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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (8-8-14)--Durang's Hornpipe

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JanetB - Posted - 08/07/2014:  20:12:21

The widespread popularity and the history of our current TOTW, Durang’s Hornpipe, surprised me, as well as its origins in New York, not the British Isles.

John Durang--a well-known actor and dancer in his time, born in Pennsylvania in 1768--was presented with the tune in 1785, written expressly for him by his violin teacher in New York, a German dwarf named Mr. Hoffmaster.  As the tune’s popularity spread, Durang claimed that his hornpipe was heard from New York to “the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

It’s amazing to me that John Durang is reported to have been a favorite entertainer of George Washington.  Seven tunes were uploaded on youtube in 2010 called “George Washington—Tunes for the First President.”  If you go to the next link at 4:30 you’ll hear the original Durang’s Hornpipe:  original Durang's Hornpipe on violin.  To learn more about his career, which included acting, dancing, puppetry, mime, tightrope walking, and painting, check out these links:  Excerpt from John Durang's memoirs plus musical notation for Durang's Hornpipe and Description of Durang's career, including Rickett's Circus (you’ll need to scroll down).

In the descriptive article in the link above by Andrew Kuntz, Durang is credited for popularizing the dance for Sailor’s Hornpipe as well.  Here’s one of his believe-it-or-not feats:   He boasted in his memoirs that in 1790 he danced "a hornpipe on thirteen eggs blindfolded without breaking one."  Kuntz states “his hornpipe dancing seems to have been an immediate success, perhaps because audiences appreciated a native-born American performer in what was a largely English company in the years just after the American Revolution.”

Samuel Bayard’s book Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife states “this is one of the very few traditional dances about which we have dependable information as to its composer and date of composition.”  Subsequent versions “improved the original,” which Bayard called “banal” and he notated Durang’s Hornpipe for six Pennsylvanian fiddlers.  Keep in mind that Durang himself was born there, too, so the tune must have been quite common there, akin to something like Soldier’s Joy.

                        John Durang as an acrobatic Harlequin. Puppet by Robert Brock ...              



The tune is included in several other banjo and fiddle books in my own collection, including Dan Levenson’s Old-Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo (with both old-time fiddlers and newer festival versions), The Banjo Picker’s Fakebook (arrangement by Bob Carlin), O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (#1772), and Ozarks Fiddle Music .

Bruce Molsky, playing with Bob Carlin on the CD Take Me As I Am, credits Brad Leftwich for their Durang’s Hornpipe, and from it I based the first section of three on my own recording and tab.  Here’s a snippet of their lively performance:   Track 3, Take Me As I Am

Brendan Doyle posted on BHO an MP3 Clifftop jam with Adam Hurt.  Their version comes from Bruce Greene, who learned it from his own 1973 recordings of Kentucky fiddler, Jake Phelps (1883-1977):  Jake Phelps on Slippery Hill site  and  Adam, Beth Hartness and Brendan's Durang's Hornpipe.  It has a modulating part, considered unusual for this tune.   I use it for the second section of my MP3.  There isn’t a lot of information about Jake Phelps (1885 – 1977), but Bruce stated, “I met him when I was just getting started looking up older fiddlers….He was a farmer, lived in a little country place called Pea Ridge, Todd County, KY.   He learned many of his unusual tunes from a fiddler, Will Stigall (born in the 1860’s)while working in far western Kentucky….He also learned some from a local Black fiddler, George Holland….He did play for dances when younger.  Almost all of his versions of tunes were unusual, and for me, very appealing.”  I couldn’t find a photo of Jake Phelps, but have subsequently listened to several of his recordings and also find them appealing.

A second historic recording comes from the eminent Virginian fiddler Emmett Lundy.  He played it with a genuine hornpipe feel:  Lundy's Durang's Hornpipe recorded in 1941 by the Lomax's

 Here’s another version found on both Old Time Banjo Festival  and Adam’s Insight CDs:   Adam Hurt playing  Durang's Hornpipe  He says that he learned this from Jarred Nutter who learned it from West Virginian fiddler and Clifftop organizer Bobby Taylor, who in turn learned it from the powerful fiddling of famed Clark Kessinger—Bobby’s mentor when a teenager.  Bobby notes that Durang’s Hornpipe was one of Kessinger’s show pieces.  Adam calls this experience of learning the “folk process in action.”

When reading up on West Virginian fiddler Clark Kessinger’s life in The Devil’s Box  by Charles Wolfe you discover that the elegance and intricacy of his bowing was partly influenced by popular classical violinists of the day.  He both listened to and even played for one—Joseph Szigeti.  In his words, he “caught the touch they had….Some kind of their kind of bowing, who I could kind of add to it with hillbilly.  Made it a lot better.”

There’s been discussion on BHO about Adam’s lovely version of this piece, so I asked him about it and learned it for our current Skype lesson.   The added third C part Adam says is a variation on the second B part and is based on a bouncing bowing technique used by Clark Kessinger.  You can hear (and purchase for $.99) this Durang’s Hornpipe as a download from Smithsonian Folkways:  Clark Kessinger live at Union Grove, 1976.

Donald Zepp plays Durang’s Hornpipe in a relaxed, stylish manner.  I especially liked his slide into the B part and worked out the third section for my own recording of Durang’s Hornpipe based on Donald’s.

Banjo Hangout has some good MP3s and videos worth investigating in the Media Archive:

               J-Walk's Jam

               Laurence Diehl's take on Alan Munde

               Mark Ralston's fiddle/banjo duet

               Eric's solo

From searching youtube’s SIX-page list of Durang’s Hornpipe videos I found several I liked:

             Carolina Chocolate Drops   Carolina Chocolate Drops with dancing (barefoot Rhiannon)

Timothy Twiss   Timothy Twiss playing minstrel style from Ryan's Mammoth Collection (with notation from that 1800’s resource)

             Tim Rowell   Tim Rowell's clawhammer version  (I hear some Jake Phelps influence)

             Dean O. Robinson   Luthier Dean playing a newly made banjo

I hope to hear your own Durang’s Hornpipe this week and am glad I finally worked on it, as it seems to be a basic tune to have in one’s repertoire

Edited by - JanetB on 08/08/2014 18:00:20

Durang's Hornpipe (TOTW)--3 different versions

Durang's Hornpipe tab--3 versions

Durang's Hornpipe (TOTW)--3-part version

Durang's Hornpipe tab from original 1885 notation

banjered - Posted - 08/07/2014:  20:41:50

OK Janet, you get an A+ on this exposition and go to the head of the class. Well done! Banjered

cmic - Posted - 08/08/2014:  01:45:19

Excellent ! Your player is real pleasure (still stomping my foot on the floor.. Whoa!!)

And very interesting document end history.


Lew H - Posted - 08/08/2014:  04:55:53


hweinberg - Posted - 08/08/2014:  07:39:34

Thanks, Janet!  The origin of the tune makes it a good one to add to busking/jam list up here in New York.  -- Howard

vrteach - Posted - 08/08/2014:  07:45:46

I also say "Cool!" I really enjoyed the "Music for the First President" youtube link. I expect that the "Rickett's Circus" has a relationship to "Rickett's Hornpipe."

Now I have to go back and listen to all the versions.


Edit: Yes, Rickett's Hornpipe was a TOTW back in 2011, and it is named for John Ricketts of the circus.

Edited by - vrteach on 08/08/2014 07:59:16

atleson - Posted - 08/08/2014:  07:52:01

Nicely done, Janet.  This is one of my favorite old time tunes, having heard it first on  a now antique record of Arkansas tunes.  Thanks for the history.


bhniko - Posted - 08/08/2014:  07:55:27

As always your fingers are loving your banjo. Interesting banjo history about the Hornpipe from our 'banjotorian'.

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/08/2014:  09:04:51

Janet - you are such an asset to the banjo community! Thank you again for yet another wonderful Tune of the Week introduction and presentation.

Here's one (recommended to me by Miles Krassen this morning) played by Emmett Lundy.

I like the bounce of this version, the scratch and rough sound of the fiddle.


MrManners - Posted - 08/08/2014:  11:05:13

this article came from spring 2004 fiddler magazine.the original (which i have)l had sheet music instead of abc format ,It has some info down at the bottom about Washington and Durang

I usually get ignored posting 3 finger here in the clawhammer totw,but since Janet is always friendly,i feel within bounds ,janet i think you will find it of intrest---Tom

Edited by - MrManners on 08/08/2014 11:07:30

vrteach - Posted - 08/08/2014:  11:46:16

That's a great article, thanks.

JanetB - Posted - 08/08/2014:  19:51:53

Thanks for your kind comments and participation, especially to Banjo Judy and vrteach (Eric) who began this whole thing of TOTW year ago.  I so much enjoy digging deep into a tune I like and sharing it is half the fun.  Here's paintings--self-portraits--by John Durang.  The little dwarf portrays Mr. Hoffmaster, who wrote the tune.  If you read in the link containing Durang's memoirs, he describes quite a terrible accident when entering the stage to perform the Dwarf Dance in Philadelphia.


MrManners - Posted - 08/08/2014:  21:13:32

you don't have to punch on my link anymore,it is now in the top post

Paul Meredith - Posted - 08/09/2014:  11:54:54

One of my favorite tunes!  I played a 3-finger version for years, based on the 3-part version from a young (and fabulous) Byron Berline:

While young Doug Dillard does a fine job of backing up Berline, he does not play the melody of the tune at all.

Alas my 3-finger version is too rusty ( see above for nice version from L. Diehl) but I have been playing it clawhammer style for a while so that's what I've posted here.

The 3-part version seems to be what Texas style fiddlers play, it is also the version I've encountered in a bluegrass jams.


Durang's Hornpipe


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/09/2014:  13:27:43



Great choice, great write up, and wonderful playing.,  Nice to be able to capture that folk process, and contribute to it – as you often do in your BHO videos/mp3s.


However, I don’t think you give Durang enough credit.  As you note, he boasted in his memoirs that in 1790 he danced "a hornpipe on thirteen eggs blindfolded without breaking one."  


I tried it myself today, and I, too, danced this very hornpipe without cracking one.


In fact, I broke all thirteen eggs, perhaps in much the same way Durang himself did.


Here’s my stab at it:



Play hard,


JanetB - Posted - 08/09/2014:  16:38:57

Two nice takes on Durang's Hornpipes--thanks, Paul and Lew.  Aeroweenie's is dance-worthy.  Brooklynbanjoboy's hands are both dancing.

I welcome all these different versions.  They all carry resemblance to the original.  Check out--in my first post above, if you already haven't--Timothy Twiss' minstrel banjo video link and the "original Durang's Hornpipe on violin" video link at 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  You'll hear the notes in the 1785 original composition, included in both videos and for which I can post if anyone is interested.  I think the crescendo in the ending half is more dramatic.  In a hornpipe dance it would be the part that captivates the audience--maybe Durang did a handspring then!

Edited by - JanetB on 08/09/2014 16:42:13

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/09/2014:  18:06:43

Great playing by Janet and the gang, and a lovely discussion.  Well done!


JanetB - Posted - 08/09/2014:  20:02:25


Originally posted by Brooklynbanjoboy

However, I don’t think you give Durang enough credit.  As you note, he boasted in his memoirs that in 1790 he danced "a hornpipe on thirteen eggs blindfolded without breaking one."  

I tried it myself today, and I, too, danced this very hornpipe without cracking one.

In fact, I broke all thirteen eggs, perhaps in much the same way Durang himself did.

Play hard,


In my first grade class, Lew, when we study eggs in the springtime, we place them tip down, put a large book upon them, then proceed to pile the heaviest books we can find and see how many it takes before they break.  You'd be surprised at how much strength resides in an egg!  Perhaps some enterprising person will try to duplicate John Durang's alleged feat.


Noah Cline - Posted - 08/10/2014:  09:20:30

There's another version on the Come Back Boys and Feed the Horses cd by Chris Wig and Mark Ward.

The version they play is a two-part, but the B part is the modal version instead of the more common B part.

According to the notes included, their source was from Kentucky fiddler Jake Phelps (1885-1977), who learned this tune from Will Stegall (b. 1869). It says that Phelps came from an area that was heavily influenced by Black musicians...

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/10/2014:  12:09:23


I think this link might take you to a sample of their Durang's Hornpipe:



JanetB - Posted - 08/10/2014:  13:45:29

Thanks, Noah and Lew.  The link to amazon worked and reminded me I'd downloaded that CD (Come Back Boys and Feed the Horses was a recent TOTW), but I didn't have the liner notes Noah has.  The information seems to come from Bruce Greene's notes about the Kentucky fiddler Jake Phelps and it's been hard to find more about him.  Bruce did mention that Jake had a son, Roosevelt Phelps, who played a good bluegrass banjo, but I haven't followed that lead yet to get more information and a photo.  Roosevelt didn't appear when I tried searching.

As I play Jake Phelp's version along with Christian Wig and Mark Ward's Durang's Hornpipe,  I thought about this "modal version,"  which apparently is a modulation to G.  They play first in the key of D.  The chords in the A part are simply I, IV, V. The B part mostly uses a G chord with added A melody notes and a then uses an E note, more like from an Em chord.  The unusual melody reminds me of The O & K Train, which I worked on last December.  It's a combination of melody notes which I can't quite put my finger on to explain.  Maybe someone else here can. There's a quick pull-off from A to G; perhaps it's a G9th chordal sound.

Some further information was discovered about Bruce Molsky's version which I knew came from Brad Leftwich.  Brad visited an Arkansas fiddler, Tom Fuller, in the late 70's and learned Durang's Hornpipe.  Brad brought it to Rockbridge County, Virginia where it became popular.

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/14/2014:  09:01:03

Susan Sterngold (banjolady) uploaded a recent video taken at Galax this year, 2014.  Two players, Eddie Bond and Josh Ellis, both winners of blue ribbons this year are playing.


deanocraft - Posted - 08/14/2014:  12:12:50

Nice job, Janet! I appreciate the mention as well! I learned the version I play from the Roan Mountain Hilltopper's CD entitled Down Home. Joe Birchfield was the original fiddler for that band, (he has passed away). His fiddling was powerful and raw, and I love it! That CD really rocks the old time... They have a very distinctive sound. It is still available at County Sales for those of you who do not have it and it should be required listening for any student of the old time genre. Here is a link:


JanetB - Posted - 08/17/2014:  16:39:38

Thanks for the Galax link, Judy.  Those two appeared at Berkeley last year, where you may be returning again this year.  And thanks for the link to the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers CD, Dean.  I actually have it and hadn't checked for Durang's Hornpipe.  Now I'm curious to learn more about this Tennessee family's story.  The recording is from the year 2000--a year before Joe Birchfield died-- and helped me learn Walking in the Parlor.

When you present a Tune of the Week that tune takes on special meaning to the presenter, like me.  I recommend to anyone reading this who hasn't yet volunteered to give it a try.  With autumn in the horizon there's bound to be a call for volunteers soon.

Here's a link for a 1982 interview with Joe Birchfield and a quote about his grandmother.  He sounds like he was a character, and the great researcher Charles Wolfe took note of him: 

FW: Was it all your dad's family that played?

JOE: His mother was a good fiddler. She said, about an hour before she died, she laid up in her bed and said, 'Bring me my fiddle, I want to play a piece or two.' She played two or three tunes and laid the fiddle down and was dead.


BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/18/2014:  11:58:34

Janet - Yep!  Weren't Eddie Bond and Josh Ellis a whole lot of fun at the BOTMC last year?  And yes, I am returning there this September, but first, Suzy and Eric Thompson, the rest of the Todalo Shakers, Frank George and Kim Johnson will be in New MExico this weekend!  BIg festival in Santa Fe.  

Anyone else going to the festival in Santa Fe this weekend?  Look for me - I will be emceeing the banjo contest, among other things.


BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/25/2014:  07:21:46

I was lucky to at least have the iPhone with me last night when Frank George and Miles Krassen played Durang's Hornpipe.  A short video is available on

I am uploading several other videos of these two masters of old time music.  Check youtube for more (and subscribe to banjojudy channel).

JanetB - Posted - 08/25/2014:  17:21:01

That's fantastic to see, Judy.  Thanks much.  Miles Krassen was definitely a strong influence in my fledgling banjo years of the 70's.  I'd known that Franklin George plays Durang's Hornpipe, but was unable to find it.  His version has the feeling of sitting in the parlor, enjoying an evening of musical entertainment, which indeed you did.  

atleson - Posted - 08/25/2014:  17:51:08

i also want to thank you Judy for both seeing and hearing Miles and Frank.  Frank used to be a regular at Augusta Heritage in WV when i started going back in the stone age.  I'm so glad he's still around and playing well.



BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/25/2014:  18:02:31

Last night with Frank and Miles and Kim was truly magical.

Miles and I and my husband played for a few hours today, all tunes that Frank George played last night.  We got really inspired.

Frank George and Kim Johnson (Oh - I love her banjo style) - will be at the BOTMC again this September.  That's Berkeley, CA!  

I'll be there - anyone else going this year?  It promises to be a great festival - always has been!



Yigal Zan - Posted - 08/26/2014:  12:20:18

I just uploaded, to the Tabs page of my BHO home, a tablature and notes based on my transcription of Miles Krassen's fiddling Durang's Hornpipe. The fiddling was at my house in Albuquerque, sometime in 2013. The direct url is, A "still" video of Miles and me (banjo) playing this version, is now at my youtube channel and might be linked to BHO in a later time.


Edited by - Yigal Zan on 08/26/2014 12:22:52

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/26/2014:  13:42:04

The Frank George and Miles Krassen videos are all in one playlist on youtube.

They can be accessed here:

Bear in mind - this was a reunion of two greats just reminiscing and playing, and not a performance.

Yigal - see you tomorrow.  We can play this version of Durang's if anyone wants to tackle it on fiddle.

JanetB - Posted - 08/26/2014:  15:44:27


Originally posted by BANJOJUDY

The Frank George and Miles Krassen videos are all in one playlist on youtube.

They can be accessed here:

Bear in mind - this was a reunion of two greats just reminiscing and playing, and not a performance.

Yigal - see you tomorrow.  We can play this version of Durang's if anyone wants to tackle it on fiddle.

More thank yous to Judy and also to Yigal.  Posting a valuable resource is invaluable!

JanetB - Posted - 08/30/2014:  14:54:30

Another version of Durang's Hornpipe just appeared on BHO.  Victor Furtado, who won in the youth category at Clifftop this year and placed in other categories as well, is playing Durang's Hornpipe at 2:19 in this video. Mr. Durang himself would have been challenged to dance as energetically!


Edited by - JanetB on 08/30/2014 15:06:09

goose - Posted - 08/31/2014:  12:03:51

Awesome Janet..This was very Interesting~.

Miguel - Posted - 09/02/2014:  06:33:17

Victor's version of Durang's rocks ! I'm still trying to get my heart rate down after that. thank you for posting.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 09/02/2014:  11:58:49

A great presentation for Tune of the Week, very thorough, interesting and well researched.  As a bonus, Janet plays us all sorts of versions, all delightful.  Paul (aeroweenie) gives us a fine, lively version, not at all "weenie," with some neat, subtle variations tucked in there.  Lew does a great job of picking, too.  He gets a real nice stroke going there, I personally love a lot of chug in my clawhammer diet, I could listen to that all day.  Victor is, of course, awesome.  That's a very evocative version of Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine he starts off with.  Here is my version of the old time Durang's.  I'm picking my semi-fretlesss Tubaphone, in open D tuning:

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 09/02/2014 12:00:48

VIDEO: Durang's Hornpipe
(click to view)


Laurence Diehl - Posted - 09/03/2014:  12:19:51

Sorry to barge in here - some people were curious about Alan Munde's "Texas Style" version. This was my take on it, and it is quite different as you can hear. Sometimes called contest style, each fiddler would work up their own variations to try and make him/herself stand out from the herd...



Durang's Hornpipe


JanetB - Posted - 09/03/2014:  16:59:42

The more versions, the merrier!

Don, yours is very old-timey with your magical picking style that embraces old-time tunes.

Laurence, your Alan Munde take reminds me of his unique skill of dressing up an old-time tune within the bluegrass realm.  And that reminds me of what Adam Hurt can do with old-timey style playing.  There's melody with their unique embellishments shining through.

And here's another one from Miles Krassen (a mentor of mine in the 70's, though he never knew it) and Yigal Zan--a version which BHO member kenelk capsulizes as "synchronicity"  between the fiddle and banjo.  Both Laurence Diehl's and Miles and Yigal's versions of Durangs' Hornpipe have a delightful B part whose movement descends and then ascends.  Take a listen:

Edited by - JanetB on 09/03/2014 17:13:03

JanetB - Posted - 09/03/2014:  17:22:01

And here's one more from Yigal Zan with his friend David Margolin, resembling Bruce Molsky's version which he credited to learning from Brad Leftwich.  It's also the first one I play in my 3-versions Durang's Hornpipe:

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