Welcome to this week’s Banjo Friday! Today we have some more music that fits (more or less) in the classical banjo vein, & I think you’ll enjoy it.
When we think of banjo music in the 1860s, we probably think first of the “comic” & sentimental tunes we’d associate with blackface minstrelsy: “Camptown Races,” “Polly Wolly Doodle,” “The Old Folks at Home,” & so forth. Certainly the Foster tunes & other like them were a significant part of the banjo repertoire. But the banjo was already adapted to other uses within the Euro-American culture: although the banjo as parlor instrument—played by both sexes—is often thought of as a somewhat later development from the 1880s & 90s, in fact, parlor music & light classical type pieces were composed earlier than this. We know this by the existence of books like Buckley’s Banjo Guide from 1868, which contains a truly diverse collection of playing styles.
In today’s video, Scottish multi-instrumentalist Rob MacKillop gives a recital of four dance pieces from Buckley’s guide (a polka, schottische, mazurka, & jig) on a fretless banjo strung with gut strings. It’s a wonderful sound & a great performance by a musician who is not only a banjo virtuoso (both 5 & 4 string varieties), but is also a master classical guitar player & lutenist, & who branches out into the ukulele, the vihuela & the medieval guitar!
Of course by 1868, the banjo was not exclusively a fretless instrument as it had been in origin—in fact, the illustration on the cover of Buckley’s Banjo Guide shows a fretted instrument. But the fretless certainly remained in common use until the true mass production of banjos started in the 1880s & beyond.
Mr MacKillop has published a book entitled Early American Classics for Banjo, which contains arrangements of pieces similar to these. You can find out more about this & more of his ventures into classical music on the banjo at his website dedicated to this subject.
In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful music!
Image links to its source at MacKillop's Classical Banjo site