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The Carman's Whistle


The dance is a round where  two circles are formed with the ladies on the inside, When the music begins the man takes the hand of his partner  and they take three steps forward then turn and take three steps back. They turn again and the men take three steps forward whilst the ladies stand still. The dance is then repeated with the new partner and continues in this way until the men complete the circle.

This tune comes from the Roxburghe Collection and was printed on many broadsides since the seventeenth century. A Carman was a man  who drove carts in early England. They were known both as carmen and carters. According to Chappell, the Carmen of the sixteenth and seventeenth century were famous for their musical abilities, in particular their ability to whistle tunes, which were particularly effective dealing with the horses. Their musical affinity and ability is attested to in many early texts and plays. The words were a little bawdy as the two verses below show

'Why should young virgins pine away
And loose their chiefest prime,
And all for want of sweethearts
To cheer us up in time?'
The young man heard her ditty
And could no longer stay,
But straight unto the damosel
With speed he did away.

When he had played unto her
One merry note or two,
Then was she so rejoiced
She knew not what to do;
'Oh, God a mercy, carman,
Thou art a lively lad;
Thou hast as rare a whistle
As ever carman had!'


With thanks to Lesley Nelson-Burns for the information and she is also the creator of the midi file.