Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stirling Castle

When Brian sent me the this tune of his Father's from a cassette recording made in February, 1978, I immediately realized the breadth of mastery Erskine possessed for the art old-time fiddle. There are several recordings of Erskine's which stand out to me as masterpieces of fiddle music, and his interpretation of Stirling Castle is one of them. Here are two recordings of Erskine playing this tune

Hear Erskine Play Stirling Castle in February 1978

Hear Erskine Play Stirling Castle on a Reel-to-Reel in the mid-1960's

This tune is a traditional Scottish strathspey but in Erskine's hands, it becomes a driving, syncopated masterpiece of Gaspé fiddling. In the 1978 recording, pay particular attention to the way his feet add so much drive to this tune.

What is particularly interesting to me is the process of transformation of this tune from its traditional setting as strathspey into a driving French Canadian reel. For comparison, here is a link to a remarkable Scottish fiddler, Hector McAndrew playing Stirling Castle at the beginning of a set of tunes. By the processes of adapting the tune into the Gaspé style, it has essentially become a whole new tune.

The first part of this tune is loaded with Erskine's classic cross-string syncopations. The second part features a lovely flowing melody with the number of measures extended from the traditional Scottish version. As well, as Erskine often did on the older tunes in his repertoire in the key of D, he uses the ADAE tuning. At the present time, we don't know where Erskine got the idea to adapt the tune in this fashion. Its possible that he learned if from an older Gaspé fiddler in this setting, or came up with it himself. The great Irish fiddler Michael Coleman recorded a version in the 1920's.


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