Let's bring "What is Classic Banjo?" into a post of its own as it is a shame to lose discussion hidden inside a "Video Post".

So far we can't agree what Classic Banjo is or when it was!

Some say that the ABF coined the term "Classic Banjo" but was this the first recorded use of the term? :

 

Lowell Schreyer in "The Banjo Entertainers" page 173,  states that the 1895 SS Stewart's B & G Journal  shows: *Mays and Hunter and Hunter are now known as the "Classic Banjoists"

Views: 1532

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion



Mike Moss said:

Well, Jeffy, the author of the above book, was primarily a plectrum banjo player, even though the arrangements are written for the five-stringer. I wouldn't read too deeply into it, it says "classical" because the pieces are indeed classical (or light-classical). There could hardly have been a vogue for classical music on the banjo in the eighties because the fingerstyle banjo was a moribund thing by that time!

======

I didn't mean to suggest that ther was a classical banjo vogue in the 80's (unless maybe the 1880's...), nor that this one book was evidence of same.  What I was saying is the fact that people were arranging classical music for banjo and getting published then (the publication date in the book is 1975) suggests that this wasn't some brand new idea that suddenly appeared in the banjo world amidst gasps and fanfares, but something which had been going on -- off and on perhaps -- for a long time.

Were there, in banjo history, people who devoted themselves to what is here called "classic" banjo, and also people who devoted themselves to playing classical music on the banjo?  Perhaps even in overlapping eras, diligently plucking away in their parallel worlds, each group blithely unaware (or snobbishly dismissive) of the other? :)

 



Jody Stecher said:


The link does not work. Incomplete perhaps?


Dr H said:



Jody Stecher said:

Who ever heard of a piano strap?

==============

Well, there is this:

http://i0.wp.com/www.synthtopia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/keyt...

 

 

 

Here you go:

 



Mike Moss said:

On the subject of the prominence of classical music in the banjo canon, I have conducted an informal statistical study on a population of 2268 published Classic Banjo solos (approximately 25% of total published material during the period, according to some estimates), out of which 67 were "classical" pieces (in the broadest sense of the word, including some very light stuff which would sometimes not even be considered "classical" nowadays) out of which there were 7 by Bach, 3 by Beethoven, 5 by Chopin, 4 by Liszt, 4 by Mozart, 4 by Rossini, 4 by Schubert and 2 by Strauss, over a span of almost a century. Compared to the total of Classic Banjo music, it's about 3%.

======

Of course those are classical pieces by the old (dead) masters.  Makes me wonder how much music has been written for the banjo by modern "classical" composers?

I know of at least one such piece:  a banjo concerto, written by the same friend for whom I wrote my banjo rag.  He had the piece performed as his master's thesis in music composition, much to the consternation of our mutual composition professor.

Actually, I know of a few:  Henze included both banjo and guitar in his Sixth Symphony; George Crumb wrote for banjo in his Night of the Four Moons; and I've written it into a few avant-garde works.  But overall the pickin's seem pretty slim. <ducks> :)

 

Another fun experiment was to count the hits for different keywords on the BHO forums as a gauge for the use of certain terms. The results below speak favourably for the use of the "Classic" nomenclature.

[...]

 

Queries containing "Parlour": 3 (0,1%)

=====

The only place (prior to this forum) where I ever heard someone refer to "parlour banjo" was at a John Doan lecture/concert at least 15 years ago.

I suppose one could make a case for the term, but not very many seem to have done so,

Yes.

Dr H said:




Were there, in banjo history, people who devoted themselves to what is here called "classic" banjo, and also people who devoted themselves to playing classical music on the banjo?  Perhaps even in overlapping eras, diligently plucking away in their parallel worlds, each group blithely unaware (or snobbishly dismissive) of the other? :)

 



Dr H said:


I didn't mean to suggest that ther was a classical banjo vogue in the 80's (unless maybe the 1880's...), nor that this one book was evidence of same.  What I was saying is the fact that people were arranging classical music for banjo and getting published then (the publication date in the book is 1975) suggests that this wasn't some brand new idea that suddenly appeared in the banjo world amidst gasps and fanfares, but something which had been going on -- off and on perhaps -- for a long time.

Oh yes, definitely. But I think that is a given for almost any instrument -- it's amazing what people can achieve with dedication. I've seen classical music performed on even the most unlikely mediums!

Were there, in banjo history, people who devoted themselves to what is here called "classic" banjo, and also people who devoted themselves to playing classical music on the banjo?  Perhaps even in overlapping eras, diligently plucking away in their parallel worlds, each group blithely unaware (or snobbishly dismissive) of the other? :)

Well, there was something like that, though it was more like civil war rather than parallel universes ;-) Farland was quite bitter about the general banjo-playing public's hostility to classical music. He wrote a scathing letter to The Cadenza in which he made some very strong points, though he also misrepresented the position of his opponents somewhat. He was probably the man who made classical stuff work on the banjo, but his technique was so radically different from that of most of his contemporaries that it's in a league of its own, ressembling balalaika playing, or plectrum playing without a pick. His hand injury and the subsequent invention/adoption of the "Farland Pick" (a pick attached to the index finger with a rubber band and, in later years, taped on) only increased the rift between him and the fingerstyle banjo community.

The only place (prior to this forum) where I ever heard someone refer to "parlour banjo" was at a John Doan lecture/concert at least 15 years ago.

I suppose one could make a case for the term, but not very many seem to have done so,

It isn't a popular term around these parts. Apparently Eli Kaufman once said that if we had to call our style "Parlour banjo", Bluegrass banjoists should have to call their style "Parking lot banjo"! :P

I have heard "parlor banjo" used many times. There is even a recent recording using that name.  It was when bluegrass banjo players in particular used the term that EK turned the tables and said "you don't call YOUR music parking lot banjo, do you?".  It is possible that the term arose from a misunderstanding. Early banjo manufacturers distinguished their louder upper models by calling them Concert banjos in contrast to humbler banjos intended for home which I vaguely recall having seen being described as for the parlor.  These days Deering makes a "parlor" model. And small 19th century guitars are often, and annoyingly, called "parlor guitars".  It's misleading because these little guitars, if properly set up,  are typically louder than the larger "concert" guitars, and "dreadnought" and "jumbo" models. The same mentality that calls little old guitars 'parlor guitars" also calls old banjos "parlor banjos", particularly when the banjo is engraved and inlaid.  The "reasoning" assumes that since, for instance, the music played on a bluegrass banjo is called "bluegrass banjo" the music played on a parlor banjo (which is usually a Concert Banjo) is also called parlor banjo.  

I think we should all change the name from Classic Banjo to Concert Banjo and then play only at home or in parking lots at music festivals. That'll really confuse em.

The only place (prior to this forum) where I ever heard someone refer to "parlour banjo" was at a John Doan lecture/concert at least 15 years ago.

I suppose one could make a case for the term, but not very many seem to have done so,

It isn't a popular term around these parts. Apparently Eli Kaufman once said that if we had to call our style "Parlour banjo", Bluegrass banjoists should have to call their style "Parking lot banjo"! :P



Mike Moss said:

Oh yes, definitely. But I think that is a given for almost any instrument -- it's amazing what people can achieve with dedication. I've seen classical music performed on even the most unlikely mediums!

========

Good point. 


------

Well, there was something like that, though it was more like civil war rather than parallel universes ;-) Farland was quite bitter about the general banjo-playing public's hostility to classical music. He wrote a scathing letter to The Cadenza in which he made some very strong points, though he also misrepresented the position of his opponents somewhat. He was probably the man who made classical stuff work on the banjo, but his technique was so radically different from that of most of his contemporaries that it's in a league of its own, ressembling balalaika playing, or plectrum playing without a pick. His hand injury and the subsequent invention/adoption of the "Farland Pick" (a pick attached to the index finger with a rubber band and, in later years, taped on) only increased the rift between him and the fingerstyle banjo community.

======

That seems to have been the case historically with a number of instruments.  The saxophone was designed to be a modern addition to the traditional classical/romantic orchestra, and a few notable classical composers used it as such.  But once it became the darling of jazz, it sort of became the bastard prodigal of the orchestra, and it never achieved the same status in that world as, say, the clarinet or the flute.

There was a bitter debate around the turn of the 19th/20th century among classical guitarists, over whether the fingernails should or should not be used to produce notes on the guitar.  Various "schools" of guitar playing were vehement in their derission of the other schools.  In the 60s (and for quite a bit afterwards) there were classical guitarists who wouldn't even acknowledge that the electric guitar was a musical instrument, much less a guitar.

All of which is rather unfortunate, I think. 

Years ago I attended a lecture and master class by avant garde flutist Robert Dick, who among other things is a noted teacher.  He said that his approach to teaching his instrument was not to teach avant garde techniques as separate from traditional techniques, but simply as technique.  Traditional technique is simply one facet of the much larger world of technique on the instrument.  Dick held, and I've tried to keep this attitude with my own students, that regardless of what style of playing one might choose to specialize in, developing the broadest possible range of skills on one's instrument would enhance one's ability to execute musical performances in their chosen genre.

I am, I've been told, a good jazz guitarist.  I know that I am only a mediocre classical guitarist, compared to any full-time pro.  Yet having studied classical guitar enormously increases the palette of musical choices available to me when I play jazz.  It would be absurd for me to say to another guitarist "you should (or shouldn't) play with a pick" or "you should (or shouldn't) use only steel strings".

 


------

It isn't a popular term around these parts. Apparently Eli Kaufman once said that if we had to call our style "Parlour banjo", Bluegrass banjoists should have to call their style "Parking lot banjo"! :P

======

I don't have a problem with "parking lot banjo". :)

I suppose that clawhammer would then be "back porch banjo"; classical could be "salon banjo"; ragtime could be "saloon banjo"; flatpicked tenor could be "three sheets to the wind Irish pub banjo" ... the possibilities are endless. ;)

 

"parking lot banjo" Now that's great!

Mike Moss, you are a funny guy!

To wander back on topic...

Have we established the year or era of the likely first usage of the term "classic banjo" to refer to what we now use the term for in this forum?

As noted, in my own limited experience I first heard the term back in the 1980's, and I heard it used interchangably with "classical banjo" -- although the music played included both classical music and the period popular music included on this site.

In Ian's example, where Mays and Hunter are refered to as "classic banjoists" it isn't clear to me that the term meant the same thing as it now means, and indeed in the exerpt given the music cited suggests that the writer was thinking of "classical" in the formal music sense.  This implies that as far back as 1895 "classic" and "classical" were being used interchangably as regards banjo.

Which further suggests that "classic" as it is now used is a modern assignment of meaning to the word.  Nothing wrong with that; in fact I think it's good to define the genre, which many characteristics that distinguish it from other genres.  Discussion thus far leads me to believe that which this genre may have been recognized for a long time, it was know by other names, previously.

If so, that seems to me to be the logical flow of music history.  Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn didn't call themselves "classical composers", even thought they are today taught as the key figures of the classical music era.  That term wasn't coined until nearly two decades after what is usually regarded as the end of the classical period. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2023   Created by thereallyniceman.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service