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Concertinas In Literature

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Well because of this thread I've now got 3 more ebooks:


McTeague, and two Charles DeLint books.


I am now $14 poorer but looking forward to reading them. (I'm on chapter 4 of McTeague).


Thanks for all of the references folks!



Edited by Aldon Sanders
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  • 1 year later...

The Concertinas in Art thread has brought back to my mind the Concertinas in Literature thread, which has had no entries in a while.  The great bulk of the cited references were unsurprisingly from older periods when concertinas were more generally extant.


My 2 contributions to this point were: Jamrach's Menagerie (2011), a sailing tale from the nineteenth century, and The Penal Colony (1987, but set in some near future).  I read roughly 60 books a year and my concertina "awareness" began when I got my first concertina in 2003.  So that's about 2 books with concertina references in ~1080 books read, or about 0.2% of my book input.  Unsurprising, really.


So what is surprising is that this year I have read 3 books with concertina references, in fact 3 out of the last 10 novels I have read, all by writers of at least some note (and great skill, IMO).  These are:


(1) A Good Man, a Canadian-American western by Guy Vanderhaeghe  ("One of North America's Best Writers" proclaims Annie Proulx on the cover.)


"Every third false-fronted establishment is a saloon blaring a fearsome hubbub - the wheeze of concertinas the jangle of pianos, the squeals of hurdy-gurdy girls, the whoops and curse of roustabouts, mule skinners, and bullwhackers."


In an earlier book I have not read, The Englishman's Boy, Vanderhaeghe has the sentence:  "Three men saw soundless fiddles, a boy twangs a slient jew's harp, a mute concertina snakes back and forth between hands.


And in We're All Right (also not read by me), he writes: "One young fellow, a beanpole in wire-rimmed spectacles working a concertina for all it was worth, pumping out Hold the Fort, had a grin that proclaimed unadulterated joy."


"Gilchrist turned and saw two young men sitting on wooden egg crates. He recognized the concertina player he had seen coming down Halifax by his smile, a grin as wide as the poles asunder. “Beg pardon?” said the Reverend. ...  The concertina player said, “This here is Lionel Gibb. I’m Tony Fleck.”


So I contacted Mr. Vanderhaege, faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan, asking if he were a player and if he had a specific system in mind when he was writing about them.  His kind reply was: ” To be truthful, I know almost nothing about concertinas. My only connection with them was that my mother-in-law had one and used to play it. My wife, who was a painter, painted a picture of it sitting on a chair. As to the type of concertina I had in mind, I was unaware that there was any great range in varieties. What I envisioned was what my mother-in-law played and that was it. "


(2) Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles.  This is set as the Civil War has ended and contains a few of the characters in her New York TImes Notable Book "The News of the World" (which I also read and recommend - no concertina references, though).  Simon the Fiddler had 5 concertina references, which began rather neutrally and gradually turn less favorable.


"They listened to a badly-tuned banjo and a concertina, not great but the duo had volume.  they walked on."


"Mules steadily ground corn kernels between their square heavy teeth and somebody tried to make sense of a concertina.  That person started a tune and then stopped, started again, trying to find a way into the melody, off-notes, flat notes, then back again into the only phrases the player knew for sure, over and over.  Simon pressed both hands over his ears."


"From somewhere he heard a concertina playing a tune whose name he did not know, and a woman's laughter."


"And then some other girl wanted to play piano and someone had, against all reason, brought a concertina and made the afternoon hideous with its noise, and so the moment passed."


"And now [said Simon],  I am in love with a young woman of his household, who is sitting outside this room pretending to be entranced by a Goddamned concertina."


Ms. Jiles is a writer in her '70s living near San Antonio, Texas.  Her email address was not readily available.  Her blog suggests she plays low and regular D whistles with a local group of friends.  Dan Worrall, maybe you should collect her up some day, take her and her whistles to the Palestine festival and improve her opinion of concertinas.


(3) Most recently, there is a concertina reference in the Haruki Murakami novel 1Q84 (2013).  One of the protagonists is reading a book on the train about visiting a town of all cats.  The cats, among other activities, "drink beer at the tavern and sing lively cat songs.  One plays a concertina and other dance to the music."  Things eventually take a sinister turn as the cats detect the aroma of a human and try to track him down.


Sorry for the lengthy post. So that's my What's New in Concertinas in Literature update, probably for the next 7 or so years.

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  • 2 months later...

Have you ever opened up a concertina and wondered how on earth it came to be full of black dust and muck .The answer might be it was this one mentioned by Walter Wilkinson in his 1927 book The Peep Show."By their conversation they were in a gloomy state of mind and they reminded me of a man I once met who always relieved his low spirits by locking himself in a dark coal cellar and playing a concertina for an hour or two".

Walter Wilkinson's 8 books documenting his travels with his puppet  show can still be picked up,  are all very enjoyable .David.

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  • 2 months later...

I have just read Edinburgh Midnight by Carole Lawrence. This is the third in a series of crime novels set in 1880's Edinburgh.

The three books are contemporary publications from 2017 to 2020.

In this book, at chapter 47, I read this:

"The tinny sound of a concertina came from the pub, accompanied by drunken singing."


The pub in the story was one of the seedier establishments to be found in certain parts of old Edinburgh.

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  • 5 weeks later...

I encountered two examples in recent weeks, neither particularly flattering to our chosen instrument.


First, from Shirley Hazzard's book, "The Transit of Venus." She is describing down on their luck Australian WWI vets:


What music they made, and how they sang, that ghastly orchestra in lopped and shiny serge, with unstrung fiddles and wheezing concertinas and the rusted mouth-organ grasped in the remaining and inexpert hand; the voices out of tune with everything but pitched extremity. How cruelly they wracked, for Depression pennies, an unwilling audience with their excruciating songs.


And then, last night while reading to my daughter from Jeanne and William Steig's book, "Alpha Betta Chowder," I discovered this inspiring poem:


Coaxing Carrotina


Come on, Cousin Carrotina

Do pick up your concertina!

Play again that shrill cadenza,

Though it split the old credenza,

Though the cat broke out in blisters,

Though it mortifies your sisters

(If they want their music mellow,

Let them learn to play the cello),

Though it gave the goose consumption--

That cadenza sure has gumption!




Edited by James McBee
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 3/11/2004 at 2:08 PM, wes williams said:

Only the rum and bum are autobiographical. The concertina is fictional.

A saying about sailors, I believe - in port, it's all wine women and song, at sea, rum, bum and concertinas.


Edited by Paul Hurst
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  • 2 weeks later...
2 hours ago, soloduet said:

For those who can read in french, I highly recommend the excellent novel "Le Joueur de Concertina" (The Concertina Player), written by Paul Sath (Sauveterre Edition).


Sorry, I don’t read (or speak or understand) French.


But of course, Paul Sath IS a concertina player. He is a member of concertina.net by the name of gcarrere, as his real name is Gilbert Carrere.

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  • 1 year later...

I have come across another reference by HG Wells.

In his story "Boon", in chapter 10, The character enters a dingy shop, finds this:

"And above it hung concertinas and melodeons and cornets and tin whistles and mouth organs and all that rubbish of musical instruments which delight the hearts of the poor."

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