Folklorist Jiri Hansom Felding is caught in a web of jigs and reels as she tries to untangle the secrets of the melodies set down in the ancient Red Book of Tunes. The complicated politics of a modern contra dance,  the hopes of the elephant seller’s daughter, and the dangerous myth of the Bramble Hive are all stones in a river of music and dance connecting the players across time and distance.

“When you’re there, circling around the floor on a Saturday evening with all your mates about, it’s like all the other dancers are there with you. In other halls. In other times. It’s the music what brings it.”

In this collection of interwoven tales, Tyler Johnson takes us across the world, back in time, and into the murky myths where the music was born.

Break the Moon was one of the hottest contra dance bands on the festival circuit today. Jiri Hansom Felding had ridden an hour and a half to Swale Bay just to see them. She could see Robert leaning over the radio, his face illuminated by the green tales_cover_photodash lights, while the top of his head flashed white, then black, as they drove past the highway’s overhead lights.

A deep drone washed through the car like a heavy wave rolling around in a tide pool. A fiddle rang out, not drawn to produce a long note, but chunked and scratched against the strings. Over and over it rang, like a drum with a voice.

Jiri leaned back in her seat and listened to the melody take flight, a fiery whip cracking across the night highway, forward to the dance, but somehow backward, as each flash illuminated some fragment of an old melody.

She listened to that voice.


 What People Are Saying:

“Rare is the writer who is able to spin a tale so rich in the lore of folk music and dance traditions. To do it in a manner that spellbinds and beguiles and gives us meaningful insights into our collective spirit is extraordinary. Highly recommended reading AND playing.”

Rodney Miller, National Endowment for the Arts Master Fiddler

“An excellent and brilliant debut collection, Tales from the Red Book of Tunes is a must read for anyone who has ever been touched by the power of music.”

Matthew Peters, author of The Brothers’ Keepers and Conversations Among Ruins

“The stories flowed, sometimes in unexpected ways, and kept me turning pages for more. What fun to find the numerous connections between stories throughout the book. Full of feeling, well-written and entertaining.”

Gaye Fifer, folk dance caller

Tales From The Red Book Of Tunes includes the following stories:

Click on a story to learn more about the story and the tune behind it, or to listen to the music. You can also print sheet music from these pages.

The book also includes Jiri’s story.

The collection includes printed versions of the tunes suitable for modern dances.

286 pages

ISBN 978-1-940822-00-6 (paperback)

ISBN 978-1-940822-01-3 (hardback)

Where Can I Buy the Book?


  1. Audrey Godshall
    April 30, 2013

    Hey Tyler. I am looking forward to checking out this book.

  2. Tales From the Red Book of Tunes | Thinking is the enemy.
    February 5, 2014

    […] can’t tell you how excited I am about the release of Tyler Johnson’s new book, Tales From the Red Book of Tunes. OK, I lied. Yes, I […]

    • tyler
      February 6, 2014

      Thanks for your review, Chris. I struggled with whether to set this book in the real world or an alternate one. In the end I decide that placing it in an alternate world gave me the freedom I wanted to get at the heart of the stories I wanted to tell. And those stories are, as you say, real. Or at least, I hope, evocative of the real struggles behind the music and dance.

  3. My Review of Tyler Johnson’s Tales From the Red Book of Tunes - Matthew Peters
    February 6, 2014

    […] Johnson’s collection of short stories, entitled Tales from the Red Book of Tunes, tells the stories behind tunes originally collected by fictitious thirteenth century musician Mil […]

  4. tyler
    February 6, 2014

    Thanks for such a lovely review and synopsis, Matthew. I love what you said about being touched by the power of music. I guess that really is it, isn’t it?

  5. Whistle while you work? | Thinking is the enemy.
    July 16, 2014

    […] Johnson’s Tales from the Red Book of Tunes, a collection of related stories, includes music composed by the writer for each short story. It […]

  6. Gaelic Day at Johnny’s! | StepGael
    September 30, 2014

    […] and Cape Breton music, led by Alison Arnold, Patricia Hornick, and Tyler Johnson, author of Tales from the Red Book of Tunes. I will give a Cape Breton dance demo, and I’m hoping a few other dancers may show up to join […]


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