Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Caribou Reel - Teaching Files


The teaching files for the Caribou Reel are now up here.  I've broken the tune down into smaller phrases and played everything slowly so you can get every note.  Remember, the fiddle is tuned ADAE from bass to fine string.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Caribou Reel

Here is a tune that Erskine played that was composed by the great Metis fiddler from Manitoba, Andy Dejarlis.

Listen to Erskine play the Caribou Reel

Compare Erskine's playing with the original from Andy Dejarlis:

Erskine's setting of this tune is a really great adaptation of a tune out of a more commercial, radio-based setting and back into a very traditional, older style.  Notice the following devices Erskine has used to bring the tune into the old Gaspe style:
  • Use of jagged rhythms, often highly syncopated.
  • Use of an open fiddle tuning.  In this case, the bass string is raised from a G to an A.  More on this in a bit...
  • Use of complex foot clogging as accompaniment
  • Use of ambiguous, suspended-sounding drones.
It is very rare that Erskine played in minor keys on the recordings we have.  This tune in in the key of E minor.  What is unique here is that Erskine is using the fiddle tuning he and older Gaspesians traditionally used only for the playing in the key of D: ADAE from bass to fine string.  What this creates are these amazing, mysterious drone notes in the bass that create an ambiguous harmony at the end of each section.  When he finally lands on the low E note at the end of each part of the tune, rather than the drone underneath suggesting an E minor chord as the modern ear would expect, it instead echoes more closely to an A major chord.  This creates a slightly unresolved texture at the end that is very unusual in commercial fiddle music, but was at one time more prevalent among non-commercial fiddlers.

What I find fascinating is that Erskine had a great sensibility for adapting fiddle tunes of modern commercial records back into the older style he played in.  The tunes usually need to be significantly re-worked in order to achieve the results Erskine was capable of.  I often find Erskine's settings of tunes he got from commercial fiddlers more interesting than the originals, as great as they were played by Canada's fiddle stars on recordings.  Erskine would often add layers of complex rhythms and syncopations, drones, open fiddle tunings, and adapt the melody giving the tunes a much more ancient and evocative atmosphere.  Even though Erskine would play these tunes in an older style, that somewhat ironically his settings tend to be more timeless as they avoided the popular fiddle music clichés of the day (double shuffle bowing, excessive instrumental backup, lack of melodic and rhythmic variation) that would soon go out of style.

Despite their commercial success, I find Andy DeJarlis and other Métis fiddlers play in a style much closer to the older strains of Canadian fiddling which I really love.  Nonetheless, there was a tendency on their records to clutter the music with too much other stuff going on in the accompaniment with pianos, guitars, drums, and often spoons.  I suspect this was an attempt to make the music flashier and appeal to a wider audience which it was probably successful at doing.  However for my tastes, I find this distracts too much from the nuance and beauty the fiddler's music.  Still, it is the Métis fiddlers who are mostly to thank for the few strains of the older Canadian fiddling styles that we have left in Canada.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cy's Musical Send-Off

Here's a post that I began working on in last July but have only got around to finishing now. Its long overdue to say the least:

Cy's sister Leona and Bernie Roy.
On July 9, 2011 we held a musical memorial to our good friend Cy Devouge who passed away last March. The get-together was organized by Cy's relatives and held at his son Danny and his wife Tina's lovely place in Hudson, Quebec. Brigid, Brian, Neil MacKay, and I had a great time playing all afternoon and meeting Cy's family.
One of Danny's incredible stone carvings
One of the "big stars" of the afternoon in my mind was Cy's younger sister, Leona of North Hero, Vermont in the Champlain Islands. Like a lot of old-time Gaspesians, you could really see the strong the connection she has to old-time fiddle music. Her feet were clogging in time the whole afternoon just like her brothers used to do. She said she learned how to clog her feet from the time she could walk. The whole afternoon she was hanging out as close as possible to the musicians, soaking up the tunes. People like Leona always remind me again how powerful this music is in bringing back fond memories of times past here in Canada. She was born into a house where her mother, father, and three out of four brothers played the fiddle and told us that "most people can't understand how much this music does for me, because they were born into the music like I was". After Neil and another older gentleman got up and did some inspiring step-dancing, Leona wasn't shy and got up and tried to give a few steps. At 86 years young, I say, "hats off to you Leona!"
Cy's son Danny Devouge and his wife Tina
Also, Cy's daughter-in-law made a really beautiful binder of the Devouge family history with great photos, genealogy, and a type-written autobiography that Cyril did chronicling his life from his roots on the Gaspé coast up to adulthood. The things he experienced are really of another time and I hope to share this autobiography with the readers here in the near future.

It is with great sadness that I learned just after returning from Gaspé this summer, that Leona Devouge passed away in mid-August at her home in North Hero, Vermont. I had been looking forward to visiting her with her niece Trena and playing some of her brother's and father's tunes for her. She was such a beautiful person with a radiant personality, just like Cy and was in remarkably good health (she still mowed her own lawn and lived by herself at 86). So it was quite a shock to everyone to hear of her passing. I composed a waltz for her the other week which I'll post sometime soon when I have finished ironing it out.

I want to extend a big thanks to all the Devouge family for putting on such a wonderful afternoon this past summer and for sending me pictures and information. Here is a really nice memento that extended family member Marty C made to thank us musicians.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Help Save Douglastown's Holy Name Hall

Dear Readers,

I wanted to make you aware of a campaign going on right now to help save Holy Name Hall in Douglastown.  It is part of a contest run by a T.V. program here in Quebec where people vote online to save a historical building in Quebec.  Luc Shaput from Douglastown has been working hard over the past couple years to have this building made usable again for the population of Douglastown and the Gaspe coast.

The site is in French but here are my step-by-step instructions on how to vote for the non-French speaking readers:

  1. Go to this link:
  2. In the box where it says "Prénom", enter your first name
  3. In the box where it says "Nom", enter your last name
  4. Where it says "Courriel", enter your email address
  5. Where it says "Confirmez que votre vote n'est pas robotisé en cliquant sur l'image « ...... »,puis cliquez sur « Soumettre ». " it is asking you to click on the image underneath corresponding to the word in between the  «   » symbols.  What comes between the  «   » symbols will vary and you will need to select the appropriate image.  Here is a translation guide:
      • Type-writer = Machine à écrire
      • Bottle = Bouteille
      • Telephone = Teléphone
      • Phonograph Player / Victrola = Phonographe
      • Light-Bulb = Ampoule
      • Letter = Lettre
  6. After you have selected the image, you must click the box that says "Soumettre" which is just underneath the images.
  7. Now the website will send you an email to confirm your vote.  Go to your email and look for the email from HistoriaTV with subject "Sauvez un bâtiment de chez vous".  Open this email.
  8. In the email, find where it says "Cliquez ici pour soumettre votre vote". Click on the word "Cliquez".  Congratulations, you are done!
Keep in mind that you can vote once every 24 hours so please return to the site and vote every day. You can vote until December 16th.

Here is some great background information on Holy Name Hall and the Irish community around Douglastown that Luc Shaput has prepared and allowed me to use here:

Many know that Irish immigrants have adopted new lands as their home throughout their history. However, few know that some of these immigrants chose the Gaspé Peninsula as early as the 
second half of the 17th century to settle.  Some of these Irish were Loyalists fleeing persecution in the United States after the Revolutionary War, others were ordinary peasants in search of new opportunities in farming or the fisheries controlled then by Jersey companies. The Morris, Kennedy, Rooney, Hackett, Maloney, McDonald and Walsh families are some of the oldest families who chose to start a new life in Douglastown on the side of St. John's river which flows into the bay of Gaspé.  Most of the time, life was a matter of survival. Despite harsh difficulties, the Irish succeeded in becoming a strong, thriving community growing alongside English, French Canadian, Scottish and Jersey families. A significant part of their culture was maintained through  religion, building their first church in 1800, as well as through educational and cultural institutions.  St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated in Douglastown for more than 150 years. 

Today, many people from Douglastown are concerned about reviving and preserving their cultural roots as their community has been in a dramatic demographic decline since the 1960’s.  One strategy the community is employing to fight this decline is by attempting to restore Holy Name Hall.  The hall was built in 1937 but has been in neglect since 1990.  For many years, this parish hall was at the heart of the Irish cultural expression in Douglastown.  School concerts, St. Patrick's Day celebrations, and other major community events took place in the hall. Though no longer in use today, beginning in the 1940's, the hall also served as a local cinema, still equipped with two original 1945 Simplex high projectors using carbon arc lamps.  The building design was inspired by the fishery storage buildings and is contructed mostly from boards salvaged from burned buildings in Douglastown and donated lumber. It is composed of diagonally-laid weather boards to brace the balloon frame, covered with horizontal wooden boards on which were nailed asphalt paper imitating bricks. It features over 250 seats (dated 1897) made of wrought-iron, stuffed and covered with velour. The building was heated with wood. Some modifications were made in 1956 on the whim of the flamboyant parish priest, Father Patrick Nellis. Except a new heating system, the most important change was the covering of the facade with yellow bricks to create a cohesive look with the surrounding buildings (the presbytery, church  and school).  

As of May 2010, Holy Name Hall has been granted heritage status by the Town of Gaspé.  This necessary step will allow the community to start looking for financing to assist in restoring this unique building for the population of Douglastown and the Gaspé coast.  The Irish descendants of Douglastown know that this project could play an important role in helping guarantee their future on the Gaspé coast.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Two Tunes From Isidore Soucy

Today I wanted to share two lovely tunes in the key of D that Erskine learned off LPs of Isidore Soucy who was one of his favourite fiddlers.  Erskine owned many of Isidore's records and would learn tunes from them but as always adapted them to his own native Gaspesian style.

The first tune we will look at is "The President's Reel", a somewhat mysterious sounding 3 part tune that has a bit of a march feel, not quite a conventional reel.  This is a really old sounding tune and is probably reminiscent of the sort of music one might have head in Quebec before the 20th century.

This recording comes from the tape Erskine recorded at his brother Manny's place in Douglastown probably in the late 1960's or early 70's.  This tape features some of Erskine's most beautiful playing we have found so far and showcases many old, mysterious sounding tunes.  You can compare Erskine's arrangement of the President's Reel (as well as the next tune) to Isidore Soucy's by checking out samples from the Isidore Soucy album here.

Isidore Soucy - Image Courtesy of Collections Canada
Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, Isidore's take on this tune has a lot more in common with Irish fiddling in the 20th century with its slurred string crossings and bowed triplets.  Erskine instead relies much more heavily on the older French-insprired Gaspesian techniques like repeated note "hooks" to fill out this tune.  My best guess is that these techniques were probably shared among French and English-speaking players on the coast at one time.  This use of the repeated note "hook" (a term Cyril Devouge used) where the same note is bowed consecutively several times in the space of one note is especially evident in the second section of this tune where Erskine hammers out the F# note four times in even succession.  It fascinates me how in a village that was over ninety five percent Irish before about 1960, their native fiddle music shared so much more in common with the older French and Acadian styles in Canada where many Francophone's throughout Quebec used left-hand ornaments and bowing techniques very similar to what fiddlers in Ireland had developed.  

The second tune we will look at today is a charming D tune that Isidore called "Le Polka Piquée" (the Stacatto Polka).  The first part rolls out the over the chord changes, while on the second part Erskine gets some great jaggedy Gaspesian sycopation as was often his custom.  Erskine really rolls this tune out in such a nice gentle way compared to Isidore Soucy's version which as the name implies, is played in a rather heavy, stacatto manner.

Isidore Soucy is one of my favourite French Canadian fiddlers and was once a household name here in Quebec..  If you are interested in finding out more about him, this article will give you a start.  There is also a huge collection of his tunes stored online that you can listen to or downloaded for free at the Collections Canada Virtual Gramophone website.  One of the features of Isidore's tunes was that they were almost all what fiddlers call "crooked".  These are tunes that have beats either added or removed from the phrases and therefore don't follow the typical 32 bar reel format.  Here is a great analysis of crooked tunes in recorded French Canadian music of the early 20th century and it turns out that Isidore was the King of the Crooked with a whopping 83% of his recorded repertoire being crooked..

Hope you enjoy these tunes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Little Boy's Reel

Here is a great, driving D tune that Erskine played on the 1990 Cassette.

Listen to the Little Boy's Reel.

I really like the great syncopated rhythm Erskine gets on the low turn of this tune.  Erskine was a master of rhythmic bow work.  When you listen to his playing, its really clear that he is in full command of all the rhythmic expression required to bring fairly simple tunes to a higher level.  Also, check out the really tight precision of his footwork which really kicks the tune into overdrive.

The fiddle is tuned with the bass string raised up to an A.  This was the conventional tuning for the old Douglastown-area tunes in the key of D.  It really makes the fiddle ring.  Erskine is tuned a fair bit higher than concert pitch in this recording, about a whole semi-tone putting the tune actually around a concert Eb.  In the era before the proliferation of electronic tuners, old-time fiddlers would often tune their fiddles to where they sounded approximately in tune with the standard A note (440 Hz) or where they had a "nice" ring to them. Sometimes, the fiddle just sings in a special way when tuned above or below the standard concert pitch.  Here I feel the slightly higher pitch contributes to the excitement and energy of the tune.

This tune has all the hallmarks of a local Douglastown tune:
  • Fiddle tuned with the bass string raised for the key of D
  • Strong syncopated string crossings (low turn)
  • Old-style melodic passages that don't quite conform to modern standard French Canadian reels (high turn)
  • Repeated note "hooks" (high turn)
This was the first tune Brian, Brigid, and I played for the presentation on Erskine's life and music in Douglastown this past August.  It seemed to get everyone either stomping their feet or clapping their hands.  This is the kind of tune that will get people moving.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

From Laura Risk

First, let me say how honored I am to be asked to contribute to this blog. I have been reading Glenn and Brian’s posts since spring 2010 and I have great respect for all the time and energy they’ve put into this wonderful project. Not to mention their deep knowledge of - and passion for - Gaspesian music!

Luc Chaput generously invited me to perform at both the 2010 and 2011 Douglastown Irish Weeks, and on both occasions I was really struck by the community’s love for fiddle music. I’ve played at lots of festivals but it’s not often that I have the feeling I had in Douglastown: that people are following every note and bowstroke. It’s the way fiddlers and dancers listen. And in fact, it wasn’t long before I realized that I was in a place where, until recently, that’s what entertainment meant: fiddling and dancing. No wonder I felt right at home!

I thought I’d start my contributions to this blog by posting a few video clips from a fantastic evening at the home of Phyllis Morris. This is the party that Glenn described in his Sept 2 post, so I won’t repeat all the details. I should say, though, that I hadn’t met Phyllis before this evening and I was really touched that she would welcome me so warmly into her home for this family party. We only had three fiddles between Glenn, myself, Joseph and Anthony Drody, and later Cecil Leggo, but that didn’t stop us from having a great party! We passed the fiddles around and with Brigid and Brian’s driving guitars and, at some moments, a whole row of foot tappers, the tunes seemed about ready to lift us out of our seats.

A huge thanks to Laura Holland, Phyllis’ daughter-in-law, who kindly offered to film the evening on my videocamera.

In this first clip of us playing “Joe Drody’s Jig”, you see Glenn passing his fiddle to Joseph Drody and then a nice close-up of Joseph and Anthony playing together. If you’re a fiddle player, you’ll probably notice that Joseph and Anthony are using slightly different bowing patterns, but both have a really driving rhythm to their playing.

Here’s a nice clip of Joseph playing “Peekaboo Waltz” – on my violin!

I thought I’d also include this clip of Glenn, Brigid and Brian playing “Tommy Rooney’s Jig”. Glenn has learned so many of the old tunes and really studied the old style – it’s fun to see him going full steam here!

One of the evening’s great surprises was getting to hear a few tunes from Cecil Leggo. I love the lift and swing that he puts into this version of “The Road to the Isles”:

That’s all for now. In the works: a post about Ernest Drody’s version of Eva’s tune. For the moment I’ll just say that if you’ve already learned the version that I played at Phyllis’ party (posted by Glenn on Sept 2), you will have a few bits to relearn...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Videos: Pembroke 2011

My good buddy Bill Erwin from the Pontiac region of Quebec recently posted two more videos of us playing at the Gaspé tent at Pembroke earlier this month.  I'm playing with Brigid Miller (Drody)  and Kent Sutton who do a wonderful job providing a peppy guitar accompaniment. Also, a big thanks to Kent for loaning me his fiddle for the afternoon. Its a beaut!

Both these tunes bring back strong memories of Cyril Devouge for me.  The first tune we play here the old-timers called, "Arty Savidant's Tune" which I learned from Cyril.  Cy learned this tune as a young man hearing Arty play this for square dances at Haldimand Hall.  Most people from the coast remember the great dances they used to have at Haldimand.

The second tune is the Winter Reel.  This was one of the tunes Cy would request most when we would visit him.  I didn't know this tune until Neil MacKay, the great Chateauguay Valley fiddler, played it for us when we were hanging out with Cy last fall.  Its a great Ontario tune with a rolling bow, perhaps in an attempt to imitate a rolling snowball?  A fun tune in any season nonetheless.

I recommended in an earlier post to check out Bill's Youtube channel. As far as I know, there is no better place on the internet to see on-line videos of authentic Canadian old-time fiddling and his channel is a great service to our fiddle culture.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Tune Title - Reel de Bellechasse

My Youtube friend, Robert, recently posted a short clip of himself on the accordion playing one of the untitled tunes of Erskine's we posted in 2010.  It turns out the title of this tune is  the "Reel de Bellechasse"

He has posted lots of great videos of himself and friends playing the old-style music from the Acadian peninsula in New Brunswick where he is from.

Here is one of my favourite videos he has posted.  Its a "grondeuse" or grumbling tune with the bass string raised to an A note and has a feel similar to Tommy Rooney's Jig.  I'll have to learn Robert's tune someday soon, it is incredible.

Here is Robert's Youtube Channel.  Check it out!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Cockawee

After a busy summer, I realized recently that I hadn't posted any tunes from Erskine since the end of July.

Here is Erskine playing a classic Gaspesian tune that all the old-timers used to know, The Cockawee.

This recording was made when Brian and his dad sat down one day at Erskine's house in Cambridge, Ontario in 1983.  Erskine moved to Cambridge the late 1970's after leaving the Montreal area where he raised his family.  The Cockawee seems to have been one of the most popular tunes on the Gaspe coast between Gaspe and Barachois at one time though now I think Anthony and Joseph Drody, and Cecil Leggo are the only Gaspesians left who can play this tune.
The Cockawee is a local name for the Long-Tailed Duck that would winter on the Bay of Gaspe.  Cyril Devouge told us the story of how this tune came to be composed.  A group of men from Bois-Brulé used to hunt these birds in the winter out on the ice that formed between Bois-Brulé and Grande-Grève on the other side of the bay.  These birds were considered a delicacy on the coast.  In order to be able to sneak up close enough to shoot these birds, the old-timers would camouflage themselves by putting on white sheets over their guns and bodies and crawl out on the ice.  This tune was written when one of these men from Bois-Brulé captured the sound of the bird call in his head and went home and figured out the call on his fiddle.

Here is a nice site with all sorts of information on this bird (and others) including photos, video, and audio.

This is a quirky little tune with two short phrases in each section.  It is the syncopated rhythm that really makes the tune, it really does sound like a bird-call.  I asked Ernest Drody this past summer if the tune and the bird call resembled one another.  He confirmed that if you ever forgot the tune all you would need to do is hear the sound of the Cockawee and the tune would come right back to you.  Laura Risk and I had a lot of fun playing the tune out in Douglastown this summer at house parties with the Drody's and Brian.  It is a really addictive tune and hard to stop once you get going!

Here is a link to a folder where I break this tune down for fiddle players interested in learning this tune.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Welcome Laura Risk!

Dear Readers,

It is a great pleasure to announce a new guest writer here at the Gaspe Fiddle blog, Laura Risk.  Laura and I met at the 2010 edition of the Douglastown Irish Week.  Just prior to her first trip out to Douglastown, she had stumbled upon our blog and become interested in the music and culture around the Gaspe coast.  We kept in touch throughout the year (her and her husband helped me identify several tune titles on this blog) and during this summer's Irish Week, we got to hang out a lot at the community centre and at Norma's, Joseph's, Ernest Drody's, and Phyllis' houses.

She has begun collecting stories and music by visiting with Gaspesians and when I saw how well she interacted with the community and her generous spirit, I knew that she would have great stuff to offer this blog.  So, after one of the epic house parties at Phyllis' I asked her if she would guest write from time to time which she agreed to.  We had many great conversations and a lot of late nights in Douglastown where she passed on so much of wonderful insight to me.  She has so many great ideas on promoting the Gaspesian music and culture and she has really helped me figured out where I would like to see this project go and so her help here will be a great addition.

Laura is a renowned Scottish-style fiddler, has several albums to her credit, and performs and teaches fiddle workshops all over the world.  It is so wonderful to hear a world-class fiddler learning the old Gaspesian tunes and knowing that she will pass them along to others, gives great hope that this music will live on.

Check out her website here:

Welcome Laura!

Laura with Norma McDonald - August 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Edmund McAuley's Tune

One of the most memorable experiences during my time in Pembroke two weeks ago was sitting around the breakfast table at a rented trailer home and having Joseph Drody teach me this lovely little tune. Joseph and Anthony had been discussing a tune the previous night that their next door neighbour Edmund MacAuley used to play that they called simply, "Edmund McAuley's Tune" but couldn't recall the tune that night. The next day, Anthony, Joseph, and I were eating breakfast when Joseph said that the tune had finally come to him earlier that morning.

Here is myself playing Edmund McAuley's Tune

It took me a little while at the table to catch Joseph's little pause on the low strain of this tune, but I eventually got it ironed out I think. It really adds to the tune.

From what people have told me, the McAuley's were well-loved in Douglastown and noted musicians especially on the guitar (Edmund's brother, Ray went on to become a country music star in B.C., had a record on RCA and played on the Tommy Hunter Show). Also, many Gaspesians will tell you that the funniest person they ever met was their father, Hanson McAuley. As Cyril once said, if Hanson couldn't make you laugh he wouldn't talk to you". In fact, the Drody's are related to the McAuley's. One of their ancestors was a Ms. Rosanna McAuley born in 1851 in Douglastown. Edmund apparently played a little fiddle as well as the guitar. Brigid, Joseph, and Anthony remembered him playing this tune often when they were growing up next door to the McAuley's The Drody's have very fond memories growing up with their neighbours and I hope to share some of these with the readers in future posts.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pembroke 2011

This past long weekend I had the great pleasure to spend two and half days with the Gaspé gang at their little stage under the blue tent during the Pembroke Fiddle and Step Dance festival.  I wrote about my impressions on the scene they have there last year at this time, but would like to add a few more thoughts and some special memories for the 2011 edition.

What really stood out to me this year is the sense of dedication that the Gaspesians bring to the festival.  They are there the Sunday before the week-long festival starts ready to setup their stage and tent for the musicians and dancers.  Then every afternoon throughout the week, different people take turns providing the entertainment for the spectators.  This is something many of the same Gaspesians have been doing since the late 1970s.  I consider the scene the Gaspesians create around their stage to be representative of so many of the great things about their culture: music, dancing, family, socializing, card games, jokes, stories, and shared meals.  Its rare in this day and age that you will find a group as dedicated to these values as the Gaspesian crew at Pembroke and its a real treat to be able to share in these values with such wonderful people.

The Drody boys were in especially fine form and played a lot of great tunes they learned growing up with Brigid backing them in her unbeatable style.  Here are two clips of the Drody bunch in action.  The first is a nice French-Canadian tune calle the Reel de Saint-Omer.  The second tune is one they learned from their neighbour growing up, Ms. Napoleon Rooney.  As is common in the Gaspé tradition, they always called the tune "Ms. Napoleon's Tune" after the person they learned the tune from.  However, it is a nice Down-East tune that Don Messer played called the "Belledune Quickstep".  Belledune is just across the Baie de Chaleurs on the Gaspe coast on the New Brunswick side.   These videos are from our new Youtube channel we started for sharing videos related to Gaspesian fiddling.

Some stand out memories:
  • Mary Snowman's cod cakes, chicken-pot-pie, and beans for Saturday dinner
  • Hearing Brigid and Kent Sutton playing the guitar for the great Chateauguay Valley fiddler, Gérard Giroux when I first arrived at the tent.  You couldn't have a better welcoming soundtrack.
  • Having Gary Snowman step-dance up a storm to a fiddle tune I composed for Brigid
  • Playing along with Brigid and the Drody boys (Joseph and Anthony) on Saturday night
  • Drinking water Joseph had bottled from his spring in L'Anse à Brillant.  That stuff has healing-powers!
  • Playing with Anthony and Brigid for an impromptu square-set led by George Dion of Barachois.
  • Having a late night beer and swapping stories and tunes with the Drody boys back at their rented trailer outside the park.
  • Meeting in-person my on-line friend Bill Erwin from the Pontiac region of Quebec on Saturday afternoon.  Bill has a great Youtube channel and has sent me loads of great material from the fiddlers of his part of the province.
  • Playing a whole slew of Gaspe tunes with Brigid on Sunday afternoon.

Here's a video that Bill Erwin made at this year's festival of myself, Brigid, and Kent Sutton playing a Down-East tune I learned from Cyril Devouge and Neil MacKay called "The Island Ferry".

I want to extend a special heart-felt thanks to the Snowman's who were always looking out for me, keeping me well fed, and made my trip back to Montreal so enjoyable especially with one last serving of Mary's home-made cod cakes, chicken pot pie, and beans at the rest-stop in Cassleman, Ontario.  As well, a special kudos to Jimmy Miller and Gary Snowman for all their hard work in making sure the musicians have a wonderful place to congregate under and a lots of wooden boards to stamp their feet on.  Also, a special kudos to Anthony Drody (who drives 12 hours from New Jersey to be at the festival) and Joseph Drody who continue to represent their musical traditions to the fiddle fans during the festival and for being such great guys.  And of course we can't forget Brigid who is the rock that the music at the Gaspé tent is built upon.  She is always there at the ready with her guitar to help out us fiddlers.  As Joseph often says, "we need all the help we can get".

Friday, September 2, 2011

Douglastown Memories

Crossing the bay to Douglastown from
Dear Readers,

I've been back in Montreal for the past two weeks after having spent a wonderful 19 days out on the Gaspe coast again. I had such a great time in Douglastown before and during the Irish Week and then out in Shigiwake during their Agricultural Fair and Music Festival.

While I was crossing the rail bridge to Douglastown after having just arrived by train with my bike in Gaspe it seemed as if I had been there a few weeks ago. It was hard to believe that a year had already passed. I arrived the Thursday before the Irish Week started just to relax at Lorne and Adel Packwood's lovely house whose porch overlooking Gaspe bay, I spent many hours on reading and playing fiddle. They must have one of the best views from their porch and spending time with them the first few days was a great way to relax between work in Montreal and all the activities during the Irish Week.

The first highlight from the week was when Brian and I had a 6 hour fiddle and guitar session at Norma McDonald's place the night before our presentation on the life and music of Erskine. Hanging out in Norma's kitchen is such a wonderful experience. Her and her husband Brian are so loving and generous and they never tire of hearing the fiddle. As well, there is delicious food constantly coming out of their oven and we thank Vera, Jason, Norma, and Brian McDonald for giving us a place to hang out and pick tunes and be well-fed.

Visits with Norma McDonald
The big night was definitely Wednesday during the presentation Brian, Brigid, and myself did on the life and music of Erskine Morris. During the day I was really worried that attendance would be very low as Erskine left Douglastown so long ago that a lot of people still left in town don't remember or never met him. I expected an audience of about 12 people maximum and was prepared for a quiet presentation. However, 15 minutes before the presentation was to start people began flooding in and very soon the room was filled to capacity. By the time the presentation had begun it was standing room only and there were even a few people peering in from the doorway. It reminds me of something Brian told me back when I first got into this music: that in Douglastown, the fiddle could pull the entire town together any night of the week in the old days. Well the people of Douglastown showed that the fiddle can still pull the town together and we were honored that they all came out and gave us such a great evening. It was great to have the Drody boys, Joseph and Anthony (Brigid's brothers) coming up and playing a few tunes for us during the presentation. As well, the great Quebecois caller and step-dancer Jean-Francois Berthiaume's wild step-dancing was jaw-dropping as we played one of Cy Devouge's great tunes. The energy he brought was just through the roof and the atmosphere was just electric. It was clear that the Douglastowners were just getting warmed up and wanted to hear more fiddle music.

Kitchen Jam and square dance after presentation on the life and
music of Erskine Morris with Stephanie Lepine and Laura Risk
At this point, I suggested that because the classroom was so packed and humid, we all take a five minute pause to get some fresh air then meetup in the kitchen for some more music. What ensued was a night to remember for all present. Brian, Brigid, and I were soon joined by the amazing Quebecoise fiddler, Stephanie Lepine and Scottish fiddle player, Laura Risk and we embarked on ripping jam session of Gaspesian and French-Canadian tunes. At some point, people started clearing away the tables and began a square dance. They danced 3 sets back-to-back which meant about 40 minutes of non-stop music. A big highlight here was seeing Joseph Drody up there with a big smile on his face and not breaking a sweat during 40 minutes of dancing. As well, seeing the older generation sticking it out till the very end of the evening especially Brian's aunts Phyllis, Nina, and Caroline who stayed up until 1 a.m. to hear the fiddle music. Their presence there till the very end really showed me how powerful fiddle music still is in the hearts of the people from Douglastown.

Afternoon at Joseph Drody's
Thursday afternoon Laura Risk, Linda Drody, and I spent a few hours with the Drody's (Brigid, Joseph, Anthony, and Jimmy Miller) at Joseph's place in L'Anse a Brillant. You can never go wrong hanging out with the Drody's, their company is my personal secret recipe for unwinding and appreciating the essential things in life. Highlights from this get-together include taking a drink from Joseph's spring, overlooking the bay from the L'Anse a Brillant cliffs in his back lot, and being introduced by Brigid and Jimmy to the wonders of salt cod bits with salt pork.

After our afternoon with the Drody's, we all drove over to Phyllis Morris' place expecting to entertain a quiet household. When we pulled into the driveway there must have been about 8 cars already parked there. It was so nice to play music again in Phyllis' kitchen and mingle with all the great people there. We played there till about 3 am. Two days later on Sunday night, the same thing happened all over again at Phyllis' kitchen though this time there were about 10 cars already parked in the driveway when we showed up. These party's were just electric and its so wonderful to be able to play for people who really appreciate the fiddle and its role in the culture.

Here are some clips of the music from our house parties at Phyllis' which I think capture the spirit of the evening:

In my opinion, something very special has started gaining momentum at this year's festival. We all could feel the great desire in Douglastown for people to reclaim and reconnect with their own music, as something to
Looking back towards L'Anse a Brillant
be proud of and participate in. It seemed the people would find any excuse to have a square dance, but especially when the Drody's were playing. After our week in Douglastown I'm convinced that the Gaspesian people want this music and culture to stay alive and there is still a role for it in the lives of Douglastowners and the descendants Douglastowners, most of whom live a long way from the village their ancestors called home. Douglastown was in fine form during the Irish Week and I feel the community really showed its true colours as a generous, vibrant, and music-loving people.

There were really just too many amazing things to list in this article but I would like send a special thank the following people who really impressed me with their generosity of spirit and made this year's Irish Week extra special.: Brigid Drody, for always staying up late with us and playing the guitar, a real treasure. Brian Morris who's surprise visit was the best addition to the festival. Jimmy Miller, Joseph and Anthony Drody,
Manny Morris' Barn
you couldn't find finer gentleman. Phyllis Morris, who throws the best house parties in Douglastown. Norma and Brian McDonald, for their constant kindness and explaining to me the difference between a house and home. Laura Risk for being around with her fiddle and great personality at all the parties, giving me great advice and ideas and her own hard work documenting this culture and their music. Linda Drody for all her hard work collecting and transporting my stuff to Douglastown from Gaspe when I was on my bike. Ernest Drody for another fantastic afternoon with him and his family playing tunes in the living room. Marguerite Rooney for her always having a welcome kitchen to play in and generous with food and drink. Jean-Francois Berthiaume and Stephanie Lepine, it was so great to meet these wonderful musicians. Lorne and Adel Packwood for sharing their beautiful home with me before the Irish Week. Sybil and Guy Fournier, always there with a meal for me when my food disappeared at the hostel. Albin, for being so generous and finding my fiddle a safe passage down to Shigiwake. Jared and Kerri Kennedy for driving me down to Shigiwake during a rainy second week with their beautiful daughters. Luc Shaput for making the whole Irish Week come together. None of this would have been possible without his hard work throughout the year.
Shigiwake Music Festival
Also, a special thanks to my friends in Shigawake: Carl and Lois Hayes, whose home was always open for spontaneous drop-ins and whose hospitality is unforgettable. Arsene Larocque for a wonderful night of fiddle at the fairgrounds during our first meeting. Romeo "Tunny" Hottot for sharing his family's music with me. George and Nikki Hayes and their daughter Meghan who does a top-notch job putting the music festival together.

We have a lot of great new material and stories for the blog and I think the next year is going to see some really special developments here at the Gaspe Fiddle project. I hope to be getting in a post every week or so.



Monday, July 25, 2011

The Devil's Dream: Two Unusual Versions

I wanted to do a quick post before I hit the road Wednesday for Douglastown.

Here's a great version of a very ubiquitous tune in fiddle music from Scotland that has made it all the way to the American South.  I have to honestly say that the way this tune is commonly played doesn't do very much for me.  It seems more like a classical technique exercise than a good fiddle tune to me.  However, Erskine played two great versions of this tune that are very different from the standard setting.

To play both of these versions, the fiddle must be tuned to A-E-A-E from bass to treble string.  I feel this tuning combined with this modified melody makes these two versions much more pleasant than the conventional version.  Erskine used this tuning on most of the old time Gaspesian tunes in the key of A.  He called this "tuning double" presumably because when tuned up, the two bass strings match the same notes as the two treble strings.

Both of Erskine's versions have this lovely rolling quality to them.  Cyril talked about how the old-timers around Gaspe used to roll their tunes and I believe this is what he is talking about when we listen to Erskine's settings of the Devil's Dream.

The first version has some resemblance to the version Isidore Soucy recorded.  Here we have a recording from a tape made at Erskine's brother Manny's place that I really love.  There is some really great old-style fiddling on this tape and we thank Manny's wife, Phyllis for lending us this tape.  We're not sure who the guitarist is but they do a fine job backing Erskine up here.

Hear the first version of the Devil's Dream at Manny's place

Now here's another version from the same recording session that as, Erskine points out is "played a different way".  At first, I thought he meant that its different from the well-known version.  However, when I went to relearn the tune from this recording there was a phrase missing in this version.  So perhaps he meant played different from the other version he recorded that day.

Hear the Devil's Dream played a different way at Manny's place

Here's the same version as the first one above played in 1990 where you really get to hear Erskine step it up a notch with his feet:

Hear the Devil's Dream from 1990

Hope to see some of the readers in Douglastown the first week of August.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Bois-Brulé Jig - Another Recording

Recently, Brian began digitizing another great tape from his aunt Phyllis.  The recording quality on this cassette is excellent, you feel like you are in the same room with Erskine as he's playing.  On this tape is another outstanding version of the Bois-Brulé Jig that we posted a few weeks ago.

Hear the Bois-Brulé Jig

His playing on this take is really crisp and clear and all the notes stand out really well.  Notice something unusual here: Erskine is not clogging his feet as he plays.  We're not sure why this is missing, we know Erskine considered clogging integral to his music.  Perhaps this was recorded in a carpeted room?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer Updates


Thought I'd update you on what this summer has in store for the Gaspe fiddle project. Tomorrow morning, I am leaving for Mexico for work for two and a half weeks. I'll be back on July 7th just in time to prepare for the Douglastown Irish Days (August 1 to August 6th).

I'll be giving both beginner and intermediate fiddle workshops during the week. The goal of this is of course, to get people from Gaspe interested in their own traditional music again.

In the beginner class, I'll teach how to hold the instrument and bow comfortably, produce a clear sound, and have you playing a few simple tunes by the end of the class. Anyone interested in learning the fiddle, even if they have never played before, is welcome to attend this class and a fiddle will be provided by the community centre if you don't currently own one.

In the intermediate class, I'll be focusing more on the techniques used by the old time Gaspesian players like Erskine, Cyril Devouge, and the Drody's. We'll look at some fairly straight forward tunes which demonstrate these techniques. I would recommend at least one year of experience with the fiddle if you are are considering the intermediate class.

On, Wednesday, August 3rd Brigid, myself, and friends and family of Erskine's are going to be hosting a get-together where we talk about the life and music of Erskine's and his neighbors growing up. Everyone is welcome to come out and share a story, song, dance, or tune that they remember from growing up on the coast.

Brigid and I will also be participating in the concert under the big tent on Thursday, August 4th, featuring the tunes we have learned from the old timers from Gaspe.

Hope to see some of the readers there.

Here's the site for the Irish Week.

The Bois-Brulé Jig

Here is a great tune Brian sent me last year that I have been meaning to share on the blog. Its a rather mysterious sounding 3 part tune in the key of Em (this one of the few recorded example we have of Erskine playing in this key). Erskine played this on an old reel-to-reel recording made in the 1960's where Erskine recorded a lot of the old tunes he learned in his youth.

Hear the Bois-Brulé Jig

Erkine's playing on this tune is really powerful and carries great emotion. For this reason, I've always considered this tune one of Erskine's masterpieces along with tunes like Tommy Rooney's Jig, Reggie Rooney's Tune, the Shannon Reel, and Fat Molasses.

This tune again seems to represent a great mix of the Irish and French influences in Erskine's style. The harmonic content has strong echoes of many Irish tunes in minor keys and this tune also features a really nice key change to Bm. The phrasing in the middle section also has a smoothness I would normally associate with Irish players, especially those from Sligo. Erskine even uses a few Irish-style rolls thrown in on some of the notes. In the other two sections, the rhythmic setting has a strong French Canadian character and the jaggedness of these sections really makes a lovely contrast against the smooth middle section.

We have talked a lot in previous posts about how important string crossing are in getting that highly characteristic syncopation so important in the Gaspe fiddle style around Douglastown.  Except for the middle part, this tune is almost entirely composed of string crossings and so, this tune is a great way to work on your syncopated string crossings.  Without these, the tune wont come to life. The prototype for this syncopated lick would be to downbow on a lower string, upbow on the higher string, go back with a downbow on the lower string, then upbow the higher string again. However, the trick to getting the syncopation is to play the third note in the string crossing (the second downbow) a little softer, just sort of letting your bow glide over the string, not putting any weight on the bow.  This syncopated bow lick seems to be something that the Gaspesian players shared with older Acadian players.

Anthony Drody once told me that the Spruce Knot was the original name of the Bois-Brulé Jig although Erskine played a different melody under the Spruce Knot title.  Cyril Devouge also remembered this tune being a favourite around home and was commonly requested for step-dancing.  Though Erskine's tune has 3 parts both Anthony Drody and the great Chateauguay Valley fiddler, Neil MacKay play a tune with the same first two parts.  Neil remembers his father playing this tune and despite being from an area very far from the Gaspé said that his dad called this tune both the Bois-Brulé Jig and the Spruce Knot.  Its very possible then that this tune is the "real" Spruce Knot.  As always, determining the correct tune titles in Quebec is a very elusive pursuit.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Murphy Reel

Here's another nice half-tune, with a really lovely and hypnotic rhythm. We currently have two recordings of Erskine playing this tune on separate occasions:

Hear Erskine play the Murphy Reel from a home recording he made in February 1978

Based on the contour of this melody and the fact that it is another half-tune, my best guess is that this is another tune local to the Gaspe coast. The low part of this tune really has a strong French or Acadian character, relying on a heavily accented bow and syncopated string crossings to bring the tune to life. The high part on the other hand features a heavy dose of Irish-style left-hand ornamentation with these rolled out triplets which really provide a smooth contrast to the syncopated, jagged contours of the other phrases.

I'm not sure which Murphy this tune was named after. Generally, tunes on the Gaspe coast were named after the fiddlers that played the tune or stepdancers that liked the tune for dancing. Despite this tune's obviously Irish name, it seems unlikely to me that this would be a tune brought over from Ireland. The combination of the Irish and French Canadian elements suggest that perhaps this was a tune forged out of the interactions of the Irish and French settlers of the Gaspe coast, many of whom often intermarried. There were several Murphy families on the Gaspe coast, but quite far from Douglastown further down the coast in the Bay de Chaleurs region at places like Chandler, Pabos, New Carlisle, and Carleton. Here is a great map of the coast. I don't think there were any Murphy's around Douglastown. So perhaps this was a tune Erskine or another Douglastowner picked up from a fiddler from the Bay de Chaleurs area. However, one of Erskine's ancestors in Ireland was a one Ms Mary Murphy, who was the mother of the first Morris to settle the Gaspe coast in 1785, Thomas Morris of Wexford County, Ireland. So who knows, its possible that this tune traces its way all the way back to Ireland and evolved through the generations to acquire an essentially French Canadian character.

Here is another recording of Erskine playing at a family reunion in 1984 in Douglastown.

This one was recorded at a somewhat legendary Morris family reunion held that year at Erskine's brother Manny's place in Douglastown. Erskine's playing here is really electric and has a much harder driving edge. I really love the recordings from this session because you can feel the excitement in the room on that day. Brian recently told me that he remembers at one point during this reunion his uncle Watson leaned over and said to him something to the effect of, "jeez, I've never heard Erskine play like this before". Depending on the setting, Erskine would use a different attack and feeling in his music. From what Brian and others have told me, when Erskine played for party's where there was almost always some step dancing and spirits were high, he would play really hard and driving. Cyril Devouge remembered playing with Erskine under a big tent in Douglastown many years ago and told us that Erskine was playing and clogging his feet so hard that the sweat was just dripping off of him. However, when Erskine would get alone with his fiddle and record some tunes on his own he would often use a more measured approach at more moderate tempos like we heard in the 1978 recording of this same tune.

Here is a fascinating article written about Thomas Morris and Douglastowns early settlers.

Also, an excellent resource for genealogical information is the Our Gaspe Roots website.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Spruce Knot - Teaching Files

I've posted a link to a folder of me breaking down the Spruce Knot for anyone interested in learning it over in our "Learning the Music" page.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Spruce Knot - Another Great Half-Tune

Hears a great, peppy tune Erskine recorded on several occasions that we are fairly sure is a tune local to the Gaspe coast around Douglastown.

Here is Erskine playing the Spruce Knot from a tape probably recorded in the 1980's.

Here is a version from the 1960s recorded by Erskine's brother, Manny Morris of Douglastown.

The older Drody's all played the Spruce Knot and this is probably where Erskine learned the tune. Anthony Drody tells me that the Spruce Knot was the original title of a tune they eventually started calling the Bois-Brûlé Jig because it was apparently so popular for step-dancing around Bois-Brûlé. However, when I asked Anthony if he could play this tune for me, it was a different melody in the same key. One of the sections was very close to another tune Erskine played. Erskine recorded the melody above under the title, "The Spruce Knot", several times over many years so its very possible that Erskine's tune is the real Spruce Knot.

This tune is a fine example of what I call "half-tunes", which we've made reference to a few times in the past couple months. These are tunes with two sections half as long as a conventional reel. These tunes seem to have existed in great quantity around the Douglastown area. Many of the local tunes that Erskine, Cyril, and the Drody's learned growing up were these half-tunes.

Anyhow, my own theory about the prevalence of these tunes is that the fiddle tradition around Douglastown was so heavily intertwined with the great step-dancing they used to have out there that these tunes half-tunes were probably especially tailored to the needs of step-dancing. Really, there isn't a whole lot of melody happening in these tunes. They just consist of a two catchy phrases in each section. When I first began learning this music I remember Brian telling me that for step-dancing you didn't necessarily want a "pretty" melody. Really, the most important thing is that these tunes were highly rhythmic in order to rile up the step-dancers. So, what these little tunes lack in terms of melody they make up for in rhythm. I also believe their shorter structure may have made it easier for the step-dancer to internalize the tune and complement its rhythms. Perhaps they also allowed the step-dancer more freedom to improvise and try different steps as the tune repeats twice as frequently.

I'd love to hear from people more knowledgeable about step-dancing if they have their own ideas on the older styles of step-dancing in Quebec and Canada.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grandmother's Reel

Here's a lovely, rolling G tune played in the old Douglastown Gaspé style. The tune comes from a great tape Brian recently digitized that was given to him by his aunt Phyllis. Phyllis' husband Manny (Erskine's brother) really loved to hear Erskine play and there were many a night in Manny's kitchen where Erskine would be in the corner playing the fiddle for a house party or family reunion. Manny would always encourage Erskine to make recordings of the old Douglastown tunes that he learned as a boy growing up in the 1920's and 1930's.

Hear the Grandmother's Reel

Here is another recording of this tune from the same session

I'm not sure where this tune comes from and I couldn't find any references to this tune on the Internet or under a French translation, "Reel de Grand-mère". Based on the contours of this tune, its melodic content, and duration, my best guess is that this tune is local to the Douglastown area. Perhaps this is a tune that Erskine learned from his Grandmother. Erskine's mother was Beatrice Fortin and Brian tells me a lot of Erskine's music comes from this side of the family. The Fortins were one of Douglastown's few early French families, though at some point they were assimilated into the large English-speaking culture of Douglastown's Irish families. Erskine composed several tunes and another possibility Brian suggested is that this could be one of Erskine's original compositions.

This tune really exemplifies a lot of the characteristics of the old Gaspesian style like the rolling bow, doubling up on notes, and cross-string syncopations. This tune is another "half tune" as we described in other posts where each part only consists of two phrases and so is half as long as a conventional reel. These little tunes where great for step dancing on account of their repetition and cute rhythms.

For the fiddle players out there, this tune is a great tune for beginner-intermediate players who would like to pick up some of the characteristics of the Gaspé style. Here is a link to a folder of me breaking this tune apart for anyone who would like to learn it.

Here's a link to the folder


Learn the Golden Wedding Reel

I took a stab at slowing down and breaking apart the phrases of Erskine's setting of the Golden Wedding Reel tonight. The version I teach is based more or less around how he played it on the reel-to-reel recording made in the 1960's. I'll also put these teaching files on our new page, "Learning the Music".

Here's a link to the folder


Monday, May 2, 2011

Eva's Tune - Better Audio Quality


Thanks to a great cassette copy that Joseph Drody gave me last November, I have a higher fidelity recording available of Eva's Tune that we posted a while back. This is in fact from the same recording session, but is a copy of the original recording, so the quality is much improved.

Hear Erskine play Eva's Tune from February 3, 1983

On February 3, 1983 Joseph and Anthony had Erskine record them a set of mostly local fiddle tunes played in a hard-driving old-time style. They all had the foresight to realize that there was hardly anyone left who remembered these old Douglastown tunes and that they ought to be recorded for future generations. We are thankful that they did this and look forward to sharing more great recordings from this tape.

For more info on Eva's Tune, please see our earlier posting on this tune from 2010.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Golden Wedding Reel Revisited

The first tune of Erskine's I learned was the Golden Wedding Reel and it has always been one of my favourites.  Awhile back, Brian sent me a lovely recording of this tune from an old reel-to-reel of Erskine playing in the 1960's.  I was talking with Douglastowner Jan Maloney at the Wheel Club tonight and she mentioned this was her favourite tune of Erskine's so I thought I'd post this charming version for her.

Listen to the Golden Wedding Reel from the 1960's

Erskine plays in a lovely gentle, rolling style on this recording not as hard driving as the version he later played in the 1980s.  He gets more of those old Gaspesian touches in this tune in my opinion: the rolling and syncopated bow mixed with notes repeated in rapid succession.  Also, the sound of solo fiddle and feet will give you a glimpse into the old style of playing which Erskine first learned from his older neighbours, Joe and Charlie Drody. Played in this older style, it really becomes a pretty tune and almost has a lonesome touch to it.

Unlike the more conventional setting of this tune, Erskine adds an extra beat at the end of the second section. It is very common among fiddlers in Quebec to add extra beats at the end of phrases and this gives the tunes a sense of unpredictability to the modern ear. This can otherwise make the tunes more exciting although you might tend annoy your guitar/piano accompanist at the same time. Anyhow, I really like how this extended phrase rounds the tune out. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Harvest Home

Here is a lovely hornpipe that Erskine played on a recording from the 1980's that seems to be a Gaspesian setting of the the well-known Irish hornpipe, "The Harvest Home".

Hear Erskine play the Harvest Home

Now hear the Harvest Home played by the great Sligo fiddler, Michael Coleman (courtesy of

Here is a lovely version played on the Irish (Uillean) pipes by a good piper, Pat Brophy (also courtesy of

Despite Douglastown's Irish roots, Erskine and many other fiddlers from the area did not seem to play many Irish tunes (or what we would call "Irish" tunes by today's understanding). Instead, their tunes usually have a strong French Canadian character. Fiddle playing around Douglastown goes back to at least the early 1800's and I'm sure some tunes were brought over from Ireland. However, I once read somewhere that the bulk of the Irish repertoire dates from the 1800's so its possible that the fiddle music of the Irish Gaspesians evolved in parallel with the fiddle music in Ireland and that many new tunes were created among the different cultures that settled in this corner of the New World. "The Harvest Home" can be found in tune collections from the 1840's so it is possible that it was brought over to Douglastown by one of the Irish immigrants in the 1800's. However, Erskine learned many tunes from records of French Canadian players like Jean Carignan and Joseph Allard so its possible he learned it from a recording of a French Canadian player, or even the Michael Coleman version from the 1920s.

Erskine's fiddle is tuned ADAE which as we've often mentioned, was his primary tuning for the key of D. However, you can get away with playing this tune in standard violin tuning. The raised bass string gives a nice low drone on the first strain of the tune though.

Erskine gets a real nice mixture of rolling phrases and sharp staccato licks in this tune. The contrast between these two esthetics really makes for a nice tune.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Page: Learning the Music

I've begun a separate page on this site containing mostly mp3 files of myself teaching some of the tunes featured here. My usual disclaimer is that I'm still learning this music myself and while my recordings will help you get the notes themselves, to get the feeling of this music you really need to listen to Erskine's, Cyril's, Hermas', and others original source recordings over and over to internalize the feeling of this music.

You'll see the page on the right called, "Learning the Music".


Monday, April 4, 2011

Untitled Grumbler: Bernard and Walter Rooney with Gary Snowman

Our friend Bill from the Gatineau Valley posted this video on Youtube a few months back and I was immediately floored. This video is from the Pembroke, Ontario fiddle and stepdance week and here we have Bernard Rooney on fiddle accompanied by his brother Walter on guitar, both from Douglastown. Also, this video features perhaps the most exciting and funny stepdance intros by our friend and well-loved dancer Gary Snowman from L'Anse a Brillant. I'll let you see for yourselves:

I really love Bernard's soft, graceful bowing. He barely moves his bow hand and really just uses a little bit of finger movement to propel the bow. Despite the softness of the bowing and his economy of motion, he still gets a really driving fiddle sound that as you see, Gary really gets into. In fact, a lot of the Gaspesian players seemed to have had this light touch on the bow (Joseph and Anthony Drody, Cyril Devouge, and other old-timers). In this respect, Erskine's hard-driving and heavy bowing may have been somewhat unique to him, perhaps something he picked up from playing for dances with no accompaniment or perhaps from commercially recorded fiddlers like Jean Carignan, Isidore Soucy, and Joseph Allard all of whom he greatly admired.

Gary's love of step-dancing and the raw power of the Gaspesian fiddle culture really come across so well in this video. Bernard also uses a variety of different clogging patterns with his feet. He's got some really great rhythms here, try watching this video once and only observe his feet.

The tune being played seems to be in a family of tunes with different variations you find all over Quebec and New Brunswick. In fact, Erskine played a tune very similar in flavour that we posted a while back. We call these tunes "Grumblers" from the loose French translation of "Grondeuse" (litterally, a Rumbler) for many tunes in this family because they feature the fiddle tuned ADAE and do a lot of great, droning work on the two bass strings which give them that grumbling sound they're known for.

Bill took lots of footage of different fiddlers around Pembroke in the 1980's and 1990's which really show a lot of the regional Canadian styles and many unsung fiddle heroes, among these a few clips of our Gaspesian friends at their blue tent. Bill has a great youtube channel where you can see other videos from Pembroke. Perhaps inadvertently, I think Bill has created one of the best, informal resources on authentic Canadian fiddle culture on the Internet.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Something Different: Untitled Harmonica Tune

In addition to playing the fiddle, Erskine could also play solid old-time harmonica.  Brian doesn't remember his dad playing the harmonica very much at all and reckons that he may have picked it up when he joined the army in World War II.  It certainly is even more portable than the fiddle.

Hear the Untitled Harmonica Tune

This is a really lovely, rolling melody and has a real Victorian-era quality to it similar in flavour to some of the melodies that fiddlers from Southern Ohio and Northeastern Kentucky once played

Erskine's melody also makes a cute and simple little fiddle tune and you can hear what I've worked out here. Sometimes its difficult to discern the precise melody from harmonica versions of tunes as there is a lot of chord-work that fills out the sound and can hide the melody in spots.

It seems that it was once common for fiddlers to be able to play a little harmonica as well. Cyril Devouge also played some lovely, rolling harmonica tunes. I feel this fact speaks to the general musicality of the Gaspesian culture. It seems so many people either sang songs, lilted tunes (turlutage), whistled, played fiddle, harmonica, or step danced in the area around Douglastown. In fact, Brian mentioned that even when not playing fiddle Erskine would often be whistling tunes. In this sense, the music of the Douglastown area was more than only fiddle-music and really a wider ranging phenomenon.

Cyril Devouge at Pembroke

Jimmy from New Jersey has posted another great video of Cyril and Brigid at Pembroke in the mid-1990s.

Here we have Cyril playing a great driving tune he told me he learned from his best friend growing up, Roland White, of Bois-Brulé.

Cyril really gets into this tune and his bowing is just incredible. This is a great video to watch if you are trying to get a hold of those machine-gun-like string crossings that are characteristic of Cyril's and many other Gaspesians' style. These really sharpen the tune up and contrast with the smooth bowing in the other phrases.

Also, you can really here Cyril's strong footwork here and towards the end, you'll here him do a few double time foot steps to kick it up a notch.

This tune is another fine example of what we called a "half tune" in previous posts being only 16 bars in duration and composed of a few short, memorable phrases as opposed to the longer, more conventional 32 bars reels. You can imagine this tune would be great for step-dancing.

Yesterday was Cyril's memorial speech given by a church elder. A few years ago when discussing his speech with this elder, Cyril told this man that he wanted the following to be said "Cy was a good man. But we're still trying to figure out what he was good for". Leave it to Cyril to have the whole room erupting in laughter from beyond the grave. At first, the elder told Cyril that he wouldn't say this but Cyril was adamant and they reached a deal whereby this would be said but only if the elder could explain to everyone the things Cyril was good for. Needless to say, it was a lengthy speech and very inspiring.

Afterwards, Brigid, Brian, Neil MacKay, and myself went over to Kent Sutton's place for an afternoon of fiddle music to honor Cyril's life and music. It just wouldn't have seemed right any other way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hermas Rehel and Gary Snowman - La Grande Rouge

Our good friend Jimmy from New Jersey has posted another stunning video of the Gaspé fiddle culture that takes place every year in Pembroke, Ontario at the Fiddle and Step Dance Week.

Here we have Hermas Réhel fiddling La Grande Rouge while Gary Snowman stepdances. I believe the step dancer at the beginning of the video whose face is not really shown is Hermas' son, Damien. We are really treated to some inspired step-dancing here.

This was such a nice treat because it is Hermas playing a local Gaspesian setting of a tune we posted from Erskine a short while back. It is great to compare Hermas' lighter French style to Erskine's hard-driving style on this tune. As we mentioned in our post on La Grande Rouge, this tune is known elsewhere in Quebec as La Grande Gigue Simple which evolved into the Red River Jig among the western Metis fiddlers. Check out Hermas' unique clogging pattern, where his beating foot is going in double time. You can see Cyril use this pattern in Jimmy's other videos that we have posted here and you can check out on his Youtube channel.

I especially like the wonderful communication that goes on between the two step-dancers and Hermas' fiddling. You really get the sense that they are having a musical conversation.  The vitality of the Gaspé fiddle culture really comes across beautifully in this clip. It was also a treat to see some friends in the video thoroughly enjoying the wonderful music being played. You can spot Joseph, Anthony, and Mary Ellen Drody with big smiles on their faces as well as Mary Snowman enjoying the show.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Miss Oliver Morris' Reel - Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone (officially, its the parade day here in Montreal),

In honour of this holiday and the Irish roots of Douglastown, I thought I'd post a tune that really exemplifies the strong Irish influence in the music of Douglastown. This is a haunting tune in D (or D modal) that really echoes the sounds of many old Irish reels. However as we discussed in on our post on the Coleman Reel, this is a "half-tune", which is a very New-World tune-type being half as long as a traditional Irish/Scottish reel.

This tune was one from Miss Oliver Morris. There is a tradition around Douglastown of referring to a married woman by the title "Miss" followed by the husband's name. Miss Oliver Morris was a woman named Emily or Emilie Crotty and she was the second wife of Mr Oliver Morris who was related to Erskine's father. They had 15 children together. Apparently she was quite musical and would lilt this tune which is probably where Erskine picked it up.

Hear Erskine play Miss Oliver Morris' Tune in the 1980s

We also have a recording of Erskine playing this tune from a cassette made in 1978 under the title, "The Pride of Quebec". We're not sure if where this title came from and whether or not is the correct title

Hear Erskine play Miss Oliver Morris' Tune in 1978 (The Pride of Quebec)

As with most of the older Douglastown tunes in the key of D, the tuning of the fiddle is ADAE from bass to fine string, though you can get away with playing this one in standard tuning as the melody is on the three high strings. That being said, the fiddle will ring a little nicer with the bass tuned up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Farewell Cyril

Dear Readers,

Our friend Cyril Devouge passed away peacefully this past weekend at the hospital in Chateauguay.

He was a good friend and wonderful teacher in the full sense of the word. As much as he taught me about fiddle music, getting to know him also taught me much about leading a joyful life and the importance of family, friends, music, and laughter. I'm hoping some of these lessons are captured in the stories and jokes we have posted of our visits with Cyril in previous months. I know Brian, Brigid, and I will really cherish the memories we had with our sessions at Cyril's seniors home. We will be posting more tunes and stories from Cyril as I go through all the recordings I have.

His tunes have been some of the most popular on this site and I'm glad that so many people are listening to them and the files where I teach his tunes.

Cyril (Right) cracks a joke. Denzil and Dorothy laugh.
On our last visit with him, I told Cyril how popular his tunes were here and that people had really been enjoying them and had begun learning them. The sense of pride this gave him was clear and palpable in the room. Brigid's husband Jimmy then told Cyril that he had kept his music alive for 100 years and that we were working to keep it alive for another 100. This remark really touched Cyril and as he often did, he shed a few tears of happiness. Knowing that his tunes were not going to be lost really seemed to give him a sense of contentment.

I wanted to say to the readers that in my mind, Jimmy's use of the word "we" includes all the people who have been listening to and learning from Cyril's tunes and stories, so thank you.

Here is another video of Cyril playing for his good buddy Hermas Réhel to step dance to. All I can say about this video is that it is old-time fiddle culture at its finest.

Farewell Cyril, we'll miss you.