Farming was a communal activity in centuries past, and barley was a staple crop in those days. Without barley, no food, no ale, and…no whisky! Tending it would have occupied a great deal of time, energy, and thought. It was a large part of everyday life. Naturally, the activity would give rise to songs of wistful imaginings such as this one. The lyrics tell of an old man fondly remembering his days working in the fields with his pretty wife, now passed. This particular tune is from the Elizabeth Ross manuscript of 1812, an early collection of the songs of Raasay. The melody was also heard as early as the 1770s as “MacGregor of Rora.” This tune is an early classic example of how melodies filter their way through a culture and connect with people in different ways.
View the score for “Yesterday, My Pretty Brown-Haired Girl was Harvesting Barley With Me.”