Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hermas Réhel (1920-2012)

Dear readers,

Last Tuesday, September 11, we lost another friend of Gaspesian music, the great fiddler and step-dancer, Hermas Réhel, of Bridgeville, Quebec. He was 92 and 7 months. Hermas was well-loved by many in the Gaspesian community both back-home and around Montréal. Many friends of the blog recall nights listening and dancing to Hermas' powerful fiddling, while accompanied with precise, penetrating foot stomping and his wife, Rita White's, solid guitar backing. Others will remember him as the kind man who ran the general store near Percé before it was expropriated to construct the highway 132.

Hermas avec sa fille, Élaine, et petite-fille au piano
His daughter, Élaine, has let me know that the viewing will continue tomorrow at La Maison funéraire Darche in Longueuil (505 rue Curé-Poirier). His ashes will then be brought back to his place of birth where the funeral will take place at the church in Barachois on October 20 at 10 a.m.

In the next week, all the details will be on the site of HG Division (Maison funéraire Harris Gleeton).

Pour nos lecteurs francophone et bilingue, voici un obituaire:

Aussi, notre ami, Marc Bolduc, a discuté les contributions de Hermas dans le folklore Québecois pendant son émission radio, Tradosphere. On peut l'écouter à le lien ci-dessous (voir l'émission pour le 11 septembre, c'est dans la deuxième partie de 30 minutes):

To honour Hermas' contributions to Gaspesian music, I'd like to share with you a few recordings from an old cassette that was made back in the 1960s that Brian found last year.

First we have Hermas' version of the classic Irish reel, "Sheehan's Reel". This reel is played quite extensively in Canada and you see how Hermas transforms this reel into a great Gaspesian stepdance piece with his crisp, stacatto bowing and sharp footwork.

Hear Hermas play "Sheehan's Reel"

Second, we have Hermas' take on the classic old-time/Scots tune Big John MacNeil. Hermas gets wonderful cross-string syncopations on the low turn and provides some extended phrasing which give the turn some surprising twists. In the high turn, he again gets some more interesting cross-string syncopations. I feel the mark of a great player is when the ability make an well-worn tune new again by putting their own stamp on it.

Hear Hermas play "Big John MacNeil"

Many thanks to Élaine for her help with this article. Our sincere condolences go out to Hermas and Rita's family and friends.

Here are some other links with information on Hermas' life and musical contributions:
Last year's article that Élaine did on her father's music.
Un article par Veronique Papillon sur la musique et danse de Hermas.

Finally, here are some great videos from our friend, Jimmy Allen, who met Hermas at Pembroke and considered him one of the greatest fiddlers he ever heard. Here is Hermas at the top of his game, fiddling and step-dancing up a storm with friends Cyril Devouge, Gary and Mary Snowman, Gavin White, the Drodys, and others.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Update from Newfoundland


I realize the posting has been very slow of late. After another wonderful time in Gaspé in late July and early August, I returned to Montreal mid August and commenced sorting out the move to St. John's, Newfoundland at the end of the month. As mentioned in an earlier post, I am pursuing a masters degree in Ethnomusicology at Memorial University where I will be turning the work Brian and I have been doing on Gaspesian fiddle culture into a research project. After packing up most of what I own in my Subaru and spending 3 ten hour days driving along the Trans-Canada, I'm now living in St. John's and just getting my feet on the ground.

In light of the nautical twist of this latest adventure, here is a nice version of Erskine playing the Sailor's Hornpipe. This tune seems to have become regraded a little clichée, but Erskine really shows what a fine tune it is played in the old Gaspesian style. He adds some novel twists playing the second strain in both octaves, something I don't believe I've heard elsewhere with this tune.

Hear the Sailor's Hornpipe

Here are some pictures of the drive out here, across the island and around St. John's. Amazing scenery and friendly people. I'm looking forward to sharing Gaspesian fiddle music with the folks out here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Interview on CBC's Breakaway with Jacquie Czernin

During this year's Irish Week, I was asked to do an interview on the Drody Family and the music of Douglastown with Jacquie Czernin at CBC in Quebec City. She asked great questions and it was a pleasure to do the interview and promote this music on the CBC. You can listen here:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

One of Mr. Joe's

At this year's Irish Week taking place next week in Douglastown, we are honouring the Drody family and their contribution to the musical heritage of the Gaspé coast. In particular, we will be paying homage to the life and music of Joe Drody (Sr.) on Wednesday, August 1st at 7:30 pm.

In light of the occasion, here is a lovely tune that Erskine learned from "Mr. Joe" that we have been calling "Joe Drody's Tune":

Hear Joe Drody's Tune

This tune features a typical two phrase structure in the low part with some great, choppy phrasing and syncopation. The high part is twice as long and has a lovely rolling feel and seems to share some common ideas with other tunes from Quebec. Erskine is probably playing this tune with his bass G string raised to A (as evidenced by other D tunes from the same recording session which all used the ADAE tuning), but I'm not certain.

Joe Drody Sr. and his wife, Pearl Grant
Joseph Angus Drody was born in Douglastown, Gaspé, Quebec in 1885 and lived there his almost his entire life. He passed away after living briefly with Jimmy and Brigid in Murdochville in 1965. Joe Drody was the patriarch of one of Douglastown's most musical families, the Drodys. His sons Anthony, Joseph (Jr.), and Johnny all learned the fiddle as well as daughters Kathleen and Mary Ellen. Mr. Joe learned to play the fiddle from his maternal uncle, James Henry Walsh who was born in 1830 in Douglastown. Mr. Joe got his first fiddle when he was 17 years old for $4 from an Eaton's catalogue. He would travel four miles on foot to his uncle's place to learn the old tunes. Mr. Joe knew most, perhaps all, of the older tunes featured so far on this blog. Tunes like "The Drops of Brandy", "Fat Molasses", "The Queen's Reel", "The Cockawee", and "The Murphy Reel", among many others were in Mr. Joe's repertoire. Presumably, his uncle James Henry Walsh also knew most of these same tunes.

By all accounts, Mr. Joe was a quiet, gentle man with a caring disposition. He was well-loved among his neighbours in Douglastown and was given the nickname, "Saint Joe". In his life he was a fisherman, boat builder, and carpenter. When his neighbours from Douglastown could not afford coffins for deceased family members, Joe was always there for them to build a coffin. The Drodys (Brigid, Anthony, Joseph) recall therir father playing often in the evenings after supper. Frequently, neighbours like Garnett Rooney and Isidore LeRhe would drop by to stepdance to Mr. Joe's fiddling. He would edge closer to the edge of his chair and stamp his feet as he played for the step dancers. As well, people would drop by when returning from a square dance and wake Mr. Joe to have him come down and play a few sets for them to dance to.

Mr. Joe's front porch
Mr. Joe was an important fiddle mentor for young Erskine, who would walk from his home on the main road (then the Route 6, now the 132), on a path through the woods until he reached Joe Drody's homestead over on the 1st Range. Joe Drody was Erskine's primary fiddle influence and learned many of the great Douglastown tunes from him. Erskine also learned many tunes from Joe's brother, Charlie (Mr. Charlie, as he was affectionately called by Douglastowners). The tunes Erskine learned from Joe and Charlie, he kept close to his heart and played all his life, never giving them up in favour of more modern repertoire.  In fact, in his later years Erskine would play the old Gaspé tunes of his youth alongside those he learned from modern fiddlers like Don Messer, Graham Townsend, Jean Carignan, and Ti-Blanc Richard.

This Wednesday, August 1st, I will be joined by Brigid, Joseph, and Anthony Drody along with Jimmy Miller, to pay tribute to Mr. Joe's contribution to Douglastown life. I hope to see you there for what promises to be a wonderful evening.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fiddler shares memories of Douglastown Irish Week

Our friend and occasional guest-blogger, Laura Risk, did a wonderful interview with CBC that was aired recently where she discusses her memories and impressions from the Douglastown Irish Week over the past three years. Specifically, she talks about meeting and getting to know our good friend, Norma McDonald, the first year she came to play at the festival. Laura speaks very eloquently about the musical culture around Douglastown and what a special time the festival is.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

See You in Douglastown


I just wanted to write a quick note before I leave for Gaspe today. Looking forward to seeing my friends from the coast during the Irish Week in Douglastown.

See you soon,


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Visit with Romeo "Tunny" Hottot of Shigawake, Québec

In this installment, we are going to venture further down the coast to the Chaleur Bay and feature the music of Romeo "Tunny" Hottot who lives near Shigawake, a village with population of about 350 people. This is the first time we have featured a Chaleur Bay fiddler and I look forward to meeting more of them and learning about their music.

I met Tunny last year while visiting friends during the Shigawake Fair and Music Festival. Carl Hayes had told me about Tunny when I was there in 2010 and arranged for us to go over and meet him last August. Tunny graciously invited us to his place on two afternoons to share his music with us.

Tunny comes from a long line of fiddle players who lived out on the Gaspé coast around Shigawake.  Both Tunny's grandfather and father, Alfred, played the fiddle as did most of his uncles. Most of his family, including his father, also step-danced. Tunny learned much of his fiddling from his father. Tunny began playing when he was nine years old, which is the same age that both his father and son started learning. The Hottots were originally from Honfleur, France and arrived in Québec about 1755 and were possibly of Huguenot extraction.  Around Shigawake, the Hottots eventually began speaking English as this was the more widely-spoken language in that area. 

In addition to many great French-Canadian and Down-East tunes, Tunny also knows some really great old tunes that come from his part of the coast.  He played two of these tunes for us, one which is called the "Sheep's Paw" which used to be played in AEAE tuning. Although Tunny only uses the standard violin tuning, he tells us that all the old fiddlers like his father and grandfather used to tune up their bass strings for many tunes. Fiddlers on the coast appreciate Tunny and his father's music because they can play many tunes they learned off recordings of Cape Breton fiddlers. In fact, Cape Breton fiddle music is Tunny's favourite music. He first remembers hearing Cape Breton fiddlers when he was fifteen and was immediately taken by their music which he calls, "the best in the world".

Tunny plays in a great, hard-driving style with an aggressive bow attack, inspired from his Cape Breton fiddle heroes.  When he plays, you can hear all the sharp, staccato rhythms as his bow goes back and forth across the strings. He also clogs his feet in time which makes the rhythmic quality of his music even more powerful. As he put it, "years ago, playing for sets, you beat your feet". At some point in the Part 1 of the full video below (see bottom of article), Carl Hayes tells us a great story about when Tunny's father, Alfred, broke his leg and couldn't beat time anymore.

Tunny played for many years at hotels on the Gaspé coast, in particular at the Wawa Hotel in Port-Daniel where he used to play alternate sets with Country and Western bands. The Country band would play for half and hour, then Tunny would play a fifteen minute set of fiddle music for step-dancing and square-dancing. Tunny provided music there Thursday, Friday, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and night for many years. Although he tells us fiddle music is still relatively popular on the coast, he thinks the fact that many of the hotels closed down or stopped having fiddle music has a large role in the music's decline in recent years and that today, there are hardly any young people becoming interested in this music.

Tunny left the coast for about 10 years working in gold mines and as a cement worker. His travels took him to such places as Virginiatown (Kerr Addison Gold Mine) and Elliot Lake, Ontario, northern Québec, and as far west as Edmonton, Alberta. In each of these places, Tunny would often play in the hotel bars. 

Living on the coast, Tunny became good friends with Hermas Réhel and his wife, Rita White who lived in Bridgeville, near Barachois.  They would come visit and play tunes together and Tunny would also have Hermas play sets at the hotel in Port-Daniel with him. Tunny learned several tunes from Hermas including Hermas' version of "La Grondeuse" (know in English as "the Grumbler" or "the Growling Old Man and Woman")

One of my favourite moments during our two visits with Tunny was when he played Saint Anne's Reel four different ways. First he showed us the "modern" way which is how he says people like Ivan Hicks will play the tune. He then demonstratesd the "English way", which he calls an older style featuring a paired-down melody with more drones and repeated notes.  He says this style is typical of older English-speaking players in his area and that there are still some fiddlers around New Carlisle who play in this manner.  In the "French way", he fills out the melody a lot more with wonderful left hand frills for some really captivating playing. Lastly, he described the "Gaspé way" as a mixture between the French and English styles and is how he normally plays the tune which features some excellent syncopated string crossing in the first part of the tune which gives the tune a lovely rolling swing, very unlike most versions of Saint Anne's Reel you will hear in other traditions. Here is a clip of him demonstrating the different versions:

It was a real pleasure to meet Tunny and his wife and I would like to thank them for inviting me into their home and allowing me to share his music with the readers on the blog.  I'm looking forward to spending some more time with Tunny and learning more about his music.  I will post teaching files of a few of his tunes in the coming weeks.

You can see Tunny at the Gaspesian British Heritage Museum on July 1st (Canada Day) in New Richmond. He will also be performing at the Douglastown Irish Days on Saturday, August 4th, with many other great local fiddlers and Ivan Hicks.

Here is the whole interview in two parts. I hope you enjoy Tunny's music.
Part 1:
Part 2:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Douglastown Irish Week - July 30 to Aug 5, 2012

I wanted to give the readers a heads up on this year's Irish Week festival that will be taking place at the end of July and beginning of August.  There is a really great line-up of workshops, presentations, and concerts.

The great down-east fiddler, Ivan Hicks, will be performing on Saturday night and giving a fiddle workshop.  As well, the week will feature great local fiddlers, Joseph and Anthony Drody, Romeo Hottot, Donat Essiambre, and Leonard Vezina.

I will be giving beginner and intermediate fiddle workshops throughout the week.  As well, I will be helping out with a presentation on the life and music of their father, Joe Drody Sr with Brigid, Joseph, and Anthony.

Check out the program here:

Hope to see some familiar and new faces out there.  Douglastown is lovely in the summer.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Old Grumbler - Montreal-style

Just for fun, I thought I would share my version of an old tune I learned from Erskine, and which was featured in an early post here.

There is no official name for this tune however, it seems to belong to a family of "Grumbler" tunes ("Grondeuse" in French) where the fiddle has its bass string tuned up to an A.

Here is my take on the tune:

Hope you enjoy.  I'll try to re-record this tune once I get the foot-work sorted out...sometime in the next decade.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Some News - Gaspe Fiddle Goes to Newfoundland


I'm pleased to let you know that starting in September, I will be moving to St. John's, Newfoundland to start a Masters degree in Ethnomusicology where I will be pursuing the Gaspe fiddle project full-time.

Although it will be tough to leave the Montreal-area and all my wonderful Gaspesian friends who live here, I know that acquiring some new skills and having the opportunity to pursue this project through academia will be a great way to promote and document Gaspesian music.

I wanted to thank everyone who has helped Brian and I throughout the past few years with this project.  All the folks in Douglastown, Gaspe, Shigawake, and Montreal, your generosity has made everything possible.

I will be back in Gaspe at the end of July for a few weeks to visit friends, relax on the beach, and help out at the Irish Days (July 30-Aug 4).

See you around this summer.

Pat Feeney's Reel - Another Version and Teaching Files


In one of our recent posts, we looked at Erskine playing another French Canadian sounding tune with an Irish title, "Pat Feeney's Reel".

Here is Erskine playing this tune in February 1978.  You can really hear his crisp bow attack and footwork on this one.

Pat Feeney's Reel

I've been playing this tune a lot lately.  Its not too tricky and uses the ubiquitous "hook" bowing technique that Cyril Devouge taught me.

Here is a link to the folder with the teaching files.

Hope you enjoy the tune.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Arty Savidant

Arty at his homestead
(Courtesy of Debbie Sams)
Hello Readers,
I've been away for work the past two weeks and am glad to be back. With the help of Debbie Sams, I have been inspired to put together a little post on a fiddler from York, Arty Savidant.  York is a lovely little village just behind the town of Gaspe on the banks of the York river.  Debbie recently sent me some great pictures of Arty who was her great uncle.  You can click on any of these pictures to get a bigger view.

Arty and calf
(Courtesy of Debbie Sams)
Brigid tells me that the Savidants were originally from Jersey and that many of them settled in the English-speaking villages clustered around the town of Gaspé.

When Brian and I began visiting Cyril Devouge in 2010, one of the fiddlers Cyril mentioned learning tunes from growing was a man that used to play for the dances at Haldimand Hall, Arty Savidant.  Cyril considered Arty to be one of the better fiddlers from Gaspe and remembers sitting in the grass outside Haldimand Hall, listening to Arty play for the dances there..  I've previously posted Cyril playing this tune and a video of Brigid and I playing the tune at Pembroke.
Today: Anglican Church at York
(photo: Glenn Patterson)

Here is Brigid, Brian Neil MacKay, and myself playing this tune for Cyril around Thanksgiving, 2010.

Arty is said to have had an excellent fiddle that was passed to Mary-Ellen Drody who married Calvin Savidant, and then to Debbie Sams who is the current owner. Cyril and Denzil Devouge reckoned that this was the best fiddle they ever tried.

I don't know very much about Arty or other the fiddlers from the villages around Gaspe like York, Wakeham, Haldimand, Sandy Beach, and Point Navarre and am interested in learning more.  If any of the readers remember Arty or other fiddlers from around the town of Gaspe please leave us a comment or send me an email.  I would love to feature any pictures, stories, or recordings of them on the blog.
Arty with a view of the York river
(Courtesy of Debbie Sams)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint-Patrick's Day

Happy Saint-Patrick's Day to all our readers from Douglastown, Gaspé, and beyond.  I hope our friends in Douglastown had a nice breakfast at the Community Centre and are enjoying the parade.

In light of the occasion, here is a great medley of reels.

Here is Pat Feeney's and Saint Anne's Reels.

I'm not sure who Pat Feeney was but the tune has some typical Douglastown twists in it.  I couldn't find any other reels by this name on the internet.  Who knows, perhaps its a Douglastown tune.  The Our Gaspe Roots website doesn't have any Feeney's in or around Douglastown.

Erskine changes up the second phrase of Saint Anne's and plays a lovely variation in a lower register which gives the tune a slightly different flavour.  On other recordings, he also plays this phrase the standard way.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Remembering Cyril


A year ago today, we said goodbye to a good friend and lover of fiddle music, Cyril Devouge of L'Anse-á-Brillant, Quebec.

Today, I wanted to share some snippets of a visit Brigid, Brian, and myself had with Cyril for Thanksgiving in October, 2010. We had a nice surprise when we arrived.  Cyril had called up his good friend and outstanding Chateauguay Valley fiddler, Neil MacKay to join us as well as his daughter, Trena Devouge. This was the first time I had met Neil and we have since shared some great times playing music together.  It was also the first time I had met Trena and we've since become friends.  She has helped us out a lot here sending us tunes, pictures, and giving us invaluable info about Gaspesian culture.

Hear Cyril talking about playing with Roland White and Cyril's old horse

Here is Neil playing Cy's favourite tune, the Winter Reel, on my fiddle.

Here is the four of us playing Roland White's tune with Cy joining us on the mouth organ.

On the last tune, we played it in the key of D to match the key of Cy's mouth organ.  On the fiddle, this tune is played in G.

Cy really helped me out with this music and is the person responsible for sorting my bowing out, giving me lots of pointers during our visits. The three clips today really give a sense of what a vibrant character Cy was right up until he was 95. I often think about Cy and his stories and jokes still give me a chuckle whenever I think of them.

Some Videos

Here are some videos from a little concert of Gaspé tunes I played last week at a café in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood.  John Parsons runs a nice monthly coffee house featuring solo performances of three of Montreal's roots musicians.  He has amassed a great collection of videos of Montreal-area musicians on his youtube channel which I encourage you to check out.

It was my first experience playing a show with no accompaniment and I was a little nervous, not knowing how people would respond.  However, once I realized that playing in a solo environment would be the ideal setting to expose people to the older Gaspesian tunes played as it was in the old days, with just the fiddle, I accepted the gig.

I'm still working on learning to clog my feet while I play so you'll have to bear with me and hopefully, tapping my foot on the beat will suffice.  I was really pleased with the positive response of the crowd, most of whom had never heard fiddle played in the old-time solo style before.  A big thanks to John Parsons and his wife Jenny for inviting me to perform and for capturing and editing the video

I was also fortunate to meet a young girl who has been passionately learning the fiddle for the past nine months.  She had seen me play previously at another café and had asked her mother if she could come see the show.  Her name is Stephanie Flowers and she makes an appearance at the end of the third clip.  It was so great to see someone so young who is so enthusiastic about the fiddle and her playing really blew me away.  I have a feeling many fiddle lovers will be hearing a lot more about Stephanie in the years to come.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Douglastown Brandy

The last two installments of Erskine's music here have been examples where he transforms tunes recorded by commercial Canadian fiddlers, recorded in a commercial style, and adapts them into the old Gaspesian style that he learned growing up in Douglastown.

Today, we are going to go way back and listen to a really old sounding tune that will give you an idea of the sounds that influenced Erskine's fiddle style even as he acquired more mainstream Canadian repertoire from commercial sources.. On many of the earlier recordings we have collected of Erskine, he played tunes that harken back to the older strains of fiddle music in Quebec and the New World.  These tunes do not contain the same somewhat predictable (albeit great) melodic stock that listeners have come to expect of more modern fiddle fare.  They often feature mysterious melodies and unusual timing and today's tune is a great example of this.  

This tune is an example of a Brandy, a very old dance in Quebec that is, roughly speaking, a reel in 3/2 time instead of 2/2 time.  Basically, instead of counting to four in each musical bar, you only count to three. It is likely that there were once many Brandys is Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, but their popularity waned perhaps as the group dances that went along with them fell out of fashion.  There were once many hornpipes in 3/2 time and one theory is that the Brandy may have evolved out from these, though there doesn't seem to be a consensus on this.

I have not heard this tune elsewhere and I don't believe it is a widespread tune in Quebec, though I could be wrong.  On the reel-to-reel discs and early cassettes that Erskine made before about 1965, we find him playing a wide variety of ancient sounding melodies with a hypnotic pulse.  Many of these have a certain similar melodic stock that is quite old sounding with lots of surprising jumps in the melody that you wont find in the modern Canadian old-time fiddle repertoire.  It is naturally closer to what you find among the older generation of French-Canadian players, but even then it seems a little different to me.

For listeners not accustomed to hearing fiddling of this vintage, it might be hard to "grab on" to this tune right away.  I personally find that if you close your eyes and give it a few listens, this tune can really transport you to another time and place.  It has a great pulse with many surprising twists and will taking your ear to some new places.

While I always recommend learning tunes by ear, I have provided a transcription of this tune with some nominal bowing suggestions.  Please listen to the tune many, many times before going into the transcription.  It will help you get the feel and hear the phrases better than the written page.  The entire melody is composed of two sections of six bars each making the whole tune twelve bars in length.  Again, each bar has three beats, with four notes grouped in each beat.  There is no repeat after each section.  Although this tune fits nicely into to sections of six bars in 3/2 time, I feel that the final phrase of the first section sort of "bleeds" into the next section.  That is, the first beat of the second section seems to be the culmination of the previous section.  This seamless transition is really unique and creates a cyclical feel.

Here is the transcription

We have featured several brandies on this site now namely, Fat Molasses, Tommy Rooney's Jig, and La Grande Rouge (aka La Grande Gigue Simple).  Based on the number of brandies in Erskine's repertoire, I would guess that these formed a respectable part of the older stock of Douglastown and local Gaspesian melodies.

There are a few resources on brandies in Quebec on the internet, but Pierre Chartrand is one of the more knowledgeable people in this domain.  He is a great step dancer and caller and has extensively researched the older dance traditions of Quebec and French-speaking Canada.  Here is an article where he explains the details of the Brandy dance among others.  I love this quote from the article when Pierre discusses our best known Brandy, "La Grande Gigue Simple":

"Any self-respecting fiddler had to include it in his repertoire so as to be able to satisfy his public""

If you want to hear more brandies, check out  is an album by two Montreal-based musicians that contains a plethora of brandies and many other tunes in non-standard time signatures:

Duo Boulanger-Duval

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Article for Gaspesian Heritage


I recently completed a two-part article for the Gaspesian Heritage Web Magazine summarizing the work we have been doing over the last two years.  Gaspesian Heritage is under the umbrella of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) which works to preserve and document the history and traditions of the various anglophone communities throughout this province.  They do great work and you should check out their website.

I wanted to pass a special thanks to Matthew Farfan, the Executive Director of the QAHN, who edited my drafts and put the whole thing together on the website.  I've spent many hours reading articles and viewing photos on the Gaspesian Heritage Web Magazine and its a great honour to be able to contribute to their resources.  Also, thanks to Trena Devouge-Stirling, Debbie Sams, and Brian Morris for allowing me to use the music and photos from their collections.

Here is the article

Here is the QAHN website

Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gaspé Fiddle Technique: the "Hook" with the Veteran's Reel

Today I would like to take a look at a tune which demonstrates a fiddle technique I consider fundamental to the Gaspé sound and is something I have observed among fiddlers from Douglastown down to the Chaleur Bay.

The technique is what Cyril Devouge referred to as a "hook".  This is an unofficial term of course, but I really like the descriptive language Cyril used to use to describe different bow techniques ("jiggles" being another one we will look at sometime).  A "hook" is a very straightforward way to ornament a melody and simply involves playing what would conventionally be a quarter note (one beat) in a tune as two eighth notes (half beats) of the same pitch.  Basically, you double up on a note by bowing the same pitch twice instead of once.

Let's jump straight in and have a listen to how Erskine approached the Don Messer tune, "The Veteran's Reel".

Hear Erskine play "The Veteran's Reel" from the 1990 Cassette

Note how Erskine is doubling up on notes throughout this tune, but especially during the high strain.

Here is a transcription I have prepared to demonstrate this device, which I have notated by putting a little "+" symbol above each "hook" note.  Don't worry if you don't read music, just notice how many notes have little "+" symbols above them.

See my transcription of "The Veteran's Reel"

For the non-music reading audience, here is a link to an folder where I break down the tune and demonstrate this technique.

"The Veteran's Reel" demonstrated (audio)
While this technique is very simple, it really drives a tune along giving it a hypnotic pulse.  This is an easy way to spice up your reels if you feel like changing up the rhythm a little. Although, Erskine and Cyril both used "hooks" in most of their tunes, Erskine's setting of "The Veteran's Reel" is the most extensive usage of this device I have encountered.

Some other thoughts about Erskine's setting of this tune:
  • Erskine has tuned up his bass string to an A so the fiddle is tuned ADAE.  This was the tuning Erskine frequently used when he played in the key of D.  For the key of A, many of Erskine's older tunes require the fiddle to be tuned AEAE.  However, Erskine plays the Veteran's Reel is in the key of A with the ADAE tuning.  Not tuning up the D string to an E is necessary to play Erskine's version of the melody.  Southern fiddlers also occasionally use the ADAE tuning for A tunes.  
  • As in the Caribou Reel, Erskine gets the occasional mysterious-sounding open D drone in this tune over what the modern ear would perceive as an A chord.
  • Erskine's fiddle is not tuned to concert pitch on this recording, but is about a half tone higher.
  • This is another example of Erskine taking a conventional reel, keeping its essence, then adapting it into his native Gaspé style.
This last observation might trouble some who might say that Erskine's structuring of this tune has strayed too far from the original Don Messer recording, from where Erskine likely learned the tune.  However, I feel that Erskine's surprising and perhaps ad-hoc restructuring of the tune's phrases in combination with his use of Gaspesian techniques  ("hooks", raised bass string, foot clogging, etc) transforms this tune from a standard reel with conventional rhythms and predictable structure into something mysterious and captivating.  Brian tells me that his father was never shy about adapting music into the Gaspé style, even if this meant reworking the melody and rhythm and occasionally the tune's structure.  In this case, Erskine keeps the tune's essence and shapes it into something new (or perhaps old) and beautiful.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Life of Mary Ellen Drody-Savidant

Happy New Year readers.

Although it has been quiet on the blog here the past month, I have been preparing lots of great new material during the holidays. I wanted to say thanks to everyone from Gaspé and beyond who helped us out during 2011, it was a really great year for this project and there should be some nice surprises around the corner.

Today's contribution comes from a friend of mine, Debbie Sams, of Gaspé.

Last October, Gaspesian music lost one of its most beloved friends, Mary Ellen Drody-Savidant, of Douglastown, Quebec. Mary Ellen was the daughter of Joseph Drody and Pearl Grant and was a sister of Brigid, Anthony, and Joseph Drody. Our guest contributor, Debbie Sams, was Mary Ellen's daughter.

This article has been in the works since November and Debbie has graciously sent me lots of material from Gaspé to use on the blog. She has written a lovely tribute to her mother which we will feature today. As well, we have some great audio clips of Mary Ellen's music and a beautiful slideshow Debbie created to celebrate her mother's life and music which are featured at the bottom.

MaryEllen Drody-Savidant 
Aug. 09,1928 - Oct. 09 2011 
MaryEllen was born in Douglastown, one of ten children born to proud parents, Pearl Grant & Joseph Drody. When you think of MaryEllen, the first thing that will probably come to mind is her smile and upright stature and then of course her beautiful clear voice. 

She had a gracious, calm way about her, and a caring, giving heart. She was probably happiest when she was giving of herself to others. In the early 1980’s, she received a prestigious award from the Canadian Red Cross for 30 years of service to ‘Community and Society’ for her work as a fundraiser and at blood clinics. She was probably one of the first to bring blankets and other goods on behalf of the Red Cross to people who had just been burned out in a fire. 

In the year 2000, she received a plaque from CASA for her “Outstanding Volunteerism”. A note on the back said “Where there is a fundraiser, the beautiful music of Mary Savidant is there. How many times have we called on this woman to help us organize the music for a talent show? Mary does everything with a calm shy smile and her community wants her to know they are grateful.”

I guess her love for music was inborn because we hear of her youth in Douglastown where music took place in the kitchen around the old wood stove nearly every evening and the fiddle was passed around. She began singing publicly at about 12 years old for the St. Patrick’s Concerts in Douglastown at the Holy Name Hall and graced the stage for near sixty years. She is most remembered for her rendition of ‘Cottage by the Sea’. 

MaryEllen married Calvin Savidant, son of Georgina White & Edward Savidant in August 1949 and together they had three children, Deborah, Susan and Perry who met with an early death at age 11, in 1969.

Yes music was her passion and she spread joy wherever she went. She gave of her time with a cheerful heart as she entertained seniors at Monseigneur Ross or at the Golden Age Club, or just visiting a shut-in and sharing a song or two with them. Her guitar was her constant companion.

Her generosity was also evident if you were fortunate enough to grace her dinner table. You would never be able to get away without having seconds. How many times she made a cake to bring someone who needed a little bit of cheering-up?

Yes she had a zest for life; fishing, hunting with the guys, and of course, entertaining! Those countless parties at the cottage that they built at Haldimand Beach that went on into the wee hours of the morning with fiddles, guitars, accordion…. MaryEllen lived a life rich in love of family and friends and her life was filled with music!

By Debbie Savidant Sams

Throughout our correspondence, Debbie was generous to have mailed me a great collection of cassettes, CDs, and DVDs.  I would like to share some of Mary Ellen's music with the readers.

In the mid 1990s, CBC radio did an interview with Mary Ellen, Debbie, and Norma McDonald of Douglastown.  During the interview, Mary Ellen plays mandolin on a lovely tune she learned from her cousin, Ernest Drody.  Ernest played this tune for Laura Risk and I this summer and told us that he calls it, "Ernest's Tune" because no one else seems to play it.

During the same interview, Mary Ellen sang a song, "Beautiful Gaspé".  This song was written by a couple, Ralph and Ruth Craig, from Port Daniel, who wrote this song on a trip back from the coast to the Châteauguay Valley where they were then living.  They set the words to the melody of "Beautiful Dreamer" to express how much they missed their childhood home.

In 1994, after the passing of her husband, Calvin Savidant, Mary Ellen took great comfort in her music. The following year, she went down to Bathurst, New Brunswick to record an album of mostly Irish songs she learned growing up in Douglastown.  I would like to share the title track from Mary Ellen's album, "Cottage By the Sea".  Mary Ellen really seems to connect with the forlorn lyrics that express the sadness of losing a spouse.

Many thanks to Debbie for all the help she gave putting this article together and having donated so much great material to the blog.  I hope to post more material from Debbie's donations in the coming months.