Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Prix CQPV: Congratulations to Guy Bouchard, the Douglas Community Centre, and Friends!

Well this is a nice follow up to my last post where I mused on 10 years of a bunch of us working together preserve the fiddle music of the eastern Gaspésie!
I want to congratulate to Guy Bouchard and his friends at the Douglas Community Centre in Douglastown for their work to collect, teach, and celebrate the traditional fiddle music and dance of the Eastern Gaspésie. With their regular dances and workshops throughout the winter featuring almost exclusively repertoire local to the region, they have just been awarded the prestigious Prix CQPV from our province's Intangible Cultural Heritage organization. What Guy and his friends started in Douglastown picks up where this project left off four or five years back. Moreover, it is one of those special instances where anglophones and francophones come together to celebrate their shared culture together on the Gaspé Coast. Their work is helping making it part of local cultural life once again. 

Congratulations to everyone. Here is the press release:


Friday, May 15, 2020

Musings on 10 Years of Gaspe Fiddle

Ten years seems like a fitting time to reflect on this project, taking stock of some of the accomplishments and beginning to thinking about what the next ten years will look like. The principal goal of this project was simply to make this music and Erskine known to fans of traditional fiddling. Brian and I couldn't be happier in this respect. Many of the new releases from Quebec's professional traditional musicians over the past five years or so have featured Erskine's tunes learned from this blog; many more of these tunes are being played at sessions and at festivals all around the globe. Lisa Ornstein; André Brunet; Alexis Chartrand; Davi Simard; Le Vent du Nord and De Temps en Temp; Le Bruit court dans la Ville; Pascal Gemme; Laura Risk; among many others have helped share this music (please leave a comment if there are other performers I should add).

Knowledge of Erskine and the Gaspé fiddle style has even gone global! Laura Risk recently taught at a fiddle camp in Australia and arrived to find that the local fiddlers already knew "Joe Drody's Jig" and were eager to learn more tunes from the region. Just the other week, Lisa Ornstein taught two of Erskine's tunes to an online fiddle class with several dozen students from the United States (several years ago she featured Erskine's setting of " Tommy Rooney's Jig" on her website as the Québécois Tune of the Month). The list goes on and on.

It has also been touching to see how many people have joined in our efforts to promote this unique musical culture by creating their own online resources. In particular, Guy Bouchard and Laura Sadowsky, who now reside in Douglastown, have been sharing not only this music, but also trying to bring back the old dances that went alongside this music through regular workshops and dance nights during the long Gaspesian winters (Guy is currently working a film project about these dances).  Much of their activity is documented on their l'Orchestre de danse de Douglastown Facebook page.  You can also hear recordings of Guy and Mathieu playing this music over at Guy's Soundcloud page; Guy has often provided inspiring and subtle guitar accompaniment to these tunes. Their friend and cellist-mandolinist France Dupuis has produced an excellent set of transcriptions of the tunes they have learned for their project, all of which can be downloaded from France Dupuis' personal website for a small fee.

In the United States, Paul Fackler has been working tirelessly to transcribe every tune on this blog while also promoting Erskine's music among the various jam groups he interacts with all over the country. Brian and I are currently working with Paul to help him publish these transcriptions in a free PDF. (You may recall that Paul reached out to help us a few years ago by providing a detailed list of alternate tune titles for the material found on this blog in cases where the tune is played elsewhere in Quebec or in other fiddle traditions; these notes and sources will be part of Paul's upcoming set of transcriptions.)

The Internet is, in many ways, a very different place in 2020 than 2010. Social media rose to dominate how most of us find, seek out, consume, and engage with online content; as well streaming both audio and video has become both norm and expectation. (Ten years ago, I could simply write articles here and know that this would find its way out to a small but loyal audience of blog subscribers; an interface for streaming a whole set of tracks in a playlist didn't exist on Blogger - and still doesn't).

My own ability to keep up contributing to this project has also considerably slowed. In 2012, I left Montreal for 7 years to pursue a doctorate degree in ethnomusicology in St. John's and found myself with decidedly less time to write about and share content here. Currently, I'm working two jobs and am still trying to finish that degree. In one of these jobs, I'm fortunate to be directing a province-wide survey of musical heritage in Quebec's diverse English-speaking communities for the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network. As well, my own musical interests have drifted a bit to new communities and cultures in Quebec and elsewhere around the world (Turkish, Greek, Ottoman, Arabic, and Armenian music in the last year or so, for example). Still, Erskine's music has a special place in my heart - not least because of all the wonderful people it introduced me to, from Gaspé to the Ottawa Valley and beyond. And we have so much music from Erskine's home recordings to share.

In this era of the meme, tweet, and quasi-ephemeral posts on Facebook, it's touching to see this material still making the rounds online and in-person and getting musicians excited. It seems that there is as much interest in this music now as there ever was, perhaps even more thanks to the work of all the people and others mentioned above.

Brian and I have been discussing this state of affairs recently with some of the people named above. And from this, we've decided that it is time to fully open up our archives and expand even further the sense of community involvement in this project. Brian firmly believes that his father would have shared his music with anyone interested. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Erskine was dubbing his tapes and putting them in the mail to friends and family from Vancouver to Gaspé. And today, his music is travelling far and wide online and person-to-person due to all our efforts.

The exact form this next phase of the project will take is still taking shape, but we are currently exploring other online platforms for sharing entire home recordings which will give listeners the chance to hear, download, and learn tunes that I haven't had a chance to share here yet. Each of these recordings represents a unique moment in Erskine's life, where he sat down in his parlour during an afternoon to record tunes he was learning or reworking. In this way, they are a precious window into Erskine's metier as an old-time fiddler. This blog will still have a place in this already-expanded ecosystem on Gaspesian fiddling - its role a testament to the first chapter of this collective project and a narrative of the journey Brian and I undertook, meeting Gaspesians near and far to learn more about this music and the people who played it, danced to it, or simply loved it.

We are also planning an online event (given the current restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19) for August 2020 to mark this first decade of the project. We will be inviting some of our new friends who have taken up this music to share a few tunes they've learned from Erskine and his neighbours.

That's all for now - here's to the next ten years. Thank you for all the support/Merci pour votre soutien.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Downloading Links Now Enabled

A few users have recently asked about the ability to download links from the Box.com site where the audio files are stored. We've now enabled this functionality on all the links (if you find one or two where it still doesn't work, let us know). This will make life easier for those of you wanting to download the files and slow things down and possibly adjust the pitch to A440 in order to learn these tunes. Happy listening and learning.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Remembering Anthony Drody (October 9, 1932 - December 26, 2019)

Anthony Drody. 2012 Douglastown Irish Week
I'm writing this post in memory of Anthony Drody who passed away the other week. Anthony was the son of Joe Drody Sr. who, as many readers will know, was Erskine Morris' fiddle mentor back in the 1920s and early 30s. Fiddling was just kind of ubiquitous in the house - I never got the sense that it was something that any of the Drody's set out to work, to sit down and practice hours on end. But it was always there. I remember Anthony telling me the way it usually worked: no one would play for weeks but whenever one of his siblings picked up the fiddle, they would all be fighting over it.

Anthony was one of the last links to the living memory of the old Gaspesian fiddle music before the influence of fiddle styles began reaching Gaspé from afar in the 1940s through radio, vinyl, and later, cassette. As such, he was a great help to Brian Morris, Laura Risk, and me in our work. Anthony gave us lots insight into who the older fiddlers were, what made their style unique, and stories about their lives and music. His specialty perhaps was in supplying alternate tune titles. For example: he noted that the original name of the "Bois-Brulé Jig" among many old-timers was "The Spruce Knot"; similarly, Anthony provided such obscure and outlandish titles like "The Tune that Connie Maloney Danced On" (for "Joe Drody's Jig") and "Piss and Keep the Hair Dry" (for "Reggie Rooney's Tune").

Like many others, Anthony left the Coast with his wife Connie Ingrouville (of Barachois) for work decades ago, eventually ending up in Old Bridge, New Jersey where they raised their family and he was an ironworker. Still, Anthony and Connie generally made the trip back to Gaspé in the summers. Anthony played an eclectic repertoire of tunes learned from many sources over the years: In addition to the tunes he kept up from his father and uncle Charlie, he learned from radio fiddlers like Don Messer while also keeping up many of the old tunes he learned from his father and other Gaspé players; I even heard Anthony play southern old-time tunes he picked up from friends in New Jersey. It was always a joy to be around him at Pembroke or Gaspé when one of the old Gaspé tunes would come back to him, sometimes after five decades of not having played or even heard it.

Like many of the Drodys, Anthony had a calm and generous disposition and was as happy to sit back and listen to you or anyone else play fiddle as he was to play music himself at a gathering. In typical Drody style, time always had an unhurried quality when I was around Anthony. Simple things like chatting over toast and coffee at Pembroke, or stopping for a visit at his summer home in Gaspé - I always left feeling more at-ease in the world and like Anthony had some kind of secret to everyday happiness for the modern world.

You can read his official obituary from the family here.

I recently uploaded a series of videos to our project's YouTube Channel, and below I've shared some of the highlights that feature Anthony's fiddling. The footage was supplied to me by his niece Linda Drody. She made this home movie during a 1990 Family Reunion that took place in Haldimand and L'Anse-à-Brillant. I love these videos because they show the bigger picture as it were: music was simply a way the Drody's connected to family, friends, and their community far and wide.

I hope these videos give you some time to see this special connection between family and music and, if you knew Anthony, to remember him fondly by getting to see him do something which ran both so deep and unassumingly in who he was.


  • Here is Anthony playing the great Douglastown step-dance tune, Tommy Rooney's Jig (of which there are several versions of Erskine playing elsewhere on the site). His sister, MaryEllen Drody-Savidant is backing him on the guitar. I'm amazed by much Anthony drives the tune with a bow stroke that just glides gently back and forth over the strings. Anthony always loved this tune and thought it was the best tune that Erskine played. 



  • In the second video, Anthony plays the Bob Wills classic, "Faded Love" again with MaryEllen chording for him. I love the way that Anthony plays this with a danceable march-like tempo rather unlike Bob Wills slower and smoother rendition. At the end, there's a nice teasing moment between brother and sister at the end of the video: perhaps influenced by American bluegrass and old-time jams, Anthony brought the practice of raising his foot to indicate when he wanted to end a tune - his siblings always found this a little peculiar.




  • Here is Anthony playing "The Old Man and Old Woman" with his brother Johnny on fiddle and again, and his sisters MaryEllen and Brigid on guitar and piano accordion respectively.



  • Finally, here's a clip of three Drody siblings (Brigid, Anthony, and Joseph) all playing fiddle together on "McNabb's Hornpipe" as MaryEllen and Johnny back them up on guitar with Debbie Sams (MaryEllen's daughter) on piano accordion. You can see Anthony's mastery of the bow-work required to play this tune.


There's plenty of other good music from this same tape on the following YouTube playlist I created.

Enjoy the music.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Alternate Tune Titles with Paul Fackler

A few years back, I received an email from a gentleman in North Carolina named Paul Fackler who runs a local fiddle appreciation group where they have monthly presentations about fiddlers whose music they've been studying and share the music. He had been learning some of Erskine's tunes and was wanting to present this music to the class.

His email also contained a spreadsheet of various tunes from this blog for which he knew alternate titles from his knowledge of fiddle music in Ireland, Cape Breton, and elsewhere in Quebec. A few of them I was aware of but the vast majority were a revelation. Sometimes I'll be listening to a bunch of Joseph Allard or Isidore Soucy on my iPod while driving, hear a tune I recognize from Erskine or Cyril, and then not be able to find it later. I had started little documents in the past to note these down but never got very far. Paul's document on the other hand was full of all kinds of additional information, commentary, and even links to other places on the Internet where you could hear these tunes played under such alternate titles. I've compiled his extensive efforts with some of my smaller contributions into a PDF document that you can see here (I'll post it in the "Listen to All the Tunes" page too for reference). Anything that appears in blue can be clicked and you'll be taken to the appropriate webpage.

Here is the document. The text in blue should allow you to click on it to be redirected to the online source where you can listen and/or read more.

Paul and I also had a more philosophical discussion about tune titles in Quebec. In all fiddle traditions, there is a certain amount of variability in tune titles, say when someone doesn't correctly recall the title of a tune learned at a dance and then shows it to someone else. However, in places like Ireland and Scotland, there is for the most part, a strong consensus about what the "real" title of any given piece is and that is the title that most will use. This might have to do with the early availability of tune collections of Irish and Scottish music going back to the early 1800s (tune books were especially prominent in the Scottish and Cape Breton traditions). In Quebec, it is a whole different story. If you take two fiddlers from different parts of the province who play the same tune, they will almost always have a different title. Even in the 78 rpm recording era, a fiddler like Joseph Allard would record a tune like St. Anne's Reel several times using different titles (for example, Esquimault Reel). I can only think of a handful of older tunes in Quebec that have a fairly stable title: Reel du pendu; La grande gigue simple; La tuque bleu. There are more of course but they tend to be the exception to the rule.

A lot that can be said for this, including the fact that there was often a language barrier for Irish and Scottish repertoire that entered circulation in Quebec in the late 18th and 19th centuries. In Gaspé and other areas of the province which once had significant anglophone populations (e.g. Eastern Townships and Quebec City), it's even possible that the language barrier was crossed back and forth multiple times: Erskine—who didn't speak French—surprisingly referred to "La grande gigue simple" not with it's anglicized "Grand Jig" (a title I've heard other anglophones from Gaspé use) but with the French "La Grande Rouge" which actually hints at its connection to the Métis version, "La gigue de la Rivière Rouge" or "The Red River Jig."

I remember visiting Cyril DeVouge back in 2010 and he told us that the old fiddlers didn't care what tunes were called. His favourite joke after we would play him a tune would be to tell us that he knew the title. When we would ask him what it was, he would reply that it's called "I Don't Know." Classic Gaspesian oddball humour. Indeed, in my experiences in Gaspé, for both local and well-known tunes, they are as likely to be known by the name of the fiddler who played it or someone who enjoyed it (E.g. Edmund McAuley's Tune, Eva's Tune, Tommy Rooney's Jig, etc.). Still, it's very useful for those of us learning this music to be able to compare versions and so I'm grateful for Paul having reached out to us.

If you know any other alternate titles when exploring this blog, please let me know.