Batt Scanlon’s Irish Fiddle Tutor from San Francisco, 1923

An explosion occurred in the publishing of cheap printed teach-yourself tutors for all kinds of musical instruments in the late 19th century in Western Europe and the United States of America, a kind of publishing that had its roots in the 18th century and even earlier and continues to the present.

Typically these printed tutors first presented the rudiments of staff notation (and sometimes tablature), followed by instrument-specific information, graded scales and exercises, advice, tips, etc., and music. Some incorporated a systematic programme of teaching, some were really tune-books prefaced with some starter-level information.

Tutors of this kind were known in Ireland from at least the early 18th century, but they were normally directed at instruments of classical and popular music, and at most contained a few hackneyed Irish traditional tunes. Tutors directed at players of Irish traditional music have been produced mainly in the 20th century, often outside Ireland, and as well as printed publications have included audio, video and online tutorials.

Even earlier however were such tutorial aids as the treatise on the uilleann pipes included in O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes (London, 1804) and the opening sections of the book presented here and marked for the Irish fiddle, Batt Scanlon’s The Violin Made Easy and Attractive... Gaelic Collection of Irish Airs, Jigs, Reels, Hornpipes, Marches, etc. (San Francisco, 1923, ITMA copy imperfect).

Batt (Bartholomew?) Scanlon was a Co Kerry music teacher who operated the Scanlon School of Music in downtown San Francisco in the 1920s. He had been a fiddle pupil in Ireland of a noted blind travelling fiddle teacher George Whelan, who had flourished around the 1880s, and he passes on some of his tunes in this volume. Although Carl G. Hardebeck, the blind London-born pianist and organist who specialised in the arrangement of Irish music, states in his preface to Scanlon’s book that Whelan was born in Co Clare and taught in North Kerry, Clare sources state that he taught in Clare but was from Kerry.

Hardly by accident, Scanlon’s book was published in the opening years of the new Irish Free State. It seemed to have been influenced by a Gaelic League spirit and by the publications of his fellow-Munsterman Capt Francis O’Neill of Chicago. Scanlon dedicates the volume to another Irish activist, the famous San Francisco-based priest Rev. Peter C. Yorke.

With thanks to book donor Dr Jimmy O’Brien Moran of Waterford. Do you have a perfect copy of this tutor, or do you have similar Irish music, song or dance tutors? The Archive would welcome their donation or the opportunity to copy them. Readers in California, and in San Francisco in particular, may be able to find further information on Batt Scanlon in local sources; we would also welcome any such information.

NC, GT & MG, 1 April 2010