Maid on the green played by Willie Clancy

Analysis by Peter Laban, 25 July 2002

The tune is displayed in the left frame, comments in the lower right frame, so that you can scroll through the text while viewing the music.


The Maid on the green is a common, simple two-part double jig in G. The tune appears in some shape or form in most of the important collections from the early 20th century (Ryan's Mammoth collection, O Neill's both in MOI and DMI, Roche). The title is one of those covert erotic references found in so many tune names.1

The tune's popularity, certainly among pipers, can be largely attributed to the 1924 recording made by Patsy Touhey.2 It is certain that Clancy knew the Touhey recording well and his playing here betrays Touhey's influence. Interestingly I do not remember ever coming across any recording of Clancy playing the tune on the pipes and it is not included in Mitchell's The Dance Music of Willie Clancy although a tune without title appears in that book which has a turn very similar to that of The Maid on the green connected to a first part which in turn is very similar to that of Walsh's favourite, a tune recorded by Tom Ennis on a 78 rpm.3

Clancy's basic version here is very much the standard one, and it is a joy to hear what life a good traditional musician can bring to a fairly standard tune.

Some words need to be said here about the transcription. The usual caveat applies: the dots on paper do not nearly represent the actual performance. The eye can only be of assistance to the ear, not replace it. The rhythm and phrasing a traditional player brings to a tune cannot adequately be represented without making the notation too complex for the use intended here.4

The basic phrasing Clancy uses here is the one described as follows by Pat Mitchell:5

To my mind, these phrases are the essential building blocks of the music and have the potential to make listening to an Irish traditional dance tune an exquisite experience - or an exasperating one. In the case of many double jigs, most of the phrases fall within the bar. However the phrase I hear does not consist of the two triplets but of the first triplet and the first note of the second. So to generalise, my thesis is that the basic structure has the phrase ending on the first note of the second triplet in each bar. The remaining note or notes in the bar would then become the "upbeat" into the following phrase.

It is strongly recommended to listen carefully to the soundclip, let your ear lead you and only use the notation as a visual guide.

When I quote notes in the text these will be written in ABC notation, the computer program's ABC, not the ABC commonly used in Ireland for notations and music teaching (which is very similar in some respects and is a source of some confusion).

It is common to write a grace note such as the one in Bar 1 as {eg}e2 d, and a player truly familiar with the music should have no problem interpreting this commonly adapted way of notation. In preparing this transcription however I realised that the notation of this particular movement could easily be interpreted in a different way from the actual playing (try running it through an ABC play-back program like ABCMus) so I decided at the last minute to change it to e{g}ed, which looks more complicated and is probably harder to interpret at first (it obscures the long e of the melody and the inexperienced reader may be tempted to actually play the two e s) but at the end of the day it is probably a better representation of the effect achieved by the player.

As to the separation of notes of the same pitch, I find it nearly impossible to determine which note is used to cut in between listening to a recording at full speed, I made an educated guess in most cases. In the case of the separation of two low octave Gs occurring often in this tune (the BGG DGG type of movement), I decided that Clancy tapped the notes on the whistle in similar fashion as he did on the pipes, playing a G with the index finger of the lower hand down and tapping with the two remaining fingers to separate the Gs. This would effectively mean the separating "cut" is a "bottom D", which is how I have written it. If the separation is done with only the one finger, i.e. tapping the G only with the note immediately below, the cut should be written/read as F. In some cases it is not completely clear if the separation was achieved by cutting or by blowing the notes separately. I have not attempted to represent the various shades of legato and non-legato playing in this notation. In some instances however Willie used a very defined staccato effect for emphasis, I have indicated this using the staccato mark (a dot over the notes).

In a few cases Willie used a triplet, for example gbg becoming (3gab g. I have written this movement as (3gabg , adopting a fairly common practice. It has been suggested that it would be better to consider the whole movement as a quadruplet. Breandan Breathnach in his earlier collections6 in fact used the quadruplet, but as pipers invariably refer to these movements as triplets(followed by one 1/8 note) I have decided to follow the practice most commonly adopted by the uilleann piping community and indicated a triplet (and it should be noted here that these triplet are never three notes of equal length, the first being the longest, the second the shortes and the final one somewhere inbetween the two in duration).

Maid on the Green, some comments on the playing

The overall first impression in this recording is that of liveliness: the playing is powerful with the strong forward surge, the underlying urge reflecting that of life itself that makes good traditional playing so attractive. Yet the music moves in curves rather than linear fashion. While strong, it is never hyped or aggressive, qualities too often found in the playing of today's recording artists. It is the music of a man at ease and fully in control of his music and his instrument, finding joy in little digressions from the basic melody, playing with the tune rather than playing the tune full stop. There's joy, sweetness and that touch of lonesomeness that is present in the music of all good players. This music, while other influences can be detected, is essentially Clare music, unhurried, flowing music that cherishes subtleties in the phrasing, emphasising the melodic line and bringing out different moods as it goes along.

It is not an uncommon practice for the traditional player to play the tune through the first time in a fairly basic form, only to develop the melody in subsequent playings. Clancy does so here. The first playing and the repeat of the first part and the first playing of the second part are basic and and relatively simple. It gives the listener time to take in the tune and adds to the appreciation of what develops. The first real touch of variation is introduced in the repeat of the turn, in fact Willie uses elements taken from the turn from Patsy Touhey's recorded version, which after ending the second basic phrase on a in bar 17, shoot up to high c' to introduce an inversion of the melodic line. In bar 21 the original is re-joined but immediately in bar 22 a triplet is introduced that adds greatly to the drive of the tune, at the end of the same bar Willie stumbles into a C natural, merely a passing note here but a note otherwise wholly absent from the tune so it's introduction comes as a surprise to the listener and it adds quite an interesting new colour to the melody. He immediately introduces another little inversion of the phrase the C natural was leading into when Bee becomes Bge, (a touch also used often in playing tunes like The Tarbolton where beed ~e2 becomes quite effectively bged ~e2 in the opening bar).

Going into the second playing of the tune he milks the idea to its full potential when he introduces the same movement in the opening bar (bar 25), he goes through the melody in a long legato passage, seemingly in one breath placing a definite ending on the first four bars raising the a an octave and taking a break to take a breath. He then continues on in legato fashion, bringing the former ideas together in a long flowing line which is distinctly different in character from the original melody. The change being brought about by the introduction of the c naturals and the inversions of the melody.

He ends the part on a high g but lets the tune flow right over the double bar line into the repeat of the first part, achieving a pleasing sense of syncopation. He then continues on developing the melody along the same lines in bars 33 and 34, introducing a fine flowing G roll which brings a shift in rhythm in Bar 35. After ending again on a high a in Bar 36 a nice and somewhat mischievous fully staccato passage is introduced to contrast the free flowing phrases that went before, the part is the resolved.

The turn is again that inspired by Touhey's piping, incorporating some of the ideas that were introduced earlier in the tune. The final part rounds things up, starting in a nice flowing manner with two long rolls being introduced in Bar 50 , here the two former versions (the basic one and Touhey's) are combined and a fine rhythmic flourish climbing down through b, a and g leads into the roundup of the tune.

Peter Laban