"O'FARRELL'S POCKET COMPANION FOR THE IRISH OR UNION PIPES"
An Introduction to the ABC Project
The purpose of this
project is a simple one: the introduction of a vast body of
unfamiliar music, most of it quite remarkable, to an audience who
might be better able than most to appreciate it.
In these Notes, the
reader will find out more about "Mr. O'Farrell" and his
collections, about the transcription process involved in analyzing
music in the printed sources and making it suitable for digitizing,
and finally about the ABC protocol used in drafting the files
contained in this edition.
of these Notes
Pocket Companion Collection
(b) Brief Bio of Mr. O'Farrell
(c) Collection Contents
(a) Questions Regarding Tune Tempos
(b) Notation - Engraving Issues
(c) Alterations to the Original Material
The "Pocket Companion" Collection
Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes (henceforth
PC) was published in London in four volumes over
a span of some five years, between 1805 and 1810 (although the exact
dates are uncertain).
The four volumes of
the PC are
important to the history of Irish traditional music because they
represent an early example of the transition from the medium of
exclusively aural transmission of music to the medium of print. The
represents a prototype that later collectors of this
music have followed to the present day, in that it is a collection
mainly of dance music assembled by someone who actually played the
music (and would have no difficulty in hearing himself described as a
approximately four hundred tunes in the four volumes, most of them
labelled "Irish", a sizeable percentage as "Scotch"
(O'Farrell's spelling), and the others of origin not specified. Much
of the material in this "grand Selection of favorite Tunes"
is not in evidence prior to the publication of this collection,
although - in testimony to the great respect the PC
quickly achieved among musicians - its tunes reappear frequently
in other subsequent collections.
More details on the
PC's contents can be found in [c] below.
Brief Biography of "Mr. O'Farrell"
Though his works
remain influential after two hundred years, the biographical details
on "Mr. O'Farrell" are scant, although the labor by
dedicated researchers continues. The following information is
borrowed from Brian McCandless' fine liner notes to Jerry
O'Sullivan's 2005 CD "O'Sullivan Meets O'Farrell"
(henceforth OSMOF) which is a "must-have"
recording for anyone interested in knowing more about O'Farrell and
his body of work.
O'Farrell - whose
first name has been lost to history, although it might have been
Peter or Patrick - was born in the mid-18th Century in southern
Ireland, probably the Waterford - Tipperary area (Clonmel is
mentioned as his native city), and flourished until the early decades
of the 19th. His instrument was the Irish bagpipe, known as "union"
or "uilleann" pipes (uilleann -
pronouned ILL-en - is the Irish word for elbow, referring presumably
to the means by which the bellows are inflated).
O'Farrell is known
to have spent a great deal of time in London, where he performed in
several stage productions, most notably a pantomime - an Ossian-flavored musical drama
- called "Oscar and Malvina". In 1804 he is recorded to be
selling music and instruments from his London home. (And Beethoven was celebrating his 34th birthday!)
O'Farrell is perhaps
best known among Irish traditional musicians for having produced a
tutor for the uilleann pipes, a work that even after two centuries
continues to exert great influence over the methodology for teaching
this difficult instrument.
In addition to the
tutor, O'Farrell also produced two other works, the four-volume tune
collection called The Pocket Companion for the Irish or
Union Pipes (? 1805-1810)
and the Collection of National Irish Music for the
Union Pipes (1804).
These collections have
recently been reissued in facsimile by piper Patrick Sky and are
available from his website www.patricksky.com.
from the record as mysteriously as he entered it; there is a mention
of his performing in Edinburgh in 1832, but no details of his death
seem to be available. As the saying goes, "the research
continues". But whether or not any new details of his life and death
come before us, his work as a collector (and composer) will live as long
as there are traditional musicians to appreciate it.
Contents of the Collection
There are 404 pieces
in this collection, the vast majority of which are unique to it
(i.e., they appear in no other contemporary collections). Most are
"dance tunes" - jigs, reels, hornpipes - and almost all of
these are straightforward enough to be easily absorbed into the
today's Irish or Scots tradition. The many jigs and slip jigs come
first to mind, then the 4/4 tunes which could be reels, hornpipes, or
strathspeys. There are waltzes, airs and laments, even a few "gavots"
and "minuets" - in short, something for everybody!
As mentioned above,
many of the tunes in the PC are labelled as to origin. Brian
McCandless gives the figure for each as Irish 53% and Scots 23%;
there's one Welsh tune, and the rest are "unidentified".
Mercifully there are none of the "gan ainm" (no name)
entries that have plagued so many present-day collections (apparently
O'Farrell preferred "A Favorite Air" for any tune of whose
name he was unsure).
There are also many
examples of what piper Jerry O'Sullivan has called "folk
baroque", belonging to a style that is probably best exemplified
to today's musicians by the harp compositions of Turloch O Carolan.
These compositions - some taken from the score of "Oscar and
Malvina", some possibly by O'Farrell himself, though they are
not attributed as such - occupy a niche between traditional and
classical that may well be worthy of further exploration, although
purists in either camp will probably reject the very idea.
All the tunes are in
"traditional" keys (D, G, A minor, E minor, etc) suitable
for the "pipes, flute, flageolet, and violin" as advertised
on the front cover of each volume. The note range is from B below
middle C (one example) to D above the staff (two examples). Contrary to
the classically-influenced practice of some later 19th Century
collections, no B flat
or E flat key signatures are anywhere to be seen. Aeolian and
Mixolydian modes are represented but not in overwhelming numbers, and
any confusion involving key signatures and accidentals can be fairly
With regards to tune
types, it's interesting to note that almost all of the PC
entries in triple meter (6/8 or 9/8) are labelled "Irish".
The 2/4 or 4/4 tunes can be either "Scotch" or Irish (more
about the difficulties of identifying particular tunes types below).
On some occasions a tune with an obviously Scots name will not be
labelled as such - why
is anybody's guess, since as far as I know we have no information
on O'Farrell's "origin" criteria. Uncertainty on
O'Farrell's part seems unlikely, so it might be just a case of
inadequate editing by the publisher.
Also of interest is
the fact that there are so few tunes in these volumes that can be
clearly identified as "Irish reels". Given the importance
of the reel genre to the corpus of Irish traditional music by
O'Neill's time eighty years later, and certainly considering the
heavy emphasis on reels in today's traditional repertoire, it is a
minor mystery as to why there are not more reels in the PC.
Even allowing for the fact that some of the otherwise unidentified
4/4 tunes may indeed be reels, it remains the case that no such air
of uncertainly hangs over the 6/8 and 9/8 tunes.
It's not impossible
that Mr. O'Farrell was reasoning backwards - if it's a 6/8 tune, it
Irish - whereas he could not have the same assurance about the 4/4
would be difficult to fault him for this, since even today there are
many reels that are common in the Irish tradition that are in fact of
Scots origin ("Miss McLeod's Reel" being the best-known
Also present in the
PC are airs, waltzes, and what I term "stage
pieces". According to O'Farrell's labelling criteria, these can
be either Scotch or Irish; some seem clearly to be composed tunes.
Carolan is represented but unfortunately the information as to
composers for some of the other pieces is lacking. O'Farrell credits
himself (without the "O") only twice, but I suspect that at
least a few of the other "stage pieces" are his own. Ditto for some of
the hornpipes and waltzes, and probably a few of the jigs.
= = =
One can only speculate as to Mr. O's desire for anonymity, especially
since some of what appear to be his compositions are among the most
pleasant in the PC (to a traditionalist's ears, anyway). I would
hesitate to say that he might have wished not to appear too Irish, lest
he somehow offend his upper-class English and Scots customers or the
"Oscar and Malvina" crowd. The idea of someone who has actually taken
the time to arrange "Finale from 'The Battle of Prague'" sneaking off to
some dark corner of London to compose "The Waterford Hornpipe" is
probably not an accurate one, but I like it anyway!
As far as I'm
concerned, the fact that I personally am still not sure what to make
of tunes like "Let Fame Sound the Trumpet" and "The
Executors" (in PC4)
- to name just two of many - should not interfere with someone else
enjoying and performing them.
keeping with the musical tastes of O'Farrell's time and place, many
pieces in the PC
accompanied (? beset) with "variations" or with
sixteenth-note runs and flourishes which might strike a more
traditionally-minded musician of the present day as being a bit
overwrought. Nonetheless I have reproduced all these variations and
flourishes in the accompanying ABC files, with the thinking that it
should be up to the individual musician to make the decision on how
appropriate or desirable this material is. The only exception I have
made to this rule occurs when the ornamentation (e.g. grace notes)
cannot be heard on playback of the ABC. This normally happens at
faster tempos, and in such cases I have omitted the ornamentation
entirely, comforted in the belief that musicians playing the piece
will add their own ornamentation anyway if such is called for. (But see my Update section below.)
tune names: O'Farrell's spelling in English is bad, but his Irish is
awful, and it's obvious that he's working with strictly phonetic
versions of the Gaelic names. In the ABC files I have kept the
printed version of the tune name as the principal title (T: field),
but I have also added a more accurate version of the Irish in a
second T: field. The effect of this double titling is that both the
dog-Irish and the real Irish will (1) show up in an ABC search engine
(2) print out (per the ABC protocol, the second
title appears in smaller type size under the first title).
[a] Tune tempos
following paragraphs will involve some ABC discussion. I have kept
the technical details to a minimum but before proceeding any further,
the reader not already familiar with ABC might want to skip to that
section of the Notes dealing with the topic (including a sample ABC
file). It starts on page 7.
his tune selections with very few indicators of tempo or accent,
leaving today's musicians to do a lot of more-or-less educated
guessing at how a particular piece in the PC
The 6/8 and 9/8
tunes are not a problem, since we can apply the usual tempos of
today's jigs and slip jigs for the purpose of reproducing what
O'Farrell's pieces sounded like (although of course anything we do in the 21st Century is not a guarantee as to what we
would actually have heard played in London 1805).
We can also apply a
certain "experience factor" to airs, laments, and waltzes
which should leave us confident that the 2010 sound is going to be
close to what Mr. O'Farrell had in mind.
The area of maximum
confusion is with tunes in 4/4 time: in the absence of obvious
indicators in the tune names, should they be played as reels,
hornpipes, strathspeys, marches, or something in between?
This would normally
be another area best left to the individual musician's feel for the
piece, except that in creating ABC files, it is necessary to set up
some kind of tempo indication in the Q: field. This is where playback
speed is controlled in ABC, and without an entry there, it would not
be possible to generate the MIDI sound files that I feel are so
important to this project. (Both BarFly and EasyABC generate MIDI files,
which unfortunately are no longer welcome on the Internet, so I have
had to convert everything to MP3.)
That required that I
make a call as to what speed might be best suited for the piece. The
process is exactly analogous to what Jerry O. had to do before
actually recording the pieces on OSMOF.
ABC files may also
include an R: field in the header. To quote Phil Taylor's BarFly user
notes, the R: field is "an optional field which may occur once
in the header, and multiple times in the tune proper. It contains a
text description of the rhythm in which the tune is to be played,
e.g. jig, reel, march etc. BarFly uses this field in conjunction with
the metre field to determine which stress program to apply when
playing the tune." (Note that EasyABC has adopted BarFly's mechanism for this purpose.)
An ABC stress
program can provide an excellent means for accurately reproducing the
rhythm and "feel" of a specific type of tune, which is all
well and good except that in most cases Mr. O'Farrell doesn't provide
much guidance beyond the basic time signature (which is why I list
those and not "tune type" in the Index).
It should be kept in
mind that the purpose of the R: field is not to
represent a hard-and-fast statement of tune type but rather to serve
as an instruction to the program's playback function as to what the
file contents should sound like. In other words, just because I have
entered "reel" in the R: field of a PC
necessarily mean that the tune is a reel; it just means that I
thought the tune sounded best played back using a reel stress
program. The same applies where I have used R: hornpipe, R: march,
have used R: blank or omitted the R: field entirely on those
occasions where I felt that none of the stress programs were
effective (or quite frankly where I couldn't decide exactly what Mr.
O'Farrell had in mind).
The general criteria
that I applied in deciding the tempo and stress qualities of the
ambiguous 4/4 tunes in the PC
were as follows:
the tune had a Scots name and a lot of "Scotch snap"
cut-note rhythm, it was probably
the final measure of each part ended in three quarter notes or
quarter - two eighths
- quarter, the tune was probably a hornpipe.
it looked and sounded more like a reel, it was probably a reel.
it looked and sounded more like a march or a polka ... etc. etc.
How often these
admittedly crude criteria have allowed me to guess correctly
("correct" meaning "corresponding to what Mr.
O'Farrell had in mind") can of course never be known. Experience
is a great thing but it isn't infallible; three other musicians could
look at these pieces and come to three different conclusions as to
how they should sound.
As I mention more
than once in these Notes, one of the big advantages to ABC is the
ease with which the end user can change any of the header parameters
to suit her own requirements and tastes. The practical effect of this
is that the R: field can be altered, e.g. R: reel to R: hornpipe, if
a different playback stress is needed.
The same holds true
for the tune tempo; by lowering or raising the number in the Q:
field, you can slow down or speed up playback as you please.
downloaded the master file or moved it onto your hard drive
somewhere, it's basically yours to do with as you please. However I
would strongly recommend the following:
(1) Keep the
original master files in a separate folder. Work only with copies so
you always have the originals handy in case something goes wrong. (Of
course you can always return to the webABC/ofpc website to replace any files you may have
lost or damaged.)
(2) Copy individual
tunes into a "working" file where you can experiment to
your heart's content. You can "save" what you like and
"discard" what you don't.
[b] Changes to the original material
I am not familiar
with the finer points of late 18th - early 19th Century music
engraving procedures, so I can't say for certainty whether Mr.
O'Farrell's publishers did a good job. I can however say that I had
to make a lot of adjustments in their notation when translating it
into ABC, most notably in the addition of pickup measures to
"balance" the piece (technical details available on
There were a few
other "scribal errors" that I corrected, uncertain
engraving (was a note on the staff line or the space below it?), a
few erroneous key signature or tempo indicators, a few alterations of
accidentals, etc. Where I made some change in the printed notation, I
noted the fact in the tune files.
My first draft of O'Farrell's ABCs tended to follow the originals
faithfully, so that every > or < of a Scots tune was there, every
16th note ornamentation was there, even a few 32nd notes in some of his
"variations" were there, etc. etc. I felt pretty good about being faithful to
Mr. O'Farrell's efforts to collect and print all this great music
(while at the same time realizing that 99% of present-day musicians
would either ignore or change these musical antiquities to suit their
However when I returned to the ABC files after a few years, it occurred
to me that my focus should have been more on producing (or reproducing) a
piece of music that could be performed and enjoyed, rather than on
creating a museum piece that the above-mentioned 99% would glance at and
skip over. In some cases, my attempt to develop "usable music" from
O'Farrell's raw material required me to do some heavy editing (removal
of ornamentation, transposing keys, general "smoothing out" of melody
lines, adding second endings, etc.) Obviously this focus involved more
than correction of obvious scribal mistakes or
I managed to assuage any pangs of conscience that I may have felt by
documenting in the header of its ABC file any major changes that I
rendered in the tune. I also preserved what I called the "source
version" of the tune so that my version and O'Farrell's could be
compared. The "source version" is also in ABC format, meaning that it's
easy enough to replace my version with the original if the performer
decides that he or she really prefers Mr. O's setting to mine. No hard feelings from my end!
I should point out that the webABC/ofpc PDF notation files and the sound
files are based on my settings of the tunes, NOT on the originals.
As a final note: there are a few
tunes in the OFPC
volumes that are "irregular" in terms of the normal
8/16/32 measure structure of Irish dance music. Whether these pieces
served the same purpose in O'Farrell's day as the "irregular"
tunes included in the "Set Dance" sections of the O'Neill's
volumes, i.e. designed to accompany specific dance steps, I have no
Of course there is
always the chance that "scribal error" might also be
involved. In any case I have left these "irregular" pieces
intact (or have preserved them as "source versions" if I made major changes).
Good luck and have
fun with "Mr. O'Farrell's" great music!
update Jan. 2019