People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

I will never forget the first time I heard the concertina. It was in an old Comhaltas video back when I was first learning the music. I thought it was lovely, but I didn’t initially have an interest in learning it. However, over time that appreciation developed into an obsessive compulsion to make this unique free-reed an active member of my musical experience. There were even points when I thought I was loosing my mind because, to me, I was becoming frighteningly infatuated with it’s bright and chirping sounds. After all, passion is just obsession in a healthy context, and it doesn’t take much at all for the former to become the latter.

Well, in this infatuation of mine, I thought that I was also unique; That is, unique in just how much I adored the tone of this instrument. To me, it has the affect that songbirds have had on poets over the centuries. But over the years I’ve noticed that it has been exceptionally received as it’s become a more regular part of my repertoire.

Being a caregiver allows me to work sometimes in a musical capacity, and one of my clients asks me every time I come to see her if I brought my concertina with me. She asks me to play tunes for her throughout my shift every visit. At one of the local parks, a few families have made it a routine to come out to hear the concertina. One gentlemen was reeling, and appeared to have enjoyed himself more than the children. Even my “Dungeons and Dragons” group liked the concertina so much, that they’ve requested that I open and close our roleplay sessions with a set of tunes to set the mood. Of course, there are dozens of more stories I could share of brightened eyes, intrigued minds, and lifted spirits, when it comes to how people respond to the instrument. The concertina is just it*.

When I decided that I wanted to learn three main instruments, I never expected a free-reed to be one of them. But there‘s some kind of power and influence in the tone of the concertina. Something of youthfulness and innocence that just brightens a day and lifts a heart. I don’t know what it is, but I am grateful that I’ve been given the privilege of sharing it’s joys with others.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

I’ve been fantasizing about owning a concertina for a couple years now. This post prompted me to buy one. Thank you!

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

I love playing with concertina players. I also like the idea of playing concertina, but I think I might need another lifetime for that (I can get a simple tune out of one in push-and-draw fashion, but the cross-row sytem of playing is a complete mystery to me).

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Creadur, what do you mean by “cross-row” system?

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Where you use both the C and G rows for common scales. For example, Noel Hill’s fingering system and scales are definitely cross-row and, in my interpretation of the lessons I’ve had with him at his workshops, based on efficiency of motion, never jumping the same finger between rows, and putting most of the work on your strongest fingers.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Michael Eskin

Oh. I thought that’s what it meant, but I wasn’t sure because we’re taught that way on the OAIM and there wasn’t a name for it(to my knowledge). Also, if you only play “on the row”, aren’t you limited to that rows key? Playing in D, A, or E demands the cross-row system right? Am I understanding that correctly?

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Yes, by ‘cross-row’ I just meant the standard ‘Irish’ fingering system used nowadays. I have a friend that plays ‘English’ style (i.e. a style suited to English tunes) on the Anglo, which predominantly uses one row at a time, like a melodeon. In fact, I think Elizabeth Crotty played in this way, so it is not really ‘English’, just older (and there are, no doubt, many players of English traditional music that have adopted cross-row fingering in order to access a wider range of keys).

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

My wife, as a concertina player, has noticed that players seem to have a more affectionate relationship with their instruments than those who play other things.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Yes, they do. OTOH, now and then someone at a session (a punter, not a participant) comes up to me and says, "What is that instrument?" They have never seen one, think it is cute, and are thinking about getting started in Irish music. My standard reply, after explaining what an anglo concertina is, is a caveat that it is an expensive instrument to get into (perhaps only pipes are worse in that regard?). I mean for the quality level that will let you play ornaments at standard tempo, sound even across the entire range, and so on. Half our business over on the concertina.net forum is helping newbies and wannabees deal with sticker shock and choosing among the numerous fingering systems available. I suggest to these punters with questions that they also take a look a B/C or some other melodeon system. Of course I have no idea how many go down either road, or let go of the idea altogether.

Obsession is key to most of our instruments, isn’t it? My fiddle teacher, self-taught and a superb player, says you have to be obsessed to get through the first six months on fiddle, ignoring how you sound until you find your way around the instrument. After traveling that road I had to agree.

Enjoy your obsession!

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Noel Hill and default fingering system

"…Noel Hill’s fingering system and scales are definitely cross-row … putting most of the work on your strongest fingers."

I started with Noel about 30 years ago, in a pub in Lisdoonvarna, one on one. It was right for me at the time. He got me going and for that I am eternally grateful. But in the past few years I have come to appreciate Michael O’Raghaillaigh’s take on playing most efficiently and effectively: it is best to use every button on the concertina. Make every finger a strong finger.

Instead of the default high B (push) on the G row, for instance, use the high B on the end of the C row (pull) with your little finger, when appropriate. The same logic applies to the middle G/A on the left-hand accidental row and the high G (draw) on the accidental row on the right hand. Don’t let phrasing be determined by bellows direction. Learn to use other buttons to smooth out bellows movement.

The best, most appropriate fingering for phrasing, rhythm, etc., shouldn’t be bound by what are currently your strongest fingers or by the need to change bellows direction. The best, most creative of the young concertina players don’t adhere to a rigid, easy to learn, default system of fingering.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

I noticed a thread on the session.org recently that talked about how Irish tradition music has seen an explosion of snobbery. Concertina snobbery may have become the most egregious of all. The Anglo concertina is by far the ideal instrument for playing tunes that were originally written for dancing. It is a very rhythmic instrument. But since not many people dance anymore, people want to hear music that emphasizes emotional expression instead. The English concertina allows for much more control over phrasing and emotional expression. But the attacks over Anglo vs English have become so vicious, I do not even play in sessions anymore. The concertina was invented in England or Germany (depending on which argument you want to believe). The Irish Anglo was an adoption. If people are going to be so intolerant that only Instruments originating from Ireland can play Irish music, there would be no Irish music! And I personally think that Irish music would be more popular if it were played with more emotional expression. I love the concertina too, but it is experiencing an wave of intolerance and polarization that is holding it back.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

@Jerone:
"Also, if you only play “on the row”, aren’t you limited to that rows key?"

Not really. Single-row melodeons and tin whistles are able to play a great number of tunes in "the home key", the Dorian mode, Mixolydian mode, minor key, gapped scales…

In a way, the C row is like a tin whistle in C (which of course gives you the usual suspects C, Ddor, F, Gmix, Amin).

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Then you can just capo up to where ever you need. 🙂

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Jerone, LoM wrote: "What sent me over the edge was this album recommendation I got back then."

On the chance that you may have missed it, Caitlin Nic Gabhann offers lessons via the internet. See www.irishconcertinalessons.com for more info.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

I love the concertina but I have way too many instruments as it is! I remember being hugely disappointed when I saw Idris Elba with one in Prometheus and he didn’t even play it!

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

"Able were you before you saw Elba", Michelle….
I’ve been trying to learn on my intermediate level concertina since May of 2019; it’s a great instrument and a rewarding challenge, but I’m really hoping that when I get to an advanced instrument things will start to improve a bit; this is the only concertina I have ever played so I’m eager to someday (I probably have to pay my dues for another couple of years though) get my hands on a high range model. Hoping it won’t be an anti climax though, when I realise that a lot of money later I discover that it is me who is limited, not my beloved concertina. Still, I love the journey, thanks for this thread Jerone.

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Great album recommendation Jerone

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Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

All smiles 🙂 Thank you everyone for sharing your stories and experiences. <3

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Well Jerone LoM
What a really nice way you put your love of the concertina.
If you can play as well as you articulate it would be great to hear you
We musicians of TIM have an unbelievable passion for trad here in Ireland and abroad and I have thoughts for those who don’t live here in Ireland. It is so wonderful to able to go to sessions and take part and it must be hard for the those not living here permanently
As for instruments for me I play flute and always had a passion for the concertina however I think I’m a bit long in the tooth to take it up now.
When I was a young boy the concertina always intrigued me as I saw sailors and pirates of old playing the instrument with a gold earring in their ear and a parrot on the shoulder.
Rather than like any young boy wishing and daydreaming of becoming a fireman or a policeman I wanted to be a pirate with my own concertina Earring and parrot
Anyhow it was the flute for me
We all love our particular instrument and it is clear what yours is
So thanks for your post which brought back memories to me of so many many years ago

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Robin G - "for me I play flute and always had a passion for the concertina however I think I’m a bit long in the tooth to take it up now" - well, after years playing flute I was after something that plays out-of-the box.
At 64 I bought my first concertina and never looked back; no more warming it up, tuning, getting the auld lips into the right embochure!
Having learnt from the flute shortcomings of self-taught, I attended some lessons. Avoided bad habits and met other similarly enthusiastic concertina players.
Peter

Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Wayne Green wrote: "The concertina was invented in England or Germany (depending on which argument you want to believe). The Irish Anglo was an adoption."
To set matters straight, the English concertina was invented in England, manufactured to high standards and sold to the upper classes. The two-row press-draw concertina was invented in Germany, made very cheaply and sold in large numbers all over the world, including Ireland. Seeing an opportunity, English manufacturers took the German system, added a third row of accidentals and bellows-reversal notes and made them to a much higher standard, thereby creating the anglo-german system. I suspect the word german was dropped around 1914! So the heart of the anglo system is indeed German but the development into a more complete instrument was English.
Anti-English concertina sentiment is indeed regrettable. It’s actually very easy to play Irish music badly on one, though, as the same-note-both-ways or unisonoric arrangement means it’s all too easy to play in a very legato style with no pulse. I love playing Irish on the English but it requires a lot of bellows control.

(And of course all the systems were invented too late for pirates.)

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Re: People REALLY like the concertina… I mean, A LOT!

Peter / sheep dip
Thank you for your encouraging words
However I’m a bit older than that.
Despite asthma the flute is not a challenge for me And to take up the concertina now would detract from more and more tunes learned
So I will continue to enjoy listening to the concertina in many sessions I play
Keep well and safe
Robin g