I used to follow a newsgroup on Usenet (an early form of social media, and predecessor to Facebook etc.) called rec.music.makers.squeezebox, which discussed matters concerning accordions, melodeons and concertinas. One day in July 2006, there was a thread (set of messages) about the effects of altitude on free reed instruments like concertinas. Someone was suggesting that the thinner air at altitude would adversely affect the volume and the pitch, and ease of starting of the notes that the concertina played. Google Groups has archived the thread - you can read it at this thread.
|San Bernardino range from Redlands||Paul on Rim of the World|
At that time I was in the habit on a Saturday of driving 10 miles north from where I lived, up into the San Bernardino Mountains to Green Valley Lake village where I took part in a regular Celtic music jam session. The lake sits at 7,200 feet (2,195 m), and is surrounded by summits rising to 11,489 feet (3,502 m) at San Gorgonio Mountain.
|Green Valley Lake||Lake in Snow||Lake at Sunset|
The next time I was 'up the hill' at a Green Valley Lake music session, I tried to determine whether the altitude affected the way I played, or the volume or pitch of the sounds that resulted. As far as I could tell, it made no audible difference. I also tried at the top of the Onyx pass which is the highest road in the area at 8,443ft (2,573 m). So, I reported to the newsgroup that as far as I could tell, 8500 feet or 2500 m of altitude makes little difference to the way that I played the concertina, or the notes that came out. The only observed negative factor was that on one older instrument, a couple of reeds were a little slower to start speaking than at home below in the valley.
|GVL Outdoor Music||GVL Jam Session||Onyx Pass|
It so happened that the next month I was travelling on business to Boulder Colorado. Nearby, the scenic byway up Mount Evans reaches near the summit at 14,271-foot (4350 m). This is the highest metalled road in North America. So, I took my concertina and my GPS, and drove up the mountain on this road, and although the very top section was closed, at 13,000 feet I stopped and played the concertina. I have a photo (below) of the GPS showing the altitude of 12936 ft, together with the concertina. As far as I could tell it made no difference to the volume or pitch of the instrument. I suspect that one unconsciously applies a little more force to the bellows to compensate for the thinner air.
It's a pity that the conversation did not happen a year earlier, as then I had been to Peru. As well as visiting Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca we crossed the Patapampa Pass at 16109 feet (4910 m) to get to the Colca Canyon. That would have been a real altitude test. However unfortunately I did not have a concertina with me at the time.
|Mt Evans 13000 ft||Patapampa Pass 16000 ft|
|Badwater Flats -282 ft||Video|
|Cambridgeshire highpoint 479 ft||Essex Highpoint 482 ft||147m|
I described this walk on the Cambridge Rambling Club programme as the Twin Peaks route, and made jokes about needing oxygen for the final ascent. While doing the reconnaissance for the walk with Margaret, I took my concertina and played it at the high point of Essex, again recording a little video. There is also a photo of me on the nearest road to the high point of Cambridgeshire - the actual high point 20 metres to the East has a water tower and is therefore enclosed from public access.
|Essex highpoint||Video of me playing at highpoint|
|Holme Fen lowpoint||Post and 'tina||Video|
The point at which I played was by the Holme Fen Posts - the original post was driven through the peat soil into the underlying clay in 1848 before the drainage of the nearby Whittlesey mere. The original wooden post was replaced in 1851 with a cast iron post to the same height, and then another post added later. Now, the tops of the two posts are some 4 metres above the ground due to shrinkage of the peat. See http://www.greatfen.org.uk/holme-fen-posts for more information.
|Posts||Below sea level||Post|
Paul Hardy, December 2018.
This article is also available in print form, as low resolution Word doc (2MB) and as a pdf, but also as a high resolution Word doc (17MB) and pdf.