Hunt the Squirrel (1)

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HUNT THE SQUIRREL [1]. AKA and see "Geud Man of Ballangigh (The)." English, Scottish, Irish, American; Country Dance Tune (6/8 time). USA, New England. A Major (Fleming-Williams, Johnson, Karpeles, Raven, Sharp): G Major (Barnes, Oswald): F Major (Stanford/Petrie). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Stanford/Petrie): AABB (most versions): AABBCCDD (Oswald). Both dance instructions and melody of this English piece appear earliest in Walsh's Country Dancing Master of 1718 (p. 16), and in Playford's (then published by John Young) The Dancing Master, volume I, 17th edition (London, after 1721). Directions for the dance to this tune have also been recovered from the Holmain MS. (c. 1710-1750) from Dumfries-shire, Scotland. The dance involves a gentleman following or 'chasing' his partner for a phrase of music, after which she turns and 'hunts' him; the whole being a coy stylization of pursuing love. Indeed, this was stated in a mock letter to the satirical newspaper The Spectator (1711-1712), purportedly sent by a country squire concerned over the spectacle of his sixteen-year-old daughter dancing in public:

Among the rest (of the dances), I observed one, which I think, they call Hunt the Squirrel, in which while the Woman flies the Man pursues her; but as soon as she turns, he runs away, and she is obliged to follow. The Moral of this Dance does, I think, very aptly recommend Modesty and Discretion to the Female Sex. But as the best Institutions are Liable to Corruptions, so, Sir, I must acquaint you, that very great Abuses are crept into this Entertainment. I was amazed to see my Girl handed by, and handing young fellows with so much Familiarity; and I could not have thought it had been in the Child.

The sense of the dance Hunt the Squirrel and its mimicking of pursuing a quarry is probably why the name was used euphemistically to describe the rather odious amusements of some 18th century London coachmen. When the mood struck they would follow a "one horse chaise...passing so close to it as to brush the wheel, and by other means terrifying any person that may be in it" (cited in Francis Grose's A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, London, 1785). This was, in effect, a game of what we in modern times might call 'chicken', only with carriages and not automobiles.

"Hunt the Squirrel [1]" was the vehicle for a number of songs in ballad operas. It was employed in John Gay's Polly (1729), The Fashionable Lady; or, Harlequin's Opera (1730), The Generous Free-Mason; or, The Constant Lady (1731) and Sylvia; or, The Country Burial (1731). Use of melodies in ballad operas and for dancing was a two-way street, with much traffic between the two. Playwrights and producers may have been attempting to make their products accessible to a general audience by employing relatively well-known or popular tunes for songs, or, as Bruce Olson suggested, perhaps publishers expediently reused plates from their country dance collections when they needed to insert an air in their opera publications, and selected melodies that scanned to the words.

The author of English Folk-Song and Dance found the melody in the repertoire of fiddler William Tilbury (who lived at Pitch Place, midway between Churt and Thursley in Surrey), who, in his young days, used to play the fiddle at village dances. He derived his repertoire from an uncle, Fiddler Hammond, who had been the village fiddler before him and who died around 1870. The conclusion was that this and similar country dance tunes survived in the tradition (at least in southwest Surry) well into the second half of the 19th century. American sources are nearly the same in both tune and dance figure as English sources, report Van Cleef and Keller (1980); it appears in Cushing Wells' German flute MS (Norwich, Connecticut, 1789) and in Clement Weeks' dance MS (Greenland, New Hampshire, 1783). The tune is not to be confused with other popular melodies of the period, "Hunt the Hare" and "Hunting the Hare." However, that being said, the similarity of the titles has led to some mixture of titles; County Clare fiddler Martin Hayes has played [1] and taught in workshops an Irish variant of the tune using the title "Chasing the Hare."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986. Fleming-Williams & Shaw (English Dance Airs; Popular Selection, Book 1), 1965; p. 10. Johnson (Twenty-Eight Country Dances as Done at the New Boston Fair), vol. 8, 1988; p. 5. Karpeles & Schofield (A Selection of 100 English Folk Dance Airs), 1951; p. 23 (appears as "The Geud Man of Ballangigh"). Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 11), 1760; p. 115. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 24. Sharp (Country Dance Tunes), 1909; p. 78. Stanford/Petrie (Complete Collection), 1905; No. 487, p. 123. Walsh (Complete Country Dancing-Master, Volume the Fourth), London, 1740; No. 25.

Recorded sources:




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