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Should I Switch From English To Anglo?


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I took up the English concertina about two years ago. I've been working pretty hard at it and am now at a reasonable post-beginner standard and can play most tunes I set my mind to at a basic level. I did a bit of research and chose the English over the Anglo because I imagined I wanted to play a wide range of different types of music and I thought the English would be better for this. As it turns out I've become mainly interested in playing Irish music. I'm now regretting that I didn't go down the Anglo route. I'm finding that other players of roughly my standard on the Anglo are playing with a much more authentic Irish sound. I've no trouble with the concept of the ornamentation (I was brought up in Ireland and I have a reasonable feel for the ornamentation which comes naturally on the whistle which I play a little) but I find it very hard to play naturally on the English.

 

I’m now considering several options:

 

1. Persist with the English concertina and work at it until I’m successful with Irish music.

 

2. Sell at least one of my two nice Wheatstones and start over again with Anglo.

 

3. Keep up the English concertina but complement it by taking up another instrument for Irish Music. I’ve been thinking in terms of a B/C melodeon. (However to be honest I don’t find the sound as appealing as the concertina.)

 

Has anyone had a similar experience or would anyone like to add their thoughts or advice?

 

Lawrence

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...would anyone like to add their thoughts or advice?
Dangerous question, that. Yes, I would.
I'm finding that other players of roughly my standard on the Anglo are playing with a much more authentic Irish sound.

An "Irish" what sound? An Irish music sound, or an Irish concertina sound? The sound of the anglo concertina (as played by Irish traditional musicians) is not the only "authentic" sound of Irish music. If you want to sound like a Clare-style anglo player on your English, I can give you some hints on how to do it, but musically that's about like wanting your fiddle to sound like a mandolin. The English and the anglo, despite being similar in construction are very different instruments, and I think it's silly to believe the English should sound like an anglo. (That it can is another matter, which I'll return to.)

 

I play mainly English, though my anglo playing is gradually improving. My style -- including ornamentation -- when playing Irish music on the English owes more to fiddle and whistle styles than to anglo styles. Fiddles and whistles are not expected to have the "bouncy" feel of the anglo's bellows reversals, and the preferred Irish styles on those instruments tend to be smooth, with a minimum of tonguing or bow reversals. That is also a style to which the English is suited, so why not emulate it? If you want to, you can do frequent bellows reversals on the English, just as you can do frequent bow reversals on the fiddle or tonguing on the whistle, but that just imitates the anglo, not the Irish.

 

End of that sermon. :) What should you do?

Don't sell either of your Englishes, at least not yet.

 

First, you need to answer two questions: What do you want to sound like? (I won't ask you "why?", but you might ask yourself, and see if that prompts you to reconsider your answer.) And how do you learn?

 

Is it possible that the anglo players you've met sound more "authentic" to your ear not because of their instruments, but because of their training? These days there are lots of teachers, workshops, and even courses for learning to play Irish-style on the anglo, and those who get such instruction tend to meet and reinforce each other. What teachers or teaching materials have you had access to?

 

Wait! ;) Before you give up on the English and switch to the anglo so that you can get good instruction, let me suggest that there are other options. If it's a particular sound you want, then you can learn a great deal by simply trying to imitate that sound. I've known more than one player of the English who makes it really sound like an Irish anglo. When asked how they learned to do it, they say, "I just tried to imitate the sound of the Irish players." I.e., they learned from imitating recordings, and discovered through trial and error how to manipulate the bellows and buttons to get the same sound. But recordings aren't the only way to do that. I have learned a great deal from attending classes for both Irish fiddle and Irish (anglo) concertina, and experimenting with ways to imitate the sounds -- the flow -- of the teachers' playing. Playing along with "the original" is a great help, because -- just like learning the notes of a tune -- you can feel where you sound the same and where you don't.

 

If you want to learn a fiddle style on the English, it wouldn't hurt to get a tutor on Irish fiddle, then copy the suggestions for ornamentation, dynamics and flow in bellows movement (not jusst reverals, but also pressure variation). If you want to learn to sound like an Irish anglo, get an anglo tutorial, then ignore the fingering, but copy the notes and bellows reversals. It will probably be difficult at first, but you should be able to get used to it. Then you'll probably feel that you don't need to reverse the bellows quite that often, but you'll be able to choose where to do it and where not to bother, and you'll probably learn that you can simulate that feel by just putting space between the notes and/or giving the bellows a little extra punch. (If you want to force yourself to copy the anglo's bellows reversals, you might even consider removing those reeds from your English (don't lose them!) -- e.g., the push F -- which aren't matched by a corresponding pitch+direction on the anglo. You'd be surprised at how quickly you can learn to play only those "notes" that make a sound.)

 

All the above has ignored the possibility that the anglo, not the English, may indeed be the right instrument for you. (I won't go into the duets here. From what you've said, I doubt that you'd find them better than either the English or the anglo for what you want to do.) I think it could be worth your while to try an anglo for a while, to see, but I don't think you should have to sell one of your Wheatstone Englishes to do so. If it turned out that the anglo wasn't "right" for you, you'd be in a fine pickle. Instead, you should try to borrow or rent an anglo for a while. If you really take to it, then you might consider selling one of the others.

 

Borrowing or renting, you ask? Where do you live? Maybe one of the local anglo players has an "extra" instrument they'd be willing to let you work with for a while. (Several individuals have learned to play on instruments I loaned them, and my own addiction really took hold when somebody loaned me a Lachenal English for 6 months.) If not, you could contact The Button Box or Homewood Musical Instrument Co. (Bob Tedrow) regarding their rental policies.

 

And don't give up the whistle. :) (You do know about Chiff and Fipple, yes?)

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Jim,

 

Thank you for your very comprehensive and thought-provoking reply to my post. I really appreciate the time and trouble you've taken over answering my question.

 

To answer some of your questions, I live in Hampshire in England. I have easy access to Anglo teachers but not to English - I'm mostly self taught although I've attended quite a few courses and workshops.

 

What would I like to sound like? My ambitions are not too high. I'd just like to be able to sit down to play with some Irish musicians and not sound out of place. But I 'd also like to be able to do it without having to spend 10 times as much effort learning to get the right sound as an Anglo player would.

 

I think I'll try to follow your suggestion of borrowing or renting an Anglo if I can find a source in the UK.

 

Again, thanks for your help.

 

Lawrence

 

PS I won't give up the whistle - although I have to confess that my whistle playing has suffered badly since I started plaing the concertina!

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Hi Lawrence,

 

I second Jim's idea to borrow or rent an Anglo before you do anything drastic, such as selling one of your English concertinas. Too many people have regretted selling an instrument they loved.

 

I love the anglo, but I have never tried an English. I'd like to try one, but I won't ditch the anglo.

 

Hope you find the sound you want so you can play with your friends.

 

Keep us posted.

 

Helen

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Hi Friends,

This is a very interesting thread and JIM has, as usual, given you a good and very detailed answer . I would add this. When my father was teaching me to play ( in the 1930's), he insisted that I spend a lot of time practising a Regondi excercise playing scales WITH A CHANGE OF BELLOWS DIRECTION FOR EACH NOTE. I can assure you that this proved to be very useful during the years when good separation was needed and although this doesn't exactly replicate the action that Anglo players MUST perform most of the time, it will help to perform according to JIM'S parable. Another item that might be worth considering, is the opening of the reed "gap" slightly. I don't recomend this unless you really want the extra volume that an Anglo generally produces. Low level volumes would be dificult with this modification. Good Luck. JOHN NIXON.

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Hi, there is a lively debate going on right now at "thesession.org" with 60 replys so far about whether or not the English Concertina should be used for Irish Traditional Music. Just like this thread it is very interesting. I play ITM with an English tina and use a lot of bellows and variations on the push and pull to TRY and get the sound I want. I am learning fiddle and that has helped with the ornamentations on the tina. Plus I just ordered two diatonic harmonicas to carry around and play ITM and contra dance tunes. Don't ask where I find the time to do all this.

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Maybe I'm wrong but I get the impression that more people start with English and then take up Anglo than vice versa. Is this other folk's experience?

Keep in mind that you're querying a predominantly Irish music crowd here....

 

I started playing English first (despite having played button accordion for several years), and several years later moved on to (Hayden) duet.

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Maybe I'm wrong but I get the impression that more people start with English and then take up Anglo than vice versa. Is this other folk's experience?

 

I have only ever played Anglo (and love it :)

 

Cheers

Morgana :D

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Hi Lawrence,

 

Just a thought.........I never hear of anyone who plays Irish music on an anglo wanting to change to an English. ;)

 

Yes, I play Irish music on an anglo and used to play B/C box. If you want to keep your Englishes then look around for a small box with a strong but *nice* sound such as the Castagnari Dinn. Boxes come in a range of sounds and I don't mean number of reeds or tuning........so maybe you need to go and listen to a few before going further and switching concertinas. Then if you still don't like the sound then I am afraid the concertinas with accordion reeds will be out too. So be prepared to dig deep in your pockets for an anglo.

 

Just for the record...I started with an accordion reeded concertina and I couldn't tell much difference from the Castagnari Dinn we have here, although our Salterelle Nuage does indeed sound different.

 

So my choice would be to check out the boxes first and then if Irish music is the only way you want to go I would get an Anglo. You will never be happy travelling around Irish sessions......or even Ireland......unless you *fit* in with an anglo........regardless of how an English can sound played in an Irish style.

 

Ok ok ok don't everyone bite my head off........as I duck instinctively :P

 

Sharron

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>>I'm now regretting that I didn't go down the Anglo route. <<

 

Lawrence,

I think you should switch to anglo. You've already decided anglo would have been a better choice for you from the beginnning, so do it already and switch. If you want to sound like an Irish trad anglo player it's obviously best to play the same instrument. I'd do it ASAP. You can then take full advantage of various workshops for anglo, plus you'll be more welcome at any Irish trad sessions.

 

BTW, I play english concertina and like Irish Trad too. I have no strong interest in switching because I prefer the sound of an english concertina to an anglo. I've heard some great Irish Trad tunes played on english over the years at the NE Squeeze-in, and sometimes they even sounded a lot like an anglo, but Jim made a great point that the anglo & english are two different instruments. Trying to copy the sound of one with the other is possible, but is just going to add difficulty & frustration. Playing Irish trad on an english is a great idea if you let the instrument find it's own voice. I find that Irish trad articulations (ornaments) work great. If anything, the problem is that there are too many possibilities, and it's difficult to put limits on what to use. I found Frank Edgley's anglo tutor useful, and the new Grey Larsen tutor for Irish Flute & Tin Whistle is wonderful. I've been working on Simon Thoumire's one button rolls, which I love. Then there is all the obvious and not so obvious things that can be done better & easier on an english than any other concertina. Of course, then it's *not* going to sound anything like Irish trad on an anglo, but that good as it's a different instrument.

bruce boysen

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