BY Samantha Muir | FROM THE SPRING 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Also known as “She Moved Through the Fair,” versions of “She Moves Through the Fair” exist in both Scotland and Ireland but it is believed to be of Irish origin. The lyrics were first published in Herbert Hughes’ Irish County Songs, published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1909. There are, however, various versions of the lyrics easily findable online. My aim in this arrangement was to capture the eerie, otherworldly nature of the song, which, to me, reads more like a gothic tale than a love story.
To briefly summarize the text in Hughes’ original version, the story is told in the male voice. It all begins innocently enough with the narrator’s “young love” reassuring him that her parents, despite some concerns over his “kind,” will soon approve their marriage. She tells him, “it will not be long, love, till our wedding day.” But he sees her at a fair and she immediately steps away as if avoiding his gaze. Why does she seem so agitated? When she goes “homeward” in the evening, the uncertainly grows as he likens her movement to that of a swan moving “o’er a lake.” On the one hand the swan implies purity and grace, but on the other it suggests the gliding movement of a ghost. That night she comes to him “softly” on “feet that made no din,” further intensifying the idea that she is not of this world. At the end, she repeats her promise of the first line that “It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.” But now the tone is full of foreboding, as their wedding day becomes a metaphor for death and they can only be united in his death. The end leaves many questions. How did she die? Why is the narrator haunted by her ghost?
I tried to capture the spookiness and ambiguity of the song in the arrangement by using cross-string dissonances and various approaches to the chords. In bar 1, for example, the last three eighth notes are F#, G, and A. The ringing minor second between F# and G is particularly jarring and occurs throughout the piece.
The D major chords that follow in bar 2 are by nature more uplifting, but in the performance video I use a couple of techniques to change the mood of the chords. The first chord in bar 2 is played with a soft downward brush using the side of the thumb. The sound is gentle and harp-like. But the following eighth notes are played with fast upstrokes of the index finger to sound like a warning. By immediately dampening the sound, the flow is disrupted and the silence creates tension and uncertainty.
From bar 17 the melody is interwoven into an arpeggio accompaniment to suggest swan-like gliding movement. But increasingly the mood becomes more agitated as the arpeggio is interrupted by unexpected chords and quarter-note beats. Towards the end of the piece, the chords become more emphatic and interrupt the flow of notes like sudden angry outbursts. The piece ends with two D chords. The first is played as a full rasgueado (fan) stroke and the second is played with a quick upward brush of the thumb to sound like a ghost chord. The dot indicates that this chord is to be played staccato, or in a short and detached manner, to create an abrupt and uncertain end.
This arrangement was originally published in Samantha Muir’s 12 Traditional Tunes, published by Les Productions d’Oz and reprinted here by permission.