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david_boveri

why the standards are low in concertinas

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another way to say it was that m3838 and i were saying that there is no one who plays the concertina of any sort who is as technically proficient, masterful, and expressive as the top players on the violin. this is not derogatory on concertina players--i do not know of any irish fiddle players who play on 3 million dollar violins, nor should they. even the most virtuosic irish players have much less developed technique than the most virtuosic classical players. but yet i emphasize again that this is not necessarily an important distinction so far as meaningfulness and musicality is concerned. give me james kelly over itzhak perlman any day.

 

Actually, one could argue the exact opposite:

There are no top players of the classical violin who are as technically proficient, masterful and expressive when it comes to playing Irish traditional music. :rolleyes:

 

Maybe you are not aware of the many discussions/complaints about classically trained violinists trying their hands at Irish traditional music and failing miserably - and many of them not even noticing anything wrong with their own playing. I have noticed that when I hear classical violinists play some Baroque violin music, I get really frustrated at how heavy and crude it sounds, always these long heavy bow strokes, each note as heavy as the one before it... I want to yell at them: Come on, guys, give it some swing, some lighter bowing, some lift!

 

If I were to look at my reaction from your perspective, I would indeed come to the conclusion that there is no classical violinist playing with the same technical proficiency, virtuosity and expression as many Irish fiddlers. But no: These are two different musical genres or idioms, each with its own vocabulary, difficulties and techniques. I just happen to prefer one over the other.

 

And, since Joshua Bell was mentioned: In a documentary on this brilliant violinist, he talked about venturing into other genres and how humbling his experience was when he first tried his hand (and bow) at bluegrass. He anticipated it to be easy, after all, the melodies are much less demanding than a Bach violin concerto, right? But he found out that there were other techniques and other aspects he had to learn before he could play with them without looking an utter fool. Many things that make up traditional styles would be considered as flaws by a classical violinist, but that doesn't make them easier to learn and master. It's just a different style requiring different techniques.

 

 

this is not derogatory on concertina players--i do not know of any irish fiddle players who play on 3 million dollar violins, nor should they.

 

I am also a bit puzzled by your apparent equation of "3 million dollar violin" with technical proficiency, expressiveness etc. And why shouldn't Irish fiddle players play expensive instruments? Don't they deserve it? Because they're inferior to classical violinists?

The only likely reason is that the owners of Stradivaris are well aware of the fact that traditional musicians spend a lot of time playing in pubs with a fair risk of spilled beverages... way too risky to loan their instrument to Tommy Peoples and his ilk! :P

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Ive heard at least two concertina players with very expensive concertinas who could hardly play them, and I know several much better players who are still playing hybrids because they suit them just fine. I notice the same thing on many instruments, the people with the most expensive, best instruments are rarely the best players. Perhaps a 3 million dollar strad is a different story.

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there is not a pool of musicians on the concertina who have developed to the point where they can have the sort of discussion that these musicians are having. and again... folk musicians dont have these sort of discussions

Oh yes they do. It's just about different things. They talk about the subtle grit, drive, fire, shuffle, and confidence in a certain fiddler's sound, among many other things. Things many expert classical musicians can't even hear, just as many expert traditional musicians can't hear the minutiae in a classical violinist's performance.

Boney, I think you imagined the situations you described instead of living them. The image I got from your post is that there are highly educated well paid aristocratic classical musicians, discussing highly complicated matters in eloquent terms, sporting mild manners, while all around them in dark scattered villages grey unwashed folk musicians, chewing crusts of bread dunk in homemade beer, shivering from cold in their rags, argue which fiddle squeaks louder.

May be I'm wrong, but most folk musicians of today are university professors or computer programmers, all had at least a few years of classical music tuition in the past.

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Actually, one could argue the exact opposite:

There are no top players of the classical violin who are as technically proficient, masterful and expressive when it comes to playing Irish traditional music. :rolleyes:

 

Maybe you are not aware of the many discussions/complaints about classically trained violinists trying their hands at Irish traditional music and failing miserably - and many of them not even noticing anything wrong with their own playing. I have noticed that when I hear classical violinists play some Baroque violin music, I get really frustrated at how heavy and crude it sounds, always these long heavy bow strokes, each note as heavy as the one before it... I want to yell at them: Come on, guys, give it some swing, some lighter bowing, some lift!

 

If I were to look at my reaction from your perspective, I would indeed come to the conclusion that there is no classical violinist playing with the same technical proficiency, virtuosity and expression as many Irish fiddlers. But no: These are two different musical genres or idioms, each with its own vocabulary, difficulties and techniques. I just happen to prefer one over the other.

 

And, since Joshua Bell was mentioned: In a documentary on this brilliant violinist, he talked about venturing into other genres and how humbling his experience was when he first tried his hand (and bow) at bluegrass. He anticipated it to be easy, after all, the melodies are much less demanding than a Bach violin concerto, right? But he found out that there were other techniques and other aspects he had to learn before he could play with them without looking an utter fool. Many things that make up traditional styles would be considered as flaws by a classical violinist, but that doesn't make them easier to learn and master. It's just a different style requiring different techniques.

 

i agree with you here. i think that learning to play at a professional level in any genre can be equally difficult (though part of me thinks playing well in irish music is more difficult cuz you have both too much freedom and too many restrictions).

sir james galway cannot play like matt malloy, and vice versa. sir galway will admit readily that he does not know how to play irish music (though he has currently expressed interest in learning how to play irish music, but his schedule is so far too busy), because they are so different.

 

the reason a classical musician usually has trouble with irish and vice versa is because they are different idioms--they are like different languages. they have a different set of strictures guiding how to express ideas. classical music in its traditional forms has entire groups of people put together to convey a complex series of musical ideas. traditionally an irish musician had to move someone entirely by themselves, without the freedom of mixed length compositions, widely varying dynamics, and definitely without the aid of accompaniment or polyphony. in irish music, the musician is the both the performer and the composer. in classical music, the composer and the musician are two separate people. this is part of why it can be equally difficult to play irish music as to play a complex concerto--the irish musician has to take the role of an entire orchestra, the conductor, and the composer, whereas even a soloist in front of an orchestra can reside peacefully in the dictated directions of the composer, and the guidance of the conductor. personally i believe the piece of mind of the soloist is thus eradicated by the utter complexity of the music--leveling the playing field.

 

technique and musicality are not equivalent. all the technique in the world can not convey a message or move an audience, or cause someone to smile or want to dance. this is why many of the older musicians who play scratchily or out of tune are so vivid and vibrant--sometimes they get music more than the rest of us, and they just play.

 

but that does not change they have bad technique. i will be the first one to say "who cares!" noticing a fact does not mean that the fact is meaningful. so, i disagree that having good lift and having good rhythm and playing good music is good technique. good irish musicians do not always have good technique, nor do good rock musicians always have good technique. so... the reason joshua bell could not play blue grass when he first tried was not necessarily because he had bad blue grass technique, but because he didnt get blue grass. he didnt speak the language. to make a parallel example... i can speak great english and have bad diction (i.e. technique), and still be unable to speak chinese. likewise,i can have great diction in speaking english, but be unable to speak chinese. this is not because i have bad diction in chinese (bad "irish technique"), but because i dont speak the language. what you are telling me is that my perspective is flawed, but i think that if you look at it through this analogy, i am not saying good diction means you can speake any language. using this analogy, i'm going to repeat what i've been saying: good diction does not mean you can speak another language. going back to the original idea: good technique does not preclude the ability to play music you do not understand.

 

i know a jazz musician who when i met him had his accordion a week. he said, "oh, i dont really know how to play it." then he proceeded to play irish music at me as if he had been playing his whole life. the thing was... he had not been playing it his whole life. but he had been listening to it his whole life. so when he decided to play it, he could play it very easily, because of two things: 1.) being a jazz musician gave him the ability to play things that he could hear in his head 2.) he had about 20 years experience of getting irish music put into his head. classical musicians are often missing those two things: they often cannot play so expertly by ear (especially in comparison to jazz musicians), and even though they may have listened to irish music, they probably have not absorbed its intricacies which can only come from years and years of listening very attentively. usually, if someone is not very heavily irish or into the music, they listen to the highly commercialized stuff, which is usually very devoid of any sort of "neagh" or lift and rhythm.

 

this is not derogatory on concertina players--i do not know of any irish fiddle players who play on 3 million dollar violins, nor should they.

 

I am also a bit puzzled by your apparent equation of "3 million dollar violin" with technical proficiency, expressiveness etc. And why shouldn't Irish fiddle players play expensive instruments? Don't they deserve it? Because they're inferior to classical violinists?

 

i say this all as a non-fiddle player. so, i might be 100% wrong.

 

in addition to the playing characteristics of the stradivarius, there is that trademark sound. part of me cant imagine someone like brian rooney playing on a stradivarius. what would it sound like? it's like i cant imagine matt molloy playing a silver flute. the sound of the silver flute is so different than that of the wooden flute. sure, you can make a silver flute sound like a wooden flute with the right headjoint, but it is a lot of work, and it's really not worth it. i only do it because it's what i grew up with. so, i will say what i said about violin players: matt malloy probably shouldnt play the silver flute in irish music. likewise, i am guessing it would take a lot of work for someone like brian rooney to get that hair-raisingly perfect scrunchy sound out of a stradivarius. he could do it, but it probably wouldnt be worth his time. likewise, there are so many things you can do on a silver flute that you should not do in irish music, and therefore you do not need the extra responsiveness or capabilities (as peter said: practice restraint). stradivarius violins are considered freakishly responsive, which allow you to do crazy, technically difficult things so much easier. i am not so sure that most irish fiddlers (even the good ones) need that sort of freakish responsiveness. they probably wouldnt even utilize the new capabilities, just as most irish flute players dont use all the extra capabilities on a silver flute if they do happen to play it.

 

certainly i do not say that about irish fiddlers because they are inferior. an average person does not need a two seater ferarri. it would actually be a hindrance to have that extra power, and that loss of space. give me a bmw any day over a ferrari, :P.

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What in the name of Satan's screaming hords was that? :ph34r: Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the major and minor saints...I thought I would loose my mind getting through that! Me freakin' heart is racing and not in a good way!

But you wouldn't argue that he plays chromatically? Whether you like it or not is not the issue.

OK, how about these? All done on diatonic instruments with chromatic rows, in home keys, but...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe4Rb9WECD8...feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_qxSVKEIO4...feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPr_1XMgv-8...feature=related

 

Added this one:

Notice the intonation and dynamics, notice the character and rhythm - simple folk tune, nothing high brow. Yet, a virtuoso!

Edited by m3838

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there is not a pool of musicians on the concertina who have developed to the point where they can have the sort of discussion that these musicians are having. and again... folk musicians dont have these sort of discussions

Oh yes they do. It's just about different things. They talk about the subtle grit, drive, fire, shuffle, and confidence in a certain fiddler's sound, among many other things. Things many expert classical musicians can't even hear, just as many expert traditional musicians can't hear the minutiae in a classical violinist's performance.

 

i'm not sure if my example is a good example. i was looking for a different perlman master class, where a student did this crazy bowing technique that even had itzhak perlman a little flabbergasted.

 

as i say in my immediately preceding post, i think what you are talking about is musicality, not technique--nothing you mention is a matter of technique, but of musical expression. i make a huge distinction between the two. folk musicians always talk about musicality, i will agree with you there.

 

i still contend that i dont think anyone has over-analyzed the technique of playing the concertina to the same extent as they have for other instruments. where are the treatises on concertina playing? you could spend the rest of your life researching all sorts of different treatises on flute playing written over the last 600 years. there is simply not the same sort of literature on concertina playing.

 

it's not about right or wrong, here. all i am referring to is the complexity of the discussion. the way that charles nicholson describes flute embouchure in the 1800's is totally different than the way that rockstro did a few decades later--rockstro's approach is very much in line with the modern school of classical flute (aka the french school). the strange thing, is, though, that nicholson was considered so good that the boehm flute was made to compete with him, yet his approach to the flute was completely abandoned to the point it is now just a historical oddity.

 

the point is that people do not have to agree. i believe that you should have your bellows off the knee, others think you should put them on*. that is fine! the point is that that no one has overanalzyed the reasons ad nauseum for these separate opinions. that is all i am saying. the lack of treatises on the concertina i believe affirms this opinion. at most, there are tutorials for the concertina, which is not at all the same thing. i have never read a tutorial which gives any sort of bellows exercises, or air button exercises, or extensive descriptions going on for several pages about tone control. tutorials just give a run down of fingerings and example tunes. if you can find me a book about the concertina that does do that, i'd love to read it.

 

 

*i fully admit, as i have before, that putting your bellows on your knee can make it easier to get a good tone. just as i think the best way to play the anglo is to pull straight out and in, i will admit that fanning makes it much easier to make a good tone. this is because i think that fanning makes both instant stability and instant strong backpressure. the reason i dont like it is that you cannot fully extend. so, even though i have firm opinions, it may actually be better for people to play on their knees and fan, as it may be easier to get good tone this way.

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give me james kelly over itzhak perlman any day.

 

Don't discard Perlman so easily:

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What in the name of Satan's screaming hords was that? :ph34r: Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the major and minor saints...I thought I would loose my mind getting through that! Me freakin' heart is racing and not in a good way!

But you wouldn't argue that he plays chromatically? Whether you like it or not is not the issue.

 

i think it is the issue. any one of us here on these forums who play the anglo could play a chromatic scale as good as that guy did. but none of us can play something like this:

.

 

if anyone wants a less tasteful example, enjoy:

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Boney, I think you imagined the situations you described instead of living them.[...]most folk musicians of today are university professors or computer programmers, all had at least a few years of classical music tuition in the past.

I'm talking about folks like this, among others, all of whom I've played with, talked with, and danced to. They do not fit your description at all.

 

Foghorn Stringband

sammycaleb.jpg

 

The Macrae Sisters

l_bf86cf60ffe446bf820d762988445e55.jpg

 

The Tallboys

l_e7e6acd74d82ed9ebaf251f2529449f0.jpg

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technique and musicality are not equivalent. all the technique in the world can not convey a message or move an audience, or cause someone to smile or want to dance. this is why many of the older musicians who play scratchily or out of tune are so vivid and vibrant--sometimes they get music more than the rest of us, and they just play.

Technique is not the same as musicality, but musicality is only expressed through technique. Those old musicians don't "just play", they use technique to create vividness and vibrancy. Musicality isn't some magic powder you just sprinkle on a performance and suddenly it's good. It's achieved by specific actions by the musician in how they play. The choice and execution of those actions instead of others is the definition of technique.

 

but that does not change they have bad technique.

But it does change it. Techniques are a means to an end (and there are many techniques, not a singular technique). The techniques you are interested in, in-tuneness, non-scratchy intonation, are simply irrelevant in the context, or possibly even detrimental. The musicians are not producing vivid and vibrant music in spite of "bad technique", they are producing it by using precisely the correct techniques to achieve the kind of music they want.

 

It is only "bad" technique if you believe that there is some kind of universal standard for technique that applies outside of the goals of the musician and the reactions of the audience. For the most part, that kind of cultural absolutism has been waning for the last 100 years or so.

 

There are not a lot of treatises on the playing of the concertina. Hardly surprising. There are thousands of musical instruments in the world. There are probably only 30 or so that have a significant body of treatise writing about them. Rather than asking why not the concertina, one might ask what quirk in western European culture subjected those 30 instruments and their music to the objectification inherent in defining their "technique".

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But you wouldn't argue that he plays chromatically? Whether you like it or not is not the issue.

 

Whether I like it is the issue....to me. I'm very used to this virtuosi thing you've got going, framing the topic to your standards, showing folks the road to salvation from their low tastes. There is something magnificent watching you jump upon the slathering, lumbering beast, slashing away with your saber, as the enraged creature howls, but that video....it was an assult and dumbassed ole me weathered the storm striving to see your point, because in the past there was some point grounded in musicallity wether or not I agreed. Damn near soiled my new linen trousers.

 

I had a fat old Persian cat that loved to mince across the piano keyboard each morining on her way to her morning bowl of chow. It was chromatic, gentle on the ears and charming. This other cat was just a chromatic fire bomb hurled in my direction. :blink:

Edited by Mark Evans

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Classical technique may not be appropriate for folk music. One of the difficulties violinists have when playing fiddle is learning an entirely new bowing style. Do you remember Yehudi Menuhin (who surely deserved the title "virtuoso") attempting to play jazz violin? He sounded OK until Stephan Grapelli started playing and just blew him away. It wasn't just that Grapelli had a much deeper understanding of the genre, his technique was different and more appropriate to the music - Menuhin was still playing like a classical violinist.

 

Violin and fiddle are the same instrument played in different ways. A few players can do both well, but most stick to one or the other. The concertina isn't an isntrument of classical music - whilst I might attempt the occasional classical piece for fun, if I wanted to play it seriously I would choose a different instrument.

 

The requirement for classical musicians to play in many keys has been paralleled by the evolution of orchestral instruments to be able to play in those keys. The anglo hasn't evolved in that way.

 

I don't disagree with the premise that there aren't enough virtuoso players, and perhaps not enough true study of the instrument. But I think that virtuosity has to be judged against the standards of the genre, whether that's Irish or other traditions, rather than those of classical music.

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K Anders Ericsson did an interesting study on pupils at Berlin's Academy of Music, (a pretty classy music college.)

They found that without exception, at college level, the future music teachers had clocked up about 4000 hours playing, the future "rank and file" orchestral players about 6000 hours and the future soloists about 10,000 hours.

Strangely they found no "geniuses" who had reached a given level without putting in the required hours, and no "plodders" who had put in the hours without reaching the expected level.

 

Do a fair tot-up of the number of hours you play per week, (perhaps disregarding the difference between "playing" and focussed "practice") and average over the time you've been playing. How many concertina hours do you have?

 

On a different tack here's a quotation from English "doyen" of push-pull instruments John Kirkpatrick,

(to be fair, this was written way back in 1973,)

 

"The prospect of playing in different keys on what is basically a 2-key instrument is a fairly daunting one and something that you will have to cope with yourself. As your playing improves and your aspirations rise you may be tempted to have a go at tunes in other keys, and I would be the last to discourage you. However, reticent though I am about expressing too many of my own preferences with regard to style, I think that you should not lose sight of the fact that the Anglo is a lovely medium for providing full, happy music, and is a complete band in itself."

 

Cheers all, a fascinating discussion

Tom

 

Edited because the quote from John Kirkpatrick was too long. The rest is in Anglo part 3 in Writings on wwww.johnkirkpatrick.co.uk

Edited by TomB-R

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Guest Peter Laban
Do you remember Yehudi Menuhin (who surely deserved the title "virtuoso") attempting to play jazz violin? He sounded OK until Stephan Grapelli started playing and just blew him away. It wasn't just that Grapelli had a much deeper understanding of the genre, his technique was different and more appropriate to the music - Menuhin was still playing like a classical violinist.

 

About the same thing happened when Menuhin was teamed up with Frankie Gavin, except that he sounded wrong playing a hornpipe from the outset. Ditto Nigel Kennedy but he seems more aware of his shortcomings and sensitive to the different demands of the various genres.

 

 

A lot of apples and oranges going on this thread.

 

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Edited by Peter Laban

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I think some people may find living with their musical shortcomings a whole lot easier when they define "skill" by using examples of classical virtuosi whose technical and expressive skills are unapproachable rather than by using examples of folk musicians whose same skills seem more accessible but are elusive and, blast it all, just shouldn't be! :lol:

Edited by Laitch

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Do you remember Yehudi Menuhin (who surely deserved the title "virtuoso") attempting to play jazz violin?

He sounded OK until Stephan Grapelli started playing and just blew him away.

It wasn't just that Grapelli had a much deeper understanding of the genre, his technique was different and more appropriate to the music - Menuhin was still playing like a classical violinist.

 

Yes, I remember that well, especially the part when Stephan took to the Piano, to accompany Yehudi!

 

However, I'm sure the same thing would happen to many of us { died in the wool Irish, Scottish or English Trad enthusiasts } were we to try & play a piece of classical music ..... 9 out of 10 times it'd probably come out sounding like a bit of Diddly Dee! :ph34r:

 

One of the reasons I don't play classical music, is because there is so much competitiveness & elitist bu££sh!t amongst those who do play it. :ph34r:

 

Comhaltas have sadly been doing their best, it seems to me, over the past 60 years to raise that element within ITM! :angry:

 

Please don't try to bring too much of that into Trad & Concertina playing! :unsure:

 

Surely one of the joys of the trad scene is that musicians of any standard or ability are welcome at most sessions.

 

There'll always be those who reach for the stars & good luck to them, more power to their elbows, but let's not loose sight of one of the major factors which, I suspect, enticed many of us into the Trad scene in the first place.

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i think it is the issue. any one of us here on these forums who play the anglo could play a chromatic scale as good as that guy did. but none of us can play something like this:
.

 

if anyone wants a less tasteful example, enjoy:

 

I see your "Rafael Mendez" and raise you one "Arthur Rubinstein", who answered in an interview many years ago (therefore my quote is rather free): "Scales? Why would I practice scales? What a waste of time! If a piece has a scale in it, I practice the right scale right within that piece." <_<

 

Actually, Mendez' Bumblebee made me cringe, just like the fiddle player I mentioned previously (what on earth was Rimsky-Korsakow thinking when he wrote that ditty?). Why would anybody want to be able to play like that? He ain't dazzling me with that! And, sorry, but "tasteful" was not exactly the term that came to my mind...

 

Can you give examples of the "bad technique" of (Irish) concertina players? Are you referring to the clean, crisp cuts? Or maybe the perfectly executed crans? The dancing triplets? Or the smooth, unnoticeable changes of bellows direction? These are all part of the technique relevant for playing the concertina in a virtuoso (ie. accomplished, not dazzling) way. Actually, IMHO there is a good number of concertina players out there with excellent technique who could use a bit more musicality. Technique is far easier to learn than musicality.

 

Each instrument and each musical genre has its own specific technique. Sure, you can practice your scales in A flat minor on the concertina or let the Bumblebee fly to your hearts content, and I'm sure in some way your playing Irish music on the concertina will benefit. But think of all the time spent practicing exotic scales when you could concentrate on more relevant things. I'd rather go with Arthur Rubinstein's approach. :)

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I don't know if it's been mentioned yet, but one difference between concertinas and most other instruments is, that there is a clear and widely known notion, for most instruments, of just what you would do with your msuical skill once you have mastered that instrument.

 

If I play trombone (which I do), I know I can play jazz, Dixie, classical, Renaisssance, etc., and help out in church playing along with the choir.

 

If I play piano, I know lots of uses for it.

 

You can fill in the blanks for flute, clarinet, violin/fiddle, sax, whatever.

Even an accordian player has polkas and ethnic weddings, and a Bandoneonist can find a tango party.

 

But concertina? If you spent a significant fraction of your life eneregy mastering a squeezebox, what would you do? What music would you play? WHere, and to whom? WIth whom?

 

Sure -- we on this Forum know lots of good answers to the above -- but the general public, including music lovers, probably doesn't.

 

If a clasical conservatory were to open a concertina study major, or a practical school like Berklee did the same -- what sort of future employment could the faculty promise their prospective students?

 

So, we play our boxes mostly for fun and companionship. Fine. But it doesn't inspire everyone to struggle upwards to virtuosity.

And I suspect a lot of us like it that way. --Mike K.

Edited by ragtimer

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