Modern Cornish instrumental tradition has its roots in the “jobbing” tunes of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. These were the tunes that did duty for the processions and dances at feast days, tea treats and weddings or were improvised for scoot (step) dances on the slate floors of farm kitchens. They attached themselves to the songs that gave expression to Cornish dialect and the ballads with their popular folk tales. Some are associated with carols although it is a moot point here as to which came first as in the medieval world the carol was a circular dance to sung music.
The advent of the Celtic festival in the 1970s with its celebration of the languages and culture of the Celtic peoples had a major impact in Cornwall. The focus on stage performance, dance and organised, if informal, sessions created a very different environment for Cornish traditional music. Not only did Cornish musicians and dancers find an international platform at these festivals, they were also encouraged to create similar events of their own in Cornwall. This is sometimes framed as a revival of instrumental tradition but is better understood as a change of emphasis in the way that the tunes were used and performed. An important part of this change was an increasingly self-consciousness and sense of identity within Cornish music tradition.
The Racca: Cornish Tunes for Cornish Sessions project of 1995 – 1997 provided a milestone when it captured some 250 Cornish tunes including new compositions as well as traditional items. This creativity continues and together with an enthusiasm for historical research the repertoire has greatly increased since then. The Cornish National Music Archive seeks to capture and explore the stories of these tunes as well as the people who research, write, and perform them as part of the living tradition of Cornwall’s instrumental folk music.
- 18 May 2020