Banjo vs. Guitar

This entry is part 19 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems

The Banjo Player, by William Sydney Mount (1856)
The Banjo Player, by William Sydney Mount (1856)

Where guitar says body, banjo says head.

Where guitar says soundboard, banjo says membrane.

Where guitar says six, banjo says one for each finger.

Where guitar says bridge, banjo says keep going.

Where guitar says hole, banjo says full.

Series Navigation← Open-Backed BanjoBanjo Origins (1): The American Instrument →

3 Comments


  1. In regards to the painter, William Sydney Mount, I was impressed — looking around the web — to see how often he painted musicians, and how sympathetically he depicted African Americans. I kept my college textbook on American Art (Milton W. Brown et. al., Prentice-Hall/Abrams, 1979), and here’s some of what it says about him:

    Mount’s treatment of blacks is unusual for the time in its awareness of the social problem. By the very nature of his art anything but an implied comment would have disturbed the harmony of his ideal rural world. But though that comment is unobtrusive and personal rather than political, he represents blacks as human beings and with dignity. The heroic stature of the black woman in Eel Spearing at Setauket (1845) discloses his emotional involvement.

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  2. Ah, turns out he was a musician himself:

    Music strongly influenced William Sidney Mount’s life and art. When Mount was eight years old he was sent to live with an uncle, Micah Hawkins, who had a passion for the theater and music and passed this love on to his nephew, Hawkins was the composer of a successful operetta called The Saw-Mill, or A Yankee Trick and was known for entertaining customers with a piano he had built into a counter of the store he operated.

    Mount was an accomplished violinist and was often invited to play the popular jigs, waltzes, and reels of the time at parties and dances. In 1852 he patented the “Cradle of Harmony,” a violin he designed to be more audible over the boisterous foot stomping typical of country dances. He displayed various models of the violin in 1853 at the Exhibition of Industry of All Nations in New York’s Crystal Palace.

    Mount was very close to his brother Robert, a music and dance instructor. The only Mount son who did not make a career of painting, Robert traveled extensively most of his life, arranging performances and parties. William wrote his brother numerous letters in which he discussed fiddle playing and dancing. He would often include bars of music from songs he heard performed at area parties and even composed two of his own songs, In the Cars, on the Long Island Railroad and Musings of an Old Bachelor

    (None of which has anything to do with today’s poem. Guess I really should’ve made a separate post out of this.)

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