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She Moved Through The Fair

 
 
 
 

Song: She Moved Through The Fair

Traditional Irish Folk Song

Performers: Fairport Convention, Sinead O'Connor and many others. (The melody was also adapted by Simple Minds for their hit song, Belfast Child.)

She Moved Through The Fair is a extraordinarily beautiful traditional Irish love song. The male narrator tells the story of his sweetheart, who dies before they can be wed, but returns to him in a vision at night to repeat her refrain:

It will not be long now 'til our wedding day

Although the narrator of the song is male, I always feel She Moved Through The Fair best suits a young female voice. The best version I ever heard was sung by a young girl singer, appropriately enough at a wedding. Paradoxically, though, the song seems to lose something if narrator is female as in Sinead O'Connor's version, where she sings “He moved through the fair”. Having a female voice sing the young man's words adds a further distance between us and the event of the story, lending a feel of mythological mysticism to the song.

The melody of She Moved Through The Fair is deceptively simple. The song is in the myxolydian mode (i.e. the scale consisting of the white notes on a keyboard from G to G). The melody consists of four phrases: first and fourth are essentially the same, as are second and third phrases. However a good traditional singer will generally add expression to the song by decorating the melody ad lib. The inner phrases are pitched higher, so that the melody as a whole forms the familiar arch shape of so many strong melodies.

Much is made of the interplay between the full tone interval between the leading note and the tonic of myxolydian mode (F and G respectively, if we were to play the song on the white notes of the keyboard). This interval has been much abused by Hollywood composers clumsily trying to evoke a Celtic folk sound; in She Moved Through The Fair the effect is sublime. This whole tone interval is balanced by the whole tone interval between the sub-dominant and dominant (C and D). These two intervals essentially form the axes of the whole melody.

I find the title She Moved Through The Fair adds to the enigma of the song, since it is neither the opening line or the refrain, but rather is plucked from the first line of the second verse. Only at the end of the first verse to we learn the significance of the title line:

And that was the last that I saw of my dear

The last verse, which tells of the nocturnal visit by the ghost of the young sweetheart, is balanced between sweetness and melancholy, as the girl repeats her now impossible promise to marry.

She Moved Through The Fair is a haunting song, in every sense.

 
 
 
 

User comments

From: warwick3
Posted: 5 December 2011
She moved through the fair
This song was always, to me, a very beautiful and wistful variant of the Demon Lover genre. She seduces the subject, then vanishes, only to return at night (or in a dream) to reaffirm her promise that 'it will not be long, love, till our wedding day'. The last verse begins:'Last night she came to me, she came softly in', and it is only in the last line that it becomes clear she will call him to the underworld.
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