Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Frank Miller's Hornpipe

Here is a great, rocking D tune that Brian turned my attention to a few weeks back. Nothing too fancy here, just straight up old-time fiddle and a great melody. We don't know who Frank Miller was, but in all likelihood he was a local Gaspé character perhaps a fiddler, step-dancer, or just someone who appreciated fiddle music. Perhaps some of our Gaspé readers know who this Frank Miller could be?

Hear Frank Miller's Hornpipe

As is the custom in North American fiddle traditions, and unlike the Irish tradition, hornpipes here have the same feel as a reel and this tune is no exception. In the North American tradition, what makes a tune a hornpipe instead of a reel is the contour of the melody, generally featuring lots of arpeggios of the underlying chord progression.

Judging by the character of this tune and its similarity to a lot of Missouri breakdowns and hornpipes, my guess is that this tune is probably a "book" tune, meaning that it was published in standard notation in either of Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes or Howe's collection. These early volumes of fiddle music from the 19th Century, were hugely influential in all North American traditions, establishing a common repertoire of tunes across the continent. Although most traditional fiddlers could not read music, it was quite common for fiddlers to have a local piano player play the tunes from the sheet music and the fiddler would pick up the tunes this way. From this point, the tunes would then spread into the aural tradition being passed along by ear.

Over time, many of these book tunes would be given their own local titles. The sheer size of the number of melodies in these collections makes it difficult for me to find out whether this tune is really a "book" tune or just a very convincing impostor. In the Gaspe tradition it seems very common for tunes to be named in honour of local characters. Brian speculates that one possible reason for this is that many anglophone Gaspesiens in Erskine's area would have had trouble pronouncing the French titles of fiddle tunes and so they gave them their own titles. If any of our readers know this melody under a different title, please let us know by leaving a comment.

Here is an excellent article on the Howe collection (aka Ryan's Mammouth Collection) from Andrew Kuntz of the Fiddler's Companion Site, by far the most comprehensive collection of online information about fiddle tune history.

1 comment:

  1. Trying once again to post a comment about Uncle Frank Miller. Nothing seems to happen.