Hello.  New member from Philadelphia in the US.  I've written numerous books of guitar history, am a columnist for Vintage Guitar Magazine, and am a presenter at the annual Banjo Gathering.  If you don't know of the latter, it is a 25-year-old meeting of banjo enthusiasts that moves mostly up and down the East Coast of the US.  There is always a display room for dealers and collectors, but the main activities are historical presentations, a field trip (this year we met in Williamsburg, VA, and were given an up close and personal viewing of The Old Plantation, which is not on display otherwise), and lots of good fellowship and conversation among good people.  Virtually all of the recent books on banjo history have been written by Banjo Gathering members.  My presentation this year was on how banjos (and guitars) got wire strings.

For next year I will be speaking on the 1890s running argument between American banjoists and English banjoists over notation.  Banjos evolved from being tuned in F around 1850 to being tuned in C by around 1885.  When banjos hit A tuning around 1865 they had become enormously popular and music publishers began publishing tutors and sheet music written in the key of A.  Out of stubbornness (and built up inventory), when banjos rose further to the key of C, the music continued to be notated in A, continuing up until the 1920s.  When C banjos came to England, English musicians said, "What the heck is this?  The banjo's tuned in C, but the music is in A.  No way, Jose."  And music became C Notation in England.  Hence the ongoing skirmishes seen in the banjo press of the time.

So, what I'm interested to learn is if you can steer me to any good sources on the history of banjo in the UK.  I know the Virginia Minstrels came over in 1843 and that blackface minstrelsy became popular, but beyond that I know very little.  The subject is rarely much addressed in American books on the banjo.   I don't intend to focus on that story, but I have to paint some background of how there came to be any English banjoists at all, much less how the C Notation controversy came about on that end.

Thanks in advance if you can be of help!

Michael

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More on J. E. Brewster.

In 1888 William Temlett published his knockoff version of S. S. Stewarts book "The Banjo".

On page 27 Temlett wrote on Brewster "Mr. Brewster is one of the lights of the Banjo World, is a genuine American artist, and has been located here for some twelve years."

My math says that is 1876. Now if we combine that with SSS' article, that gave Brewster two years to get established.  Add another two to three years to start importing Stewart banjos.  Then he meets a young J. E. Dallas and they come up with their scheme to start making banjos.  This falls right in line with my orignial timeline. 

As a seasoned researcher Michael, I don't have to tell you the importance of checking citations and source materials. 

And you will never see me linking to wikipedia (unless it is to point out how terrible it is).

I'd be happy to help you on this project and I have already handed you a complete and referenced article on the subject of notation.  Please DO check my citations. Those that know me know that I can back up what I write.

I have found enough wrong with Sharpe's Banjo Makers article that I know it is not to be trusted as the only source.

For Pierrots I would beg you to ignore wikipedia and just read Clifford Essex's articles on it in the BMG, after all, he came up with the idea.  Thanks to Ian's (extremely hard) work, you can read most of them here.  

In Brewster v Dallas 1888,  Brewster said that when he first met Dallas, about five years prior to 1887, he was a journeyman coachbuilder (supported by an 1881 census entry in Little Queen Street). An article from The Era 1888 ‘Brewster on the Banjo’ also notes that he had been in England for 12 years.

With Nick's post I think we can conclusively say that A. P. Sharpe made an error and all who have quoted him on Brewster and Dallas are echoing misinformation. 

We keep finding, again and again, that things written about the banjo post WW2 tend to have a lot of problems.  That is why it is best to check period sources and never trust post war print 100% without double checking the references-- no matter what letters the author has after their name.

It definitely fits within the 'novelty solo' category!  Here is the sheet music:polka%20erratica%20sheet%20music.jpg

Joel Hooks said:

Hi Carrie, is Polka Erratica as exciting as the title sounds?

carrie horgan said:

I also found this in my internet favourites: http://grimshaworigin.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/WinansAndKau...

It wouldn't surprise me if the popularity of the Pierrot performers had something to do with it being seeing as a bit more 'refined'  than 'blackface' entertainment (the old British obsession with class).  The banjo was popular with genteel ladies as you can see from this sheet music dedication - Scraptof hall is a rather posh Georgian country house in Leicestershire: 

Thanks Carrie!  I like that you shout "hurah" after striking chords with your nails but I am not sure what "Etouffe" means.  I am guessing it means to mute the strings after playing with the right hand.

Yes, I found a source that says to damp the strings with the same fingers that played it.

Frankly, I prefer Crawfish Étouffée. The meaning is the same (smothered) but the application is a tad different...

I often shout when I'm playing...I'm a Navy brat, my Dad taught me what to say when I make mistakes. Also useful when fixing things, fishing, stubbing one's toe, etc., etc. Nice to be bilingual.


Joel Hooks said:

Thanks Carrie!  I like that you shout "hurah" after striking chords with your nails but I am not sure what "Etouffe" means.  I am guessing it means to mute the strings after playing with the right hand.

Here's an mp3 of "Polka Erratica". I got most of the dynamics right (and even found something for the Etoufee). Sadly, musescore doesn't have a "hurah! sound...

Polka%20Erratica.mp3

POLKA ERRATICA


carrie horgan said:

It definitely fits within the 'novelty solo' category!  Here is the sheet music:polka%20erratica%20sheet%20music.jpg

Joel Hooks said:

Hi Carrie, is Polka Erratica as exciting as the title sounds?

carrie horgan said:

I also found this in my internet favourites: http://grimshaworigin.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/WinansAndKau...

It wouldn't surprise me if the popularity of the Pierrot performers had something to do with it being seeing as a bit more 'refined'  than 'blackface' entertainment (the old British obsession with class).  The banjo was popular with genteel ladies as you can see from this sheet music dedication - Scraptof hall is a rather posh Georgian country house in Leicestershire: 

Hey Marc you've done a good job with creating the score on musescore with all those effects - the mp3 sounds almost Christmassy with the chiming sounds.  Did you have to put it all in note-by-note?  I sometimes use a phone app called PlayScore where you can take a photo of sheet music and then hear it back - it isn't very smooth but sometimes it helps to get more of an idea of how a piece should sound....

Yes, note for note. The "banjo sound" is just what's in Musescore. I would never play it at the listed speed...vivace is so fast (and I knocked it down a bit). I had a bit of trouble with the grace notes as there are three different types. Had to go back in and re-do most of them, etc.

I have not found a good music reader...yet. Hal Allert and I experimented with several but when Musescore came out, the note entry method made it much faster...so I stopped looking at readers.

Great stuff, Marc - I have Musescore but have only mastered basic inputting so far.....

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