Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

 I just wondering what yall do.  I belong to the Cane Island Vols. who fought in the Texas Ind. 1836.

Most of the guys are really  into black powder guns, etc.  I dont even have a blackpowder weapon. When I joined them , they said all they wanted me to do is play around camp for atmosphere. Which suits me fine.

Mostly harp & spoons. {Now real banjo, when I learn}  When you go to events to you go as a soldier or civilian?  Im not really interested in getting into the marching etc.  Just want to hang and play music.

 What do you do?

 Steve

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Great thread/questions Steve:

For what it's worth, I started out as a reenactor playing modern interpretations of 19th century popular music on a 1979 Gibson Mastertone--did it for years, even after I got into playing on reproduction instruments and developing my knowledge of period techniques through primary source material. It was a process of evolution for me to expand my understanding of this period, especially as it pertains to the banjo. I've got to say, it is still evolving dramatically. When I go to events nowadays, it is exclusively to play the banjo and to geek-out in conversations about banjo history with other reenactors and the public. I enjoy sitting-in from time to time with groups like Home Front and 2nd South Carolina. I used to do it in a Union uniform, but now I do it with civilian garb (besides I don't think I can fit into my union uniform anymore).

More recently, with all of the relationships I've developed well beyond the reenactment community, my interest/involvement is wrapped in trying to raise people's awareness of the banjo's African American and multicultural history and how the banjo during the Civil War helped to shape 19th-century (and later) conceptions of the instrument. This includes, in part, conversations about the many layers of blackface minstrelsy and the banjo's multicultural use in urban and rural settings. What's most interesting and challenging about this process is trying to figure out how to have meaningful conversations with people who hold a wide range of perspectives and unique forms of knowledge.

Overall, it's a great time to have growing community interest in the early minstrel banjo and this is one of several great sites in which to build and express our interests.

Greg

I started reenacting as a Union artilleryman in August 2000. At first I would bring my Stelling Golden Cross banjo and play Scruggs style stuff around the campfire.  Boy wasn't I sumthin'!

 

It was Halloween night 2000 when I was noodling around with the Centerstream Briggs tab book (I didn't know how to stroke at this point).  I had listened to Joe Ayers tapes and all of a sudden it hit me--I can do this!  This is real Civil War music!!  From then on it was all stroke-style for me.  I lost interest for the most part in the sham battles, and just wanted to play music around the campfire and for dances.  Later I returned to the fretted banjo to play early fingerstyle and ragtime ala Clarke Buehling, who is still my chief inspiration followed quickly by Greg Adams and Tim Twiss.  Actually I think I draw inspiration and motivation from most everybody in this tiny community.  Everybody has their own unique contributions and insights with their playing and research.

I started reenacting as a Colporteur, which was a type of Chaplain to the southern armies.  This gave me the opportunity to go back and forth between civilian and military camps.  I started playing banjo when I had gotten tired of hearing Beatles songs around the camp fire at night.  I now play multiple roles at reenactments.  On the battlefield, and on Sunday mornings I portray a chaplain or colporteur.  In camp I play banjo.  At dances Elaine and I are dance masters and often call dances.  I seem to keep bringing more stuff to reenactments...

John,

 

Have you ever played hymns for your church services on your banjo?  I'd be interested to find out more about that if you have.

 

Thanks,

Daniel

 

John Masciale said:

I started reenacting as a Colporteur, which was a type of Chaplain to the southern armies.  This gave me the opportunity to go back and forth between civilian and military camps.  I started playing banjo when I had gotten tired of hearing Beatles songs around the camp fire at night.  I now play multiple roles at reenactments.  On the battlefield, and on Sunday mornings I portray a chaplain or colporteur.  In camp I play banjo.  At dances Elaine and I are dance masters and often call dances.  I seem to keep bringing more stuff to reenactments...

I started reenacting Fur Trade era events in about 1990. The local events seemed to mostly have a lot of Bluegrass and 1970's country music. I knew that was wrong, but I didn't know much more about 19th century music than the couple albums worth of Civil War music I have. And the 1920's stuff I favored was too late also. Still, I have done a fair amount of dulcimer, guitar and banjo around the campfires. I hope to bring more correct pre 1840 music into it in the future. I have a large gourd, which is destined to become a banjo soon. More recently, I attended a couple of 1880's events, hence the clothing at right. I always did have a thing for Cowboy music, but sorting out the 1880's from the 1920's is an issue.  A lot of the traditional Cowboy songs aren't much older than the Hollywood kind. But research is a fun thing, and the internet has lots of resources.

Paul   

When I run services in camp, since I am running the service and preaching, I don't also tend to play (things can get overly busy).  If  I am also leading the music then I lead it acapella.  When I play for other preachers I play piano or pumper organ when they are available. 

 

I have actually played my minstrel banjo a number of times at my church, and even occasionally played bones.

 

If anyone is interested, I've attached the hymnal that I use for period services.  I spent a fair amount of time researching this.

 

You might want to check out my video here labelled Vespers...

Attachments:
Thanks....I'll take a look at it.

Daniel



John Masciale said:

When I run services in camp, since I am running the service and preaching, I don't also tend to play (things can get overly busy).  If  I am also leading the music then I lead it acapella.  When I play for other preachers I play piano or pumper organ when they are available. 

 

I have actually played my minstrel banjo a number of times at my church, and even occasionally played bones.

 

If anyone is interested, I've attached the hymnal that I use for period services.  I spent a fair amount of time researching this.

 

You might want to check out my video here labelled Vespers...

 I guess Im  not really a serious re-enactor.  When I fell in with these guys, they knew that what I was interested in was music. They have enough guys who want to shoot their rifles, but no music. 

To each his own, Ill be a" camp shirker" I suppose then

Dan'l said:

Steve -

Having duties in camp and having to drill does put a crimp on banjo playing, but serious reenactors are concerned with an authentic presence, if that is your concern.

Realistically, as a camp shirker who mostly plays banjo you either wouldn't be allowed on the march, or would be forced to partcipate if you are an enlisted soldier.

Your best bet if you want to be in an army or Texas volunteers camp authentically is to portray a civilian contract role.  You could be a drover of cattle, a wagonmaster, a sutler, or even a a pharmacists assistant. You might be able to portray a wounded soldier left in camp sort of role.

You guys are making me feel OLD!!!  I started in Fur Trade living history in 1974.  I moved into CW reenacting in 1977 with an arrtillery unit.  I did not find the banjo until an even in Fort Scott Kansas in 1992 when Jon Isaacson introduced me to Joe Ayers recordings.  My first banjo came in 1993 and I left reenacting as a hobby in 2004.  I was honored to have been at the meeting where campigning was born after Remebrance Day 1993.  I have moved from total farb to hardcore to campaigner to retired. 

 

30 years "in the wool" taught me well.  I still go out rarely and when I do it is as an "old guy" playing a banjo or working at my trade.  It was a great ride!

George,


I remember a performance by The Ebony Melodians in 1994 at Shaker Village (Pleasant Hill) my 3rd ACW event. I belive it was you, John, BIll Gay and Nicky Hughes. Good times.I think I still have the Advertisement somewhere.

 

George Wunderlich said:

You guys are making me feel OLD!!!  I started in Fur Trade living history in 1974.  I moved into CW reenacting in 1977 with an arrtillery unit.  I did not find the banjo until an even in Fort Scott Kansas in 1992 when Jon Isaacson introduced me to Joe Ayers recordings.  My first banjo came in 1993 and I left reenacting as a hobby in 2004.  I was honored to have been at the meeting where campigning was born after Remebrance Day 1993.  I have moved from total farb to hardcore to campaigner to retired. 

 

30 years "in the wool" taught me well.  I still go out rarely and when I do it is as an "old guy" playing a banjo or working at my trade.  It was a great ride!



George Wunderlich said:

You guys are making me feel OLD!!! 

 

Oh, Thanks a lot! George, I guess that makes me a relic. I joined the old 5th NH in '86 and was immediately captured by Kevin McDermott who showed me exactly what a minstrel style banjo should look and sound like. I was poor and had to build my own ( I think that there is at least one floating around this board as well). I mostly played around the campfire as a soldier and loved it. At one event in Mass. we were asked to play at a local exhibit. They paid us and fed us! That's a bad thing to do with banjo players. Shortly after that we were playing at the Old time Christmas at Harpers Ferry and we were sleeping in park housing. In the morning we were sitting on the 3rd floor porch of the armorer's house drinking coffee in the sunshine when Dave Nelson the fiddler looked down at the reenactors camped in the miasma below and said, "Boys, my days of sleeping in the mud are over" It's been "GAR" ever since.

Nelson's son now plays that homemade banjo when he sits in with us.

Dan'l  I didnt think you were calling me a shirker,, I was  kinda pullin your leg.  

Im afraid I wouldnt have been a good soldier.  I have a hard time with authority ,, unless I respect them. And Im not the workhourse some are.

 The units small, so I got my little niche. Civilian is the way to go for me . it sounds like. Most of the guys in the unit wear buckskin,, which I really dont think is period,,, but the crowd likes.   The authenticity police could shut us down immediately LOL

Steve

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