In the not too distant past, it was common to have to look for your music. My parents would check the local Irish shops for traditional music records for myself and my brothers and sisters to practice our steps to. While this was not terribly difficult, when we began to dance in championship competitions, finding set dances on records most certainly was. While you might be lucky to find the odd set dance or two on a record, when you did find the set dance itself, most times it was recorded at a tempo unsuitable for dancing. It was also very expensive in those less than affluent times to buy multiple records to rehearse your set dance. I began learning the set dances on the accordion and would often play for dancing practices at my own school, and later even at other schools. In that time period, there was no "Official List" of Set Dances, and there were fashion trends when "Down the Hill" would be popular, or "The Little Heather Tree". There were times when the musician(s) could not play the set dance you were prepared to dance, which ultimately led to the idea of a universal list of set dances.
Eventually, just prior to the first All-World of 1970, An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha came out with a list of set dances that championship dancers must choose from for competition. Even then, the tunes were difficult to find. The set dances themselves had evolved from their original form when the long dance was abbreviated, namely that the steps were shortened and, eventually, sets were performed on the right foot only. Making matters more difficult still was that the benchmark collection of traditional music, O'Neill's "1001 Gems" only contained some but not all of the set dances on the new list. This was very surprising considering that the tunes themselves already existed and greatly predated O'Neill's comprehensive collection.
For one to have their set dance music on a tape and to rehearse over and over with it was, and still is, a distinct advantage. Knowing your music and even how to hum or lilt the tune was also helpful, especially on occasion, to the tiring feis musician. My own dancing teacher, the late Cyril McNiff, TCRG/ADCRG, would always preach, "Know your music". Those words are as true today as they were all those years ago.
As it was difficult to find all the Set Dances in any one place, I made a study tape of all 30 set dances and passed it on to friends who, like myself, were preparing to sit for their TCRG exam. It was meant to be nothing more than a study aid to help learn the tunes for the exam. I later met several Irish Dancing Teachers who asked if I had any more copies of that study tape. Surprised that there was still interest after 15 years, I thought perhaps it was time to record these tunes properly for continued dance class use and as an educational tool for future TCRG/ADCRG candidates.
A new millenium of dancing brings with it a chance for present and future generations of dancers to stay in touch with set dances from centuries past. In a decision sure to excite dancers, teachers, musicans and adjudicators, An Comisiún has authorized the addition of 8 more set dances to be incorporated into the Official List. While a few of these set dances date back to antiquity, several of them are newly written, having been composed at the end of the 20th century. These "new" sets display the traditional musical architecture consistent with those set dances of old, as well as the distinct beautiful melody of a true set dance. In keeping with preserving the musicality and notation of the original 30 official set dances for posterity, I have also now recorded the 8 additional "new" set dances in the same tradition.