Name That Tune…

In our last post, I mentioned Thomas Watkin’s music book. This 19th century manuscript contains hundreds of folk tunes, providing most with a title and writing out, in beautiful, clear script the music for each. Thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding, the whole manuscript has now been digitised and we’re very HMB crop_tunesexcited about the prospect of working with local musicians to bring the music to life at some point in 2016. Of course, if we’re going to perform a selection of the tunes, it would be useful to know which tunes are available to choose from. At some point in the manuscript’s life, one scribe has at least started to make the effort to index the contents. It could be that they only got so far before giving up on the task or that there are several pages missing from the book, but, either way, we now only have a two page index listing 69 of the tunes. Exactly how many tunes are in the manuscript is not yet known, but given that those 69 tunes only cover 16 of the document’s 152 pages, there is still a long way to go to complete the index!

HMB crop_indexOne of the tasks some of our fantastic volunteers will be getting on with is completing the index of tunes. However, this isn’t always such a straightforward undertaking, as the titles are written in a few different hands and how decipherable they are varies
massively. Add to this the fact that the ink has faded in some places and this is no simple transcription!

The legibility of the handwriting might not be the only thing that will slow our progress completing the index. Some of the language used in the titles can be surprisingly, erm, ‘choice’ to our modern sensibilities! Folk tune titles featuring swear-words is actually fairly common, but it can still be a little startling to be calmly transcribing a 19th century music book that contains titles such as “Pretty Betty” or “Love in a Village” and come HMB crop_tuneacross a four letter word that can still cause considerable offence if it is used in the media today. Perhaps the language used in the titles acts a clue to the kinds of environments and audiences many of the tunes were intended for. Then again, maybe we underestimate how common swearing was in the past or how the level of offence caused by certain words may have altered at different points in our history. Whatever the case, there’s definitely a lot more in these pages than some nice tunes…

And no, it doesn’t matter how hard you look, the pictures on this blog do not include the folk tunes with risque titles!