The first tune we will look at is "The President's Reel", a somewhat mysterious sounding 3 part tune that has a bit of a march feel, not quite a conventional reel. This is a really old sounding tune and is probably reminiscent of the sort of music one might have head in Quebec before the 20th century.
This recording comes from the tape Erskine recorded at his brother Manny's place in Douglastown probably in the late 1960's or early 70's. This tape features some of Erskine's most beautiful playing we have found so far and showcases many old, mysterious sounding tunes. You can compare Erskine's arrangement of the President's Reel (as well as the next tune) to Isidore Soucy's by checking out samples from the Isidore Soucy album here.
|Isidore Soucy - Image Courtesy of Collections Canada|
Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, Isidore's take on this tune has a lot more in common with Irish fiddling in the 20th century with its slurred string crossings and bowed triplets. Erskine instead relies much more heavily on the older French-insprired Gaspesian techniques like repeated note "hooks" to fill out this tune. My best guess is that these techniques were probably shared among French and English-speaking players on the coast at one time. This use of the repeated note "hook" (a term Cyril Devouge used) where the same note is bowed consecutively several times in the space of one note is especially evident in the second section of this tune where Erskine hammers out the F# note four times in even succession. It fascinates me how in a village that was over ninety five percent Irish before about 1960, their native fiddle music shared so much more in common with the older French and Acadian styles in Canada where many Francophone's throughout Quebec used left-hand ornaments and bowing techniques very similar to what fiddlers in Ireland had developed.
The second tune we will look at today is a charming D tune that Isidore called "Le Polka Piquée" (the Stacatto Polka). The first part rolls out the over the chord changes, while on the second part Erskine gets some great jaggedy Gaspesian sycopation as was often his custom. Erskine really rolls this tune out in such a nice gentle way compared to Isidore Soucy's version which as the name implies, is played in a rather heavy, stacatto manner.
Isidore Soucy is one of my favourite French Canadian fiddlers and was once a household name here in Quebec.. If you are interested in finding out more about him, this article will give you a start. There is also a huge collection of his tunes stored online that you can listen to or downloaded for free at the Collections Canada Virtual Gramophone website. One of the features of Isidore's tunes was that they were almost all what fiddlers call "crooked". These are tunes that have beats either added or removed from the phrases and therefore don't follow the typical 32 bar reel format. Here is a great analysis of crooked tunes in recorded French Canadian music of the early 20th century and it turns out that Isidore was the King of the Crooked with a whopping 83% of his recorded repertoire being crooked..
Hope you enjoy these tunes.