Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyHandel in the Strand, and Molly on the Shore.

Irish Tune from County Derry is a setting of a now-famous tune from the Irish county of Derry in the north (also sometimes called Londonderry).  This classic arrangement features beautiful, delicate part-writing for both woodwinds and brass, highlighting each family in turn.  The Columbia Summer Winds performances of this piece in summer 2009 are dedicated to the memory of our departed friend, Daniel Tedlie.

References on various version of Irish Tune at percygrainger.com.

While this tune is widely associated with the lyrics “Danny Boy”, it in fact has rich history of lyric settings of which “Danny Boy” is a relative latecomer.  For one version of the full history, see wikipedia’s article on “Londonderry Air”, an alternate title for the tune.  The full lyrics of “Danny Boy”, which helped inspire the choice of dedication for this summer, are below:

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Grainger’s setting may or may not have had any particular set of lyrics in mind.  Grainger’s first settings were published in 1918, whereas various lyrics date back to 1855 or earlier.  “Danny Boy” did not appear in print until 1913.  Even in vocal arrangements, Grainger used no particular lyrics – see below for the proof!

There is naturally much media available on this tune.  Here is just a tiny sampling:

A beautiful recording by the Cambridge Singers of Grainger’s (wisely) wordless vocal arrangement:

From YouTube, an unnamed band performs to images of Irish pride and patriotism:

Now your bonus video: The Muppet Show‘s three most articulate singers take on “Danny Boy”: