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Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes: A History of "Traditional" Dance Tunes of Britain and Ireland.

Pendlebury, Celia (2015) Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes: A History of "Traditional" Dance Tunes of Britain and Ireland. MPhil thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Jigs, reels and hornpipes are a musical genre associated with Britain and Ireland generally described as a type of “folk” or “traditional” music. Scholarly interest in them followed their “discovery” in the late nineteenth century by Antiquarians, some of whom ”collected” them in the belief that they represented the remnants of an ancient expressive culture which was originally ubiquitous among Europe’s indigenous populations. This view was perpetuated throughout the twentieth century “folk revival” and persists today among both practitioners and academia. Strong traditions of these tunes in Ireland and Scotland have encouraged the frequent use of the adjective “Celtic” whereby English Morris dances, which use the same genre of tunes, have been described as manifestations of pagan rituals. The notion of the linear evolution of folk music and folk dances since primitive times is often termed “Sharpian”, after its most enthusiastic proponent Cecil Sharp. No scholarly account exists of the actual history of dance tunes, despite the fact that in folklore studies, the cultural survival theory proposed by the original Antiquarian “ritualists” has generally been discredited. The literature on traditional music is overwhelmingly organized to present information under separate headings for each separate regional “tradition”. It also assumes that the tunes have always been predominantly transmitted aurally (or “orally”), independent of the use of any form of written musical notation. The original folk music protagonists proposed that this genre of simple, divisioned melodies was the culture of the non-commercial, musically illiterate, provincial-living “folk”, as distinct from the metropolitan elite. Later scholars have interpreted “folk” to mean “the working classes”. This assumption remains largely unchallenged and is the central premise of today’s folk arts activities and as well as academic research. This study presents an explanation of the origin and history of the musical genre of traditional dance tunes such as jigs, reels and hornpipes, by referring to modern and historical music scripts from across Britain and Ireland, and ignoring modern political and administrative boundaries. Circumstantial evidence from both contemporary practice and historical sources is used to contextualize their original purpose. Evidence is presented to suggest that the earliest known publication of English country dances, Playford’s Dancing Master in 1651, was not, as is generally thought, a collection of village customs collected from the field, but an “aide memoire” for professional dancing masters. The dances were created for social gatherings of the privileged and influential, from which the working classes were excluded. This culture remained unchanged for centuries. The process of dissemination of these dances and their melodies throughout Britain and Ireland was achieved over the eighteenth century through the influence of English cultural imperialism and commoditization, involving the dancing master profession, the publishing industry, the theatre, the military, and the increasing popularity of music as a parlour entertainment. Subsequently, the dances and their melodies were adopted by rural and urban working communities. By the nineteenth century, the village fiddler was borrowing from the music scripts of former bourgeois uses. In contrast to most accounts, this history therefore proposes that this widely recognized and ubiquitous (in the folk arts) musical genre of traditional dance tunes was originally an elite culture which was adopted by the working classes, and not the other way round. Nineteenth century scholars of romanticism reinvented these dance tunes as a topic of antiquarian interest. Since the twentieth century folk revival, this music has continued to be a social uniter and has undergone further commercial commodization. It is also an academic discipline. My proposal is that the distinctive melodic structure of these dance tunes should not be associated with any particular socio-economic class, but instead acknowledged to have been simply inherently connected with social dancing over history. Musically, the genre acts as a skeleton for continued creativity. However, some recent studies and societal preoccupations have been highly influenced by outdated and romanticized ideologies of folklore and tradition. Such beliefs can impede creative agency if applied too literally. Certain conclusions from this historical study are made with the intention that, in the future, inclusivity and encouragement in community music-making may be assured.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Keywords: Traditional dance tunes Britain Ireland folk music history Playford Cecil Sharp jigs reels hornpipes
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Music (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Mrs Celia Pendlebury
Date Deposited: 16 Apr 2015 12:22
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2015 12:22
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/8262

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