sicians; different ornaments even bear specialized names like “cran,” “roll,” and “triplet,” so that musicians can explain to each other how they ornament a tune. Because ornamentation is personal and improvisational, each melody is different every time it is played. Indeed, even the same musician, playing the same tune twice through, usually subtly varies the ornamenta- tion in order to make each repetition slightly different.
ing the tunes as played by the same musicians may clear up some of the questions raised by James O’Neill’s transcriptions. Most importantly, it will give us a sense of what the sergeant was hearing when he wrote out the tunes so long ago. In a further seventeen cases, the cylinders contain pieces published by O’Neill from another person’s playing. In these cases, the cylinders will serve as valuable comparative documents, estab-
lishing the variety of ways a particular tune was played. In four cases, O’Neill’s published versions have no source’s name attached; this makes it impos- sible to say if the player on the cylinder is the same as the one in the book. In these cases, analysis of the cylinder may shed light on the identity of the player documented in the book. Finally, in ten cases, the tune on the cylinder is not in O’Neill’s collections at all. If noth- ing else, their absence from the books suggests that they might not have been known to O’Neill when the books were published; they may thus help scholars establish the date of the cylinder record- ings, which is still in doubt. Ornaments are also notoriously dif- ficult to transcribe, and James O’Neill certainly had some trouble accurately rendering them on the page. While Chief O’Neill (1910, 29) wrote that Ser- geant O’Neill’s “...versatility in reducing to musical notation the playing, whis- tling, singing, and humming of others was truly phenomenal,” later scholars of Irish music have not been quite as complimentary. For example, in the in- troduction to his 1976 edition of O’Neill’s Dance Music of Ireland (which he con- fusingly titled O’Neill’s Music of Ireland), Miles Krassen (1976, 11-12) wrote of “surprising errors that mar the origi- nal edition of Francis O’Neill’s books,” including “incorrect key signatures and unnecessary accidentals,” which “render some very good tunes all but unrecognizable if played as written.” In particular, Krassen was critical of the sergeant’s handling of ornaments, pointing out that “many of the embel- lishments as they are written in James O’Neill’s transcriptions do not even remotely resemble the ornamentation regularly employed by traditional musicians alive today or on record.” In a more general way, because tunes are only fully realized in the playing, Sergeant James O’Neill. (O’Neill, 1910: 28) each recording of any given tune is a precious document; recordings as old as O’Neill’s are all the more precious for representing a long-gone era in the history of Irish music. As Nicholas Carolan pointed out to us, “it’s the only true evidence of their musical style of that time. How fast did they play? With what rhythm? All the dimensions of music not captured on paper.” This will be a great boon to researchers and musicians alike. Whether we choose to blame the shortcomings of O’Neill’s books on Sergeant O’Neill, or on the inherent imperfection of written notation as a method of capturing living music, one thing becomes clear: Francis O’Neill’s use of wax cylinders, the only recording technology available at the time, was both thoughtful and prescient. The important musical qualities of variation and ornamentation are conveyed on the cylinders in a way they never could be in a book. Another factor that adds to the value of these cylinders is that players such as McFadden, one of the greatest fiddlers of his generation, and Cronin, another well-known talent, were never recorded commercially. O’Neill’s recordings are perhaps the only ones ever made of these musical masters. On the other hand, Patsy Touhey, the accomplished piper, recorded tunes for a fee, on both commercial records and made-to-order cylinders; the total number of known Touhey recordings prior to this find was about sixty (Mitchell and Small 1986, 9-10). The O’Neill cylinders add about ten more tunes to his known reper- toire, giving scholars of Touhey’s legacy a better understanding of both his repertoire and his playing. A detailed comparison of Francis O’Neill’s music books to his cylinder recordings would be a major undertaking, even for an accomplished scholar of Irish music. Based on the thirty-two cylinders in AFC’s collection, only some preliminary observa- tions are possible, along with suggestions for future research. For example, two of Michael Dunn’s cylinders contain record- ings of the same musician playing the same tune as O’Neill’s books: “Banish Misfortune” played by Edward Cronin, and “The Croppies’ March” by Patsy Touhey (the latter appears in O’Neill’s 1922 book Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody). Now that we have access to the sound recordings, it is possible to compare the printed versions with the audio versions. Hear- The enthusiastic response the music can ignite today is evi- dent in the reactions of four scholars and musicians for whom the recordings have been played: Mick Moloney, Don Meade, Nancy Groce, and Scott Spencer. They all commented on the thrill of hearing performances by musicians they had previ- ously only read about, as well as on the qualitative difference