Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Can any of you who know about the Strathspey shed a little light? Banjo borrows many forms, but transferring fiddle to banjo does not always work to demonstrate the piece as it was intended. I am arringing Kerr's material, and the first one is a Strathspey. My understanding of it - is that its irregular dotted rhythms at a tempo that is NOT crazy fast creates a tension that will set up a reel...which often follows it in a flowing manner. Can someone link or play what is considered to be a good example?   

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Also, anything you can add to further our understanding about it would be useful. Thanks

I have lots of recordings of strathspeys I can give you, most from the Cape Breton tradition.

I don't know if it's more of a Cape Breton tradition but, yes, it's usually followed by a reel.  I've read that the music of Cape Breton is more like the old tradition of Scottish music than Scotland is, itself because the Cape Breton tradition has remained relatively unchanged while the Scottish music tradition evolved to a more "art music" form.

You can go to YouTube and look up Natalie MacMaster or her uncle, Buddy.  I'll see if I can find others.

Well, I can't seem to copy/paste so I'll send some links to your email address.

Natalie MacMaster is a good player but I'd rather hear her solo than with her band with the heavy bottom.

Also, if she's with her husband....he is a very good player but sometimes seems more interested in show than music, in my opinion.

I found that I couldn't copy/paste because I was doing it 2nd-generation....long story

Anyway, here are some strathspeys. 

Don't mind, too much, the last one as it's one I wrote and played by Bonnie Rideout, then she plays it as a reel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3pIKWmzRxI ' Hanneke Casse demonstrating strathspey

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaqtxlFeWgQ  'Jeremy Kittle from Saline, Mi

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcHUFpkiuSY  'Buddy & Natalie MacMaster

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZxBk4lhiyk  ' Winston Scotty Fitzgerald ("Iron Man")

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jSs7ldwfno  "Wilkie's Footrace"


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu2MdilumP8&list=PL4dlmrkw5PVHm... Here's one for you Tim, Scott Skinner would have been playing during the 1860's so he's kind of a period example. Often Cape Breton and Scottish players will do a set of a march, a strathspey and a reel, so the set gets progressively faster.

I was just wondering, recently, whether Skinner wrote "Laird O' Drumblair".  Do you know, Wes?

I also wondered if Skinner (a Scottish virtuoso) was representative of how most fiddlers played in Scotland.

Some of the stuff he played is practically impossible among most earthlings!

I've always seen Laird O'Drumblair attributed to him so he at least seems to have claimed it. I think he was ahead of the pack as far as Scottish fiddlers go, but I suspect this was the standard to which many aspired. He started playing professionally in 1855 and was winning prizes by 1863. I wonder if he ever met Frank Converse...


Thanks, Wes, for sending that website about Skinner.

Thanks ...those links were helpful I found the first couple when I was poking around, but not the others.

I keep thinking about why there was so much fiddle material for the banjo back then. Did it actually fit well with the instrument, or was it just convenient because so many players crossed over....? 

I find the deep tuned loose stringed banjo just does not always blend well and it is hard to keep up with what seems like authentic dance material of the time. It is hard to get it to "cut" through an ensemble...maybe that is part of the gradual tension increase and use of thimbles.

Hey, I don't mind playing with a mute!! ;)  Why so much fiddle music for banjo?  I think others have said this or something similar.....my guess is that the fiddle had been around with lots of tunes, then the banjo became popular and publishers wanted to capitalize on it by selling books with a ready-made repertoire so as not to waste time!  Personally, I like the contrasting combination of the higher, sustained note of the violin/fiddle and the lower, "tum" of the early banjo.  I also like playing with another fiddle or accordion/concertina so I can blend harmonies but I like the "tum" along with it.

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