Friday, December 14, 2012

“Gumbo Reel and The Pequot Galop”

Welcome, friends, to Banjo Friday! We sure do have a couple of pretty banjo tunes for you today.

If you’re a regular here, you know that this month’s featured artist is Rob MacKillop, a Scottish banjoist who excels in the classic banjo style (when he’s not excelling on various lutes, the classical guitar, the uke or the 4-string varieties of banjos!) & if you’re a regular you also know that the so-called classic style has its origins in the 19th century, & has two defining characteristics: it is typically played on a gut strung (or nylon/synthetic gut-strung) instrument, & it is played by plucking the strings in the same way as a fingerstyle guitarist, with bare fleshy side of the fingers & thumb. In this, it contrasts quite sharply with the two most prevalent styles in contemporary banjo playing—the so-called 3-finger Scruggs or bluegrass style, which also features “up plucks,” but builds melodies on syncopated patterns & is always played with fingerpicks & thumbpicks & on a banjo fitted with steel strings & a resonator; & the frailing or clawhammer style, which covers a host of techniques, but typically involves striking down on the strings with the fingernail of either the index or middle finger, which then alternates in various patterns & configurations with the thumb. The Scruggs style emphasizes the banjo’s brightness & volume; frailing emphasizes its percussiveness.

But the classic banjo style is a whole different thing altogether, & really makes for fun listening! I’ve always found it most natural to “fingerpick” the banjo myself, coming as I do from playing fingerstyle guitar, though I admit I’ve yet to actually put nylon strings on mine. Some day.

The “Gumbo Reel” & “The Pequod Galop” both come from Frank Converse’s 1865 New & Complete Method for the banjo, & features just the sort of pieces folks love to play in the classic style. As is his wont, MacKillop presents delightful versions for our listening pleasure.



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