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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/4/11

Danny Boy (One of a Kind!)

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                         Danny Boy"(One of a Kind!)


Rarely do melodies get matched with perfect lyrics.   Indeed, Danny Boy's melody, originally known as "Londonderry Air" or "Air from County Derry" (composer unknown) was first   collected and published around the year 1855.   The melody is reputed to have had as many as one hundred different sets of lyrics composed to fit it   (- before the Danny Boy words.)   Although many sets of religious lyrics (hymns) were created, the most popular title (with its accompanying lyrics) was "Would God I Were the Tender Apple Blossom," an Irish love song written by Katherine Hinkson.   In about the same period, the great Irish poet, Thomas Moore, created lyrics for the melody and named it   "My Gentle Harp."    The ultimate lyrical match for the Irish melody came from an English lawyer, Fred Weatherly in 1913 and it soon became a hit in both Europe and America.


It is instructive to consider what there was about the Danny Boy lyrics that created the intense emotional synergy between the words and the Irish melody.   Weatherly wrote two verses to the song, with the first setting up the second for a strongly emotional climax, which invariably activates large numbers of lachrymal glands.   (Okay"this is a "tear-jerker!")   In the first verse, a father contemplates his son's leaving (presumably for one of many wars,) and expresses his deep love to "Danny boy," as the lad goes away, assuring him that he'll be there when he returns, -whether it be in summer or winter.   In the second (final verse) the father's forebodings emerge ("- as dead I may well be"") He foresees Danny's finding his burial


place, where he will "kneel and say an Ave there for me." And as he lies in his grave" "warmer and sweeter it will be."   And then, the almost unbearable ending:


"For you will bend, and tell me that you love me, And I will sleep in peace until you come to me."


(A few words about music and lyrics - and a critical aspect of a musical performance.) In an instrumental performance of a song, a player should play the melody's notes exactly as though he or she were singing the words !    ( This obviously does not apply to jazz to the same extent, since improvisation is such an important element of that musical medium. )


Here are the two verses.   Please keep the above in mind, as you listen to this beautiful old song.


Danny Boy
Danny Boy
(Image by Phil Klein)
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Danny Boy (Londonderry Air)   lyrics by Fred Weatherly

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I have spent a long and interesting life involved in music, as a performer (piano,) educator (at every level from elementary to graduate school,) solo pianist, bandleader, composer/songwriter; entertainer, storyteller and humorist. In my final (more...)
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