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.

No comments:

Post a Comment