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Criteria for the selection of melodic content


That there is an abundance of material relating to traditional music available within Northumbria there is no doubt. From 18thC hand written texts, through 19thC printed sources to 20th century audio material, we have before us evidence of an almost unique musical legacy. It is thrilling to think that the FARNE project will bring this material together as a composite digital resource for the first time, it is saddening, however, to realise that the 18 month time span of the project will not allow us to digitise all the material available. To allow the project to achieve any degree of success, the process of selection (and perhaps more importantly, rejection) must be carefully considered.

To this end it is important first of all to look at what it is that is unique about the Northumbrian tradition. It seems to me that there are two clear strands of development here. Firstly the bagpipe tradition and then the fiddle tradition. There is, of course, much interplay between the two paths and we must be aware that we are excluding many other instruments, principal amongst these the accordeon, but also mouth organ, whistle and concertina. It would, however, be difficult to argue that these other instruments stem from distinctive traditions or in separation from either the pipes or fiddle.

In considering the folk dance music of Northumbria it is difficult to ignore the Scottish influence or indeed that of other parts of the British Isles. Whilst displaying some relationship with the Scottish tradition the piping repertoire has a very strong regional identity and could be said to have more in common with a piping repertoire which was at one time common to the whole of the North of England. Similarly the fiddle reprtoire, as evidenced by both hand written and printed texts, shows a strong leaning towards the Scottish repertoire. In the area of hornpipes, however, we can see a separate and distinct regional development, particularly through the 19thC.

Taking these two strands as separate but related traditions we can form a strong framework from which to build a picture of the history and development of the Northumbrian tradition as a whole. Most of the Texts and audio material we have available to us can be related in some way to this common structure. With these two core definitions as fixed statements the process of selection becomes quantifiable - material which helps to illustrate these developments can be included, that which does not, can be excluded. It has to be said that this is not a very scientific approach, however it is a practical and workable framework from which to make sense of the over abundance of material with which we are presented.

Key texts illustrated the piping tradition would start with William Dixon (1733), continue with John Peacock (c.1800), Robert Bewick (1835-43), Joseph Crawhall (1877) and on into the twentieth Century with Tom Clough. There are other texts which can be brought into this lineage and many recordings too.

Similarly the fiddle tradition would start with the Henry Atkinson ms. (1694-5), continue with the Wm Vickers ms. (1770), then into the 19thC where we find many important musicians and composers of the quality of James Hill and Robert Whinham. As with the piping tradition, we have available many sound recordings that tie in well with this approach.

As for those items which are excluded from this approach, I can think immediately of sound recordings of both Billy Atkinson (mouth organ) and Billy Conroy (whistle) which do not fit in. These recordings are too important to ignore. Similarly the influence of Billy Ballantine (piccolo), through Peter Kennedy’s Fiddler’s Tune Books, cannot be forgotten. The inclusion of items such as these, rather than detracting from the simple framework from which we are starting, can only serve to add colour to what is already a revealing and important insight into the development of a unique regional music.







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ARTICLES



Criteria for the selection of melodic content
Criteria for the selection of melodic content
FARNE Digisation Officer Mike Hirst talks about how and why we selected material for preservation.

The cataloguing of traditional melodies
The cataloguing of traditional melodies
Thoughts on the classification and documentation of traditional melodies.

The print industry and traditional song
The print industry and traditional song
Digitisation Officer J. Maughan discusses the effects of the printing revolution on our traditional song

Broadsheets of the North East
Broadsheets of the North East
Project worker and musician Johnny Handle discusses the importance of broadsheet songs to us today


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