Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pictures from the Prix Mnémo Ceremony

Here are some pictures from last night's ceremony awarding the Doulgastown CD the 2014 Prix Mnémo. Merci Pierre Chartrand—gigeur et câlleur extrordinaire—et l'équipe au centre Mnémo pour la belle soirée inoubliable.

Chester Rooney and Pierre treated us to some fine stepdancing before Pierre taught about one hundred square dancers how to do the Figure 8 which he recently learned from a video taken at the Doulgastown Irish Week. It was beautiful to see a room full of people dancing from the stage where Laura Risk and I were joined by Brian Morris and Brigid Drody on guitar and Pierre calling the dance.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Douglastown CD Awarded the 2014 Mnémo Prize

We are honoured here at the Gaspé fiddle blog to announce the the CD Laura Risk and I co-produced in collaboration with Luc Chaput and the Douglastown Community Centre has been awarded the 2014 Prix Mnémo.

This prize recognizing an outstanding contribution in the domain of documentation and research into Quebec's musical heritage. Here is a link to the official announcement (in French). Here is my quick English translation of Pierre Chartrand's original text. Pierre has been really supportive of our initiatives in Gaspé and he does lots of great work on the French side of things throughout the province including helping with the Centre Mnémo and publishing a seasonal newsletter.

Le Centre Mnémo is pleased to announce that the award for the 16th annual Mnémo Prize goes to the Douglastown Community Centre, Luc Chaput, Laura Risk and Glenn Patterson (both musicians and ethnomusicologists). 
This 16th annual Mnémo Prize will be officially awarded on Saturday, December 20, 2014 during the Veillée du Plateau (square dance evening), in collaboration with the Society for the Promotion of Traditional Québécois Dance (SPDTQ).
The Mnémo Prize aims to reward and showcase a production judged remarkable in the field of documentation or research relating to dance, music, song or traditional storytelling of North American francophones.
This CD is the culmination of extensive research on the musical life of this Gaspesian community.
Laura Risk and Glenn Patterson first digitized and catalogued more than 70 hours of recordings and made the selection of 46 tracks that are found on the compilation CD. This remarkable work involved locating recordings scattered around Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick.
The disc is accompanied by a 52-page bilingual booklet in English and French including photos and a musical transcription of Joe Drody's Jig. The notes are from Laura Risk, Glenn Patterson, as well as Luc Chaput. Luc Chaput, in collaboration with Linda Drody, conducted interviews with many people in the community to collect their recollections on several aspects of community life. We can say that the compilation represents a synthesis of all this work. 
The Jury for the Mnémo Prize wishes to point out the excellence of the work carried out for the production of this CD and booklet, and the importance of this sort of publication for showcasing Quebec's regional heritage.

There will be a prize ceremony in Montreal half-way through the monthly square dance (Veillée du Plateau) on Saturday, December 20th in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood. There will be a great square dance band and French caller if anyone wants to join in the dancing. Each dance is taught before it is done with the music. We will also have a few tables set up for the Gaspesian crowd and any family members they wish to bring along. You don't have to dance, you are welcome even if you just want to come an meet up with friends and enjoy the music and festivities. Admission is free for all from the community; just let them know you or your family is from Gaspé. It is shaping up to be a nice get-together. After the prize, Laura, myself, and Brian Morris will join the house band and play for a square set (the Dip and Dive). The address is 2275 Boul. Saint-Joseph East (that is in the Plateau between de Lorimier and Iberville – it is NOT the Saint-Joseph in Lachine). Here are all the details:

Address: 2275 Boulevard Saint-Joseph East (between de Lorimier and Iberville), Montreal.
Date: Saturday, December 20th, 2014.
Start Time: 7:30 pm
Prize Time: 9:30 pm (be there at 9:15 if you just want to come for the prize)
Admission: Free for people from Gaspé and their families
Attire: Please bring along a pair of indoor shoes as it is a dance hall.
Service: Bar. Laura and I will bring along a celebration cake as well.

Here is the event website

Luc is coming all the way from Douglastown and I'm flying back from St. John's just to be there for this.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with Laura Risk - Douglastown CD Project

Laura Risk recently did this great interview with some people at McGill on our work with the Douglas Community Centre and sound engineer, Denis Martin to produce the CD Douglastown: Song and Music of the Gaspé Coast. There's some nice footage and old photographs and sounds many of our Gaspesian readers will recognize.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Brian's Choice: Two New Erskine Tunes in ADAE

It's been a while since we've featured Erskine's music on the blog and I wanted to correct that situation after receiving a nice tape from Brian this past summer. I'd listened to it once when I first got it and was really impressed with the playing and the tune selection (there are many tunes we'd never encountered before) but in the bustle of Irish Week and driving between Toronto, Montreal, and Gaspé throughout the summer, I didn't have the chance to think about which tunes to share.

I recently asked Brian to pick two of his favourites and he suggested the tracks 1 and 16 on the tape, both tunes for which we don't know the names. They strike my ears as similar to other tunes from the area around Douglastown. They are both played in the raised bass tuning that Erskine almost always used when playing in the key of D; that is, you tune the low bass G string up to A. We've been told that many of the older fiddlers in the area raised their bass strings for many tunes.

Track 1
Track 16

I find that both these tunes have a really nice rolling flow, something which seems a little counter-intuitive because the melodies are also highly syncopated using the "hook" and "stutter" bowing throughout. You would almost expect them to have a jerky feel, but track 16 especially, has an almost gentle rolling feel. At the end of each turn in these tunes, you don't hear the characteristic strongly marked endings that are so typical of Canadian fiddle music. Instead, Erskine inserts subtle syncopated licks which allow him to flow right back into the following turn. It makes it hard to stop these tunes once you get started; you've been warned!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Interview with CBC Breakaway - Douglastown CD

Here's a link to an interview Laura and I gave with CBC Radio's Rachelle Solomon. Rachelle did a great job putting this interview together and we're really thankful for the publicity this gave to the project. Apparently the phone lines flooded when they opened up the lines to give away two copies of the CD. Congratulations to Flora Grant of Douglastown on her CD!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CD Now Available – Douglastown: Music and Song from the Gaspé Coast

Dear readers,

I wanted to let you know that as of July 30, 2014, the CD Laura Risk and I collaborated on with the Douglas Community Centre is available for purchase. You can purchase it from:

1) The Douglas Community Centre (Call 418-368-0288 or email

2) Thirty-Below (

3) CD Baby (

We are hoping to have it available a few other places for online purchase in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned.

I wanted to pass my heartfelt thanks to all the people of Douglastown and beyond who joined us for a very special evening on July 30th for the CD release party during the Irish Week. We had over 140 people out to the event and were touched by the warm, enthusiastic response. A special tip of the hat to Maurice Girard, Leo Fitzpatrick, Sharon Howell, and Bernard Rooney for sharing their memories of their recordings with us during the release party: It was thanks to them and dozens of other donors in the community that we were able to put together this CD and that the evening was as magical as it was.

I'll translate what Trente Sous Zéro said in the last paragraph of their description. I feel very proud to see our project being distributed by the foremost resource for recordings of traditional music in Quebec:

Gaspesian fiddlers Yvon Mimeault, Liette Remon, and Édouard Richard have helped us better understand the diversity and uniqueness of the music from this peninsula in eastern Québec. this magnificent disc of collected music adds yet another facet to this Gaspésie, already rich in music. More than a repertoire, it is a particular style, highly rhythmic, that many will discover through the music of the Drody family, Erskine Morris, and many others. It is also the musical story of a remote village that, for so long, has kept its local music alive, all the while adding new popular musics and instruments along the way. Songs tinged with pump organs and guitar solos, harmonicas and accordions, also take us through important pages of Douglastown's musical history.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Update: Irish Week Approaching and a new CD!

Dear readers,

I wanted to give the readers a long-overdue update. The Irish Week in Douglastown is just around the corner and that means I'll be hitting the old 132 early next week. Yet again, there is a really fantastic program lined up. Here are some of the events I'm looking forward to:

  • A Tuesday concert by Norma McDonald and Debbie Sams (see the previous post here on the blog) for a selection of Irish song with piano accompaniment. I understand that Laura Risk and Sister Henriette Essaimbre, a former teacher in Douglastown from Saint-Godefroi will be joining them on the fiddle.
  • I'm privileged to be backing up Ernest Drody for an intimate concert of fiddle music on the Monday at 5 p.m at the Holy Name Hall. We'll be playing about a dozen of Ernest's tunes.
  • Gary Briand's afternoon tea where he'll discuss some of Douglastown's unsolved crimes.
  • Alley Lapointe's Wednesday concert. I've heard lots of good things about Alley from people who used to live in Murdochville. As well as a fine singer, he is quite the virtuoso spoon player.
  • As usual there will be the fiddle workshops with myself (intermediate) and Laura Risk (beginner) and square dance workshops with Bill Russell from Quebec City. I'll be teaching some of Ernest Drody's tunes in my workshop.
Laura and I are especially proud to be part of the official release of the full-length CD "Douglastown: Music and Song from the Gaspé Coast" at this year's festival. For the past two years, we have been working with Luc Chaput to put together a disk which showcases the musical culture of Douglastown and the surrounding villages since the 1950s. We listened to and digitized over six dozen of hours of reel-to-reel tape and cassettes. Last May, I made a weekend trip to Montreal where Laura and I worked with sound engineer Denis Martin of McGill University and Lamajeure Studios where we mastered the tracks. I can honestly say that we were both amazed with Denis' wizardry: He brought several tracks on old reel-to-reels back to life and made all the tracks really sparkle. Many people in the community helped us out over the past few years by donating home recordings and sharing their knowledge with us. We are most grateful. You know who you are!

The official release will take place Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 at Holy Name Hall. We will be having another smaller event the following Saturday, August 2 at the Musée de la Gaspésie.

Here is the official program for the whole week:

If you can't be there in person but would like to purchase a copy of the CD, you can place an advanced order by calling the community centre in Douglastown: 418-368-0288 or send me an email and I'll put you in touch.

See you soon Douglastown!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"My Donegal Shore" - Norma and Debbie (Happy Belated St. Patrick's Day)

Dear readers,

It is my pleasure to share a special treat courtesy of Norma McDonald (Douglastown) and Debbie Sams (York) for this St. Patrick's "season." I had wanted to share this on the 17th but I was so swamped with school work that the post didn't materialize until today.

On February 11, 2014 Debbie and Norma spent an afternoon and evening recording more than a half dozen Irish and sentimental songs with just voice and piano using a recorder borrowed from the Douglas Community Centre. I had written them about a month earlier to see if they would consider recording a couple of the Irish songs in Norma's large repertoire. The idea was inspired while listening back for the first time to a recording of a party we had in Debbie's basement during a visit Laura Risk and I made to Gaspé in April 2012. During the recording there was one of those special musical moments where time seems to stand still. Norma had begun singing an old Irish song "The Rose of Mooncoin" when, during the first verse, Debbie sat down at the piano, found the key, and began delicately accompanying Norma. I found the blend of Debbie's piano and Norma's voice incredibly moving; it was sincere, direct and uncluttered, and I thought to myself, we need to hear more of this sort of music. Between Laura Risk, Brian, and I, we have been digitizing old cassettes and reel-to-reels made around Gaspé for the last four years and one of the things I realized recently is that we have very little music from the people who are still making music in the area today. It was with this in mind that I asked Norma and Debbie if they would consider making a home recording of songs with just voice and piano.

And with that, I'm pleased to share with you one of the tracks they recorded that day, their version of "My Donegal Shore."

Malin, Co. Donegal - July 2005 (Photo: Glenn Patterson)
Hear "My Donegal Shore"

This song was written by the Irish country singer Johnny McCauley (1925-2012, born Fahan, Co. Donegal) for Daniel O'Donnell in 1983. One of the things I really love about Norma and Debbie's version is that, despite the song being only 31 years old, they make it sound as if it came out of the 1920s or 30s. The use of piano or pump organ to accompany songs—something I feel makes this piece sound like an old song—was once very popular in Douglastown. As Norma told me last year:

Everyone made music and they visited more that time, the people.... They always had a fiddle, an old organ, or a piano. And people would gather together and visit in the evenings and they would make music. It was a lot of that in my time, back in the 40s and 50s, it was all that.

Norma and Debbie both frequently volunteer their musical talents for local charity events, at seniors residences, and at the Ross Sanatorium for the shut-ins in Gaspé. I really admire how generous they are with their music and how they use it to improve their local communities. They have also been extensively involved in the music and activities during the Douglastown Irish Week in the concert series, taking workshops, and helping with the Saturday night fish supper.

I wanted to thank Norma and Debbie for taking the time to put these songs together and for allowing me to share this selection with you. They did a wonderful job and I'm personally grateful—as I'm sure lots of people will be—that they indulged my special request for a home recording of their music. 
The author on a Donegal Shore - July 2005, Malin Head beach, Co. Donegal (Photo: Glenn Patterson)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hommage à Neil MacKay

I know many of the Gaspesians from Montreal know Neil MacKay, the great Chateauguay Valley fiddler, from his days playing with Bob Fuller and Jeannie Arsenault for the Gaspé parties around Verdun and NDG.

The folks at the Saint-Urbain cultural committee recently paid homage to Neil and all the music he has provided his community over the years.

Here is their text

I generally keep politics out of this blog but I was really touched by their hommage which I think serves as an example to all Quebecers in the present day as divisions over language and culture are being sown and intensified in provincial politics. Amidst all the negative press Quebec has been getting, Saint-Urbain shows us our ability as Quebecers to unite through music, how musicians of all stripes can serve their communities across linguistic and cultural lines to contribute to a common cultural resource for all residents of the province. Although Neil is an anglophone (though perfectly bilingual), Saint-Urbain has proudly claimed his family as une famille souche de Saint-Urbain (a dyed-in-the wool Saint-Urbain family) and recognized him as a bearer, teacher, and builder of the community's musical traditions. This sort of disposition is one of the things I love about the Chateauguay Valley and the province's musicians more generally.

I was especially inspired by all the work Neil has done with the local school kids, providing music for their plays and events.Ultimately, doing the good work that Neil does comes down to being a generous and empathetic person who is a gentleman before all else, someone who never lets differences or ego get in the way of helping everyone have a good time through his musical talents. I'll close with this extract which I found particularly evocative and apt:

Il a fait danser des milliers de pieds, a suscité l’émerveillement par son jeu toujours juste et rempli d’émotions, a raconté tant d’histoires du bout de son archet.
(He has made thousands of feet dance, sparked wonder through his playing, always true and filled with emotion, and told so many stories from the end of his bow)
Congratulations Neil!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Footloose in February - A Home Recording

Dear readers,

I had the house all to myself tonight and decided I would make a recording for my friends from Gaspe and beyond. I've been thinking lately about how many of the most loved players like Erskine and the Drodys made dozens of cassettes of their music and then shared them with their friends and family across the continent. A few Gaspesians have asked me over the last year or so to make them a tape of some of the tunes I play.

I've been trying to get a command over the footwork basically since I began playing the Gaspe tunes back in 2010 and I have to say that it has always been a struggle for me. I became frustrated and jealous when I saw people doing it more or less right after learning the basic pattern or those who said it always just came naturally to them. Anyhow, I've been feeling like I've been getting closer in the last year or so, although still not quite there. I've generally been reluctant to make recordings of my own playing because I've struggled so much with the footwork and I feel the Gaspe tunes are missing something without the feet.

Tonight I sat down and recorded about a dozen tunes and on most of them, I made a recording both with and without the footwork just to see how things would turn out. Well to my surprise, the feet sounded pretty good tonight. They're not always bang on, but for the most part I feel like they're now working mostly in my favour. Sometimes it takes a pass or so through the tune before my feet really lock in, but all in all I'm happy with my progress.

So without further ado, here is my first full-length contribution as a thank you to all the Gaspe people who have shared their music and old recordings with us here on the Gaspe Fiddle Blog since 2010. It's obviously nothing professional, just a little souvenir—with plantar warts, loose feet, intonation issues, and all—for the fans of this sort of informal music making.

Check out the Album: Footloose in February

A special thanks to Gary Snowman and Brian Morris who've given me encouragement (and the odd teasing) to sort out my generally quiet feet.

If anyone is curious, I used my Olympus LS-11 with an external Sony ECM-MS907 stereo mic. The external mic has a slightly warmer response than the stereo pair on the LS-11 in my opinion. I think this combo makes for pretty good home recordings.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Music from Brian's Living Room

Today I thought I would share with the readers some music Brian recorded during a recent session we had. I was in the Montreal-area for a few days around New Year's and we managed to get together for an afternoon of music and good company with his wife, Sally, at their place in N.D.G.

This music here represents a pretty good cross-section of the stuff we play when we have a chance to sit down one-on-one and make music. We first met at a bluegrass and southern old-time jam so we always play a few of those tunes in addition to the great music I later learned from recordings of his father and other Gaspesians.

Here is a link to the tunes.

Here are some notes on where and who these tunes are from:

01 - Midnight on the Water (Benny Thomasson, Texas, Fiddle tuned DDAD)
03 - Eva's Tune (Erskine Morris, Gaspe, Fiddle tuned ADAE)
08 - The Shannon Reel (Erskine Morris, Gaspe, Fiddle tuned ADAE or GDAE)
09 - Waynesboro (Edden Hammons/Doc Roberts, West Virginia/Kentucky, GDAE)
12 - Wagner One-Step (Bob Rogers, Tennessee, GDAE)
14 - Eva's Tune (Ernest Drody, Gaspe, GDAE)
15 - Father Morris' Tune (Erskine Morris, Gaspe, Fiddle tuned ADAE)
18 - Untitled (Erskine Morris, Gaspe, Fiddle tuned ADAE)
19 - Mr. Joe's Tune (Joe Drody Sr. via Erskine Morris, Gaspe, Fiddle tuned ADAE)
20 - I'll Be All Smiles Tonight (Paul David Smith, Kentucky, GDAE)