Here is a fine example of instant Repetitive Strain Injury. Tremolo playing was popular among some early players of the Classic Style and one of its finest exponents was Alfred Farland.

Farland, as you know, was the big tremolo player in the US. But what did his tremolo really sound like?

I have been sent an extremely rare recording of “Serenade”, as composed by Moritz Moskowski,(1854-1925).


 This piece by Farland, was cut in 1917 and never issued. It was thought lost forever. Turns out it was broadcast on the web about a decade ago. The recording is from the lone Diamond Disc copy made from the master. Both master and copy reside in the Thomas Edison archives, where the broadcast originated.  There are no other copies anywhere.



I like a little tremolo in the odd piece “for effect” but find whole pieces played using the technique a little wearying.


Farland suffered from what would now be described as Repetitive Strain Injury, possibly due to the extensive use of finger tremolo in his playing. This caused him to change from fingerstyle to plectrum style, but was never as successful as he had previously been.


SERENADE by Moritz Moskowski

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Wow, thank you for posting these things. They certainly are of value, to say the least. A few questions please. 

1) what do you think Farland has found in his attic? I can't read the word he has written. Context suggests he means sheet music. Has he written "Nos"? Short for "numbers"?

2) when you made speed correction was it to make the music slower or faster? On these recordings Farland sounds about a half step sharp. The open bass string sounds at around C sharp instead of C natural. 

At first I could not get the files to play. Clicking on the titles led to another web page where the times appeared first as 2 minutes and some seconds and then immediately shifted to 0:00 and would not play. However by right clicking I could quickly download the files to my computer "desktop" I could open the files in iTunes and listen. I transferred the files to The Amazing Slowdowner and reduced the speed by 8 % and lowered the pitch by one semitone. The result, with no EQ changes made, is a playback of what sounds like a human being playing a real banjo. The fast passages are still very clean and tidy and they are also believable, and to my mind, more enjoyable because my mind can keep pace with the music. 

Dear Jody,

Just want to say I really enjoy your videos; your recording of “Ragtime Episode” with Bill Evans and your friend Scott is one of my very favorites and in regular rotation in my iTunes (I made an mp3 from your YouTube video.)

Anyway, I dunno what the problem was regarding posting these recordings; I simply attached them as per the site’s setup and hoped for the best. Perhaps Ian thereallyniceman can put them into the jukebox if they’re deemed worthwhile.

And good idea to slow them down a little — it was hard to decide what was right since I’d read somewhere that Farland tuned up for brightness, but who knows how true that is, or if I’m even remembering it correctly. Some of the recordings themselves as they were sent to me were extremely slow, recorded at I think maybe 45 rpm, though these seemed a little fast to me, if I recall.

Anyway, I think Farland was looking for manuscripts (MSs) in his attic (?) … at least that’d be my guess.

Thank you. "MSs" makes sense. 

Easier to clean a guitar than old cylinders

recordings are rare except for 'Tripping Through the Meadow' a box of his cylinders was found some years ago but they were affected by mould growth, and the finder tried to clean them and ruined them in the process.

Hi Chris, thank you for this amazing contribution. It's always exciting when something that had been thought to be lost turns up.

Farland's arrangements of these two pieces definitely sound a bit wonky, but he seems to have excelled more with lighter fare and slower, more lyrical pieces -- the Serenade, as posted by Ian, is an effective piece.. in the genre of wrist-slitting music, that is ;-)

Dear Mike,

Thanks for your nice note — I thought it was sort of amazing myself that these had survived, despite their near-wrecked existence as copies of copies. Thanks, as well for all of your wonderful videos/amazing efforts to get at what Farland may have been up to (to say nothing of the dozens more you’ve made; they’re all inspiring and humbling.)

Something about the poor old fellow piques my sympathies, even if he did hawk a painted steel banjo head. (I sort of wonder if he hand-drew his logos on his headstocks, as well, since apparently he put the instruments together himself, and the lettering appears “made-to-order,” being penned in on mother-of-pearl half circles on the R&L necks.) There’s no question he had a tremendous effect on the popularity of the fingerstyle/classic banjo, even if his disposition seems stilted and stuffy today. His late letter to the Bickfords is pretty moving, I think — “the loneliest man in the world.” Sob!

So here’s one more, apparently Farland’s most famous piece, his own composition “Tripping Through the Meadow,” which demonstrates a certain sensitivity to dynamics. Along with this, I’m also attaching an electrical transfer of a home cylinder recording I found as part of a lot of moldy and wrecked brown waxes about fifteen years ago, according to the cylinder lid made by “Geo. L Thayer” in Mt. Upton, New York (sometime around 1910-20 or so, I’m guessing.) It does not demonstrate any sensitivity to dynamics. But whatever — if one searches his name, one will find he not only patented a banjo (the “Comet,” 1911) but that he also performed in blackface. Yet here he is playing “Tripping Through the Meadow” (!) How many brown wax home banjo recordings by actual performing minstrels are there? Can’t be many, and I wouldn’t have expected any of them to be of Alfred Farland’s music. A charcoal picture which looks copied from a photo on deposit at the Mt. Upton Historical Society is dated 1949 but it seems much earlier than that to me (also attached.)

Anyway, my very best, and thanks for all your beautiful playing.


Hi Chris

Thanks for both your prior and your latest postings. It's wonderful to hear these exceptionally rare performances of the great Farland.

Hope you don't mind, but on the attached I've edited Farland's Tripping  to reduce surface and background noise. Gain was also boosted somewhat where his playing is softer, to balance the overall performance and compensate for the cylinder's limitations in capturing dynamics.


Dear Shawn,

Of course — be my guest; that’s what this digital stuff is for. I just didn’t want to take it too far in any direction of noise reduction myself for fear of losing something; I’d already sent it through the filters quite a bit as is. Your smoothing and clean-up makes it a lot less like having a bag of fine gravel poured over one's head, that's for sure! Did you notice the original transcriber coughing in the background near the beginning? I sort of wonder if that was Bickford. I also think he also walks around a bit.

And my thanks to you for your absolutely beautiful photographs of your equally amazing collection of instruments; they’re so clear one gets a true sense of the materials and workmanship that went into them, really better than any other pictures of banjos I’ve ever seen.

My very best,


I’m attaching an image here of a Farland string package for your amusement (I think it's pretty rare) as it definitely captures his attitude and lack of shyness regarding self-promotion. “We want the address of every amateur and professional banjo player on earth.” Indeed!


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