Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Little Boy's Reel

Here is a great, driving D tune that Erskine played on the 1990 Cassette.

Listen to the Little Boy's Reel.

I really like the great syncopated rhythm Erskine gets on the low turn of this tune.  Erskine was a master of rhythmic bow work.  When you listen to his playing, its really clear that he is in full command of all the rhythmic expression required to bring fairly simple tunes to a higher level.  Also, check out the really tight precision of his footwork which really kicks the tune into overdrive.

The fiddle is tuned with the bass string raised up to an A.  This was the conventional tuning for the old Douglastown-area tunes in the key of D.  It really makes the fiddle ring.  Erskine is tuned a fair bit higher than concert pitch in this recording, about a whole semi-tone putting the tune actually around a concert Eb.  In the era before the proliferation of electronic tuners, old-time fiddlers would often tune their fiddles to where they sounded approximately in tune with the standard A note (440 Hz) or where they had a "nice" ring to them. Sometimes, the fiddle just sings in a special way when tuned above or below the standard concert pitch.  Here I feel the slightly higher pitch contributes to the excitement and energy of the tune.

This tune has all the hallmarks of a local Douglastown tune:
  • Fiddle tuned with the bass string raised for the key of D
  • Strong syncopated string crossings (low turn)
  • Old-style melodic passages that don't quite conform to modern standard French Canadian reels (high turn)
  • Repeated note "hooks" (high turn)
This was the first tune Brian, Brigid, and I played for the presentation on Erskine's life and music in Douglastown this past August.  It seemed to get everyone either stomping their feet or clapping their hands.  This is the kind of tune that will get people moving.


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