The Recordings Featured in A Grand Time

Nl Song Collecting 2

Only the songs, recitations, instrumental music, and conversations that were recorded in the Cape Shore region of Newfoundland are included in this digital exhibition. These were all recorded during Aidan's initial visits to the area (1975–1977) and during his “second pass” through the region in 1978 with Kenneth S Goldstein. In total, these recording efforts resulted in the preservation of

  • 399 songs and fragments
  • 27 recitations and dialogues
  • 12 tracks of dance music (instrumental and lilting)
  • 9 stories
  • Plus, extended conversations about the history of songs, folklore, language, and history of the region

A Grand Time provides listeners with an overview of the larger collection of recordings housed at ITMA. This digital exhibition attempts to provide an overview only—just a taster of the different voices, communities, occasions, and themes that are represented in the entire corpus of recordings.

There is a wealth of exceptional content in the Aidan O'Hara Collection, requiring challenging choices about what to include and what to leave out. Inevitably, some valuable and unique materials have been excluded—at least for the time being. A number of parameters were assessed to arrive at the list of recordings featured in the “A Cape Shore Sampler” playlist.

Recording quality

Assessing recording quality has very little to do with actual performances, but does affect the ease with which we can consume a recording. Assessment involved asking three questions:

  • Is the beginning of the recording is clipped or does the tape run out before the performance is over?
  • Are there distortions, speed variations, or hiss and buzz in the recording?
  • Is there too much background noise to hear the performer?

Performance quality

The performances in this collection are all field recordings, sung, played, or spoken in the context of interviews, private house parties, and other informal social gatherings. Memory slips, sociable interruptions, conversations about the “right words,” and retakes are a normal part of such performances.

Nevertheless, the abundance of high-quality material in the Aidan O’Hara Collection at ITMA means that only complete versions of songs without major stumbles, hesitations, or memory slips were included. Notably, some of the so-called “fragments” in this collection are impressive texts in their own right: for example, one man performed the first ten minutes of a sea song before forgetting the last several verses.

Performer diversity

The voices in this collection are tremendously varied: some are young and some are old; some have a flair for singing airs while others have a great capacity for remembering words; and some are natural entertainers while others are more reticent about performing (particularly in front of a microphone). As many of the voices included in the Aidan O'Hara Collection are not widely recorded, efforts have been made to ensure that at least one track from each performer is available on the website.

A small number of voices (6 singers) were excluded because of recording or performance quality (as defined above). Other exclusions were the result of restrictions placed on the dissemination of particular performances and/or difficulties contacting performers (or their descendants) for permission to disseminate.

Geographic diversity

The performers in this collection are overwhelmingly from the community of Branch. Nevertheless, the collector did visit a number of other communities on the Cape Shore. The selections included in this exhibit represent each of those communities.

As part of his “second pass” around the Cape Shore with Kenneth Goldstein in 1978, Aidan O’Hara also made a number of recordings in the town of Colinet, a community that is closely adjacent to the Cape Shore. Though these were of exceptional recording and performance quality, they were excluded from A Grand Time because of the regional focus of the exhibition.

Content diversity

For the sake of including as many songs as possible, only one version of each song is included (one exception was made to this guideline on the grounds that the versions were different enough and the performance style differed dramatically). In some cases, the same singer performed the same song on multiple occasions. In other cases, the same song was performed by multiple singers. These other versions are available at the ITMA premises in Dublin.

Thematic, genre, and temporal diversity

Music, song, dance, and recitation are all aspects of Cape Shore Traditions. The selections included in the sampler attempt to represent these different facets of the traditions, as well as including content that was performed for specific social and/or performance occasions (e.g., a “time” vs a parish concert).

In addition, local repertories include a tremendous variety of themes ranging from the tragic to the comedic, and encompassing songs from pre-famine Ireland to newly composed commercial hits. The selections included in this exhibit attempt to showcase this extraordinary range of content, including children's songs, sea songs, songs about murder and betrayal, drinking songs, courting songs, and songs about politics, religion, and migration.


Some of the singers and songs featured in the Aidan O'Hara Collection also appear in other collections, albeit in slightly different versions. With a few exceptions, songs and singers whose performances are readily available online from other collections were excluded from this exhibit.

Other considerations

Performers and/or their families were contacted for permission to disseminate their recordings. These conversations typically included a brief interview for biographical details. In many cases, particular songs were mentioned as favourites. Efforts were made to include the songs that are closely associated with each performer.