Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

If this Quadrille sounds familiar, it is because it is a funked up version of "De Boatman's Dance" with a wonderful key change in the third part! I recently ...

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Comment by Strumelia on December 27, 2015 at 10:13pm

It's as though the burly boatmen all start dancing on tippytoe in their jammies at the end...lol   Much more delicate and precise than the usual we are used to.   
Is it really a key change Mark?- from what to what?

Comment by Mark Weems on December 27, 2015 at 11:14pm

From G to C. Dances like the Quadrille or its forerunner, the Cotillion, often had key changes to give a lift to the tune. Really fun to play. Again, here we have wonderful funky early banjo music, presumably collected from Sweeny himself (where else would the transcriber have gotten it in early 1843?) I'm playing it note for note from the notation - only adding a few brushes here and there. 

Comment by Al Smitley on December 28, 2015 at 7:12am

Those key change lifts are something that has seemed to have been abandoned and it's too bad.

I have found that a lot of mid-19th C tunes had multiple parts with key changes but somehow, over the past 150 years, fiddlers and others have only held on to two parts of things like Jennie Lind Polka, and took Detroit Schottische and turned it into a two-part Flop-Eared Mule, etc, etc.  Too bad though, the key change lifts made the originals more interesting.

Comment by Strumelia on December 28, 2015 at 10:57am

Al, do you think that this dropping of a third part maybe had anything to do with making things easier to play for dances?  Do you think the composers were perhaps composing for the tune to sound more beautiful or impressive, as opposed to creating dance tunes?

Comment by Al Smitley on December 28, 2015 at 11:12am

Strum, they were dance tunes but, yes, probably that's the case.  Perhaps Polkas and Schottisches didn't (as often) have to conform to a certain number of bars to fit to a dance.  I guess I should pay attention to which genre of instrumental tunes were turned into 32-bar reels.  Likely, they were tunes where the number of bars were not essential.  That might explain why they were reduced, but..... still too bad.  That key changes really made them more interesting.  I will admit that I've learned some of them and lopped off some parts.  Usually, the key change takes place by the third part......and some that get into 5 and 6 parts, I find that it's not only hard to remember but some parts, when there are that many, do not always add much.  I guess, by compromising, I'm a bit of a hypocrite!

Comment by Strumelia on December 28, 2015 at 11:29am

I do know that for a Contra dance, English country dance, and squares the length of the tune is critical to complete the dance sequence.  For a waltz or polka, fewer issues in length, right? (i dont know much about dancing polkas)

Another reason for lopping off additional parts would be for playing at dances with a group of musicians- sometimes members are hastily put together if one or two musicians are not available.  For gigs, the A/B/A/B structure is practical and easy to remember for those not totally familiar with the tune.

So then, if one is playing a piece with say three or five parts and its title suggests a 'dance' piece but it's not danceable...under what conditions or venues would someone really be playing it in its entirety with the odd number of parts and key changes?  

Comment by Al Smitley on December 28, 2015 at 11:37am

Yes, Strum, I suppose that situation is pretty much obsolete unless you are a dance reenactor.

I do understand why this has taken place.  Unfortunately, I like the key changes that have become the victim of current-day practicality.

Comment by Strumelia on December 28, 2015 at 12:05pm

I'd say it was 'fortunately', that you like them.  We get to enjoy hearing such things then.  :)

Comment by Wes Merchant on December 28, 2015 at 1:49pm
I was at an oldtime jam yesterday and we played Jenny Lind ,2 parts, with a key change in the B part, D to G, it was really fun, but as you say there only a handful of tunes like that folks play these days.
Comment by Al Smitley on December 28, 2015 at 2:17pm

Jenny Lind Polka is one that I've heard both ways.  Today, it's usually only played with 2 parts but sometimes I've heard it with a chord change and sometimes not.


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