Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

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.