Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Erskine's Ramble

Here's an untitled G tune off one of the reel-to-reel recordings Erskine made in the 1960s. We've started calling this tune Erskine's Ramble because it has a sort of rickety feel in the low part, sort of like an old car going over some bumpy gravel road.

Hear Erskine's Ramble

This tune has a really captivating rhythm to it in both parts. I love the way the low part has these little pauses between the phrases to create a somewhat jerky feel and then the high part has this smooth, gliding feel with more slurred bowing. Also, note the great droning effect Erskine gets on the bass string in the low part.

This tune reminds me of some of the G tunes from Northeast and Central Kentucky that you can hear on Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky Vol 1 and 2 and Along the Ohio's Shores. The low part of Kelly Gilbert's setting of Billy in the Lowground (which is a different melody from the well-loved C tune of the same title) has a similar melody and feel to Erskine's tune. Further, the high part reminds me a little of J.B. Miller's tune, Severn Creek.

This must have made a great tune to step-dance to.
Update: Sept 2010:
I was playing at a friends place in the Eastern Townships and a younger fiddler from the area who plays a lot of Quebecois and Cape Breton style fiddle played this tune. He told me this tune is called the Reel des Eskimos. Although the skeleton was clearly the same tune, his version had more notes of the scale whereas Erskine would create great rhythmic effect using notes repeated consecutively and drone-strings. Isidore Soucy recorded a rather crooked version of this tune you can hear here(from Collections Canada). I still like the Erskine's Ramble title as at least its a little more politically correct.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Visit With Cyril Devouge of L'Anse à Brillant, Gaspé, QC

A few weekends ago, Brian, Bridget, and I spent a Saturday afternoon with an old-time fiddler, Cyril Devouge at his senior's residence in Chateauguay, Quebec. I first heard about Cyril when a fiddler, Jimmy Allen from New Jersey emailed me having noticed our blog. He told me he used to hang out with all the Gaspe fiddlers at Pembroke back in the 1980's. He said the best fiddlers there were Hermas Rehel and Cyril Devouge who had a very complex and hypnotic bowing style.

Anyhow, Bridget and her husband had been visiting Cyril every month or so. When I met Bridget, I played one of Cyril's tunes for her and she remarked that I played it very close to Cyril and that we should go play the tune for him at his residence.

Now, a little about Cyril:

Cyril was born in 1915 in Brilliant Cove (L'Anse à Brillant), Gaspé, Quebec which is just down the road from Douglastown where Bridget and Erskine lived. He is currently 95 years old. He was already playing in public at 10 years old and recalls playing at a "Tea Meeting" in a little schoolhouse in Brilliant Cove. Apparently, he couldn't get his feet to reach the floor while he was playing there and that "The whole of L'Anse à Brillant and half of Seal Cove were there that night". His first fiddle teacher was his father, Leslie Devouge, who was a fisherman who would return on the weekends and played the fiddle on Sundays. He had three other brothers: Denzil, Herzil, and Glen. Denzil and Glenn also played the fiddle. He told us that there were three fiddles in the house hanging on the wall in the kitchen and that they were never all on the wall at the same time.

Apparently, his father was an exceptional old-time fiddler. Cyril has always been extremely moved by fiddle music and told us that his Dad's playing was so pretty that he would often begin to cry when father played and would have to go hide so his father would not see this.

His best fiddling friend growing up was Roland White whom he learned many tunes from. One of these tunes was the Golden Rooster which Cyril says no one knows anymore except himself.

Cyril left the coast at age 16 to go work in the Siscoe Gold Mine which is on an island in the middle of Kienawisik Lake near Val d'Or, Quebec. He worked here for 13 years and saw many friends maimed and others killed on the job. This convinced him to leave the mines and head back for the coast. He eventually ended up in Chateauguay, Quebec on Montreal's South Shore where he still lives.

Currently, Cyril can no longer play the fiddle due to a pinched nerve in his right shoulder and paralysis in his left hand which happened about 3 years ago. However, he has been learning the harmonica and I must say, is extremely good at it. He can also "lilt" (sing) tunes and still express all the complex rhythms of the Gaspé style in his singing.

Cyril is really an amazing person. At 95 years young, he is extremely intelligent and a great teller of stories and jokes that had us laughing nearly all afternoon. It was an absolute pleasure to spend an afternoon with him. I've now set about to learning on the fiddle several tunes of his that he either hummed or played on the harmonica for us. Spending time with Cyril really made me understand how important and moving fiddle music can be for many people across Canada.

We hope to visit him again in the next few weeks and enjoy another afternoon of fiddle tunes, stories, jokes, and his favourite drink "Irish Mist" which he generously shared with us which helped Brian and I loosen up and really let those tunes soar!

Here are some recordings of our get-together that I made:

Since there are many small files, I recommend clicking the "Auto-Play Next" box when you arrive at the first file.

Hear Cyril tell jokes and stories about people from Gaspé

Hear some of the music that was made during our get-together

Finally, here are some pictures of Cyril from the Pembroke festival in th 1980s courtesy of Jimmy Allen from New Jersey:

Finally, here is the tune of Cyril's I have learned played by the man himself at Pembroke in the 1980's:

Enjoy and feel free to leave us a comment