Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

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.