Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Life and Music of Cyril Devouge - Part 2

In this second part of our series on the life and music of Gaspesian fiddler Cyril Devouge we will look specifically at his fiddle music. We will look at a couple of tunes and at the bottom of the article, I have provided a link where I break down his tunes for the fiddle playing readers who wish to learn some of Cyril's music.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Cyril's music is his really playful approach to the tunes. He really dresses them up and adds a lot of cute "jiggles" and "hooks" as he likes to call them. Where other fiddlers would be content to just hold a note plainly, Cyril will almost never miss an opportunity to frill that note up a bit using several techniques we will discuss. On another level, I really feel that Cyril's personality is perfectly captured in his fiddle music: mischievous, playful, joyous, and teasing are some of his personal qualities that come across so well in his tunes.

The first tune we will look at Cyril says he learned from his father, Leslie Devouge. As Cyril doesn't have names for most of his tunes, we have been calling it Leslie Devouge's Tune. It is a really cute mid-tempo tune in G that is related in the second strain to the Ronfleuse Gobeil (Snoring Miss Gobeil) which is in D. I first learned this tune from Cyril's lilting which was just a little different from the recording below in one phrase. He lilted this syncopated lick that I worked out on the fiddle and when I played it back for him he was adamant when he said that I played it exactly like he used to. I guess he worked out several variations of this phrase throughout his fiddle playing career and the one he lilted is not on the recording where he is playing the fiddle. Anyhow, I really like the lick he lilted and you can hear this down at the bottom of the article where I play a few of Cyril's tunes and break them down for those wanting to learn a few of his tunes.

Hear Leslie Devouge's Tune

The second tune is one Cyril learned from an older Gaspesian man named Arty Savidant who was from the town of York, just outside of Gaspé. Cyril tells us he remembers hearing this when he was young, sitting outside Haldimand Hall on the grass and listening to Arty play for a square dance. Jean Carignan and Louis Beaudoin both also played this tune. Carignan recorded in 1958 as the first tune of a medley called Danse de la Victoire on the record "Ti-Jean... le violoneux" ( London MB-4). Isidore Soucy also recorded it in 1927 as under the title Quadrille Laurier 1ère Partie, which isn't really a tune title but seems to refer to a dance that this tune would accompany. This tune really has a fantastic drive and Cyril interprets the phrasing a little different than Jean Carignan which I really like, adding a couple extra notes at the beginning of the tune. Thanks to Marc Bolduc and Laura Risk for helping us out with the info on the Carignan and Soucy recordings.

Hear Arty Savidant's Tune

For the next tune, I'd like to repost a tune we put up earlier last year, just because I really think it showcases one of Cyril's complex syncopated bowing patterns that he used a lot. This bowing pattern (or lick) is really the backbone of this tune and is featured most heavily in the low part. We call this tune Cyril Devouge's Hornpipe in honour of the man himself. Thanks to Jimmy Allen from New Jersey who captured Cyril playing this at Pembroke in the 1980s.

Hear Cyril Devouge's Hornpipe

I really love the way that Cyril can give a tune a rolling quality and the next three tunes are examples of these. Cyril told me that the old-timers like his dad and Little Willie White used to "roll" the tunes and that's what made their playing so beautiful.

The first is Cyril's take on the classic standard the Cuckoo's Nest. Here we have a rare example of Cyril playing in the key of D (most of his tunes were in G). I really love his rolling bow on the high part of this tune.

Hear the Cuckoo's Nest

Next, we look at another untitled G tune that Cyril gets a lovely rolling bow on. This is a really beautiful, notey hornpipe with some nice rolling phrases in both sections. I can't get enough of this tune, this is really higher level fiddling here.  (update 2015-04-06: Lorne Snowman from Gaspé informed us that this is one of Eddy Poirier's compositions and is called "Crossing the Old Bridge").

Hear Crossing the Old Bridge

Finally, the third rolling tune we'll look at is a tune that Cyril really gets a great feel on. Some other French Canadian players have recorded this tune, though the French titles escape me right now (Jean Carignan recorded this). Cyril learned this tune from his best fiddling friend growing up, Roland White of Bois-Brulé just down the road from L'Anse à Brillant. We call this tune Roland White's tune. Neil MacKay's father used to play this tune and he gives it a go after Cyril. As is Cyril's custom, he gives Neil a bit of a ribbing for not putting in the little "hooks" on one part of the tune and demonstrates what he means.

Hear Roland White's tune

A special thanks to Brigid Miller (Drody) for supplying us with the cassettes of her and Cyril playing at her house back in the 1990's. Most of these recordings are from her tapes. Brigid really plays some great backup here and the guitar players out there can learn a lot from her bass walks and interesting old-time strumming patterns. I would also like to thank Cyril for letting me post these recordings and for being a really great fiddle teacher. He's really given me a better understanding the Gaspé sound and has always been very patient with me when teaching me a new "jiggle" or "hook" in one of his tunes.

For all our fiddle playing readers out there who would like to learn some of Cyril's tunes, I've recorded myself playing, then breaking down, a couple of Cyril's tunes. I started by transcribing these tunes in standard notation but quickly realized a lot of Cyril's style is either too difficult or impossible to capture with lines and dots. Learning by ear is the best way to go and I play the tunes slowly and teach them one phrase at a time.

Here is a folder where you can listen and download mp3's of me breaking these tunes down.

We hope you enjoy Cyril's music and that some of the fiddle players out there can pick up his tunes. They are a lively bunch!

No comments:

Post a Comment