Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment