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  • Thu, June 01, 2023 11:23 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    For Percy Grainger communal singing was the most direct and expressive form of musical expression. Grainger composed startlingly original choral music throughout his life, often based on his love of the literature of Kipling, Whitman, Swinburne, and others. His folk-song collecting activities in England and Denmark also informed his approach to choral composition, and form the basis of some of his best-known works for choirs. For the 2023 program year, the Percy Grainger Society organized two presentations: Grainger for Choirs, held on February 24, and Performing Grainger’s Choral Music which will take place on Friday June 30th.

    Grainger for Choirs, presented by Paul Jackson, was the first of two discussions in the series and included an overview of Grainger's music for choirs, beginning with his early large-scale experiments in the setting of irregular rhythms, through his many and varied folk-song settings, to his lifetime's work on the Jungle Book Cycle. Illustrated with sound clips of selected works, the presentation looked at the influence of language and dialect on Grainger's approach to both the composition and performance of choral music, together with the many ways in which his ideas of Free Music, music without pitch division or standard meter, also found their way into his choral writing.

    Performing Grainger’s Choral Music, to be presented by Dr. Brent Wells, Associate Professor of Choral Conducting and Ensembles at Brigham Young University, will explore the reality of performing Grainger's complicated choral works from unaccompanied choruses, that fall into a more "standard" performance model, to those requiring more robust—and at times, unusual—performing forces. Grainger's concept of "elastic scoring" will be discussed as well as practical ways to perform an all-Grainger choral concert, or a set of Grainger pieces within a more typical concert program featuring several composers and styles. The presentation will focus particularly on Grainger's folk-based choral works and will conclude with an open Q&A and discussion. 

    Please register and join us on Friday June 30 at noon (US Eastern time)! 

    Performing Grainger’s Choral Music is free to members and $10 for all other guests.

  • Fri, April 28, 2023 8:23 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Percy Grainger Home & Studio’s new initiative, “Third Sundays”, offers tours that are part education, part interpretation, and a fun, informative alternative to the traditional historic house tour. While a room-by-room tour is included, the focus is on one idea, with the collection providing the backdrop to illustrate and explore that idea. Led by volunteers, the outreach initiative will continue on select Sundays throughout the year.

    These themed tours offer a unique lens with which to “read” the Percy Grainger Home & Studio. Presenters, taking into account their own interests and knowledge, are given the freedom to explore new connections between items in the collection, the historic house and the Grainger’s lives. If you are looking for inspiration, awe, and a slice of Grainger’s views, be sure to register for an upcoming tour.

    Historic houses are a living time capsule that provide a unique opportunity to learn about the past. They offer us insight into the lives of those who lived in them and the history of their time. From architecture and design to furniture, art and artifacts, these sites can tell us a lot about how people lived in different eras. By exploring historic homes, we can gain an understanding of our past and how it has shaped our present. Additionally, we can also learn valuable lessons looking at how people used to live, and applying that knowledge to our own lives today.

    Upcoming Third Sunday tours include Grainger and Fennell, led by Rebecca Weissman and scheduled for Sunday July 16, and Percy Grainger’s Free Music Machines, to be presented by Dr. Paul Jackson on September 17.  Please join us! Third Sunday tours are offered free of charge: registration is required. Visit our events page for more information. 

  • Thu, March 16, 2023 10:16 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    By Maci Bianco. On Saturday, January 21 I attended a volunteer orientation at the Percy Grainger Home & Studio. Part of my introduction, as a new volunteer, was to tour the entire house. I was invited to walk through each room, with the other volunteers, and to choose several things in each room to learn more about. This would provide a focus in for my tours (thereby building my confidence) and I would be able to explain why certain objects were important to the Grainger’s in order to tell their story.

    In the dining room, the first thing I noticed was the large cabinet filled with record albums. The record collection is extensive. I was told that Percy himself had set up the storage unit, covering it with the same wallpaper as in the room, to make it fit in. Since Grainger’s death in 1961, the collection in this cabinet has changed--additional albums have been added and others removed. I decided to choose a few samples and see what I could learn.

    The recordings I was most curious about include: The Historic Percy Grainger Piano Roll (1919), Grieg: Concerto in A Minor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Vaughn Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony in the Fen Country; and The Orchestral Works of Percy Grainger Vol. 1.

    The Historic Percy Grainger Piano Roll (1919) Grieg: Concerto in A Minor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was the first album that caught my attention. It was released in 1978. The album is an interesting compilation of Grainger’s compositions, as well as reproducing some of his piano rolls. The player piano reached its height around the 1920s. Grainger made recordings with the Aeolian Company: the US manufacturers of the Duo-Art reproducing pianos.

    This album also features the recording of Grainger playing the Grieg “Piano Concerto in A Minor”.  There is a photo of Grieg in the music room at 7 Cromwell, and it was fascinating to learn why the relationship was important to both men. When the Grainger visited Grieg at the composer's home at Troldhaugen, Norway (the visit captured in the photo), Grieg was impressed with Grainger’s musicianship and later stated:

    "I had to become sixty-four years old to hear Norwegian piano music interpreted so understandingly and brilliantly. He breaks new ground for himself, for me, and for Norway. And then this enchanting, profound, serious, and childlike naturalness! What a joy to gain a young friend with such qualities!"

    As a pianist, Percy Grainger gave hundreds of performances of a dozen of Grieg’s works, most notably the “Piano Concerto” which he performed regularly during the year of 1960. He made gramophone and piano-rolls of popular Grieg works such as “To the Spring”, “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” and “Norwegian Bridal Procession”, in addition to Grieg’s “Piano Concerto”. Grainger also recorded many of Grieg’s lesser-known piano pieces.


    My second choice from the cabinet was Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony in the Fen Country. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger were among the first to write for wind band in the twentieth century. There were also both folk song collectors. 

    Vaughan Williams’ initial inspiration to write this symphony came during World War I, after hearing a bugler practicing and accidentally playing an interval of a seventh instead of an octave. This ultimately led to the trumpet cadenza in the second movement. This piece has gained the reputation of being a subtly beautiful elegy for the dead of World War I and a meditation on the sounds of peace.

    It is interesting to think of this piece in relationship to Grainger’s “The Warriors: Music to an Imaginary Ballet”. Composed between 1913 and 1916, and dedicated to Frederick Delius, the piece is considered a tribute to pacifism. “The Warriors” was first performed at the Hollywood Bowl, the same location where he and Ella married in 1928.



    The Orchestral Works of Percy Grainger, Vol. I was my third choice. It was compiled by Richard Hickox, a British Conductor, and since it is volume one, I wondered how many additional CD volumes were produced. I am new to Grainger’s work and I thought that this particular recording would be a good introduction. I look forward to checking to see how many of Grainger’s orchestra works were compiled by Chandos.

    As with learning any new subject, each bit of information leads to further questions. It is certainly this way with my first choice of albums from the cabinet. I will listen to each selection as I begin to learn about the life and music of Percy Grainger.   

  • Fri, January 06, 2023 3:29 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    The Percy Grainger Society is often contacted by people with questions or requests for information such as where to find specific music scores. Additionally, individuals contact us offering to donate items such as signed photographs and scores. The objects often come with a story, a personal connection. They add insight to the interpretation of the Grainger’s’ lives and enriches the impact of the donation. Following is a little background on our most recent acquisition.

    In May of 1949, Percy arrived in Portland, Maine prior to his performance with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. He came down with a cold and sinus infection, apparently bought on from his exposure to the pouring rain as he walked between the train station and music hall, and he was brought to see the specialist, Dr. John Colby Myer. They became fast friends. Dr. Myer was also a musician/composer who played double bass with the symphony.  Percy sent him multiple scores, essays that he had published, and photographs. In return, Dr. Myer sent Percy his own compositions, which Percy would critique and send back.  John Colby Myer held onto these items together with a scrapbook he created with relevant news clippings, images, and programs from Grainger performances.

    The family of John Colby Myer has generously donated this collection to the Percy Grainger Society. We are excited to add these items to our collection and treasure the insight from the stories that come with it.

  • Fri, December 02, 2022 9:41 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    With the conservation and installation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the Percy Grainger Society fabricated 2 information panels which are now on display together with the free music machine in the dining room of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio.  What follows here is the text of the second panel as written by Dr. Paul Jackson, PGS Board President.

    The Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders machine was constructed in February 1950. It is the only Free Music machine that remains intact in the Percy Grainger Home and Studio, the others either dismantled, lost, or transferred by the composer to the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, Australia. The only other complete machine in existence is the Kangaroo-Pouch machine, now in the collection of the Grainger Museum. As with many of the machines, the title on the original identification display cards was prefaced by the term ‘Cross-Grainger Experiments’ in recognition of the pivotal role that Burnett Cross played in the design of the machines.

    ‘It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying and yet not be able to execute tonal glides and curves.’

    In common with all of the Free Music machines, it incorporates a two-part design, a control mechanism and a sound producing element. Grainger drew on his early experiences as a recording artist with player pianos in the design of many of the machines, using paper rolls with slits and holes cut into them to play the various instruments. These comprised organ pipes, harmonium reeds, simple electronic oscillators, and, in the case of this machine, two recorders, and a slide, or swanee whistle. The recorders and whistle would have been connected to a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer by means of rubber tubes, which provided the necessary amount of air to produce a continuous sound. As the paper rolls passed over the holes of the recorders, emulating the fingers of a human player, different notes would have been produced. This made possible an approximation of a pitch glide as the recorders may have been tuned to realize fractional tones, smaller than the standard musical semitone. The slide whistle, the only part of the machine able to produce continuously gliding sounds, may have simply been controlled by hand by pulling and pushing the metal control lever.

    ‘Free Music demands a non-human performance. Like most true music, it is an emotional, not a cerebral, product and should pass direct from the imagination of the composer to the ear of the listener by way of delicately controlled musical machines.’

    Prior to conservation, the machine was stowed away in the upper floors of the house, with many of the sound-producing elements removed. Through close examination of the three period photographs from the 1950s, and with clues drawn for Percy's day-books where he made short notes of his experiments, it was possible to identify the missing components. A rolling pin, visually matching the one in the period photograph, was found in the kitchen. The recorders were identified as those made by Arnold Dolmetsch, the noted English instrument maker with whom Grainger collaborated in the editing of a number of early music compositions in the 1930s and 1940s. The curious circular object at the side of the machine was also identified as a Blow-a-Tune, a child’s toy made by the American toy manufacturer Kenner in 1949. These instruments have been re-introduced into the machine to allow correct routing of the paper rolls and to complete the impression of how the machine may have operated.

    It is unlikely that the Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders machine was particularly successful, as the tension required to ensure that the paper rolls stayed sufficiently close to the body of the recorders would have meant that the paper was liable to tearing and uneven flow, problems that Grainger experienced in many of the machines. But it remains a fascinating testament to Grainger’s dogged pursuit of his vision of Free Music, encapsulating his multi-faceted character as visionary composer, performer, artist, designer and inventor.

    The conservation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by Greater Hudson Heritage Network. This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

  • Thu, October 20, 2022 10:11 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    With the conservation and installation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the Percy Grainger Society fabricated 2 information panels which are now on display together with the free music machine in the dining room of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio.  What follows here is the text of the first panel, "Percy Grainger and Free Music", as written by Dr. Paul Jackson, PGS Board President.

    For Percy Grainger, Free Music drew its inspiration from the sounds of nature and was music free from the constraints of conventional rhythm and individual pitch. From an early age, he imagined music that would glide continuously across the pitch spectrum, without the need for metrical rhythms and, ultimately, without the need for a performer; the composers’ ideas would be translated directly into sound.

    ‘I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of eleven or twelve … it is my only important contribution to music.’ 

    Elements of Free Music can be found in much of Grainger’s instrumental and vocal compositions, where the use of sliding notes and irregular rhythms often feature. Between 1935 and 1937, Grainger wrote three short pieces – Free Music No. 1, Free Music No. 2 and Beatless Music – which further demonstrated his ideas in practice. Following a meeting with the Russian inventor Leon Theremin in 1932, Grainger composed the pieces for theremins, instruments able to produce continuously gliding tones without direct contact from the player. The works also called for a new method of musical notation, Grainger devising a system that used graph paper to indicate pitch contours and changes in volume. These pieces are among the earliest examples of pitchless music.

    Grainger regarded all of his music up to this point as merely a stepping-stone to the full development of Free Music, and he was to increasingly devote his time to this from the late 1940s onwards as his activities as a concert pianist began to decline. Using his White Plains home as a studio, he worked alongside his wife, Ella, and in close collaboration with a young physicist, William Burnett Cross. Together they designed and built machines that were able to produce Free Music without the involvement of a human performer. Grainger and Cross made audio recordings of their experiments and documented their work with a number of evocative photographs. Grainger, a talented artist, also produced color drawings of several of the machines, including explanations of their working methods.

    ‘Free Music … is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age.’

    Most of the machines, which were given typically Graingeresque names such as the Hills & Dales Air-Blown Tone-Tools, the Side-Ridge Clothes-Line-&-Scotch-Tape-Tin Oscillator-Player, and the Kangaroo-Pouch Method of Synchronising & Playing 8 Oscillators, were constructed from wood, paper, cardboard, string, and other found objects scavenged from the house, local hardware stores and the immediate locale. The machines were in a constant state of flux and were often dismantled or repurposed as soon as sounds were recorded. The final machine, the Electric Eye, remained unfinished at the time of Grainger’s death, but was the most sophisticated and was able to produce seamless electronic pitch glides by ‘reading’ graphic notation painted on clear film. It is this machine that places Grainger’s experiments in electronic music squarely alongside other composers whose work in these areas has historically gained more attention.

    The conservation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by Greater Hudson Heritage Network. This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

  • Tue, August 30, 2022 3:18 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    “Can you talk about the significance of Lincolnshire Posy?” began Professor Laura Rexroth. She was addressing panelist David Waybright, Tom Leslie, and Myron Welch, each past presidents of American Bandmasters Association and each having many, various answers to such a question. Tom Leslie began by noting that he had conducted the work many times, as had his fellow panelist, but he learned the most by teaching it to his student conductors over the years—which he always did.  Myron Welch noted that he considered it one of the top works for band and is important for its scoring, as well as harmonies, mixed meters, and, of course, use of saxophones. Dave Waybright added that the work was so important that it advanced the medium of band altogether and it was difficult to underestimate the importance of such a seminal work. 

    So began the first of three discussion panels addressing the band work Lincolnshire Posy.  Considered by many to be Grainger’s masterpiece. The 16-minute-long work has six movements, each adapted from folk songs that Grainger collected on a 1905–1906 trip to Lincolnshire, England. The work first debuted on March 7, 1937, making 2022 the 85th anniversary of the composition. 

    Prof. Rexroth led the discussion by inquiring: Do you feel that the knowledge of the lyrics for the works affects your interpretations? And, as a conductor, how do your approach the score?  As you review the score, do you have surprises?  Each panelist answered thoughtfully, reflecting on their many performances, conducting students they had taught, and how much they learned—and continue to learn--along the way.

    Join us for the second and third roundtable discussions on Lincolnshire Posy.  On Thursday September 15, ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ and ‘The Brisk Young Sailor’ will be discussed.  On Friday October 14, ‘Lord Melbourne’ and ‘The Lost Lady Found’ will be the final two movements to be discussed.  Information and registration can be found on our event page.

    Roundtable Rambles will conclude the Grainger’s Society’s Celebration of Lincolnshire Posy.  The year began with a presentation of Col Jason Fettig and the performances of the President’ Own Band.  Midyear, Grainger Society President Emeritus Barry Ould addressed Granger’s method of collecting the folk songs. 

    The panel discussions can be found in the Members Only area of the Percy Grainger Society’s website. Additionally, recording of rehearsals by Fredrick Fennel and Col Jason Fettig can be viewed here:

    Frederick Fennell rehearses Lincolnshire Posy with the U.S. Navy Band - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mNMCX93jGA&t=18s

    Digital Rehearsal Hall: GRAINGER "Lincolnshire Posy" (episode 1) - United States Marine Band – Movements 1 &2


    Digital Rehearsal Hall: GRAINGER "Lincolnshire Posy" (episode 2) - United States Marine Band – Movements 3&4


    Digital Rehearsal Hall: GRAINGER "Lincolnshire Posy" (episode 3) - United States Marine Band – Movements 5&6


    Field recordings of songs from Lincolnshire Posy


    Roundtable Rambles is a cooperative project between the Percy Grainger Society and the American Bandmasters Association. 

  • Mon, August 01, 2022 12:57 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the free music machine in the collection at the Percy Grainger Home and Studio, was created by Percy Grainger with Burnett Cross in February of 1950. Few of Grainger’s experimental music machines exist; the Percy Grainger Society is fortunate that the object was saved.

    Kept for many years in a storage room on the third floor, Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was dusty and incomplete with pieces of wood and parts stored on the table top. When pulled out of the storage room, it was obvious that the existing paper roll was not strung through the machine correctly.  Additionally, two paper rolls must have been removed at some point.

    The conservation treatment addressed both stability and aesthetic issues, so that Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders could be safely displayed as close to the original appearance as possible.  Placing the cut paper rolls back through the machine was just one element in a complex project.

    Thankfully, there are period photographs of the object detailing the path of the 3 paper rolls through the machine, under the rolling pins and over the slide whistle and recorders. The additional paper rolls had been rolled up and stored with the object.  One of the challenges of the conservation project, after cleaning and repairs to the paper, was to re-string the cut paper rolls through the machine. Following below are a few images documenting the process as each paper roll is placed back through the machine as per period documentation.

    The conservation of the free music machine was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by GHHN (Greater Hudson Heritage Network). This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

  • Thu, June 02, 2022 5:35 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    “One of the things I love about being a conservator is that every piece is a puzzle to solve” says Kerith Koss Schrager.  “The free music machine wasn’t intended for people to appreciate it 100 years from now.  It was created for a moment in time. My challenge here is to recreate and preserve Grainger’s vision at that point in time—a point in time I really don’t have all the evidence for.”

    Ms. Schrager is the object conservator working on the conservation of our free music machine, “Gliding Tones on Whistle” created in February 1950. An objects conservator works toward the long-term preservation of three-dimensional works including stabilization, structural repairs and cleaning.

    Over the years, the Grainger Home and Studio has had several visits by different type of conservators. In September 2015, Kathleen Craughwell-Varda, a museum conservator sent through the Greater Hudson Heritage Network’s C2CNY Circuit Rider Program, visited and urged the board to consider the house and collection in light of our mission, her report noted:

    The role of the collections (furnishings, clothes, decorative arts, fine arts, musical instruments, etc.) should be considered once PGS (then, IPGS) has a board-approved mission statement.  What role do they play in illustrating the life and career of Percy Grainger?  What connection, if any, does the personal property and artworks of his wife Ella have to the new mission statement?  Is the care and maintenance of a historic house and its furnishings key to the mission of PGS?

    Great Hudson Heritage Network then arranged  a visit by Donia Conn, a book and paper conservator, to review and focus on preservation of the letters and books in the basement.  Again, the recommendation was to have a serious discussion about the role of the collection in the Society’s mission.

    The PGS board listened. The house and collection are now a major focus of the latest mission statement.  Volunteers and staff have sorted, inventoried, and organized many of the rooms and much of the collection. While the process is slow, often item-by-item, each small project is part of the stewardship of the entire collection and gives a greater understanding of the the unique genius of the Grainger family. Some items, like the free music machine, warrant special attention.

    In 2021, PGS again submitted a grant proposal, this time to the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Program.  The grant proposal noted:

    Conservation of “Cross-Grainger Experiment–February 1950” fits squarely into our mission to preserve the legacy, home and artifacts of Percy Grainger during his life in America. A significant and unique object in our collection, the Free Music machine model is currently in storage and cannot be displayed. Elements are misaligned and/or broken and there are tears in the aged paper rolls. Unattached components rest on the surface of the table. Heavy surface dirt and dust throughout magnify the risk of further deterioration. Conservation is essential for display and preservation.

    The review committee of GHHN agreed. A grant of $5220 was awarded and the conservation work has recently begun.

     “The free music machine played such an important role in Grainger’s life, and we are so glad it has been moved back to the dining room, the space where Grainger actually worked on many of his experimental machines. Restoring it and placing it on the first floor will go along way to making the house an even more interesting tour for house visitors,” says Susan Colson, long-time PGS board member and frequent docent. “We have told the story in various ways (for example, our YouTube video), but having the machine itself in place is central to its living history.” 

    The conservation of the free music machine was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by GHHN (Greater Hudson Heritage Network). This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

  • Mon, April 18, 2022 3:25 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    by William Garlette

    Our upcoming celebration of the 85th Anniversary of the premier of Lincolnshire Posy has generated several excellent queries. The one question I’d like to address in this blog is Grainger’s method of writing irregular or, what we call now, asymmetrical/composite meters and why he chose the notation he used. The question we get is why did Grainger write 2 1/2/4 and not 5/8? And then why does he use a mixture of both methods?

    To Bandleaders

    “Bandleaders need not be afraid of the two types of irregular rhythms met with in the “Lincolnshire Posy”; those conveyed by changing time-signatures in “Rufford Park Poachers,” and those (marked “Free Time”) left to the band leader’s volition in “Lord Melbourne.” Both these types lie well within the powers of any normal high school band. The only players that are likely to balk at those rhythms are seasoned professional bandsmen, who think more of their beer than of their music.” [1]

    In a short piece titled “The Specialist and the All-Round Man” written in 1943, Grainger commented on the dissimilar experiences he had had working with amateur and professional musicians:

             “A few years ago, I was asked to prepare a band composition for a bandmasters’ convention in Milwaukee. I never like to ‘sell a pig in a poke’; so I tried out the work on several student bands (among others, the superb student band of the Ernest Williams School of Music in Brooklyn) and on high school bands in Texas, New York state, and elsewhere. Two of the movements, in my work, presented unusual rhythmic problems, but none of the non-professional bands had any problem with them. But the professional bandsmen in Milwaukee could not solve these problems at all, and the two movements had to be left out.” [2]

    This composition was realized towards the end of Grainger’s compositional life. What he used in Lincolnshire Posy was a compilation of all he developed prior to 1937. Grainger’s use of these “irregular” meter signatures began in the late 1890s. The works he held most dear were Hill-Song No. 1 and No. 2. Both works were started between 1901 and 1907 and both have these types of meter signatures.

    In studying writings on Grainger, I’ve found many writers look at and question or write from the perspective of a 20th or 21st century commentator or observer. Too often a question is asked based on what we currently know without realizing the historical perspective. What was the state of music or society at the time of Grainger’s endeavors? What existed? What was acceptable or ‘the norm’?

    Prior to 1899, the use of irregular or asymmetrical/composite meters was not employed. With no historical precedent to follow, Grainger devised a metrical method that conformed to his rhythmic needs.

    “IRREGULAR RHYTHMS.  Studies in the rhythms of prose speech that I undertook in 1899 led to such irregular barrings as those in bars 69-74 of Love Verses from ‘The Song of Solomon’, composed 1899-1900, which (as far as I know) was the first use of irregular rhythms in modern times, though of course Claude Le Jeune (1528-1602), in his ‘non-metrical’ pieces, used rhythms quite as irregular.” [3]

    This quote speaks to another aspect that is not acknowledged enough: Grainger was a philologist. “A philologist is someone who studies the history of languages, especially by looking closely at literature. If you're fascinated with the way English has changed over time, from Beowulf to Beloved, you might want to become a philologist. Linguistics is the study of language, and a philologist is a type of linguist.” [4]

     He was fluent in many languages and, along with each language, he studied dialects of several of these languages. This study led him to understand the rhythms of speech, both prose and poetry, and then incorporate this awareness into his musical form. The ‘rhythm’ of prose is not symmetrical. Language is not always what is referred to as ‘sing-song’ - verse with marked and regular rhythm and rhyme. Language and prose are irregular and Grainger, as he did throughout his life, invented a way to translate life into music.

    Paul Jackson, President of the Percy Grainger Society (PGS), writes, “I imagine Percy used them because 2 1/2 over 4 is different to 5/8, in the same way that 1 1/2 over 4 is different to 3/8. The latter time signatures imply a certain stress pattern that the former doesn’t necessarily mean to. That is, 3/8 might be thought of a single rhythmic unit (1-2-3), whereas 1 1/2 is definitely one beat plus half a beat, and 2 1/2 is two beats plus a half beat. This would arise from Percy’s concept of irregular rhythms (again, 1 1/2 is irregular, whereas 3/8 is not). Of course, in practice, and to the listener, these distinctions may not be apparent. Also, I suspect publishers encouraged Percy to abandon this way of notating in favour of more standard versions (although he certainly wasn’t the only composer of that period to use irregular fractions, Carlos Chavez also used these signatures in his third Iano sonata of 1928).” [5]

    Another PGS Board member and Grainger scholar, Chalon Ragsdale, notes, “Grainger’s use of both (2 1/2/4 and 5/8) were at least partly suggestions as to conducting gestures. 2.5 over 4 would be conducted as 2/4 with a long 2nd beat. 3/8 would be conducted as 5 separate motions.” [6]

    So, the question remains one for discussion, but the uniqueness of Grainger’s music continues to be engaging and fascinating.

    [1] Score note to Lincolnshire Posy, Percy Aldridge Grainger, August, 1939.

    [2] Garofalo, Robert J., (ed.), Wind band/ensemble anthology folk songs & dances in wind band classics, vol. 4: Folk songs & dances in Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger, Silver Spring MD:  Whirlwind Music Publications,
    2008. p. 11 (full historical performance account p. 1 – 26).

    [3] Grainger, Percy.  “Percy Grainger’s Remarks about His Hill-Song No. 1 by Percy Aldridge Grainger (5-page typescript dated September 1949) located in Number 4 – 1st Edition 1982 – 2nd Edition 1997 - A Musical Genius from Australia – Selected Writings by and about Percy Grainger – Compiled and with Commentary by Teresa Balough, p. 85.

    [4] https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/philologist

    [5] Email correspondence with the author December 28, 2021

    [6] Email correspondence with the author December 30, 2021

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