sectblog1

Wednesday, 05 August 2020 14:32

Does anyone know how to play the Pennsylvania Polka?

concertina

Concertina at HSMC

This lovely instrument is known as a concertina. A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument that uses bellows and buttons to produce sound. It was first patented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in London in 1829. A German model was developed independently by Carl Friedrich Uhlig in 1834.

20200716 143840

Bellows design on HSMC concertina

The original design had one row of five keys on each side of the instrument. It was eventually improved with the addition of more rows of keys. The English concertinas are normally shaped like a hexagon and play the same note when you press a key and pull or push the bellows. The German concertina can sometimes be square shaped and uses a diatonic scale. This means if a musician presses a key and push the bellows inward it makes a different note than if they press the same key and pull the bellows.

concertina 3

Black youth with early square-ended German Concertina, ca. 1864. From the online gallery of Musurgia.com

The concertina was popular in the United States from 1840s to 1900. Unlike other instruments, the concertina was small and affordable for many people. A single row German concertina cost roughly $1 in the late 1860s. A two-row cost roughly $5 in the late 1880s, which would be roughly $30 in 2020. The German concertinas were the least expensive and were thus more popular with the middle and lower class. The English concertinas were generally more expensive and favored by the upper class.

concertina 4

German concertina, mid 19th century C. Coule - New and Complete Method (or Self-Instructor) for Playing the German Concertinas. London: C. Coule

Seeing the popularity of the German concertinas, some English concertina makers started making their own hybrid models. This combination of English and German concertina designs is referred to as an Anglo-German Concertina. These typically have a hexagon shape and use a diatonic scale.

By the early 1900s, accordions replaced the popularity of the concertinas. Today, concertinas are still used to play traditional tango and polka music from countries such as Ireland, England, and South Africa.

Sources:

“Concertina,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concertina#:~:text=A%20concertina%20is%20a%20free,which%20are%20on%20the%20front.

Worrall, Dan. “A Brief History of the Anglo Concertina in the Unites States,” 15 April 2007 http://www.concertina.com/worrall/anglo-in-united-states/index.htm#anchor-1

Norristown in World War I

David Sower, Jr.