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Apr 15, 2021 - 6:06:36 AM
10 posts since 11/23/2016

My wife is involved in historical recreation groups and they want me to get involved and play banjo. I have two banjos that are period appropriate, so that's not an issue, the issue is determining what songs would have been played in the eras being recreated. They are specifically asking for 1860's, the clearest pick there being Soldier's Joy. Do you know of any other songs, or how one would even determine when certain songs were either written or gained prominence?

Apr 15, 2021 - 6:35:23 AM

mbanza

USA

2327 posts since 9/16/2007

There may be some useful resources here:
traditionalmusic.co.uk/traditional-music/

Apr 15, 2021 - 7:23:34 AM
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csacwp

USA

2836 posts since 1/15/2014

In the 1860s tbe vast majority of people were playing blackface minstrel tunes and songs on the banjo. If historical accuracy is your goal, I'd steer clear of the modern "old-time" repertoire. Even if a few of the tunes (like Soldier's Joy) predate the Civil War, that doesn't mean they were played on the banjo.

Apr 15, 2021 - 7:39:32 AM
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6132 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by cmbower

My wife is involved in historical recreation groups and they want me to get involved and play banjo. I have two banjos that are period appropriate, so that's not an issue, the issue is determining what songs would have been played in the eras being recreated. They are specifically asking for 1860's, the clearest pick there being Soldier's Joy. Do you know of any other songs, or how one would even determine when certain songs were either written or gained prominence?


"Songs" usually denote singing-- it is easy to find sheet music with copyright dates which will give you the year of wide circulation.  Keep in mind that many so called 'folk song" standards have vague origins and would not be widely circulated or known like they are today.  Stick to popular standards of the time you are portraying, you will be able to connect a publication date to them and remove all doubt.

By the ACW, the most popular music (and that most associated with banjo at the time) was Minstrelsy.  Consider carefully the setting you are playing in when singing the lyrics and prepare for a serious discussion about them when you do. 

Also avoid the trap that many American Civil War reenactors fall into by playing post war music written about the war.

A few instrument guidelines to follow that will give you a leg up:

Bodhrans are post WW2 folk era development.  They are not the same thing as a tambourine and tambourines should not be played like a Bodhran. 

The Mandolin did not become popular in America until after the tour of the Figaro Spanish Students in 1880.  Even then it took some time before widespread popularity of the Neapolitan mandolin took hold in the US.  During the ACW, you would likely not know what a mandolin was.

The Richter tuned harmonica did not become popular until the early 1870s, largely supported by Joseph Emmett and his character "Fritz" which created a craze for anything "Tyrolean" including yodeling in popular music.  It would be extremely unlikely that anyone in the US would have had a Richter harmonica during the ACW.  With that said, the earliest model Richter harmonica currently available was put on the market in 1896.  So any harmonica in serviceable condition today would not be period correct by several decades

Guitars were strung with gut trebles, wire wound over silk basses, and played fingerstyle.  The application of the mandolin plectrum to the guitar postdates the mandolin's popularity in the US by about 15 to 20 years.  We start to see evidence of pick played guitar around 1890-1900 and only becoming widely popular just before 1920.  Stick to the Carcassi Method if you add guitar.  Carcassi was widely circulated in the US and was the standard teaching method.

Fifes are for marching.

Fiddles were strung with gut and did not have fine tuners (or chin rests).

Don't be the guy that shows up with bones and does not know how to play them.  They take a lot of practice and strict understanding of time.  Otherwise they are just noise.  Practice with metronome.  And while we are on bones, don't be the guy who plays spoons or washboard or any other jug band era percussion noise maker. 

As far as playing the banjo, the only way to achieve historically informed performance is to use the primary source material we have and know that was used. 

By far the best source for learning is Frank Converse's method of 1865 which we call the "Green Book" due to the cover color on the original.

https://archive.org/details/Converse1865Green

Supplement that for repertoire with the Phil Rice book, and the two James Buckley books.

https://www.timtwiss.com/banjo-print-downloads

Briggs' Banjo Instructor was the first true method book published in 1855 for the banjo (and there is evidence that it was written by Frank Converse).   The music in it is good and many pieces have become standards among the hobby, but it was written in a pitch that became obsolete soon after publication.  Tim Twiss has transposed the entire work to the pitch that that other American publications used until 1901.  We have a statement from one of the few people we know played  banjo as a solider during the ACW that the Briggs' book was a good representation of banjo playing during the war.

 

I recommend using the Converse book and reading in "A notation".  Learn the peaces in Briggs' with Tim's transposed A notation edition.

What type of banjo do you plan on playing?

Apr 15, 2021 - 8:26:01 AM

6132 posts since 9/21/2007

Ha! "peaces"-- for war time music.

Apr 15, 2021 - 9:05:58 AM

carlb

USA

2244 posts since 12/16/2007

quote:
Originally posted by cmbower

............They are specifically asking for 1860's, the clearest pick there being Soldier's Joy. Do you know of any other songs, or how one would even determine when certain songs were either written or gained prominence?


If you want to know what tunes were around prior to 1860 then there are a few collections that were put together or tunes prior to that date. There are many recognizable tunes that we still play today.

 

Stephen Collins Foster songs (Born in Pittsburgh on July 4, 1826, died on January 13, 1864)

 

Virginia Reels (while this link is only for no. 3, there are 1 and 2, though I don't know why they don't show up; contact me if you interested in 1 and 2.

https://www.loc.gov/notated-music/?dates=1830-1839&fa=segmentof:sm1839.012100.0/%7Ccontributor:knauff,+g.+p.&sb=shelf-id&st=gallery

other links to Knauff's collections

https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/9242

Information on all the volumes

http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/george-p-knauffs-virginia-reels.aspx

 

Janes E. Frill's Musick Book, Reading [PA], 1830

An easy readable manuscript of Frill's hand written notated-music published by me and the Goschenhoppen Historians (copies for sale from me or the Goschenhoppen Historians). Some tunes starting from 1799 and some original tunes (unknown author) that are names of engines on the Reading Railroad. Many recognizable tunes.

Apr 17, 2021 - 5:53:55 PM

5962 posts since 3/11/2006

Two other books that may be of help are Mel Bay's edition of Howe's 1,000 Jigs and Reels (original published 1867), and American Antebellum Fiddling by Chris Goertzen, University of Mississippi Press.  Both publish the tunes in musical notation (something all banjo players would profit from knowing how to read).  Even so, a perusal of the contents would be enlightening as to tunes in circulation prior to the Civil War.  A surprising number survive in the common OT repertoire to this day.  As many of these are found in the clawhammer banjo repertoire, one might surmise that they were played by banjoists back then.

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