk blinked. "Uh, English. "

Loireag sent word up and down the line of the sidhe until a small hob

trotted up on his pony and handed Henk an instrument.

 

It was a beautiful old Wheatstone, it's silver gleaming, it's wood dark,

it's leather bellows worn but still strong.

"It was my father's, "the hob said. "Play the Moon fierce in it."

 

Wonderful moment, I bought the book based on this post. Later, Henk puts his hands through the straps and plays it. A magical instrument, English or Anglo at need. Still, if you like magical fantasy stories set in the modern world, I admit I very much enjoyed the book.

 

Aquarussell

Russell Hedges

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OK; my addition is not anything very edifying. But I have been listening to audio-books. And one of the series is the Jacky Faber Adventures by LA Meyers. Jacky is an English lass that gains sailing experience as a "cabin boy" as a young teenager. I've listened to a number of these adventures--probably 5 of the 8 or 9 books available. Amongst her adventures she always manages to salavage her dignity. And she always is willing to work hard. One of her "schicks" is that she sings and dances at the beer halls with both fiddle and concertina. What a gal!

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Not actually a concertina, but there is a connection:

 

I've just read a Charles Dickens short story - Mugsby Junction - only 4 chapters.

 

This quote is from chapter three:

 

"When you're telegraphed, you should see their noses all a-going up with scorn, as if it was a part of the same Cooke and Wheatstone electrical machinery."

 

I do not have a year for the publication of the story.

 

regards

 

John Wild

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Not actually a concertina, but there is a connection:

 

I've just read a Charles Dickens short story - Mugsby Junction - only 4 chapters.

 

This quote is from chapter three:

 

"When you're telegraphed, you should see their noses all a-going up with scorn, as if it was a part of the same Cooke and Wheatstone electrical machinery."

 

I do not have a year for the publication of the story.

 

regards

 

John Wild

Yep, that's the right Wheatstone; he and Cooke had a telegraph company monopoly for a long while in Britain. (Warning: the following is an off-subject diversion.)

Meanwhile, British born, American raised David Edward Hughes, a concertina virtuoso in his youth with his family's band, had invented his telegraphic printer (later, the Telex) which cleaned the clock of C&W/s telegraph system...it printed off the Morse Code in readable letters. But it was not installed in Britain right away, as Hughes was chased off (Cooke and Wheatstone were held in high esteem and why ruin a good monopoly?), so Hughes went on to fantastic success in the countries of continental Europe, installing his devices. Given highest awards by all the non-British crowned heads of Europe, one at a time. Eventually, he came back to London and installed it there too, and went on to be one of the most successful inventors in his day, working out of London. So concertinas were around the fringe of the telegraph technology wars in Britain. Hughes story is on my website....

Cheers,

Dan

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So, if Hughes had excelled in concertinary as well as telegraphy, I wonder what sort of system he would have come up with? Perhaps one that could read the notes directly?

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A posting in a discussion thread in the concertina history forum produced a quote from 'Three Men in a boat'. This set me thinking of other books which contain literary references to the concertina. I have three to start with. firstly I repeat the quote from 'Three Men in a boat', originally posted (I think) by Chris Timson:-

 

 

 

 

 

It probably doesn't rise to the level of "literature," but in James Michener's "Hawaii," a character is said to love to go down to the dock and hear the sounds of a concertina. Problem is, it was set in about 1810, which I believe was before Mr. Wheatstone, et al.

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THE APPLE TREE

 

I could play the bad eras like a concertina.

Multiple chords would squeak like "Excuse me",

"I beg your pardon", "Oops" and "Sorry, no thank you."

Pump hard on a squeeze-box and you can almost hear

The Protestant clerks of northern Europe in Hell...

 

 

I Hope people don't think I'm THAT bad! :-) It's the beginning of a poem by Professor Douglas Dunn, born 1942.

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