Was reading an article online…in defense of accordions. A writer in San Francisco touched upon the obvious….like how hard it was to take Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk show seriously in his tangerine colored leisure suit. And the words cheesy, corny, schlock, the sound of polka…associated with this instrument. The writer also described a performance he had been privileged to observe, in a quirky art space in Ocean Beach. A variety show performed by sex workers (strippers, prostitutes, phone operators). A chunky phone girl played Fat Bottom Girls with enthusiasm and energy and skill (on the accordion). He said he was the only straight male in that packed, sweaty audience. Having read his essay, I am approaching the two Easter songs I’m learning on my 12 bass, one secular and one sacred. I’ve been practicing Peter Cottontail and I Love to Tell the Story.
On a whim I googled Greenlandic music and learned they have an instrument called a bull roarer. So do the Australian aborigines. Dating back to the Paleolithic, the bull roarer is found on every continent.
It is a thin, rectangular piece of wood attached to a cord. The cord is given a twist and then swung in a circle either vertically or horizontally. The sound produced is a rumbling vibrato. Some cultures say it is the voice of a god.
I was never very knowledgeable about “serious” music. but I do recall a few years ago a program on public radio about piano pieces by Jean Sibelius that intrigued me, that made me say to myself, “I wish I could play”. He wrote a song cycle about trees. I don’t have any specific recollection about what these pieces sounded like. And perhaps it was merely the idea, that someone from snowy northern Europe would write about trees, that I found attractive. Today I sat wondering what five trees were so honored by Finland’s most famous composer. I was curious enough to look it up and I found that the five trees are the rowan (mountain ash), pine, birch, aspen, and spruce. Sibelius did write about other trees. But these were special, and all familiar to me. The rowan is another name for mountain ash. Its brilliant red berries are sought our by birds as a food source. People eat them too, in jellies, liqueurs, syrups, etc. The rowan has many legends and mystical stories attached to it. The most famous of these piano miniatures is The Spruce. Since winter is so long and lonely, here in MN as well as in Finland, I may as well look it up. Maybe try to play it.
An old landmark, saved from the wrecking ball, and hopefully a venue for arts, education, and community
Musical instruments on this property: two acoustic pianos. The one in the barn has survived dust, mice, and fifty below temps. Electronic keyboard. Two piano accordions, one a ladies size with mediocre tone, and a beautiful sounding 12 bass. Button accordion that plays in C and G. Two mini button accordions. Standard drum set. One hundred year old bass drum from the community band. A bass horn that looks like a Sousa phone but has another name. It’s missing a mouthpiece. E-flat melophone shaped like a French horn but it has valves, not keys. 3 clarinets, one Albert system. A collection of trumpets including one played by my grandfather for silent movies. A boehm flute. Violin that belonged to my grandmother. My dad refinished it once and it’s due for another refinishing. Soprano and bass recorders. Some odd Czechoslovakian flute. Pan-flutes, a gift from my uncle. An Egyptian drum I gave my brother for Christmas. Two melodicas. I quit playing them because too many people asked, “What do you call that instrument?” Guitar got from Green stamps (remember those?). My grandmother’s ukulele. A tonette or two. Bucket of basic rhythm instruments such as tambourine, maracas, castanets, sleigh bells. Wind chimes. I’m sure I’m forgetting something….oh yes…the old washtub bass……
My mother learned to play on an Albert system clarinet. She said that the Boehm system, to which she switched at a young age, was easier for rapid playing. I know one elderly gentleman who learned on the Albert system. College clarinet majors sometimes have heard of Albert systm clarinets but usually have never seen one. I happen to own one. I didn’t know until I googled them that they are easier when it comes to the glissando technique (due to the open holes), and were the instrment of choice or default for many early jazz musicians. They are also used for Turkish and Greek music, and klezmer. And there are a few diehards who continue to play them. Thr is also an Oehler system, which most German and Austrians clarinetists use, which I had not heard of. But now there is Google……
Here are the lyrics to a song I remember from my childhood…and an old 78 rpm record.
A Capital Ship
(Charles Edward Carryl)
A capital ship for an ocean trip
Was the “Walloping Window Blind”
No wind that blew dismayed her crew
Or troubled the captain’s mind
The man at the wheel was made to feel
Contempt for the wildest blow-ow-ow
Tho’ it oft appeared when the gale had cleared
That he’d been in his bunk below
So, blow ye winds, heigh-ho
A-roving I will go
I’ll stay no more on England’s shore
So let the music play-ay-ay
I’m off for the morning train
To cross the raging main
I’m off to my love with a boxing glove
10,000 miles away
My mom liked to remind me when I played this song that my dad had been a sailor. I didn’t understand the words. Now, with Google and instant communications I’ve learned these nonsense words were written by an American poet/stockbroker. But the song appears in lists of tunes associated with Irish culture and it does have a very “Irish” sound to it. I’ve been practicing Molly Malone on my accordion and I very much would like to add A Capital Ship to my repertoire.
I just lost another uncle. A musical uncle. He was also an artist. And a teacher. If my brother and I have any gifts to share with the church, I can honestly say we got some of them from him. We had a memorial service. I spent a lot of time documenting his life, with photos and memorabilia and eulogies. The day of the service arrived. A few family friends came, along with the lunch ladies from church, and our small family. This was in stark contrast to another recent funeral to which the entire congregation turned out. It’s not too late. I still have the memorabilia. If the same folks who stayed away would come to my house, I would serve coffee and tell my uncle’s story. The day after the service I sat in the front pew staring at the funeral flowers and I couldn’t help it. Tears flowed.