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The Four Tempos

SS001, SS002, SS003, SS004

These four motifs were found written in ink on the back page of a copy of Hymns Ancient & Modern (Revisited). They are referred to elsewhere as "Tempos", and were written to be played before and after any performance of a Seaton Snook smallpipe piece, depending on the time of year.   


Vernal Equinox to 
Summer Solstice

(Approx 20th March

to 21st June)


Summer Solstice
to Autumn Equinox

(Approx 21st June

to 22nd Sept)


Autumn Equinox to
Winter Solstice

(Approx 22nd Sept

to 21st Dec)


Winter Solstice to 
Vernal Solstice

(Approx 21st Dec

to 20th March)

In this case, therefore, "Tempo" refers to a period of time, rather than the term for the speed of a piece of music.  The fact they are written in the back of a hymn book suggests a link with Ecclesiastes 3:1 - "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:" (KJV), written in the Latin vulgate as "Omnia tempus habeat, et suis spatiis transenat universa sub caelo".

Snook Smallpipes Tempos MS.JPG
Snook Smallpipes Tempo Lenten.png
Snook Smallpipes Tempo Sumer.png
Snook Smallpipes Tempo Harvest.png
Snook Smallpipes Tempo Winter.png
Lenten Tempo
00:00 / 00:25
Sumer Tempo
00:00 / 00:18
Harvest Tempo
00:00 / 00:23
Winter Tempo
00:00 / 00:25

These four pieces stand apart from the other smallpipe pieces for several reasons:

  1. They are notably short;

  2. They are to be played in free time, having no bar lines, time signatures, or suggestions of associated dances;

  3. While they all finish on a non-Tonic [purple circles] (the Supertonic in all cases), and both Lenten and Harvest contain the Snookish major 7th interval [orange boxes], they also contain the top G - the Tempos are the only pieces to contain this note.

  4. All four pieces open with the same E to g' (Submediant to Tonic, or La to Doh) [red boxes]

Lenten (SS001)

A lilting tune, perhaps alluding to the Earth waking up after the cold Winter.  

Three phrases.  The first two - both being E to top g', have a fanfare effect, and although in free time they do have the appearance of elongated Scotch Snaps. The third phrase starts on the dominant, walking up to the leading note before descending a Snookish major 7th in a definite Scotch Snap.  The phrase ends with a fall to the Supertonic (A or Re). 

Sumer (SS002)

The most lively of the Tempos, reflecting the gaiety of Summer.  


Three phrases, though in this case not separated by breath marks, and in a more regular rhythm.  All three phrases begin with a brisk, repeated E to top g' fanfare, with the first two only the third ends with a fall to the Supertonic (A or Re). 

Harvest (SS003)

Three iterations, as in Sumer, with the slower tempo of Lenten, but without the breath marks to break up the phrases, evoking the hard work of the harvest season in preparation for Winter.

Three or possibly four phrases.  The first (or all) three begin with E to top g' fanfares, and as in Lenten they also have the appearance of elongated Scotch Snaps. After each fanfare comes a descending Scotch Snap: the first two from leading note to dominant (F# to D, or Ti to So); the third with the Snookish major 7th.  The final note is the Supertonic (A or Re).  There is debate amongst analysts whether this note can be counted as part of the third phrase, or whether it forms a fourth phrase by itself.  

Winter (SS004)

The slowest, most sparse of the four Tempos.  


Three phrases.  Again, the E to top g' fanfare take up the first two.  Breath marks indicate the player is to take longer playing this particular Tempo.  The third phrase, consists of just two semitones, rising from the mediant (B or Mi) to the final Subdominant (C or Fah). 

Performance Practice

As stated above, these pieces were to be played immediately before and after any given tune in the Seaton Snook Smallpipes collection, depending on the time of year.  Certain pieces, such as DorotheaStintingHay from Crosby's, and Timon's Getting Married!, are marked with references to the Tempos, indicating that these tunes should only be played in the appropriate season (Autumn, Summer, Spring and Summer respectively). 

Snook Smallpipes Halifax Crosby's Stinti
Timon's Getting Married Sumer.jpeg
Snook Smallpipes Halifax Dorothea Title

In the same box of effects that contained Robson Booth's tape piece, What The Battery Said, a reel labelled "Carnival 1967" was found (SS203).  The 5 minute 17 second recording features the sound of an interior domestic setting - presumably Booth's house - in which a man is reading a newspaper and nursing a bad cough.  The sound of a carnival can be heard very quietly in the background, through an open window.  


Shortly before the end of the tape, a woman enters, asking "Tell me why you don't want to go to the carnival." The man replies, "They're playing my songs at the wrong Tempo". 

It is assumed that the man is Robson Booth, and the woman is Booth's occasional carer Dominique Maitlund. 

Carnival 1967 (edit)Robson Booth
00:00 / 00:15

If Booth did write these pieces, his apparent desire to restrict the playing of the pieces unless accompanied by the appropriate Tempos would at least partly explain why the pieces never gained a foothold in the wider Northumbrian Smallpipes repertoire outside Seaton Snook.

The Crofter's Dream similarity

A motif almost identical to the Winter Tempo appears in Gaynor Leigh's 1910 piece for harpsichord, The Crofter's Dream.  It is played at the opening and closing of the piece, exactly as Booth would later prescribe.  This leads us to question whether Booth wrote the Tempos, Leigh wrote the Tempos, or the Tempos were simply a part of Snookish musical culture with no known origin.  

We are deliberately not being quick to accuse Booth of plagiarising Leigh's work, as our investigations have already shown Time to occasionally behave in a non-linear fashion, especially in matters of sound and music.  Jules Braun's Indoor Market recording is a good example of this.

The 68 Significance

It is clear that the number 68 is important to the history of Seaton Snook.  Giving each note of the scale from bottom to top a number 1-8, each of the Tempos begins with "68".

SS Tempo Lenten Numbers.png
SS Tempo Sumer Numbers.png
SS Tempo Harvest Numbers.png
SS Tempo Winter Numbers.png
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