Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

It's time once more for a little music in honor of St. Patrick's Day, just as in 2009 and 2010. This year's post is dedicated to a wonderful little instrument: the concertina.

The concertina is a type of squeezebox. To those who are unfamiliar with the concertina, it could probably best be described as a mini-accordion: it is smaller both in size and in sound. Unlike most types of accordion, the concertina has buttons rather than a keyboard. The typical Anglo concertina, which is the type most widely used in Irish music, has 30 buttons, 15 on each side. Each button plays one note at a time, but the note produced when the player pushes the bellows in is a different note from that produced when the player pulls the bellows out. It is possible to push more than one button at a time, which gives the player the ability to produce chords.

The concertina has never been as popular in Irish music as the accordion, and until recently it was confined mainly to County Clare. For whatever reason, as well, the concertina was very popular among women. One of the most important concertina-players before the folk revival of the 1970's was Mrs. Crotty of Kilrush. While not much of her music was recorded, her legacy lives on in the playing of her nephew Michael Tubridy, one of the original members of the Chieftains, who, though best known for his flute playing, could also knock out a tune on the concertina.

Another good concertina player is Mary McNamara of Tulla. Her slow, steady pace in the next video (as well as in this video) is typical of the County Clare style.

Two other fine female concertina players today are Ernestine Healy and Niamh Ni Charra.

Probably the best known concertina player over the last thirty years, though, is Noel Hill, also from County Clare.

Finally, the concertina tends to be played solo; for whatever reason, it has not featured prominently in many bands. One exception to that statement is Niall Vallely's Buille, which in the next set manages to combine Irish traditional music with jazz influences, all with the concertina up front and center.

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