Morris dancing is a historical dance form which has been practiced in an almost uninterrupted tradition since c.1458 in the British Isles and on the European continent. This origin date for the English tradition has been traced in royal court records by historian John Forrest, who describes Morris dancing as being deeply connected to public celebration in early modern England. Forrest presents an extensive picture of historical references to Morris dancing as it survives in primary source documents. What is lacking, however, is a more practical examination of Morris dancing and its accompanying music, as it was performed during the early modern era.
Due to a recent resurgence in the popularity of Morris dancing in the UK, modern musical publications focus on dance tunes only from the eighteenth century or later. There is, consequently, a lack of knowledge amongst current practitioners about music used for Morris dancing in the period 1550-1700. This is a time when Morris dancing was deeply connected to public life, as dancers and their accompanying musicians were supported by rural parishes for fundraising events during regular festivals that aligned with traditional harvest-time and farming practices.
This project will have a focus in performance alongside traditional research outputs for dissemination, to share the work with local creative industry groups and the general public. The research will trace and document music used for Morris dancing in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England and its relationship to the wider European tradition. It will explore the ways in which the accompanying music was performed through musicological and practice-based research techniques including archival and textual study and rehearsal on period instruments. This study will provide academics, practitioners and the general public with a performance framework for Morris dancing during its most prolific period of participation in early modern England from 1550-1700.
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