Every time I see something like that, I remember a cartoon I saw at music center at Western Michigan University. The cartoon was "The Far Side". In the cartoon there was a large symphony. On the podium as the conductor screaming and tearing his hair out. In the pit among the symphonic musicians was an "Mortimer Snerd" type character holding a banjo. He was wearing a straw hit, a bow tie, and a weird suit. The punch line said "What is that horrible noise !!!".
As Frank Zappa said:
"Music is just a bunch of notes"
NO reason NOT to play classical music on banjo, if one is so inclined.
There is an arrangement of the William Tell Overture, as part of a medley here on the Hangout which I found to be fun to hear.
For Richard Hauser
I am only beginning to play. I am working with a Janet Davis book learning the Scruggs style, she is mixing in a little melodic style which I am starting to like better than Scruggs. I hope someday to play different kinds of music on the banjo.
In the early 80’s I met Pete Pardee at the first Strawberry festival in CA. He was playing his banjo under an EZ-Up and selling his new banjo book. What he was playing was some Bach inventions and other short classical pieces while we were talking. So I think classical music has been done on banjos for some time, though maybe not by someone quite as popular as Bela.
It was a great festival BTW. I won free tickets to it from KQED radio. And it was the first time I got to see Taj Mahal, Riders in the Sky, and the David Grisman group with Tony Rice. Though I didn’t have a mandolin, I still attended a little clinic that Grisman held under a tree just to watch and listen to him play. Big fun.
Edited by - raybob on 11/21/2020 08:04:52
I have a wonderful book called Bach for Banjo. Slowly but surely. I am learning how to play classical music on my banjo.
Pete Seeger included tab for Beethoven's Ode to Joy in his book. He also recorded several classical pieces on the album Goofing-Off Suite, including Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring. None of them ever intended for banjo; some of them translate better than others.
I remember listening to some of Bela Fleck's classical stuff. It showed to me that the banjo is completely unsuitable for any note heavy classical piece and that classical is much more than a bunch of notes. It's fine for fairly simple tunes like Ode to Joy. Jens Kruger does a better job with the Bach Cello Suite because he manages to instill some subtlety into the playing even if we don't really need to hear the cello suite again.
You should check out John Bullard and Claudio Parravicini.
Two modern source books:
-- "Classical Banjo," arrangements by Al Jeffry, Amsco Music Publishing, 1976. Arrangements of pieces most often heard on classical guitar. Music notation, but for string instruments, often indicating strings and fingerings. If you don't read music well and know the fretboard well and are familiar with the guitar pieces, forget this.
-- "Bach for the Banjo," arrangements by John Bullard, Mel Bay Publications, 1999. Tablature and combined tablature/music notation. Very accessible. Helps if you can rearrange some of the fingerings at times, to fit your hands.
In the article there is the statement that the banjo "broke into pop culture mainstream with the theme song of the "Beverly Hillbillies" TV show" etc..
This brings up the question as to why this kept, and keeps, getting repeated as fact?
What caused the greater collective of north America to ignore the years of 1865 to 1920 with regards to the regular banjo? By the late 1880s the banjo was the very definition of "pop culture mainstream". It is not like this was hidden information. In fact, the "mainstream" popularity referenced in the article would only be a fraction compared to how popular it was in the decades of 1880 to 1900. By 1900 the banjo was even considered academic enough to be added to college curriculums.
So what happened there?
RE "classical music" on the banjo. This was a rare, but not unheard of, novelty act starting in the 1880s. Some few banjoists got it in their head that this was the road to being taken seriously and not just considered a lower class (read that as enslaved or free Black) instrument. While this was a minority concept (classical music on the banjo) a few banjoists had reasonable success. Alfred Farland being the biggest champion of this idea.
Despite these few banjoists, hardly any "classical music" was published for the banjo... only a tiny amount compared to the thousands and thousands of pieces of music published.
What is interesting is that the same people who overlook the history (and make statements like found in the article) seem to think that what was being played historically was "classical"--- at least it is often incorrectly referred to as "classical banjo".
I agree, the bluegrass interpretation of "classical banjo" is not the best suited instrument. But I am glad people do it!
Edited by - Joel Hooks on 11/22/2020 08:42:08
To quote from our resident logician, above:
"NO reason NOT to play classical music on banjo, if one is so inclined."
I took some violin lessons from a classical violinist who played in several symphonies. When he showed me the musical notation he was working on, I was stunned. It was amazingly complex. I might have been able to come up with a skeletal version of the tune on the fiddle, but the banjo is not designed to play the music my instructor used. And those classical pieces are so darn long.
'Goldstar GF-85' 11 min
'Our Troops....' 3 hrs
'Homemade banjo demo' 5 hrs
'I Cried Again' 9 hrs
'Home Sweet Home Medley' 10 hrs