Bonded with a banjo: Stroke-style concerts planned this weekend at battlefield

June 21, 2012|By AMY DULEBOHN |
  • Banjo expert George Wunderlich made this reproduction of an 1840 Boucher, named for a Baltimore banjo maker.
File photo

SHARPSBURG —  For many 21st-century Americans, mention the banjo and the image that often comes to mind is a white man in overalls playing bluegrass or a similar style of music.

But George Wunderlich, executive director at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, said that image isn't an accurate depiction of the original instrument.

Wunderlich, who is also a banjo aficionado, said the style of banjo music from the Civil-War era will ring through the grounds of the Pry House Field Hospital on Antietam National Battlefield, from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 23, during a banjo concert. The event is part of the fifth early American banjo conference, which starts today and continues through Sunday, June 24.

Wunderlich said only people registered for the conference will be performing in the concert, scheduled to be outdoors, but could be moved to the Pry House Barn if the weather is bad.

"(This) has grown very organically from all over the United States," he said.

Musicians learn from original sheet music that's found around the country.

Also included in Saturday's festivities will be period dancers, fiddlers and bone players. Most of the performers, including Wunderlich, he said, will be in period costume, as well.

Wunderlich said the stroke-style method of banjo playing, which is the method concert participants will play, disappeared around 1884. "If you're not familiar with this style, then you've not heard the banjo played this way," he said.

The banjo, according to Wunderlich, got its origins in western Africa. However, in the Antebellum United States, opportunists sought to "elevate the image of the banjo, and make it more European," he said.

The people looking to profit from changing the banjo's image came mostly from the Northern states, and took banjo music into large cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati and St. Louis, Wunderlich said. Banjoists used to play classical music on the banjo, including Bach and Beethoven.

Banjo collector groups have come to the conference, as well as individuals from Sweden, Gambia and West Africa, Wunderlich said.

The performers at Saturday's concert include professional and semi-professional banjo musicians, Wunderlich said. Maryland performer Greg Adams will attend, as well as Kansas resident Carl Anderton.

The participants in Saturday's event will feature music performed on reproduction and original banjos.

An encore concert is scheduled for 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday,  at the Dunker Church at Antietam National Battlefield.

If you go ...

What: Banjo concert by early American-style banjoists

WHEN:  5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 23

WHERE: Pry House Field Hospital lawn, 18906 Shepherdstown Pike, Sharpsburg. In case of inclement weather, the concert will be moved to the Pry House Barn

COST: $5; $3 for children younger than 15.

CONTACT: Call 301-695-1864

MORE: Proceeds benefit National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.; another concert takes place from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Dunker Church on Antietam National Battlefield

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