Danny Boy


The download is in the form of a PDF file. (About downloading.)

Arrangement: Vocal solo, with piano accompaniment

Shareware fee: $2.00 (print basis, but see note about performance). About shareware.

For my own use as a singer, I've reviewed several arrangements of this song, but none of them were entirely satisfactory. All I want is a simple and effective accompaniment to support the vocal melody without overwhelming it, but no one seems to offer that. So I wrote my own.

Editorial Notes

For the accompaniment, I've stuck with traditional harmonies, without doing anything creative simply for the sake of novelty. Although I've given some expressive colors and textures to the piano part, the primary purpose of the arrangement is to provide a non-intrusive accompaniment that showcases the voice.

For the vocal part, with one minor exception (changing "though" to "tho'"), I have followed the original (ie, Fred E Weatherly's version) exactly, even though standard performance practice differs. Most singers -- including myself -- use a slightly different text. We also take rests between phrases. (Through the entire song, Mr Weatherly provides no rest for breathing except between the verses!) Nevertheless, since there is no truly definitive version of the text, it seemed best to stick with the authentic original on the page, allowing singers to alter it as they wish.

I wrote the arrangement in E, because that's the key I like to sing it in, but I'm also offering a version transposed to D for lower voices. (Anything lower than that takes the piano part too low to sound good and would require a rearrangement rather than a simple transposition.) Most published versions are in Eb or F. For the sake of variety I've avoided those keys.

(A correspondent informs me that on a 1964 recording, Joe Feeney (Lawrence Welk's tenor) sings the song in G. I tried that out and it works well with this arrangement. Although it's too high for my own comfort (high B natural!), it could be very exciting for the sort of tenor who excels in the upper range, so some day I hope to make up a G version and upload it here.)

Note regarding performance rights

Most pieces offered on this website are new editions of songs in the public domain, so that my copyright extends only to the printed copy. Because this one is an original arrangement, for this piece I retain rights for public performance as well.

It is my intention to freely grant permission for any non-commercial performance, but I prefer that you request permission first. If a printed program is distributed at the performance, please credit Mark D. Lew as arranger. For commercial performances, I may ask a royalty fee, the amount depending on the circumstances.

About the song

The "Danny Boy" melody has a long and complicated history. It first came to the public's attention in 1855, when it was published in a collection titled Ancient Music of Ireland. The publisher, George Petrie, had received the song from a correspondent, Jane Ross, who had written it out after hearing it played by a street musician. In her letter to Mr Petrie she claimed the song was "very old". The song had no title, but Ms Ross had identified it with the county called Derry or Londonderry, so it came to be known as "an air from County Derry", which later became "Londonderry Air".

After it was published, there was much debate about whether the song truly was "very old", as Ms Ross had claimed. Critics pointed out the many ways in which it does not resemble traditional Irish music. Subsequently, it was discovered that the song is in fact a greatly distorted version of a much older song, "Aislean an Oigfear" ("the young man's dream"). "Aislean an Oigfear" has been traced back to at least the middle of the 17th century. Evidently, in the course of transcribing the song, Ms Ross, herself a composer, either intentionally or unconsciously rewrote the song in a more contemporary and "correct" style. The original tune seems to be genuinely Irish, though not necessarily from Derry/Londonderry, but its exact origin remains unclear.

In the latter half of the 1800s, numerous texts were set to the tune. For many years, the best-known of these was "Would God I were the tender apple blossom", by Katherine Tynan Hinkson, but there are dozens of others. In 1913, Fred E. Weatherly, a prolific songwriter, published a version of the song with the "Danny Boy" text -- which he had written a few years earlier, to a different tune -- and those words are the best known today.

For an extremely thorough discussion of the song, see the Danny Boy page on the Standing Stones website.

Released: January 26, 2002
Latest update: June 22, 2009
Update history:
06/21/09: New address; no other changes.
10/20/06: New address; no other changes.
03/05/06: New address; no other changes.
10/16/05: New address; no other changes.
06/10/05: New address; no other changes.
10/05/03: New address; no other changes.

Go back to shareware sheet music page.

June 22, 2009