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According to the musician/neuroscientist Daniel Levitin who wrote 'This is Your Brain On Music' a virtuoso is someone who has put in 10,000 hours of practice on their instrument.

I thought it was 20,000 by the age of 25 :D

 

That was a different study. 20,000 hours was the creme de la creme.... the upper eschelon of the virtuosos

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If you want to hear fast, furious, stylish and punchy English concertina playing that has no connection with the Irish style seek out any recordings of Alistair Anderson;

I have sought but without any luck. Are there any recordings of Alistair Anderson available? Everything by him seems to only be on very long out-of-print vinyl.

 

As an aside to the virtuosi discussion, FreeReed have reissued Alistair Anderson's Concertina Workshop on CD! Free Reed

Hurrah, i can finally replace my vinyl copy - so scratched and warped to be nearly beyond playing.

 

To add to the discussion here, I go with the critical mass idea. Only a tiny percentage of performers on an instrument will be in the very top class (and that ain't me !). there may not be enough of us concertinists to produce maestros in all the flavours of music that you seem to be looking at ... I personally think there are folk virtuosi, but in other musical types, the statistics are against us.

Edited by spindizzy
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erroneous perception that the Concertina is not in fact a 'serious' musical instrument.

 

I don't think that this perception is erroneous, when the concertina is compared to other instruments:

 

It doesn't have any where _near_ the variation in tone, pitch and (probably) volume control of the bowed string family. There simply is no comparison here... the concertina makes up for it a little in being able to play multiple notes at once more easily, but why listen to a concertina playing 4 notes when you could hear a cello playing just one?!

 

Same argument as above for almost all wind/brass instruments, though there are a few instruments that don't really rise much above the concertina (in my opinion... without naming names!) - this is when comparing the best players of the instrument (and, in the case of the concertina, trying to imagine what it's really capable of).

 

The guitar beats it, imo: it has a similarly rather uninteresting sound, but there is more tone control available to a guitarist, and, multi-part music works so much better being able to control the volume of individual notes that are playing simultaneously. I think this beats the concertina's advantage of being able to change the volume of a note after it starts.

 

Keyboard instruments beat it in terms of the complexity of the music that they can play - all concertinas limit the note combinations more than piano-type keyboards, I think. Piano obviously has the individual note volume advantage. Harpsichord doesn't have this... but then many would not consider it too seriously either (wrongly, imo). Concertina is more portable... but that's not consolation when it comes to being "serious".

 

Another problem with the concertina is that it is _always_ out of tune - not only can it not adjust to subtle pitch changes when playing alongside other instruments, but the pitch changes with pressure and there's no way to compensate. In terms of tuning there's the horrible expression "good enough for folk".... in this case perhaps true.

 

The advantages it does have maybe explain why it's generally an "amateur" instrument - it always plays in tune (well, sort of), it doesn't scratch/squeak like a fiddle, it's portable, it can play multiple notes at once so self-accompany etc. However, these aren't the properties that are needed to make instruments "serious".

 

In terms of virtuosity, I don't think that there are any players that have anywhere near the virtuosity and total command of the instrument that you find on other more standard instruments. There are some very good specialists (especially in Irish music). I've played the cello since age about 10 and even so there are some cellists that make my eyes/ears bulge in wonder and I know that I could never reach their level in terms of technical and musical mastery. I've never got that feeling with concertina - it's all just pushing buttons and squeezing, and honestly it's not that hard. I don't know if that's because there simply aren't many full time professional concertina players, or if it's just that there simply isn't much that you can do with the concertina... but I suspect both.

 

For me the concertina is a "fun" instrument, and the cello is serious (and immensely fun too!). When other people (outside the concertina world) see it that way too, perhaps they're not wrong.

 

i think the limitations you speak of are what make the concertina such a perfect candidate of being capable of virtuosity. virtuosity is so remarkable because of it's difficulty, not despite it. look at this video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=4gFdX1__zNc it is a virtuoso performance because of it's difficulty, and how the player has mastered this difficult to create something beautful. what is even more amazing is that she is able to show such a wide range of expressiveness while--in effect--not using any dynamics besides terraced dynamics.

 

the same goes for this video of matt molloy: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SHcDY76a_eY . you cannot tell from the video, but the flute he is playing is a very difficult instrument. i have an antique flute just like it, and it is extremely out of tune, difficult to play, and finicky. if you do not adjust every note on the flute, each note will be anywhere from 20 to 100 cents off from actual pitch. what makes matt molloy a virtuoso is that he makes it seem so easy, as if it is nothing, just like the harpsichordist, wherein reality both instruments are much more difficult to play than their modern counterparts.

 

wille clancy was a virtuoso of an instrument which has none of the virtuoso-capable qualities you specify:

. the uilleann pipes have no dynamics and the accompaniment notes are limited to short, stoppy, regulator notes. however, when he and other great pipers play, it seems like there is something missing from musicians who have the full gamut of expression capabilities in their instruments.

 

what makes players on the concertina virtuosi, like noel hill, is that they are able to take an instrument which is so limited, as you describe, and pull multiple tone colors out of it, and variations in pitch, dynamics, which you contend to be missing from the instrument. noel hill,

, does all the things which you specify a virtuoso as needing to do--which is very little, as you say they must only vary tone, pitch, and tone color. the video i have shared of noel is very good, but i have seen him many times very recently, and he is even better now than he was then. i will talk about noel because he is the concertina player i have spent the most time listening to, both in person and on cd.

 

noel does things that are highly virtuosic--many complain, even, too virtuosic. sometimes he cups the palm of his hand, and i kid you not, is able to mess with the resonance of a reed in his hand to make it sound like he is getting a full glissando from f natural to f sharp, by seeming to create the missing pitches between the notes, making it therefore irrelevant that the instrument is missing natural glissandi that the violin or cello have. this may seem hard to believe, but i saw him do it, saw him explain how to do it, heard the results, and have been unable to replicate it.

 

just as willy clancy (and other pipers) was able to make it sound like he was using dynamics (if you have never noticed it, there is a psychoacoustical effect that makes changes in note length sound as if they were slight changes in dynamic), noel and other good concertina players can trick your ears into hearing a sound, tone, or pitch that your ears do not in fact hear. through altering note length, dynamics, adding notes in the upper harmonics, you can make an accompanying note sound as if it is quieter than the melody, even though it is not, or make your listener hear a note your are not playing (this last one, again, is a psychoacoustical affect; you can drop a note in a harmonic series, and the listener hears it as if it is still there. this is how opera singers are able to sing over the orchestra: they dont. as i understand, you just hear the top harmonics and your mind fills in the bottom). as far as pitch variation, the reeds in a concertina only stay in pitch within a certain range. players such as tim collins, noel hill, and mrs. crotty purposely hit notes to make them flat, which changes the tone colour, which makes them sound in tune.

 

it is precisely because the concertina is so difficult that it can be a very serious instrument. i play the flute, which is intensely difficult to get a sound out of, but i view the concertina as being much more difficult, overall this is because, as you state, the concertina can be so easy to play--you just pull and a note comes out. the ease soon disappears, however, as one tries to gain control over the bellows, and to learn how to control the tone color of all the reeds (all 60 reeds act differently, and need to be treated differently to coax a different sound out). i find it much easier to sit in front of a mirror for a few hours and figure out how to get that new tone color out of your flute than to figure out how the heck to use your arms and shoulders to make a concertina produce that new effect, when all it seems to do is want to play the same sound, regardless.

 

i would like to say that your idea of virtuoso is very limited and moot. if someone is only a virtuoso because they have more variations in pitch, tone color and dynamics, than classical violinists are not as virtuosic as hindustani musicians. i think, for example, that heifetz playing the paganini caprices is very virtuosic,

, but according to your criteria, i would say that ravi shankar's playing--
--is much more exemplifying of virtuosity, as ravi uses much more variations in pitch, tone color, dynamics, rhythm, and melody--in fact, ravi is using notes and variations in pitch, microtones, which do not even exist in classical music. however, your definition of virtuosity is inaccurate, as heifetz's music does not require him to go for the same constant fluctuation of pitch and expressiveness. heifetz is amazing, just as ravi shankar is, because of the effect that they can create in the instrument, through their limited instruments and limited styles (if heifetz started to do some of what ravi was doing, he would sound horrible, because it would be inappropriate, and vice versa). when you get right down to it, willie clancy, noel hill, heifetz and ravi shankar are all equally expressive, equally virtuosi, equally moving, and equally complex, if you look beyond the mere technical aspects and look at the feelings they are trying to express, the amount of time, passion, and dedication they have given to their arts, and the sublimely profound effect they have on their audience.

 

seeing ravi shankar live was overwhelming. barely unable to walk, he was able to take several thousand people and get us all on the same wave length, entwined in his sense of tension and emotional story telling, only using his instrument. beethoven's 9th symphony had the same effect on me, and in my opinion, hearing noel hill play tabhair dom do lamh live is equally overwhelming and emotionally impactful--i want to burst into tears every time the piece ends, because i dont want it ever to stop, just as i want the 4th movement of beethoven's sympthony to last forever. this is because the true virtuoso is not constrained by their instrument, but transcends it, to reach directly to the listeners mind through his or her ears, and play with the expectations and reactions of the audience like it is putty. great painters do it. great musicians do it. great actors do it. great authors do it. the medium is irrelevant.

 

that being said, i dont even thing virtuosity is important. perlman is a virtuoso, but not my cup of tea. i prefer joshua bell or heifetz, regardless of who is the better violinist. in fact, most times, i would really prefer to listen to a nice old lady from ireland, scratching away on a fiddle, and telling me stories about her life than listen to a virtuoso of any sort.

 

there

Beautifully said, Thanks,

Dana

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I can contain my curiosity no longer: what, precisely, is a "mythical terrorist"?. . . . . one who exists only in the movies, in fiction, in Greek epic poetry, in the Scandinavian sagas, in Wagner's "Ring", in the minds of those who were "on vacation" during 9/11, the bombing in Madrid, that in London, that in Bali. . . . . . .

 

just wondering................Allan

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I can contain my curiosity no longer: what, precisely, is a "mythical terrorist"?. . . . . one who exists only in the movies, in fiction, in Greek epic poetry, in the Scandinavian sagas, in Wagner's "Ring", in the minds of those who were "on vacation" during 9/11, the bombing in Madrid, that in London, that in Bali. . . . . . .

 

just wondering................Allan

 

 

I must admit I identify with the idea of Wagnerian terrorists. I've known some sopranos....

 

/too easy?

Edited by njurkowski
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erroneous perception that the Concertina is not in fact a 'serious' musical instrument.

 

I don't think that this perception is erroneous, when the concertina is compared to other instruments.....

 

i think the limitations you speak of are what make the concertina such a perfect candidate of being capable of virtuosity...

Beautifully said, Thanks,

 

I agree, it was nicely written, but it _totally_ missed/confused the two points (one on "seriousness" and the other on virtuosity) I was making.

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erroneous perception that the Concertina is not in fact a 'serious' musical instrument.

I don't think that this perception is erroneous, when the concertina is compared to other instruments.....

i think the limitations you speak of are what make the concertina such a perfect candidate of being capable of virtuosity...

Beautifully said, Thanks,

I agree, it was nicely written, but it _totally_ missed/confused the two points (one on "seriousness" and the other on virtuosity) I was making.

 

Hm, could you elaborate? I see you were talking about how the limitations of the concertina affects it's suitability for "serious" music, not capability for virtuosity. But there were other points in the post that I thought were pertinent to your original points. There are a lot of related issues running around here. I'll run through a quick list of thoughts that are on my mind. I'm not arguing or trying to make any points here, just thinking out loud, so to speak.

 

1) I've seen a cello played very non-seriously...perhaps how "serious" an instrument is has more to do with the player than the instrument?

 

2) The definition of "serious" seems too tied to classical music values. Certainly an Irish musician can make a very serious exploration of regional styles, subtle lilt and ornamentation, history, relationship to dancing, technique, influence of other music styles on traditional styles, etc., and work all that into a very subtle, precise, varied instrumental style requiring amazing technique and knowledge of the music. To me, that would have to be considered a "serious" pursuit, no matter if the musician played the pipes, concertina, or even the bodhrán. And many classically trained musicians would still hear it as simple diddly music.

 

3) Ignoring the technical limitations of the concertina, I do agree the tone doesn't seem to fit the classical world's expectations. Classical accordionists use multiple reeds playing per note, resonant chambers in their instruments, and perform in reverberant spaces to add some of the missing "lushness" to the sound of a free reed, and they're still not taken seriously by many. Perhaps those who play the instrument have learned to appreciate the tone and recognize some subtleties in it, but I'd still have to admit that it doesn't approach the complexity of tone of classical instruments.

 

4) People seem to enjoy instruments for different reasons. You can't judge instruments solely by their quantifiable expressive abilities. Often people will have a "favorite" instrument that they collect recordings of and obsess over, even if those instruments are much more limited than others. There are piano fans, harpsichord fans, guitar fans, etc. -- could you tell them they're "wrong" to prefer a certain instrument because it has less expressive variables than another? Those "fans" would find the best players of their favorite instrument much more compelling than even those on more "technically expressive" instruments.

 

5) As hinted at above, often limitations will spark creativity, and unique ways to create variation and expressiveness. After all, free-form poetry is the least "limited," but for centuries poets have limited themselves on purpose to strict forms.

 

5b) There seems to be an innate appreciation or even joy in seeing a person overcome an instrument's limitations. As stated above, even playing a simple tune on a jaw harp can delight and amaze people. I think there's a valid reason for this. After all, aren't ALL musicians struggling against limitations, and in some deep way, aren't we emotionally affected by a musician's attempt to transcend his own limitations? Wouldn't a completely unlimited instrument, one that could play as quickly as many notes as you like in any sound, be very diificult to develop an organic personality with? You could program any kind of crazy music you want, but so much expression comes from a musician's communication with their instrument, which includes its strengths and limitations. Music, especially live acoustic music, is not just about sounds, but about our emotional reaction to the physical and emotional process of playing the instrument. Take that away, and things start to sound like drum machines.

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M3838: "It's the English, the high brow one, designed for virtuosity, that lost it's status and hasn't yet regained it's reputation as a serious instrument."

 

Response: Who says it hasn't? You? Just because musical tastes have changed and most people do not now know what a concertina is, is no reason to claim that it is not a serious instrument. Don't confuse popularity with virtuosity! And what does "reputation" have to do with whether the concertina is a serious instrument or not? Maybe we should all consider "America Idol" the be-all-and-end-all of serious music, as these performers have a greater reputation than any others, if sheer numbers are what count.

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For clarity reasons, let me try to paraphraze some of your arguments and see, if it makes counter-arguments more clear?

 

1) I've seen a cello played very non-seriously...perhaps how "serious" an instrument is has more to do with the player than the instrument?

 

I've seen a Porshe driven very slowly, perhaps how fast a car is has more to do with the driver, than the car?

Certainly an Irish musician can make a very serious exploration of regional styles..... requiring amazing technique and knowledge of the music.

 

Certainly, hobbyist flying paper plane on warm afternoon, can make a very serious exporation of airdynamics, requiring amazing technique and knowledge of the sorts of paper and glue.

 

To me, that would have to be considered a "serious" pursuit, no matter if the musician played the pipes, concertina, or even the bodhrán.

To me, that would have to be considered a "serious" pursuit, no matter if the pilot "flies" the paper plane, the RC helicopter, water rocket, or sends manned spacecraft to the Moon.

And many classically trained musicians would still hear it as simple diddly music.

And many scientifically educated pilots would still see it as a simple toy.

(although I have never seen such a musician, to tell you the truth. Contrary, my daughter's late piano teacher, a young girl in concervatory, is very enthusiastic about various Folk singing styles they study there)

 

but I'd still have to admit that it doesn't approach the complexity of tone of classical instruments.

 

Could it be that it's not the tone, but demonstrated possibilities, which in turn draw composers and conductors, as well as talented performers to the instrument, which in turn provides for next step in expressiveness and prompts demand from the builders?

The times when accordion wasn't considered "serious" are long gone, and you are talking about US from the 60s to 80s only. Everywhere in the rest of the World Accordion is regarded as high as any other instrument, if not more because of it's perceived influence on the local ethnic culture. Music written for Accordion is very complex, spans all genres available and it's taught in many (at least) major concervatories.

 

 

4) People seem to enjoy instruments for different reasons.

It is very true, but it's not the subject for discussion, just like there is some healty diet, but many people seem to enjoy other kinds of food.

5) As hinted at above, often limitations will spark creativity

True again, lacking engine, a glyder pilot must make good use of air currents and good judgement, just like a pilot of a modern jet, only the latter has at his disposal alot more tools, allowing to fly further and higher, faster and even slower, and be more maneuvrable. All the while having a glyder in the very core of his craft.

 

5b) There seems to be an innate appreciation or even joy in seeing a person overcome an instrument's limitations. As stated above, even playing a simple tune on a jaw harp can delight and amaze people.

 

A listener doesn't usually know or care about such limitations. Just like a bad trick of playing PA with the kerchief over it's keys, it can only entertain musical rednecks.

And a Jew's Harp example was to illustrate how "unserious" an instrument may draw crowds for it's novelty use, not musical potential.

 

I think there's a valid reason for this. After all, aren't ALL musicians struggling against limitations, and in some deep way, aren't we emotionally affected by a musician's attempt to transcend his own limitations?

In a rare case where we really understand the limitations, we would be moved by hard work it takes a crew to navigate their wheeled steamer through stormy ocean at night.

But having a choice between it and propeller driven, turbine powered, computer navigated ship I doubt many would consider a steamer seriously. Liked - yes, but serious a ship? - no.

 

Wouldn't a completely unlimited instrument, one that could play as quickly as many notes as you like in any sound,

Let's not bring in some imaginary, phantstic Instrument, when we have plenty of real ones to talk about and compare to.

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For clarity reasons, let me try to paraphraze some of your arguments and see, if it makes counter-arguments more clear?

Well, that's why I specifically said I wasn't arguing. You can take anything and pick it apart. I was trying to express something I feel, and if it's not coming across, I'm sorry.

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