The cello as a percussion instrument

Romanian Garon
Romanian Gardon player (photo by Jack Campin)

This is going to be a quick post as I have to go teach this afternoon and then rehearse with the IU Southeast Orchestra tonight.  But I had come across what’s called a “pogo cello” just a bit ago.  The wikipedia entry for the instrument states:

The pogo cello was created in the 1950s in Brooklyn, New York by a chemist, Mack Perry, the husband of a music educator, Sylvia Perry. Perry patterned it after a similar instrument called a bumbass (boombas, boomba, or boom bass) also known as a stump fiddle (or stumpf fiddle). Pogocellos were manufactured in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway, New York and in New Jersey. The pogocello was sold in the United States for decades as a musical instrument for children, but many adults also bought them for themselves.

Pogocellos have been seen in marching bands in Iowa and in the Mummers’ parade in Philadelphia, PA on New Year’s Day. Similar instruments may be found today in Australia, Czechoslovakia and in Sweden (a Devil’s fiddle or Devil’s stick) and in other countries, for example at Oktoberfests. They have been played in blues, soul, bluegrass and other kinds of musical groups. Television show host, Garry Moore, played one on his show in the 1950s. Since 1975 the Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society, an American traditional music group which plays Celtic, French Canadian, Appalachian, nautical, and other kinds of folk music, has featured a pogocello made by woodcarver Rita Dunipace, and pogocello player David “Doc” Rosen.

A great video describing and demonstrating the instrument:

Continue reading “The cello as a percussion instrument”

“The Cello in Britain: A Technical and Social History”

Mel Bay - Celtic Groove for cello duet
Mel Bay has a whole range of traditional tunes arranged for cello and cello duos including the Celtic Groove collection above

The titled of this blog post is an article published by Brenda Neece in The Galpin Society Journal (Volume 56, June, 2003).  I had downloaded it some time ago (JSTOR is my friend!) but in between lessons yesterday I decided to skim the contents.  Some very interesting tidbits here, and I had already learned a bit about some of the usage of the cello in Scottish folk music through an article written by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas in the Strings Magazine.  In particular, the opening two paragraphs:

In Scotland, the fiddle and cello reigned supreme as the dance band of choice in the golden age of Scottish music and dance—the second half of the 18th century and even well into the 19th.The famous dance fiddler Niel Gow (1727–1807), the doyen of Scottish fiddlers, was in great demand to play for village dances and society balls often with his brother Donald on cello. There are eyewitness accounts of the dancers having to leave the ballroom because of the excitement created by the musicians.

Scottish music publishers did a thriving business printing collections of reels, jigs, strathspeys, and other dance tunes that included not only the melody, but also a bass line for the cello, or “bowed bass” as it was known. The written bass line was often quite rudimentary, serving only as a guide; as the publishers often assumed that cellists would prefer to improvise their own accompaniments.

really intrigued me.

Brenda Neece’s article

the Scottish fiddle tradition may provide a clue about the function of this system. In this tradition, boys seem to have learned to play the bass fiddle first-even though it might have been cumbersome for a child, it had the simplest parts-and then they moved up to the treble. By learning the easiest part first, a player could perform in a group earlier in his training, and thus gain the most performance experience possible. Some bass players then reversed the process and, after learning the tunes on the fiddle, played them on the bass fiddle.  Such a pedagogical tradition might help explain some of the unusual fingerings in early cello treatises.

The author goes on to explain how many of the early 18th century cello treatises in Britain included what we would normally associate with violin fingerings. Continue reading ““The Cello in Britain: A Technical and Social History””