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 Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Ye Banks and Braes O’Bonnie Doon is among Grainger’s many folk song settings.  He first set it for “chorus and whistlers” in 1903, and created the band setting in 1932.  The folk song comes from Scotland.  The melody first appeared in print as The Caledonian Hunts Delight in a collection of songs published by Neil Gow in 1788.  In 1792, it was paired with a poem by Robert BurnsThe Banks of Doon, and this pairing has been handed down through the generations.  The poem describes a love story around the River Doon, which flows through Ayrshire from Loch Doon in Scotland:

Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu’ o’ care!

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o’ the happy days
When my fause Luve was true.

Thou’ll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings beside thy mate;
For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
And wist na o’ my fate.

Aft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the woodbine twine,
And ilka bird sang o’ its love;
And sae did I o’ mine.

Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Frae aff its thorny tree;
And my fause luver staw the rose,
But left the thorn wi’ me.

Read more about Ye Banks and Braes at windband.org, the Wind Repertory Project, the Percy Grainger Society program notes page (scroll down to find it), the Internet Archive, and Contemplator.org.

The North Texas Wind Symphony plays Ye Banks and Braes:

The actual folk song recorded in a studio:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com