Fairy Dance

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X:1 T:Fairy Dance M:2/4 L:1/8 S:W.M. Cahusac's Annual Collection of 24 Country Dances for 1809, No 4 (London, 1809) N:"With proper Directions to each Dance as they are performed at N:Court, Bath, and all Public Assemblys." Z:Transcribed and edited by Fynn Titford-Mock, 2007 Z:abc's:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:G B2 BG|B2 BG|B2 BG|FDAF|B2 BG|cBAG|FDEF|G4:| |:d2 dB|e2 ed|c2 cA|d2 dc|B2 BG|E2 cA|FDEF|G2 G2:||



FAIRY DANCE (Rinnce Na Sideoga/Sideog). AKA and see "Fisher Laddie," "Haymaker (The)," "Ronde des Vieux (La)," "Largo's Fairy Dance," "Merry Dance (The)" (New England), "Old Molly Hare" (Old-Time), "Quadrille des bûcherons: 3ème figure," "Reel combiné," "Rustic Dance (1)." Irish, English, Scottish, Shetlands, American, Canadian; Reel. D Major (most versions): G Major (Merryweather): A Major (O'Neill/1001). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Honeyman, Raven): AAB (O'Neill/1001): AABB (Ashman, Brody, Ford, Martin, Sweet, Taylor, Trim): AABB' (Kerr): AA'BB' (Athole, Merryweather): AABCCD (Roche): AABBCCDDEEF (Cranford/Fitzgerald): AABBCC'DD'EEFF'GGH (Martin & Hughes). This tune is often now considered a "beginning tune" for fiddlers, and though simple it seems to have retained its popularity through the years. It was one of 197 compositions claimed and published (in Fifth Collection, 1809) by Nathaniel Gow (1763–1831) under the title "Largo's Fairy Dance," which dates it to the latter eighteenth or early nineteenth century. An early printing also appears in W.M. Cahusac's Annual Collection of 24 Country Dances for 1809—the same year Gow published his original, and already the 'Largo' of the original title had become detached. Breandan Breathnach (erroneously) states that it was composed by Nathaniel's father, the famous Dunkeld fiddler-composer Niel Gow (1727–1807), for the Fife Hunt Ball held in 1802. It was actually one of a pair of tunes Gow wrote, according to Nigel Gatherer, the second being "Fairies Advance (The)." Both tunes together make up "Largo's Fairy Dance." George Emmerson categorizes this tune as in a class of Scottish tunes defined by the rhythm 'quarter note-two eighths-quarter note-two eighths,' which includes "De'il Among the Tailors," "Rachel Rae," and "Wind that Shakes the Barley (The)" (which Emmerson {1971} says is substantially a set of "Fairy Dance").

In Ireland, "Fairy Dance" was learned by collector P.W. Joyce when in his boyhood in County Limerick, c. 1840 in the south of Ireland. He (Irish Folk Music and Songs, 1909) says a County Donegal (north Ireland) setting of this will be found in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society. "Fairy Dance" was also entered into Book 2 of the c. 1883 music manuscript collection of fiddler and piper Stephen Grier. O'Neill (1913) records that a special dance was performed to the tune in that country.

The similar title by which the tune is known, "The Fairy Reel," features in stories of enchantment by the wee folk. A tale is told by Padraig Mac Aodh-O'Neillin in his 1904 book Songs of Uladh (Songs of Ulster) of the origins of the tune which stem from a fiddler of the Mac Fhionnlachs from Flacarragh:

There was a gathering of Bel-Taine on St. John's Day (23rd of June), around the bonfire in Caislean-na-dThuath in northern Dun-na-nGall about 150–160 years ago (~1850).

"...the fire was wearing low, the dancing nearly over, and the sturdiest steppers getting tired, a stranger came among the people, announcing himself in the words: "Sonas, sonas—luck on all here! The music called me, and I going to bed." He said no more.

He was attired only in his night-garments. Much consternation was caused by his curious appearance and behaviour, the more so as he was quite unknown to the festive-maker. He went around asking the young girls to dance with him; but out of fifty or more assembled there, he found but one (and she, happily, was not a native of the district) who expressed herself willing to accept his invitation. There were three or four fidilers there and one piper, and he called on them to turn on the "Fairy Reel." But not one of them knew it; every man of them declared that the air and the name was new to him. Whereupon the mysterious stranger snatched the fidil out of the hands of mac Fhionnlaoich, the Falcarrach man, who was nearest him, and flourishing his bow with the grace of a master, turned on the tune himself, the people standing around with their mouths wide open in wonderment.

"Now," he said to mac Fhionnlaoich, when he had finished the wonderful tune, "there's your fidil for you. Turn on the 'Reel.' Play it after me; for you're the only man in the Five Kingdoms can do that same!"

So mac Fhionnlaoich complied--somewhat reluctantly, it must be said-and played the 'Fairy Reel: through from beginning to end without a break, while the weird stranger and his fair partner danced, all the people looking on. When he had finished dancing with the girl he slipped a gold peiece into her hand, and turning solemnly towards the people, said: "Remove the fire seven paces to the North, and enjoy yourselves till daybreak. A Sonas, sonas—luck with all here!"

And so saying, he strode off into the darkness, disappearing as mysteriously as he had come.

I give this story pretty much as I got it from my friend Padraig mac Aodh o Neill, who got it from Proinseas mac Suibhne, the schoolmaster of Losaid, in Gartan.

Another fairy tale collected (by Seamus Ennis) on Tory Island mentions the tune, is again related by Mac Aoidh, and has parallels in other cultures. It seems that an islander, while going to collect his sheep at Port Glas, overheard wonderful music emanating nearby and investigated. The fairy folk were playing the "Fairy Reel" and the man, being an avid and accomplished dancer, felt compelled to join in. The music and dancing lasted and lasted, and he danced and danced, unable to stop until by chance another islander came upon him. This second man heard no music, and saw nothing of the fairy celebration, and asked the first what he was doing. He got the reply that the dancer was enchanted and would not be able to stop until a mortal laid hand on him. This was done, and the dancer saved from his fate. Mac Aoidh translates: "The soles of his shoes and his socks were worn through and his feet were sore to the bone from the roughness of the place he was dancing on." A similar tale is told by Canadian storyteller Alan Mills (to the accompanying fiddling of Montreal musician Jean Carignan) collected from French-Canadian tradition, which he calls "Ti-Jean and the Devil" (with the Devil substituting for Fairies). See also the distanced Irish version "Buailteoir Aerach/Merry Thresher."

A Pennsylvania collected version appears in Bayard (1981) as "Rustic Dance" (No. 52, p. 38), and, as "Ronde des Vieux (La)" it was recorded in the latter 1920's by French-Canadian fiddler Willie Ringuette. Montreal fiddler J.O. LaMadeleine recorded the reel (with parts reversed) in 1928 as "Quadrille des bûcherons: 3ème figure," the third figure of a set of quadrilles. The Shetland "Faery Reel" is a distanced version of "Fairy Dance," similar primarily in the second strain. An adaptation for the blackface minstrel stage can be found in James Buckley's New Banjo Method (1860, p. 21), set by his brother G. Swaine Buckley (1829–1879), who was the lead banjo player for the troup Buckley's Sereneders [1], one of the most successful minstrel organizations.

The tune is associated with a traditional dance in the village of Askham Richard, which lies a few miles from York, England. The famous 19th century Dorset novelist Thomas Hardy, himself an accordion player and fiddler, mentioned the tune in The Fiddler of the Reels:

Then another dancer fell out – one of the men – and went into the passage in a frantic search for liquor. To turn the figure into a three-handed reel was the work of a second, Mop modulating at the same time into 'The Fairy Dance,' as best suited to the contracted movement, and no less one of those foods of love which, as manufactured by his bow, had always intoxicated her.



Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - Dave Swarbrick (England) [Brody]; a c. 1837–1840 MS by Shropshire musician John Moore [Ashman]; Winston Fitzgerald (1914–1987, Cape Breton), who adapted J. Scott Skinner's variations [Cranford]; the music manuscript of Joseph Kershaw, a musician from Slackcote, Saddleworth, North West England who began his entries around the year 1820 [Kershaw].

Printed sources : - Ashman (Ironbridge Hornpipe), 1991; No. 30b, p. 9. Bain (50 Fiddle Solos), 1989; p. 7. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 100. Buckley (Buckley's New Banjo Method), 1860, p. 21. Cahusac (Annual Collection of Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1809), 1809; No. 4. Cranford (Winston Fitzgerald: A Collection of Fiddle Tunes), 1997; No. 129, p. 53. Donnellan, Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society, vol. 2, no. 2 (1909); No. 23. Ford (Traditional Music of America), 1940; p. 71. Galwey (Old Irish Croonauns), 1910; No. 4, p. 2. Honeyman (Hornpipe, Strathspey and Reel Tutor), 1898; p. 8. Jarman (Old Time Fiddlin Tunes); No. or p. 24. Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 129, pp. 65–66. Joseph Kershaw Manuscript, 1993; No. 77. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880's; Set 14, No. 2, p. 10. Martin (Taigh na Teud), 1990; p. 19. Martin & Hughes (Ho-ro-gheallaidh, vol. 1), 1990; p. 10. Merryweather (Tunes for English Bagpipes), 1989; p. 53. J. Kenyon Lees (Balmoral Reel Book), c. 1910; p. 8. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1986; No. 986, p. 170. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 162. Roche (Collection of Traditional Irish Music, vol. 3), 1927; No. 138, p. 43 (listed as a Long Dance). Skinner, Harp and Claymore, 1903. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 113. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 61. Taylor (Where's the Crack?), 1989; p. 13 (appears as "Fairy Reel"). Trim (Musical Heritage of Thomas Hardy), 1990; No. 24. Westrop (120 Country Dances ... for the Violin), c. 1923; No. 49.

Recorded sources: -BEJOCD-28, The Mellstock Band – "The Dance at the Phoenix: Village Band Music from Hardy's Wessex and Beyond." CAT-WMR004, Wendy MacIssac – "The 'Reel' Thing" (1994). Edison 50653 (78 RPM), Joseph Samuels (appears as 4th tune of "Devil's Dream Medley"). Glencoe 001, Cape Breton Symphony – "Fiddle." Regal G-6617 (78 RPM), J. Scott Skinner (1910. Last tune of medley). Transatlantic 341, Dave Swarbrick – "Swarbrick 2." Victor 263795 (78 RPM), René Houlé (1931, as "Reel combiné"). Fife Strathspey and Reel Society – "The Fiddle Sounds of Fife" (1980). "Bob Smith's Ideal Band, Ideal Music" (1977). "Fiddlers Three Plus Two." Ron Gonella – "A Tribute to Niel Gow."

See also listing at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recordings Index [2]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [3]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [4]



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