Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

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)

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