John Durang’s Hornpipe

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John Durang (1768–1822) was the first U.S.-born professional dancer of note, best known for his hornpipe dance.  The son of Jacob and Catherine Durang, he was born on January 6, 1768, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but grew up mostly in York, Pennsylvania.  He went on to spend much of the rest of his life as a dancer, acrobat, actor, mime, rope dancer, and blackface comic. He was a part of a group called Ricketts’s Circus, which traveled throughout the northeastern United States and into Canada.

For much of his career his hornpipe dancing was both his and his audience’s favorite.  He boasted in his memoirs that, around 1790, he danced “a Hornpipe on thirteen eggs blindfolded without breaking one.” Durang is also credited with popularizing the nautical-style hornpipe dance that is still thought of as the ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’.  It is the hornpipe that bears his name for which fiddlers remember him, however, and, according to his memoirs it was composed specifically for him by one “Mr. Hoffmaster, a German Dwarf, in New York, 1785.”

Durang had taken violin lessons from Hoffmaster, who was all of three feet in height and who was married to a wife of similar stature.  Hoffmaster had “a large head, hands and feet,” yet must have been an accomplished musician. The hornpipe became famous in his own time, for Durang noted (again, in his memoirs) that it was written “expressly for me, which is become well known in America, for I have since heard it play’d the other side of (Pennsylvania’s) Blue Mountains as well as in the cities.”

Bruce Greene and Don Pedi play “Durang’s Hornpipe”:

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2 Responses to “John Durang’s Hornpipe”

  1. REED MARTIN Says:

    Bruce & Don –
    Thanks
    Reed

  2. Sanda Schafheitle Says:

    Your enthusiasm for music and dance will long be remembered.

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