Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Bois-Brulé Jig

Here is a great tune Brian sent me last year that I have been meaning to share on the blog. Its a rather mysterious sounding 3 part tune in the key of Em (this one of the few recorded example we have of Erskine playing in this key). Erskine played this on an old reel-to-reel recording made in the 1960's where Erskine recorded a lot of the old tunes he learned in his youth.

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.

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