Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Cockawee

After a busy summer, I realized recently that I hadn't posted any tunes from Erskine since the end of July.

Here is Erskine playing a classic Gaspesian tune that all the old-timers used to know, The Cockawee.

This recording was made when Brian and his dad sat down one day at Erskine's house in Cambridge, Ontario in 1983.  Erskine moved to Cambridge the late 1970's after leaving the Montreal area where he raised his family.  The Cockawee seems to have been one of the most popular tunes on the Gaspe coast between Gaspe and Barachois at one time though now I think Anthony and Joseph Drody, and Cecil Leggo are the only Gaspesians left who can play this tune.
The Cockawee is a local name for the Long-Tailed Duck that would winter on the Bay of Gaspe.  Cyril Devouge told us the story of how this tune came to be composed.  A group of men from Bois-Brulé used to hunt these birds in the winter out on the ice that formed between Bois-Brulé and Grande-Grève on the other side of the bay.  These birds were considered a delicacy on the coast.  In order to be able to sneak up close enough to shoot these birds, the old-timers would camouflage themselves by putting on white sheets over their guns and bodies and crawl out on the ice.  This tune was written when one of these men from Bois-Brulé captured the sound of the bird call in his head and went home and figured out the call on his fiddle.

Here is a nice site with all sorts of information on this bird (and others) including photos, video, and audio.

This is a quirky little tune with two short phrases in each section.  It is the syncopated rhythm that really makes the tune, it really does sound like a bird-call.  I asked Ernest Drody this past summer if the tune and the bird call resembled one another.  He confirmed that if you ever forgot the tune all you would need to do is hear the sound of the Cockawee and the tune would come right back to you.  Laura Risk and I had a lot of fun playing the tune out in Douglastown this summer at house parties with the Drody's and Brian.  It is a really addictive tune and hard to stop once you get going!

Here is a link to a folder where I break this tune down for fiddle players interested in learning this tune.


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