Lilly Polka

December 5, 2016 6:03 PM

A lovely little early fingerstyle composition for the banjo by Frank B. Converse, from his 1865 New and Complete Method for the Banjo With or Without a Master.

posted by usonian (7 comments total)

(Video here.)
posted by usonian at 6:04 PM on December 5, 2016

This is under 60 seconds -- was it something you worked on for the challenge?

My favorite part is the middle part (bridge?) and how it contrasts with the rhythm of the rest of the piece. It's so neat that there's an accompanying video, too -- I hadn't realized you made videos until now (I usually listen from the front page or through the recent feeds link), and I think this is the first time I've seen a fretless banjo. (And btw that is a very interesting wall behind you)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 7:22 PM on December 9, 2016

Whenever I think, "I could never have survived listening to popular music/entertainment before the age of recording," I will think of songs like this – maybe in the background noise from the back of a pub, or across the breeze from someone's porch. You play that instrument beautifully.

And agreeing with rangefinder about the middle part – a very emotive set of chords, and balances the two adjoining sides of the song well.
posted by not_on_display at 10:28 PM on December 9, 2016

Thanks everyone! I was a little too late for the challenge, and a lot of these little bite-size tunes from the old tutors come in at under a minute anyway (depending on how many times you repeat them), so I didn't tag it. There are a lot of striking tunes from this same book, some of them are pretty simple but I love the little chromatic bits in Tiger Jig and Lord Bless the Ladies.

In general, a lot of these old tunes have really good hooks - I have hours and hours of recordings of this stuff thanks to Tim Twiss' incredible efforts and sometimes I'll just throw it on shuffle, and inevitably something will come up that makes me say "What was that?! That goes straight onto the to-learn pile!" (Tim has single-handedly recorded an aural record of every single song in pretty much every known banjo instruction book up through the late 1800s... he has over 1000 videos on YouTube at this point.)

And this music really comes alive with vocals and additional instrumentation - rhythm bones, fiddle, dancing:

Circus Jig
'Twil Never do to Give it up So
Hattie Schottische

It's a bit crazymaking that there's no audiovisual record from the period - apart from the infectious sound of the music, by accounts the performances were really dynamic with trick banjo and tamourine playing, dancing, etc.

And, of course, they were appallingly, virulently racist. Bob Winans did some of the first (if not the first) academic work on what this music was really like, and as part of his research he put together an album called The Early Minstrel Show, which is a compelling but difficult listen.
posted by usonian at 3:13 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Whoops, got my books mixed up. Tiger Jig and Lord Bless the Ladies are from James Buckley's 1868 book, not Converse.)
posted by usonian at 3:20 PM on December 11, 2016

Elegant and formal but still cozy. Really interesting chord phrasing in the B part. Well picked!
posted by BlackPebble at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2016

I'm so glad you've been posting. I wonder why you disabled your account? Reconsider and post more!
posted by umbú at 9:27 PM on January 5, 2017

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