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I was reading through SSS's Complete American Banjo School this morning as I start to relearn reading in A tuning, and a tune he calls The Vexed Editor's Reel sounded instantly familiar.
Back in 2015 I was visited by an Australian-based Scotsman with an unusually-shaped instrument case, which contained one of Edward Light's "Harp Lutes". It's an instrument which tried to combine the harp and the 18th-century cittern. Harp players rejected it, as the bass strings were placed where the treble strings are on a harp, and vice versa. Cittern players rejected it as it was a harp...kind of.
Anyway, I was loaned the instrument for a couple of days, along with Edward Light's "Introduction to the Art of Playing the harp-Lute and Apollo Lyre" of c.1810, London. I quickly put a few tunes together - if I remember correctly the tuning was CEGceg for the top six strings, then a descending scale bass.
The very first tune is our Vexed Editor's Reel, named in the Harp-Lute tutor as "A Dance"
He offered the instrument for sale at £4,000, which was more than I could pay. But it was fun to play. Nice to see the tune turning up again in a banjo tutor from the late 19th century. Actually, when exactly was Stewart's edition published?
And we can probably now say that the two quavers in Stewart's first bar should both be A.
1888 was the year it was published.
And obviously the “Vexed Editor” was a little joke reference to himself.
Over the years I have made an effort to strike the word “tuning” from my vocabulary when referring to pitch and systems of notation. “Tuning” tends to confuse the banjo world at large. Because of the tradition of scordatura in “old time” it is expected that “tuning” will alter the intervals of the strings.
I much prefer “systems” and “pitch” as the “tuning” intervals remain the same in all of them.
This confusion is compounded since the pitch was widely and commonly raised to concert C by the early-mid 1880s while the system of A notation remained in use despite that pitch raise well into the 20th century.
Thanks, Joel. It did pass my mind that the title was an in joke. Mire interesting than "A Dance", for sure.
I totally get you on the systems and pitch.
Didn't Stewart offer parlour banjos in A, concert banjos in C? I imagine even that dissipated after a while. Frighteningly, Converse mentions tuning your A strings up to C - not "change" your strings to thinner ones for playing in C. I doubt many gut strings would survive the stretch.
The "A Scale Banjo" thing is a modern construct.
SSS did offer a "Special" model banjo that was smaller and intended to be pitched to D (4th, the rest in adjusted intervals) or one full step higher than the regular banjo. This was to "increase brilliance and carrying power" for stage work and it was advised that they were tuned down to regular C for home use (AKA the "Parlor").
The "old time" A scale is intended for parking lot use, I presume ;-)
Several pros would tune up a full step including Farland, Hunter and others in an attempt to play louder or carry further-- not something you would strive for in your home.
The only instruction book that I can think of to recommend pitching at A for the home was Lansing's Gatcomb published book.
C was it by the mid 80s. I think most would do what we do now-- keep it in C, unless you are playing "old time" with a capo d'astro, then it is all over the place.