This music project is primarily interested in the traditional social dance music of England – where it came from, where it went to, who it travelled with and where it is now. Because the places where we will be looking for this music also contain other sorts of material such as folk song, carols and religious music, band and military music, etc. we have left the aims more open, to allow for expansion of the project at a later date. We are intending to fill in a gap in the ethno-musicological research spectrum and not duplicate the research in which other people are engaged.
Music has, for centuries, formed an integral part of life in the villages and towns of the world. The local musician(s) were and still are in great demand for social occasions, religious festivals, community ritual and celebration. It has not been uncommon for musicians to have a multiplicity of functions within their community, playing for the local dance on the Saturday night, and the church service on the Sunday morning.
Often, musically literate musicians wrote down their tunes, songs, hymns, psalms and band parts in a single book which was easily carried along with their portable instrument. Some of these surviving hand written books date back to the eighteenth century. Some are devoted entirely to church music, some to secular music like the dance tunes of the day, and some are a rich mixture of all musics of their time.
The surviving manuscript books of England are spread around. Museum and library archives, private collections and church bookshelves contain many treasures of this kind. Some are known of, and have been inspected, researched, published in full or in part, and safeguarded. Others are yet to be discovered, and may well be deterioratating due to neglect. Some have even been destroyed by people who saw them as having little value.
Any person wishing to study this music faces several problems. Firstly, the geographical location of this material makes inspection a long and expensive task. Secondly, the books are old and not always in good condition. Handling and repeated copying can hasten deterioration. Thirdly, the keepers of the site where the publicly-owned material resides are sometimes constrained by local pressures and are not able to be as co-operative as potential viewers of the material would like them to be, especially with regard to weekend access. Lastly, some of the material is in private collections or ownership, sometimes even still in the families descended from the originator of the book.