Barndance Selections from 78s, 1920s–1940s

Barndance Selections from 78s, 1920s–1940s

Now playing: Untitled, barndance / P.J. Conlon, accordion
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  1. Untitled, barndance / P.J. Conlon, accordion
  2. Kerry Mills barndance / Flanagan Brothers, instrumental group
  3. The heart of man, barndance / Flanagan Brothers
  4. If we hadn’t any women in the world, barndance / James Morrison, fiddle
  5. Mrs Kenny’s barndance / Michael Coleman, fiddle
  6. By heck, barndance / The Irish Big Four, instrumental group
  7. Batt Henry’s favourite, barndance / Paddy Killoran, fiddle, & Patty Sweeney, fiddle
  8. Gannon’s favourite, barndances / Louis E. Quinn and His Shamrock Minstrels, instrumental group
  9. The ballroom favourite, barndance / John McKenna, flute, & others
  10. Boys from the County Cork, barndance / Martin Beirne and His Orchestra, instrumental group
  11. Shamrock barndance / Terry Lane, accordion
  12. Barndance selection, barndances / Moate Ceilidhe Band, instrumental group
  13. The Londonderry hornpipe / Myles O’Malley and His Orchestra, instrumental group

Barndance Selections from 78s, 1920s–1940s

The barndance is in origin both a musical form and an accompanying social ballroom dance which became popular in England and north America in the late 19th century. Its ancestors were the European polka and schottische social dances and their distinctive music of the mid-century. Like them, the barn dance changed over time and space and exists in a number of varieties. Its early music was composed by professionals or consisted of existing melodies adapted by them to the new fashion. Usually in 2/4 or 4/4 time and strongly marked in rhythm, with an emphatic ending to each section, the barndance seems originally to have been danced by couples in lines who would advance in sequence and dance complete waltz turns. In the 20th century the term would be applied to quadrille-derived square dances, or to dances danced in barns – in this latter sense it seems to have been used also in the 18th century as a term for country dances.

Although basic research on the topic remains to be done, barndances are likely to have come into Ireland at the time of their first popularity through commercial sheet music and the activities of professional dance teachers. In time they were danced and played traditionally, mixed in during a night’s dancing with older forms. As a dance form, the barndance is now almost obsolete in the Irish tradition, as are the related schottisches, flings, etc., and the distinction between these forms is now being lost. But their musical forms live on in the instrumental tradition because of the attractiveness of their melodies. While barndance melodies begin to appear in collections of Irish traditional music in the late 1920s, they had earlier and more influentially begun to be issued from the early 1920s on 78rpm commercial discs recorded by Irish emigrant musicians in New York and other American centres of Irish settlement.

These discs – from which a selection is presented below from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, along with some later recorded in Ireland – contain both ballroom melodies imported into Ireland and popular Irish song and dance melodies pressed into service for the new dance, and possibly some tunes from contemporary American-printed collections. This mixture undoubtedly reflects musical practice in the home areas of the musicians earlier in the 20th century, and in contemporary Irish-American dancehalls. The discs influenced local repertory in Ireland as they began to be heard widely there from the 1920s; in more recent times Irish traditional composers with an awareness of these discs began a new practice of barndance composition.

With thanks to record donors John Brennan Family, Jim Brophy, Éamon de Buitléar, Jim Carroll & Pat Mackenzie, Ciarán Dalton, Vincent Duffe, Christy Hand, Dan Healy, John Kelly Family, Máire Killoran, John Loesberg, Caoimhín Mac Aoidh, Dermot McLaughlin, Mrs Walter Maguire, Dan Maher, Tom Munnelly, Éamonn Ó Domhnaill, Ed Reavy Jnr, & Áine Sotscheck.

NC & DD, 1 June 2010