Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I did a little playing tonight, going outside with the Bell Banjo. It started at 50% RH, and as it grew darker, reached 68%. At about 65%, I could feel the pitch squirm a little bit, but no big issue. It got a little tubbier sounding then too, but was good. The skeeters came out then, so I came in. Anyway, having great fun watching conditions relative to the instrument and it's behavior. 

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Comment by Tim Twiss on October 9, 2012 at 8:15am

I'm getting so I can tell the humidty within a % or two. Fun game to play, and get to know the elements. Anyway, I have a new tune from Converse 1871 I want to do.."Comin Thro The Rye". After listening to many versions of it, I decided to interpret it in a very slow ...almost rubato manner. Today, the RH is 47%....oerfect for a classic, snappy banjo sound. I'm going to wait, however, for something 54% or higher...I know I get this thick tubby ring, and the piece is all low end. 

Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on October 9, 2012 at 11:46am

This is why I love these instruments. Especially when you go all natural, i.e goat skin and gut strings. It is truly an organic process, which also makes the player have to adjust. I typically just lay mine out in the sun to get it real nice and tight. But our coastal evenings are starting to get damper, so the o'l heater is used. Look forward to hearing the new tune.

Comment by Al Smitley on October 9, 2012 at 1:31pm

When I first learned that tune (Comin' Thro The Rye), it was in the late 1970s from fiddlers who were born between 1905 and 1915.  I don't know if that is any reflection on the time period which the dance originated that they played it for, but it would be couples holding both hands together and... "heel-toe, heel-toe, slide, slide, slide.....heel-toe, heel-toe, slide, slide, slide.....(then during the 'B' part) they would waltz free-style and begin again on the 'A' part with the heel-toe, etc.

That would be another illustration of how fast/slow it was played at one period in time.

Comment by Ian Bell on October 9, 2012 at 3:55pm

Hey Al,

We called that the Rye Waltz in Ontario. Sounds like it was done exactly the same way in your neck of the woods. (Where?) It was one of those old-time couple dances that were on their way out when I played them in the late 70s with fiddlers and callers of about the same vintage that you describe. There aren't many up here who can dance or teach that one at this point. Thanks for mentioning it it brings back good memories. Other couple dances we played for were Heel & Toe Polka, The Roberts,

Cross Country Waltz and Blackhawk Waltz. I'm sure there were more.

Comment by Al Smitley on October 9, 2012 at 4:23pm

Ian:  I was speaking of Michigan (right next door).  I lost track of what has been going on in the fiddle circles but I suspect that those who played in that genre are long gone by now and don't know if any of the younger generations have carried it on.

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