Would people think of the banjo as a type of percussive instrument? that is the sense I get when I started getting into the clawhammer style, and I noticed when some people pick up the banjo that has never played some try to pick but when I show them clawhammer I see this automatic kind of tapping approach,?? if that makes sense. Also listening to these old recordings like Dink Roberts which is my only example at the moment, it almost sounds like a tapping rather than picking, or stroking.
Ah what was my point?...oh, that I'm sure there was always some form of executing the striking of the strings either plucking, strumming and or striking with the finger nail, whatever it took to pounding out a melody while singing on top of it. SO I am sure there has been a variety of methods for striking the strings way outside of the prescribed stroke style or guitar from these tutors. But back to the original topic, it's all a matter of sound and performance..the tutors just lend a more methodical approach, and each style creates a different way of getting the notes to ring. Matter of preference right?
Nicholas, just as man did not evolve from apes, I think clawhammer/frailing and stroke style were likely both evolving/coexisting simultaneously, perhaps regionally in pockets of higher or lower concentrations. Personally, I think it's almost certain that various clawhammer/rapping kinds of styles were earlier at least than any banjo 'guitar style' found in the banjo tutors. I mean come on, just listen to some of the more archaic drone-based styles of Dink, Holcomb, Ashley, the Hammons.... no Spanish Fandangos and Viennese waltzes there...lol! .....and Danl, good buddy, don't even think about going 'there'...=;-o
I also am pretty sure there was more purchasing and reading of instructional books in urban areas, areas where banjos were starting to be commercially produced to meet the growing popularity among middle and upper white classes. Undoubtedly, by-ear/traditional passing down of music was relied upon more heavily in rural/agricultural, remote, or mountainous areas, where it's likely fewer people were purchasing instructional and sheet music books in music stores. It just makes sense.
The first guy I saw play a banjo had a great way of smacking the skin on the offbeats. I learned to do that, and when I can, I do it with stroke style. And about twice a gig, I stand my banjo upside down on the peghead and play it like a drum, .. sounds great on some of those Civil War ballads. Why not? It's a dang drum, aint't it? Historical? I don't know.
It's all good, right? (or mostly good...lol)
It's also good to be able to express differing views here without it necessarily being felt as an attack or a putting-down of other people's approaches to music... I think this is important and can require some conscious effort, since it's human nature by default to feel we must defend our stance, our 'territory' if you will.
Speaking of territory...People have been thumping/smacking their stringed (and non-stringed) instruments as percussion for generations, maybe centuries, and when folk don't have instruments at hand they make percussion on/with their own body parts. Maybe it's a primal thing. We're all of us not that far from gorillas thumping their chests, or birds drumming.
When words are stuck in time, as they are on a screen, it certainly loses the momentum of a live discussion. Things come out looking wrong. I know many people do not partake just for that very reason. Discussions are exchanges of ideas, and they flow better in real time. But, given this is what we have, I would rather "go for it" and fail at it than not try. If there were no passion in what we discuss, we would all be like mindless kids reading a book report in front of the class about something we care nothing about.
Is it important that other banjo styles developed before and apart from the Minstrel stroke style? And Why?
Heck yeah it's important! :) Why? Because we'd (or at least I'd) be interested in knowing how any prior banjo styles and traditions might have influenced or even been absorbed as part of the developing minstrel styles and traditions- such as up-picking vs. rapping/downpicking, tunings, African banjo-antecedent rhythms, origins of the oldest banjo-specific songs, earliest folk forms of banjo construction... maybe it's just me, but I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't be really interested in such things. Any banjo playing that may have existed before 1820 could easily have influenced the formation of what we call minstrel/stroke style banjo. There is at least some indication that African players' banjo styles and music were being noted and emulated or incorporated in some way by interested white banjo players before and/or during the minstrel era. Juba, Pompeii Ran Away (Negro Jig collected in 1780's), Frank Converse's recollection of his "Early Black Banjo Piece".
Musical styles and traditions seldom remain pristinely separate and apart for very long without eventually colliding and influencing each other...it's the nature of music- musicians seek to hear what's new or different, see, sing, dance, out-do each other, pick up new tricks! :)
Thanks Dan'l. :) It does have a slightly more 'selective' meaning though, once you chop up, delete, and then re-piece so many parts of my sentences. Probably better to not do such excessive editing...just saying, my friend.
I do see your point about the dearth of hard 'evidence' (meaning written, notated or published) of there having been many pre-minstrel banjo styles- the lack of formal written or published transcripts and descriptions makes everything pretty difficult.
Ditto Amen sister!!! on this one
"I think the tutor instructional books are a great guide...what a treasure to have!...But the 'complete' picture...more likely...after we have...closed our books and brought the music to life...intimate and exhuberant...The tutors are not so much the end destination as they are... a wonderful signpost...we ourselves can add the living stuff of laughter...romance...thrills... the music of rough young America ... That's how the music likely 'really' sounded then...and now. :) "
I too would welcome evidence of other pre-Minstrel folk banjo styles besides what we've evidence for, but it's not as if we don't know what the primary pre-Minstrel folk source was.
Danl, this interests me. Not being facetious here at all, I may well be clueless - so what IS 'the primary pre-minstrel folk source' ?
Dan'l, I'll go one more round with you on Gottschalk. You may not be aware that I my research on this is published (Current Musicology, back in '92), so I am not just riffing off the top of my head. The strongest proof I have/had for Gottschalk's source not being the minstrels is that, while minstrel stroke style is demonstrated in "The Banjo," most of the piece consists of textures NOT demonstrated in ANY of the minstrel tutors/tune books, yet these textures are everywhere in early 20th century plucked-lute performance practice, both on the banjo and African-American guitar styles. It is also obvious that the first part of the piece is mostly West African in architecture (repeating "kumbengo" with "birimintingo" variation, to use the Mande terms--there are no European terms that describe this sort of texture, really), but its four-measure phrases demonstrate how it was possible for minstrel performers to adapt this architecture to the interpretation of European-style dance tunes that were the main source of minstrel tunes.
Now, "The Banjo" was written in 1854, which means it is contemporary with the earliest published minstrel banjo tutors. Gottschalk's own story on this stuff was that he got it from hearing African-Americans in New Orleans growing up there as a kid, but the 1850s date indicates that he could have had access to minstrel shows in his professional career at least. At that point. However, this is not the earliest example of his writing in this style/architecture.
In fact, his first exploration of this music is "Bamboula," composed in 1844 while he was in France, based on his memories of this music growing up. Many of the distinctive textures of "The Banjo" are first heard in this piece he wrote as a teenager. He left New Orleans at age thirteen (1842) and at that point had definitely not been exposed to the early minstrel shows.
So, there you have it. A pre-minstrel folk musical source for banjo music played by African-Americans. Dated, written. Of course, there is all the Dena Epstein material, etc., etc.
You make a fairly compelling argument. However, by 1854 minstrel music had permeated the international (it was on 5 continents by then) as well as national consciousness. Even if Gottschalk had not attended minstrel shows he would certainly have been aware of many of the tunes permeating popular culture, unless he was a complete hermit. I don't think we can take the writings of a classical/romantic/current pianist and composer of the day and directly interpolate what was being played on the banjo at the time. I certainly acknowledge that there were likely more styles than are represented by the tutors, but I would like to see more evidence than two pieces of music written by a nonbanjoist. It certainly leaves room for conjecture.
I remember the movie we watched at AEBG, The Librarian and the Banjo...how the jist of why Dena was doing decades of passionate research was to prove that the African-American and slave population did indeed have their own rich musical traditions, styles and repertoire, that they were not simply picking up or imitating what white people were creating, playing, or showing them to play, as has been implied over and over in written (white) historic accounts. She did find that evidence, though it included the various elements of folk music, not just banjo citings. Considering that the banjo itself was created from slave prototypes based on their African homeland gourd/skin/stringed lute instruments and music traditions, how can we possibly doubt that slaves and African Americans had their own styles of banjo playing in the 1700s-1820 and beyond? Regional musical differences, both in mother Africa and then continued here in America, would have assured that these styles were not all the same.
Paul Ely Smith said:
Of course, there is all the Dena Epstein material, etc.
Well, the other part of the argument there is that the textures are so easily transferred to the banjo, and sound just like drop-thumbin' clawhammer when you do a lot of it, too. That's the ultimate proof. It's easy to dismiss Gottschalk, but he really did grow up there (and "before 1842" was the date I'm really pitching), had plenty of access to the genuine article 'way before the minstrels picked it up, the music sure works on the banjo (but has stuff that survives and isn't in the tutors)--you have to consider that this musician was the most highly-trained individual who transcribed banjo music in the 19th century. And sure, yeah, he played a big instrument on a big stage and used the octaves to great effect--no doubt the guy was a great entertainer. There have been plenty of talented white performers able to make it big performing African-American music and have learned to do it well. I think he was a good enough musician and pianist to both transcribe and adapt the music to the keyboard, but take the octaves away, and you can play it too. Consider that the African-American pianists did this exact same thing when they adapted their music. I'm pretty sure this is it, though, for evidence of this sort. I looked at everything else. The main thing it does for our understanding of the banjo in the 19th century, in my opinion, is nail down the existence of a West-African kumbengo/fodet/groove/ostinato tradition in American banjo music pre-existing, co-existing, and ultimately surviving the melody-oriented minstrel style, a style I believe was also present in the original African-American tradition(s). Its importance is that it represents such a rare document and the second piece (The Banjo) plays almost like a Rosetta stone to me. All of this underscores my original point that, when considering the range of possible banjo music to play, many expressions of this great tradition are possible, and a good way to get there is to study at least one particular one very hard for awhile. What is wonderful about Tim's (and a few others') work is that it makes a whole other authentic tradition available to us.