“Save the Hornpipe!” That is the cry and motto of the N.H.P.S - the
National Hornpipe Preservation Society. Hornpipes are lovely tunes generally
written in 2/4 or 4/4 time nowadays, that have a jaunty “dotted rhythm”
characterized by a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note. They are
also an “Endangered Species” as hornpipes are being “Reelized” at an
One reason for this “Reelization” seems to be the desire to play them at
a faster, reel tempo - hence obliterating the poor dotted notes. Generally,
contra dance fiddlers are the most serious offenders here. Another contributing
factor is the habit of writing out the tune as a reel to save writing all those
dotted and flagged notes. When done this way, it is only good form to at least
remember to put the word “hornpipe” in the notes. One should NEVER delete
the word hornpipe if it appears in the title. Ex.: Harvest Home rather than
Harvest Home Hornpipe.
How many wonderful hornpipes have been lost? One can only guess. One of the
hallmarks of a hornpipe are the last 3 notes of the A and/or B parts of the
tune that go: bump, bump, bump, or bump, bump-a bump. Look through your music -
YOU may discover a long lost hornpipe!
Fortunately the N.H.P.S. has a growing membership all across the US. These
brave souls have sworn to do their part to save the hornpipe by playing
hornpipes, sharing the story of the hornpipe, and by (gently) correcting a
musician who plays a hornpipe as a reel. This last bit of heroism should be
undertaken cautiously as currently the Society does not have any insurance to
cover medical claims that may result.
My prediction is that many years from now musicologists will look back on
this grass roots movement, which started in southern NH, as an important event
in musical history!
You can be part of that!