“What do they sound like?”
“What music did they play?”
These are two common questions I am inevitably asked by visitors to the Miner Museum, whether the visitors are interested in ethnic, ancient European or early American instruments. I wish I had the time and talent to be prepared to demonstrate on command, but alas, I’m falling further behind (my old Christmas Collection project and the recent Norwegian Wood CD may have to suffice).
For the “BMG instruments” (early American banjos, mandolins and guitars), one not only needs to keep their chops up, but be familiar with the repertoire. It’s not my forte by any stretch, and there aren’t a whole lot of dedicated researchers and practitioners these days.
And so, I was thrilled when the young and dedicated virtuoso Matt Redman came to visit this last February and spent some time (an entire Sunday, it turned out) putting some of my instruments properly through their paces. He had his camera phone turned on for some of it and his kindly allowed me to share some of that with you. I’ll post that in the next blog issue with details on the tunes and instruments. Meanwhile, I highly recommend reading this post for background on Matt & Co.
I first discovered Matt in 2015 when he responded to my article on Roy Butin, after he had taken the time to figure out the actual notes and keys of the improperly-digitized 78rpm recordings. That was when I learned of his activities and his desire to add a harp guitar to his growing fretted instrument arsenal. Matt is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist and jazz performance graduate, who has been seriously bitten by the “BMG era” bug. Meaning: the popular fretted instruments and music of America (and correspondingly, Europe) of the early 1900s.
In the last several years, Matt – mostly in his duo with mezzo-soprano and vintage sheet music collector Patricia Hammond (above) – has undertaken numerous projects, with countless successful appearances with Patricia (and sometimes the Versatility Serenaders) all over Great Britain. They do seem to have this obscure niche pretty well cornered! Visit Matt’s web site or Facebook page and you can get a sense of the variety of these activities. The latest? Matt will be heard in the upcoming film “Tolkien” (anxiously awaited by hobbit-lovers everywhere). With any luck, Patricia and another friend (miming the guitar part Matt recorded) will appear on screen in a hotel scene set in 1910. Matt’s arrangement for clarinet, violin, cello, voice and guitar was meant to include his harp guitar, but he was unfortunately away on vacation. Too bad – that would have been nice to see.
In the musical world Matt and his partners have chosen to explore, it is impossible not to encounter the harp guitar – where it was ubiquitous, often promoted as a necessity, for the live performance of this music. Ergo, Matt’s haunting of Harpguitars.net as part of his investigations and our eventual meeting. He eventually got a “temp HG” – an inexpensive German kontragitarre with (rare for that instrument) a full 12 chromatic sub-basses.
But he was really after a classic American harp guitar form of the era, and so – in a rare lull between engagements – booked a trip to come all the way to California to try some out at – where else?
Until next time, here’s a recent clip of Matt and Patricia working out some new Ernst Brockmann music with his nylon-string contra-guitar: