Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Excellent article on the anglo concertina, with references to minstrel playing

Some of you will be interested, as I was:




Our old friends, Howe and Winner, get a mention, and there are some good photos including banjo players, which I hadn't seen before.



PS I'm wondering what the sound balance would be between a concertina and a minstrel banjo? 

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I've been fooling around with an old French accordeon, with its single brass reeds it sounds more like a concertina than a later German melodeon. Its in the key of C and so the banjo would have to be tuned down another whole step to play along. Single notes are not very loud but the diatonic layout lends itself well to playing harmony notes. I played along with a small guitar and rhythm bones and thought the sound balance about right. I didn't really care for the sound when played with fiddle. Since its almost a fully chromatic instrument I could technically play in other keys but again with the diatonic layout and drones it really wants to play in C.  Dave Culgan

Well, I have some good news. Stuart Eydmann has been in touch, a well known concertina player and academic in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We hope to meet soon.

In the old days, when a concertina or one row button accordion was present in a band, the key they played in was C, as that is what those early free reed instruments were keyed to. Although modern concertina players will play in F G D and A on a three row CG Anglo concertina, they play in a completely different style than the early players, and of course the early guys only had two row concertinas with no sharps and flats for the other keys (except for key of C and G).

Some bands in remote areas still play that way today. In the Nariel Valley of Australia, a  band there that has existed in an unbroken link back to the late 19th century, they play most of their tunes in C....and their band has multiple concertinas and one row accordions. There is a link to them in an Australian photo essay I posted on my website, www.angloconcertina.org. By the way, the Nariel band still play a goodly number of old minstrel instrumental numbers for their dances....Stephen Foster songs; Old Black Joe; Old Dan Tucker; Buffalo Gals; and sentimental songs. The minstrel shows were a bit like the global hip-hop of the nineteenth century, in all the English speaking countries.

I am very pleased to find this posting. I stumbled across the concertina.com site several years ago, and I shared it with my Civil War string band, the Huckleberry Brothers. I had the incredible good fortune to be offered a two-row Anglo concertina for only $50 by another reenactor about eight years ago. Although I had never so much as touched one, my thrifty Scottish genes would not allow me to pass up such a bargain. It was something of a revelation to learn just how commonplace the humble anglo was in the 19th century in American music, even mixed in with the traditional ensemble on the minstrel stage. Its happy tone fits in most pleasantly. Since HuckBro Jack Whaley and I live in Chapel Hill, NC, we've played some recently with Mark Weems and Jim Pentecost. We'll try to post some numbers with the anglo concertina soon.

I'd love to hear some of that Bryant as I'm a big fan of free reeds and early banjo, coming at it from a slightly different direction with my Parisian accordeons. Dave PS what key do you play your concertina in?

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