Sunday, December 18, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
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.
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 sister Leona and Bernie Roy.|
|One of Danny's incredible stone carvings|
|Cy's son Danny Devouge and his wife Tina|
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
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:
- Go to this link: http://www.historiatv.com/concours/sauvez-un-batiment-de-chez-vous-phase2/vote.jsp?id=3
- In the box where it says "Prénom", enter your first name
- In the box where it says "Nom", enter your last name
- Where it says "Courriel", enter your email address
- 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
Monday, October 31, 2011
|Isidore Soucy - Image Courtesy of Collections Canada|
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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)
Thursday, October 13, 2011
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
|Laura with Norma McDonald - August 2011|
Thursday, September 15, 2011
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
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.
- 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".
Friday, September 2, 2011
|Crossing the bay to Douglastown from
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|
|Kitchen Jam and square dance after presentation on the life and
music of Erskine Morris with Stephanie Lepine and Laura Risk
|Afternoon at Joseph Drody's|
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:
|Looking back towards L'Anse a Brillant|
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|
|Shigiwake Music Festival|
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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
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
Here's a link to the folder
Monday, May 2, 2011
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
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
Hear Erskine play the Harvest Home
Now hear the Harvest Home played by the great Sligo fiddler, Michael Coleman (courtesy of archive.org)
Here is a lovely version played on the Irish (Uillean) pipes by a good piper, Pat Brophy (also courtesy of archive.org)
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
You'll see the page on the right called, "Learning the Music".
Monday, April 4, 2011
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
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.
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.