Hornpipes! Not Necessarily Hokey!

Imagine playing for dancers. Now imagine they’ve all got one leg shorter than the other. You’re playing a hornpipe.  –thesession.org user Mark M

The Hornpipe. Cornius Pippius Musicae. At sessions a rare creature (though some musicians seem to attract them like the Irish version of Snow White.) Not always a welcome visitor, due to some subspecies tendency to appear too frequently, and often to suck the energy out of the already established jigs and reels. Though, when a particularly beautiful specimen appears it can be a real treat.

All metaphorical joking aside, the hornpipe is one of those tune types that it seems people either hate or love. They hear the same tunes over and over again played at session, and they tend to be the hokey ones.

Perhaps the hokey ones are easier to play, and so get played more often–I’m not sure. It took me awhile to come around, but I do appreciate the form now. What I needed was to hear some non-hokey examples.

In fact, the notion that hornpipes were by definition hokey was actually something I held to for some time. I think I am not the only one. So deeply rooted was this notion that when I did hear a hornpipe with some actual character, I wasn’t aware it was a hornpipe! I remember hearing a recording of Poll Ha’penny, which is a great example of how a hornpipe can be more complex and interesting. Here’s YouTube user Concertinette playing it as part of her “hornpipe a week for 2010” project:

Concertinette’s channel is a great introduction to the hornpipe–there’s 52 of the best, and they’re played well on a lovely instrument. I recommend you subscribe to her channel, all of you!

And with that, I will recommend you all check out our own LVISS collection of hornpipey specimens, which we have collected in the last few years. Click the link, then find the “hornpipes” tab at the bottom edge of the spreadsheet. LINK



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