Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

News and Updates

Dear readers,

Thought I'd update everyone with the latest news on the Gaspe Fiddle Project. I know I haven't been posting as many tunes lately but rest assured there is some great stuff in the pipeline.

We had another visit with Cyril on the Jean-Baptiste holiday and he treated us to an afternoon of new stories and jokes, and even a few tongue-twisters he learned from his Granny. We also played some of his tunes for him which I'd learned since my previous visit with him. He set me straight, helping me out on adding a few extra "jiggles"in the tune which he says help round the tunes out. There will be a bunch of new audio clips from that visit in before too long I hope.

We've also gotten a few tapes of Cyril's that we are in the process of digitizing. There are some real lively tunes there and I'll be sure to share these with the readers.

In other big news, I am leaving this weekend on a 3 week bike tour of the Gaspe coast from Campbellton, New Brunswick to Douglastown and Forillon Park. I'm hoping to meet some of the remaining fiddle players out on the coast. The highlight and culmination of the trip will be the Douglastown Irish Week which is from August 2nd to 6th. There's going to be some great fiddlers there including Yvon Mimeault, Gerald Fullum, and Pierre Schryer. I got some great news last week, it seems that Brian, Brigid, and her two brothers Joe and Anthony who play fiddle will also be out there. I'm sure I'll have some great fiddling and photos to share with all our readers from the music that happens out there.

Here is the site of the Douglastown Irish Week

And here is a picture of Douglastown beach:

The Liverpool Hornpipe (The Victory Breakdown)

Here is Erskine's setting of the an elegant and fairly well-known book tune, The Liverpool Hornpipe. Printed versions can be found in Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes, and R.P. Christeson's and O'Neill's collections. Erskine's high strain is a different melody from the printed version and is in my opinion, a better melody. Its possible that he or his source for this tune took the high strain of another tune and glued it to the low strain, but kept the Liverpool title. 
Hear the Liverpool Hornpipe (The Victory Breakdown)

I feel in Erskine's hands, this tune achieves a greater lift than all the versions I've heard of the standard book setting. As he often does, he gets a bunch of great cross string syncopations and doubles up on notes, both devices creating a slightly jagged texture to this tune which is really exciting. You can also really hear his feet beating out the rhythm on this one. I imagine some people really enjoyed dancing to Erskine fiddling this tune.

Vivian Williams told me that this is in fact a tune Don Messer recorded called the Victory Breakdown. Apparently, the first two parts are similar which may explain Erskine's confusion of the title. Erskine had many of Don Messer's records and learned tunes there. What is interesting is that he always adapted Don's tunes to his own Gaspé style never seeking to imitate Canada's most influential fiddle player.

Even though Erskine had the wrong title for this tune, we will keep it here and put the correct title in parenthesis so people coming back to the blog looking under the Liverpool title may find what they are looking for.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Erskine's Hornpipe (Reel de L'Hôtielier)

Here's a charming little hornpipe that Erskine played in the key of D from the reel-to-reel recordings. This one has an especially cute little rhythm to it that must have made it great to step dance to.

This tune seems to pop up in many places in Quebecois fiddling under different titles, though the high strain has a somewhat different twist to it. Pierre Schryer told me he'd heard it called Reel de Ti-Jean, Reel Saint-Jean, and Reel à/de Remi. Further research has shown that other titles include Gordon's Reel, and the Chamberlain. Joseph Allard played this tune calling it L'Hôtielier. Jean Carrignan played this tune very well also. Erskine was a big fan of both Allard and Carrignan and was known to pick up tunes off their records.

This tune appears on an Isidore Soucy recording as "Set Américain, deuxième partie" which strikes me more as a movement in a dance set as opposed to a title.

Like many hornpipes, the first part of this tune just follows the chords D, G, and A with nice rolling arpeggios that just seem to flow out under Erskine's bow. The second part of the tune is a little more mysterious and primitive in its melody and really contrasts well with the first part. I find that this part just kind of floats, not really going anywhere melodically which for me, gives it a feeling like being suspended in mid-air. This might by why I have the impression that this tune was really geared towards step dancing; this part has a real lift to it. Its impossible not to tap your foot to this lovely little tune.

Hear Erskine's Hornpipe

Here is Isidore Soucy playing essentially the same tune.