The Litany of the Saints: Musical Quotations and Influences in the Music of Tommie Potts.

'Black Eyes' and 'The Boys of Ballisodare'


Illustration 5

Illustration 5. The popular traditional Gypsy song-air 'Black Eyes' (as used by Potts in 'The Boys of Balisodare')



Video 3. Tune begins at .47

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‘Black Eyes’ is a popular traditional Hungarian gypsy piece which Potts heard on a 78 rpm recording at the age of nineteen (see Illustration 5). The Hungarian Rhapsodies mentioned in the previous example of musical borrowing are a direct result of Liszt’s interest in the music of the Hungarian gypsies, and Potts’ interest in this area also came up in early conversations which we had. On one of the several ‘fieldback’  tapes which I made in 1982 while we viewed  a video tape recording of his music which I had made the previous day, the following information emerged:

MOS: Were you happy with the speed there as you played it [‘The Boys of Balisodare’]? You mentioned that you bungled some notes earlier on.

POTTS: Well, It’s a bit too fast for all the things. In that there - and again the purists would shoot me – there’s a light classical piece called ‘Black Eyes’. You know that, don’t you?

MOS: Play a bit there for me.

POTTS:[Plays ‘Black Eyes’ in free rhythm]. You know that [continues ‘Black Eyes’]? Now, ‘The Boys of Balisodare’.

MOS: Would you usually put in ‘Black Eyes’ before you’d go into ‘Ballisodare’ there?

POTTS: Oh no! I’d play the - so to speak - correct version, and then use that for a variation. Yeah, from ‘Black Eyes’. That’s going back fifty years or more.

MOS: Was it a violin piece or a song? How did you hear it?

POTTS: I think it was a light classical instrumental piece.

MOS: And you don’t know who the composer was?

POTTS: No, No. Its probably one of those Hungarian gypsy things, you see.  I’m attracted to that. See, with gypsy players, and I’ve heard them - again that’s going back over fifty years - on those recordings. We don’t hear them now.... You’d have to say that the fiddle was near the voice hearing some of these gypsy players, with this pulsating throbbing.

MOS: And who owned these records? Did you have a record player in your house?

POTTS: No. This was friend of mine - a lad I knocked around with at the time, and he had that interest, and it was the old gramophone.

MOS: You were young now at this stage?

POTTS: I was nineteen exactly when I heard it. That's fifty years ago.

MOS: And was he into that kind of music?

POTTS: No. He wasn't interested in Irish music at all. But his musical interest was good - in the light of what I’m telling you.
[Speech Transcriptions, pp. 26-27 see Ó Súilleabháin 1987]

In the 1982 video recording, Potts plays the reel ‘The Boys of Ballisodare’ in the form A A A, B B A. It is in the first half of the third A (see Ó Súilleabháin  1987: Illustration 61, p.285) that the ‘Black Eyes’ influence is to be found. As in the previous example (‘Rakish Paddy’), the piece moves back into phase with the traditional model in the second half of the part in precisely the same manner.


illustration 6

Audio 3. Listen here to a similar variation beginning the repeat of the A part. 

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Illustration 6. The 'Black Eyes' influence on Potts' 'The Boys of Balisodare'


Illustration 6 shows that the ‘Black Eyes’ influence is not so much one of direct borrowing as of melodic outline. This is shown most strikingly in Potts’ use of the E to B Flat augmented fourth which appears in inversion as well as in it original form in the reel (bars 18 - 19, Illustration 6).

This deliberate use of outside material to provide both emotional inspiration and actual melodic material for further development of the traditional melodic line is again found in a striking way in out next example.