Steven Arntson, Anglo chromatician

With the rework of the ICA website, we are planning to do profiles of our members. This is the first one: Steven Arntson, an Anglo concertina player and composer living in Seattle, U.S.A. He likes chromatics. His band, The Toy Boats, includes a toy piano, ukelele and other small instruments. Here’s a small interview with Steven…

When did you start playing the Anglo? And at what age?
I started playing in 2004, at the age of thirty two. I had musical training before that, primarily in music composition. My first concertina was a plastic 20-button Stagi, which I played for a year, and destroyed in the process. Then my wife bought me the 30-button Anglo that I play today, built by Bob Tedrow.

In your sheet music, you have symbols to describe the movement of the bellows. Is this your own invention?
I have created a few notational devices for Anglo concertina music. In addition to “open” and “close” symbols, I notate the music on a grand staff in which the right hand plays the upper stave and the left hand the lower. It’s all in the service of me trying to clearly transcribe my compositional ideas, and I dearly hope that they do help and don’t simply cause confusion. I want others to be able to play the music if they’re interested in it.

Are you influenced by other people/music in your compositions?
When growing up I was utterly immersed in pop music, particularly what we in the U.S. call “prog rock.” These were bands from the 1970s like Yes, Jethro Tull, and Genesis, whose music was characterized by long formats, unpredictable structures, and frequent shifts in time signature, all of which I consider hallmarks of my own present compositional style. My listening interests have changed many times since then. Currently I’m listening to a lot of music from the Balkans, especially brass band music, which has taught me much more about the relationship between meter, rhythm, and melody.

How would you describe the music of your band?
The quartet I play in when I’m not doing solo work is called The Toy Boats. It was started by our toy piano player, who wanted to form a group that played “small” instruments. Our lineup is ukulele, toy piano, glockenspiel, and concertina (as well as some other small instruments, such as tin whistles and melodicas). The original concept of the group was that we would perform at “pet funerals”–for instance, if someone’s goldfish died, we would play while it got flushed. But we still have never done that! Our music is partly arrangements of Hungarian folk tunes and compositions by Nino Rota, and partly original compositions by our ukulele player (to whom I am married).

One of Steven’s compositions is featured in the Concertina World magazine music supplement 444. A more elaborate interview will be published in Concertina World issue 445.

You can follow Steven Arntson on his website: