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ROB SAY - The John Rook Manuscript 

ROB SAY - The John Rook Manuscript 
BentLand Press ISBN: 9781912289035 

Why, in 1840, was someone in rural Cumberland compiling a book of tunes featuring the recently invented instrument the Northumbrian smallpipes? A question that has puzzled people for some time. The indefatigable research of Rob Say here provides the answer!

The Rook manuscript has been known for some time, a huge body of tunes containing more than 1260 tunes, including nearly 80 of the sets of tunes and variations so beloved of the piping community. As happens too often with such precious cargo, the manuscript is now lost, but a photocopy was made (less one page) and it has now been published in this glorious edition. The hardback book contains all the tunes, a biography of Rook, his journals for 1833 and 1858 (which Say discovered during his research) showing why Rook was resident in Cumberland, as well as the tunes themselves, with useful notes. Rook himself, as well as playing the smallpipes, also appears to have played flute, violin, flutina (a forerunner of the concertina/accordion family), piano, fife and possibly trumpet – so this collection of tunes can be happily mined by virtually any melody instrumentalist. Typical of the thoughtfulness of the editor, some of the tunes are shuffled out of numerical order to ensure that long items, such as the tune/variations sets, are all contained on facing pages, with no need to turn a page whilst in the middle of a tune.

This is published in two versions – the beautiful hardback book which contains the tunes plus all the above information, and a second paperback coil/ring-bound version of the tunes allowing the music to be laid comfortably on a table or stand for use as a working resource for players. And with that many tunes to choose from, I shall be delving into this massive collection for a long time to come.

Paul Burgess


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine