A Site Dedicated to all enthusiasts of Classic Style Banjo
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Mike it is possible that being on opposite sides of the Atlantic we are divided by a common language. In any case you are arguing against things I did not say or think.
Rob's question as I understood it was about how we, now, in 2023, might define Classic Banjo as a genre. I responded with a few ideas that might contribute to such a definition. I did not speak about how any kind of banjo music might be defined by people in the 19th century or *if* it would occur to them to do so. I was speaking from the vantage point of now and the few things I had to say were descriptive, not prescriptive. I had in mind what might be useful for non-practitioners to know to help them recognize a genre.
We humans like categories, taxonomies, comparative lists, etc., etc. I think it is only natural to want to differentiate ourselves from others. We prefer to think of ourselves as unique until, of course, we find we're not.
I find nothing untoward about cutting out a niche based on some set of rules. The ABF wants to hew to their original theme...what's wrong with that? I'm very happy playing at their rally and I'm not about to attempt to push their limits. BTW, the Spring Rally is going on right now. I wish I was there!
I think Ian's introduction, "What is Classic Banjo?" is fair and reasonably open ended. The genre continues to re-define itself...but I don't think we've touched the surface of what was published in the period. I have no need to look to new horizons when we have piles of undiscovered territory rotting away on our shelves.
I have no trouble with modern stuff that has a connection (no matter how tenuous) to our auld stuff. There's no mandate to watch it or participate in discussion.
What shaped and influenced the popularity of the banjo in the UK in the late 19th century, was the fact that Queen Victoria liked the instrument and her approval of the 'African Harp' ensured that it became 'respectable' and 'fashionable', in the eyes of the upper classes. Queen Victoria started a 'society craze' for the instrument which was capitalised upon by Essex and others. Essex took over Sir Henry Irving's premises adjacent to New Bond Street to give his preferred customers, the rich and titled, confidence that what he had to offer was the right kind of banjo and banjo music which was favoured by the Royal family. Cammeyer had his premises on York Street, but always proclaimed his address as being Jermyn Street (entrance in York Street). The banjo was a snobby pastime at the turn of the 19th/20th century, Essex himself declared, "It didn't matter how much my banjos cost, we couldn't get enough of them to satisfy the demand". Several of Victoria's children took banjo lessons, and the enormously popular, Edward. Prince of Wales, later King Edward V11 was well known as a banjo fan having had lessons from the Bohees; his first banjo, a fretless 'tub' banjo was given to an inhabitant of the Isle of Wight when the Prince moved on to playing a Weaver banjo, his old banjo was featured in an article in the B.M.G. magazine in the 1930s.I think it was Brewster who published a list, on the front cover of one of his banjo books, of titled gentry who patronised his studio. Old Vicky has a lot to answer for.
My brief experience of a 7-string flush-fret 'tub' - and crucially with real gut strings - is that it gave a beautifully-intimate style of playing, perfect for audiences of immediate family members and a dog, though the latter was optional. I'm literally 'at home' with this sound, and could play for hours. But then the fashion moved to louder, more penetrating sounds, and this became a more outward sound, perhaps projected into a hall, becoming a more socially outward experience, hence the rise of the clubs and orchestras. Does this chime with what you are saying, Mike?
I was aware of the research on the concertina as I played the banjo with Dougie Rogers (considered, I believe, to be the concertina supremo at the time) as a zither banjo duet, on a regular basis a few years ago. Dougie introduced me to the life, times and the works of 'The Great Regondi' and other prominent 19th century, concertina players, an eye opener, to one whose acquaintanceship with the concertina had hitherto been confined to 'Captain Pugwash' and the 'Trumpet Hornpipe'. I'm not a fan of the concertina in general, but Dougie could certainly play it and knew/knows a lot about the instrument, its manufacturers and the prominent performers thereon, and has written extensively on these subjects. My personal involvement with the instrument is confined solely to an unfortunate experience I had with a bass concertina, in the Forest of Dean. As to the Royal family, their pastimes and day to day life have always held a fascination and exerted a, in my opinion, disproportionate, influence on the activities of the general public, not just in the British Isles either, but world wide. Take for instance the fashion for gentlemen to wear their waistcoats with the bottom button left unfastened, this came about when King Edward V11 attended a public event, his valet having inadvertently left the bottom button of his Majesty's waistcoat unfastened. The gentlemen present at the event, having noticed this appalling discrepancy in the King's attire, immediately unfastened the bottom button on their own waistcoats in order to save his Majesty any embarrassment. This fashion lasted well into the 1960s as at that time three piece suits were supplied, on which the bottom waistcoat button had become a mere ornament, it being by now, unable to be fastened at all. Likewise with Lady Diana Spencer's engagement ring, which prompted an enormous sale, to the general public, of similar rings mounted with a large Sapphire surrounded by diamonds. The influence of Queen Victoria and Edward V11 on the popularity of the banjo cannot be underestimated, it could only have happened in the UK, which explains why the banjo was probably as popular in the UK as it was in the U.S.A. between 1850 and 1900.
Following this line of argument, one wonders what might have happened if Edward VII had left his flies undone!
Cheers, Mike. It would be nice to hear a sound file of your 7-string. Wish I still had mine!
Gut strings are the best - no question. Pitch at A=432 is not something I would get into an argument over. Let's just say that surviving tuning forks of the 19th century are all over the place regarding A. And I'm old enough to remember playing in 'guitar bands' in the 70s, where pitch was a moveable feast - as witnessed on recordings of the era. "Tune to where it sounds right" is my mantra, unless you are forced to tune to a piano - wherever that might be in pitch. A=432 is a fine academic pitch for orchestral instruments, but I imagine few people of that time would know what you are talking about.
For a brief overview of the pitch situation, see https://capionlarsen.com/history-pitch/
I too play with just the flesh of the finger pads, on banjos, lutes and guitars. Wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.
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