Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I'd love to know what everyone is working on right now, music-wise...

What tunes, what instruments, are you practicing this week?  Pictures welcome too!  :D

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What is a Cretan Lyra?

Tim, it's a kind of bowl-backed folk fiddle from Crete, similar to the Bulgarian gadulka.  I posted a photo of mine earlier here. I am playing it upright like a tiny cello.  Mine has a violin type fingerboard, slightly shorter scale.

Thanks. Looks pretty neat.

I have been exploring classic style banjo over the last several months, which is why I've been pretty quiet here.  It's a slightly silly exercise for an instrument with so little sustain, and while contemporary it would not have been part of the banjo repertoire at the time, but for the last week or so I've been working on an arrangement of Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1 for two banjos.  

That's sounds really fun Andy, I hope you'll post it here when you have it ready.

Andy i love that Satie piece- looking forward to hearing it on two banjos.

On minstrel banjo (which I'm still a beginner at), I've been working on memorizing "Old Dan Tucker" and "Jim Along Josie".  Being an early childhood teacher, I love these connections to what became "children's music" in the middle of the last century.  Also I always enjoy "Oh, Susannah" and "Old Joe".  And forcing myself to try stoke style.  On mandolin, a couple of Italian solos published in France, "Souvenir de Rome", "Bal du Carneval", and "Serenade des Cigales".  I can't remember the composer.  Very expressive, and couldn't be farther from minstrel banjo and still be plucked.

Also looking forward to Satie for 2 banjos.  I've playeda version for mandolin and guitar with a friend.

Best to all, and keep playing!

Working on Ginger Blue from Mark Weems's book (The Music of Old Joe Sweeny").

Oh Holy Night.  We've uncovered that it was published in the U.S. in 1858.  We have a gig this weekend playing Christmas music in a historic home.  I've taken the arpeggios from the piano score and banjofied them.

John, I'm engaged in a similar endeavor.  I highly recommend looking at "The One Horse Open Sleigh", 1857:


You'll be surprised at the chorus.  Also "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" is American, 1849.  I do it with singers, but with guitar.  Poignant, considering what's happened since then.


Thanks.  Actually One Horse Open Sleigh is in our book, and Elaine and I cut a video of it a couple of years ago.  I agree, I love the chorus.  We now have a set of mid 19th century Christmas music that is a couple of hours long.  Most of them are religious which suits us fine. We have searched countless hymnals and publications.  They tended to save "Christmas" music for Christmas eve and Christmas day, so many of the songs are actually advent songs.  One of the focuses of our research has been Christmas music published in America, which is considerably different than Christmas music published in England. There are quite a few songs that we do that most people today would not recognize.

I played Christmas instrumentals at a Historical Village a few years ago.  Here is a list I took along with dates that I found to coincide with the song.  I didn't do in-depth research so they might not all be totally accurate.  Basically, I was just trying to play music that was around in the 19th C.  I don't know if the list would be of any assistance to you but the chords which are included are ones I found to work best on Minstrel banjo, Brigg's tuning.

Angels We Have Heard On High   (1862, G)

I Saw Three Ships/Christmas Day in the Morning  (17th century, publ. 1833, D or G) 

Away in the Manger (1885, G)

Come All Ye Faithful/Adeste Fideles  (1841, G)

Deck the Halls  (18th century, D)

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen  (1853, Em)

Good King Wenceslas  (1853, G)

Greensleeves/What Child is This?  (1865, Em)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing  (1739, G)

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear  (1850, G)

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring  (Bach 1685-1750, D)

Jingle Bells  (1857, G)

Joy to the World  (1719, G)

I Have a Little Dreidle  (D, G)

Ode to Joy  (Predates Beethoven's setting in 1824, G)

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem  (1865, G)

Oh, Tannenbaum  (melody 1750, Leipzig 1824, G)

Silent Night  (1818, D)

Wassail Song  (1850, D)

We Three Kings of Orient Came  (1857, in print 1863, Em)

First Noel  (18th century, published 1823, D)

We Wish You a Merry Christmas  (16th century, G)


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