Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment