Oberon, an English Concertina

Oberon is my "Tedrow Tenor" English System Concertina.

It was made for me by Bob Tedrow of Homewood Music in Kentucky.

Concertinas, smaller cousins of the much more well known accordian, come in three basic varieties. On an Anglo each button sounds two notes: One when you push the bellows together, and another when you pull them apart. This is the most common form of concertina. The duet is set up with low notes on one hand, and high notes on the other. On my concertina, the English, one alternates hands while progressing up or down a scale, and each button sounds only one note, no matter whether you are pushing or pulling the bellows.

On an English concertina, the buttons are arranged in four rows. The inner two rows are the natural notes, the equivelent of the white keys on the piano, and the outer rows are the sharps and flats. Because Oberon is a Tenor, his lowest note is the C below middle C. He has a range of just over three octaves.

The instrument is held by slipping the thumbs through the thumb straps, and the stabilizing the instrument with the forth finger (pinky) on the finger plate. This finger can be removed to asist in fingering some of the notes. My hands are too weak to be able to support Oberon like this for very long, so I generally rest him on my knees while playing.

A Very Short History of the English Concertina

The concertina was invented by British inventer, engineer and physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1827. It was so popular that eventually the firm of Wheatstone was so busy making concertinas that it was forced to abandon its other interests.

Sir Charles began by trying to make improvements on the German "mund-harmonica" and his first attempt, a "Symphonium," created in 1825 was a mouth organ. In 1829 he patentented several "improved" variations on his Symphonium, one of which was clearly a concertina, though that name was not adopted for some years.

By 1835 Whheatstone's were selling a concertina with 48 keys very much like the English Concertina of today, except that it was single action, and was tuned acoustically. In 1844 Wheatstone registered his patent for "Concertina and other musical instruments." This patent not only covered the English Concertina as we know it today, but also many other concertina variants, including fore-runners of the Anglo and Duet concertinas.

But how did I end up with one of these things?

Well, I was flipping through a catalog from Lark in the Morning, a store that specializes in ethnic and unusual musical instruments. The description of the Anglo concertinas didn't interest me much. They sounded too much like a harmonica, and I had never been able to coax recognizable tunes out of one of those things. The English concertina, however, intrigued me. It was incredibly small and portable. It had all the notes --sharps and flats, could play harmony, could play soft or loud --crescendo, or descendo, and the unique arrangement of the buttons and corresponding notes made playing from a written score especially easy. All notes on the lines are played on the left hand, all notes between the lines are played on the right.

I finally got my courage up, and scraped together enough to purchase an inexpensive second hand instrument from The Button Box. My first concertina was a used Bastari 48 button treble, and although I enjoyed playing with it very much, it was starting to wear out. At last the damage seemed too great for my ability to make quick/easy repairs, and as I knew that as a used instrument of low quality it wasn't really worth fixing, I made the plunge and payed more than I could afford for a much higher quality new model with a lower range.


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