Bee's Wing (The)

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BEE'S WING HORNPIPE. AKA - "The Bee's Wing." English (originally), Scottish, Canadian, Irish; Hornpipe or Clog. Canada, Cape Breton. B Flat Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (Brody, Cole, Cranford/Holland, McNulty): AABBCCDD' (Hunter). Composed by the 19th century Gateshead (near Newcastle), northern England, composer James Hill, originally born in Dundonia, Scotland (nicknamed the "Newcastle Paganini"). The "Bee's Wing" has become in modern times one of the most popular Scottish fiddle hornpipes. It is attributed to Hill in Köhlers’ Violin Repository (Book 2) and was named after a famous Newcastle racehorse, a mare. Bee's Wing was foaled in 1833, sired by Dr. Syntax (1811-1838), a champion in his own right, and was bred by William Orde, a former Member of Parliament who had inherited an estate at Nunnykirk, near Morpeth, Northumberland. Bee's Wing won the Newcastle Gold Cup six times, the Doncaster Gold Cup four times, and the Ascot Gold Cup in 1842-in her career she started 64 times and won an astounding 51 races. So great was her fame that when she retired in 1842, to be put to pasture as a broodmare at Nunnykirk, Northumberland, the whole town of Morpeth turned out to greet her on her return. A local pub was renamed in her honor. It is possible the tune was named with the pub in mind, as well as the racehorse, for Hill was both an affectionado of horseracing (composing several tunes in honor of race horses and owners), and a sometime publican who also played in pubs.

A note in Ryan's/Cole's indicates the tune "can be used as a clog." "The Bee's Wing" is one of the tunes sometimes requested of Shetland fiddlers because "anything composed in a flat key is considered to be a real test of a fiddler's ability" (Cooke, 1986). Irish fiddler Sean Maguire composed a famous set of variations to Hill's melody. See also O'Neill's related "Southern Shore."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; pg. 39. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; pg. 91. Cranford (Jerry Holland: The Second Collection), 2000; No. 55, pg. 23. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 337. Köhlers’ Violin Repository, Book 2 (Edinburgh), 1881-1885; p. 133. McNulty (Dance Music of Ireland), 1965; pg. 23. Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; pg. 126.

Recorded sources: Olympic 6151, Arthur Robertson- "Scottish Traditional Fiddle Music" (1978). Rounder 7005, Carl Mackenzie- "Welcome To Your Feet Again." Rounder RO 7023, Natalie MacMaster - "No Boundaries" (1996. Learned from Dave MacIsaac). Viva W103, Sean McGuire [sic] - "Irish Jigs and Reels" (c. 1960's, a reissue of "Sean Maguire Plays," the first recording of McGuire that Josephine Keegan accompanied on piano). Voyager 320-S, Frank Ferrel- "Fiddle Tunes."

See also listings at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [3]




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