THE FIDDLE MUSIC OF
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
THE ISLAND FIDDLER
Introduction from The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island
(Mel Bay Publications)
by Ken Perlman
. . . from eFolkMusic:
" . . an active folklorist, Ken has spent over a decade collecting tunes and oral histories from traditional fiddle players on Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada. In both 1997 and '98, he received awards from the Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation for helping to "preserve, interpret, and disseminate our province's fiddling heritage."
Ken has a web site at www.kenperlman.com/
Prince Edward Island is one of Canada's Maritime Provinces. It lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence about 10 miles from the mainland, sheltered within a "crook" formed by the neighboring provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is home to about 130,000 people -- almost all of whom are of Scottish, Irish or Acadian French origin. The Island is divided into three counties, which are named (going from East to West) Kings, Queens, and Prince. Kings County is most Scottish in terms of ethnicity and culture, Prince County has most of the Island's French-speaking Acadian enclaves (such as the Evangeline Coast region), while Queens County has the provincial capital Charlottetown and much of the tourism.
Prince Edward Island is also home to one of the oldest, strongest, and most vibrant traditional fiddling cultures in North America. Despite the fact that the fiddling population has been declining since 1970, this small Island (it is roughly 150 miles long by 40 miles at its widest) still hosts at least two to three hundred fiddle players of a quality sufficient to warrant being commercially recorded. Moreover, there are easily another two or three thousand Islanders who can play the instrument well enough to accompany a dance. This is fully two percent of the population! Despite this wealth of talent, the fiddling scene on P.E.I. (as locals call it) is virtually unknown to outsiders. In fact the Island is far better known for its beaches and its connection to Lucy Maud Montgomery's famous novel Anne of Green Gables than it is for its fiddling.
Little did I know when I first set foot on Prince Edward Island in the summer of 1989 that I would spend the next several years deeply immersed in its music. All that immediately struck me about P.E.I. was that it was very beautiful. Everywhere I looked were fields of flowers. Intensely green foliage contrasted favorably with a deep rust-colored soil. Even more striking were the brilliant red bluffs that lined the shore along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, not two hundred yards from my host Dan Gillis' front door. And although my host had led me to believe that I might meet a few fiddlers during my stay, it didn't seem that this corner of the Island -- Northeastern Kings Co. near the town of Souris (pronounced SOO-ree) -- had a lot going on. There were just a few houses clustered together every so often along the road, a few farms, a couple of fishing villages, and lots of new-growth spruce.
A series of events over the next several days quickly altered this last assessment. A visit to a local town-day called the "Monticello Tea Party," produced a meeting with several fiddlers, one of whom -- George MacPhee -- was to provide me an introduction to the fiddling scene along the "North Side" of Kings Co. A chance inquiry at a Souris gas station produced my first contact with the Chaisson brothers -- Kenny, Peter and Kevin -- who turned out to be the best known proponents of traditional fiddle music on P.E.I. Then things began to really move fast. A musical evening organized by my host was attended by Mr. MacPhee and several local fiddlers. A day-long movable jam session with Mr. MacPhee enabled me to meet several of his fiddle playing sisters. A weekly meeting of the Northeast Kings Co. branch of the P.E.I. Fiddlers' Association brought me into contact with still more top-quality players.
I had just met more expert fiddlers in the last five days, than I had encountered on my travels in the States in the last five years! "Why" I kept asking myself on my way back to Boston, "have these people never been recorded?" I vowed to do everything in my power to rectify this situation.
In the summers of 1991-2 -- with much assistance in terms of funding and volunteer labor from the Earthwatch Organization of Watertown, Mass. -- I was able to record on both audio and video tape close to one hundred high quality fiddlers from dozens of Island communities. Most of these musicians were taped in their own kitchens with their families and favorite accompanists in attendance. I came away from this experience with the feeling that these artists were every bit as unique and musically intriguing as any folk-instrumentalist I had ever heard on an old 78.
Once I had the recordings in hand I set to work with my trusty Marantz tape recorder and its helpful half-speed feature. Tunes from about sixty fiddlers -- ranging in age from 13 to nearly ninety -- were selected to be transcribed (written down). Each selection was transcribed from tape as that fiddler played it, with as much precision as I could muster. When the transcriptions were completed, I transferred them to computer via a program called Finale.
The 427 tunes included in this collection represent a large proportion of the current Island repertoire. Well over one hundred of these tunes have to the best of my knowledge never seen print before, and perhaps a like number have appeared only in privately printed books of relatively limited circulation. Even those tunes that have appeared in many previous collections often feature new and intriguing details.
Because each tune is a transcription of a specific performance by an individual player, many subtleties of style -- such as ornamentation, double stops, and slurs -- are included (see "The Prince Edward Island Playing Style"). Also included are each player's melodic idiosyncrasies -- called twists in local parlance (see "Regional and Individual Styles"). You won't find, therefore, "definitive" versions of fiddle tunes in this book. You will find living, breathing versions of tunes filled with the vitality of a people whose great love for their music is expressed in every bow-stroke.
In essence then, The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island is a collection of about 425 fiddle arrangements or settings. Each setting is a record of the musical techniques and nuances put into play by an individual fiddler on a given day. Because these techniques and nuances are derived from a common pool of experience, these settings taken together give a fairly clear picture of traditional fiddling on P.E.I. as it exists today.
I am well aware that most tune books offer merely a basic version of a tune -- what might be called a tune skeleton. In other words they offer a melody line with little in the way of musical nuance. The advantage of this skeletal approach is clarity -- the tune is right there in front of the player without any distraction or encumbrance. This is only an advantage, however, provided that he or she knows the tradition well enough to put in the kind of subtleties and elaborations that make the tune come alive.
In fact, to a bred-to-the-tradition musician, a "tune-skeleton" is more than sufficient. They don't need the subtleties put in, since they already have their instincts to guide them. In fact, they would rather avoid the distraction of someone else's subtleties in order to fully concentrate on putting in their own. Those not bred to (or not conversant with) such a tradition, however, sometimes have a tendency to treat a tune-skeleton as if it were the whole story. This can result in a rendition that lacks vitality.
This book serves a number of functions. First, as stated above, it aspires to create a relatively complete picture of the contemporary P.E.I. playing style. Second, it serves as a guide to those who wish to emulate that style. Third it can easily be adapted to serve as a conventional tunebook -- both for those musicians who are already conversant with the style, and for those who are merely interested in the Island's melodies for their own sake.
Because "clarity" is such an important issue in a tune book, every effort was made when setting these tunes on computer to come up with a format which allowed for a clearly visible melody line. To this end, all melody notes are left full-sized, while notes that form the non-melody part of a "double stop" are presented in substantially reduced size (see "Special Symbols"). The eye can easily scan any transcription and come up with its tune-skeleton. Moreover, those merely interested in a "skeletal" melody line can also without difficulty ignore ornamentation, slurs, and other playing directions.
Six of the tunes transcribed here were not recorded during the 1991-2 taping program. First, the tunes played by Lem Jay -- "Lem Jay's Fancy*," and "Kitty at the Well" -- came from privately made 78-RPM recordings in the possession of his son Roland Jay. The tunes composed by Kevin Chaisson -- "Karen Chaisson's Reel," and "Bear River Jig" were recorded on piano in August 1993. Finally, the strathspey "King George IV," and the reel "The Honeymoon" were recorded respectively by Peter Chaisson, Jr. and Archie Stewart in August 1994.
Once you learn where to look for it, "old-time fiddling" (as the locals call it) is nowadays very much in evidence on P.E.I., especially during the summer. The Rollo Bay Scottish Fiddle Festival, held the third weekend in July in Northeast Kings County draws crowds of over 5,000. The Atlantic Jamboree and the Acadian Exposition (held in Abram-Village, Prince County the first weekends of August and September respectively), draw several thousand people each to the fiddle concert portion of their programs. The Queens County and Prince County Branches of the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers' Association -- whose performances feature ensemble playing of fiddle music -- are in constant demand. Town days, benefit concerts, ceilidhs, (pronounced KAY-lies: Gaelic for "musical evenings") and smaller festivals dot the Island. In addition, there are a number of venues where old-time square dancing takes place on a regular basis.
Island fiddling is a lively blend of Scottish, Irish and Acadian-French elements. Local tradition has it that the first boat-loads of Scottish immigrants landing at Tracadie Bay on the northeast shore of Queens Co. in the late eighteenth century had fiddlers among them, and some families can trace their musical pedigrees back to that time. The Irish appeared in substantial numbers perhaps a generation later, and added their tunes and playing style to the mix. The Acadians are almost all descended from the thirty-odd families allowed to remain on the Island when most of their countrymen were expelled by the British following the Seven-Years War (1756-63). They have adopted the tunes and overall approach to fiddling of their Celtic neighbors, but many -- particularly those who grew up in western P.E.I. -- have their own notion of style and sense of rhythmic nuance.
The Island fiddle repertoire these days is a hodge-podge of tunes from a variety of national and regional traditions. Its core is Scottish and -- to a lesser extent -- Irish, but it also includes tunes from Cape Breton, mainland Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, New England and the Southern United States. In addition, there are many tunes composed on the Island, and versions or variants of tunes "from away" that have evolved among Island fiddlers over the generations. (see "The Island Repertoire").
What is unique about old time fiddling on P.E.I. is not so much the repertoire -- much of it as we have seen is shared with other fiddling traditions -- but rather the manner in which that repertoire is played. And, although there are several distinct regional playing styles on the Island -- and the argument has often been locally made that each Island fiddler is a style unto himself -- there is nevertheless a distinctive "sound" that is characteristic of nearly all Island players. There are also a number of playing devices and techniques that are virtually universal.
The Island fiddle sound reflects directly the subtle rhythmic nuances of square and step dancing (see "Dancing to the Old-Time Fiddle"). In fact, the playing of a "good fiddler" is said to convey a rhythm so infectious that anyone within listening range will want to get up and dance. Island fiddlers tend to have a full, strong yet sweet tone. To this writer, listening to the rolling sound of an Island fiddle is like watching the clouds go by on a summer's day -- the music rises above the cares of everyday life and offers a sense of freedom. For more on these subjects, see "Regional and Individual Styles," and "The Prince Edward Island Playing Style."
It is no accident that there are hundreds of top-quality fiddlers on P.E.I. Because of a variety of historical factors -- not the least of which was a long term policy by the Canadian Federal Government that promoted growth in the center and west of the country while ignoring the east -- P.E.I. was long an economic and cultural backwater. In fact, many technological advances that urban North Americans take for granted -- such as electricity, paved roads, and automobile travel -- were not a part of rural Island life until the 1950s. Prior to this time, people rarely travelled more than a few miles (a comfortable wagon or sleigh ride), and communities were responsible -- not only for maintaining their own livelihood, but for organizing and conducting their own entertainment.
In them days virtually every community had its own stock of fiddlers, who supplied the music for the dances that served as the primary form of recreation. The most common venue for these dances was the informal house party. Word would go out that the event was in the offing, a kitchen would be cleared, the fiddler would set himself up in the corner, and the neighbors would gather together for an evening of square sets (as the local variant of square dancing was called) interspersed with episodes of a solo dance form known as step-dancing (similar to Southern clogging and Irish stepdancing, but closer to the floor than the latter and with less upper body movement than the former). As Archie Stewart of Milltown Cross, Kings Co. recalls:
"Back then...there was no radios, there was no television, and that was the only entertainment we had -- in the wintertime probably once a week somebody'd have a house party. And ... everbody'd bring a pound of sugar and they'd make fudge and we'd have fudge and then they'd clear all the stuff out of the kitchen and I'd get the fiddle out and away they'd go and they'd dance 'till 12 or 1 o'clock and that was an evening's entertainment. There was nothing else! And it was good pastime."
Not only did fiddling and dance provide "entertainment," but they also served other important functions within the community. When money had to be raised for the up-keep of the local school house, the community held a fiddle-dance. When the local church needed support, it scheduled dances as part of a tea party or parish picnic. When a wedding was decided upon, virtually the first act of the families involved was to line up the fiddler.
Making music in old Island districts (communities) was not just the province of the fiddler. Most residents knew at least the more common tunes by heart, and a fair percentage excelled at an activity known as tuning or jigging -- singing dance tunes with full rhythmic nuance using abstract vocables or nonsense lyrics. In fact, many Islanders jigged in full voice as they went about their daily chores. School children in many communities would spend their lunch recess jigging tunes and step-dancing to jigged accompaniment; they would also make a game out of imitating the jigging styles of community adults. What's more, when no fiddlers were available, tuners were sometimes called upon to provide music for square dancing.
Tunes were passed down between the generations for the most part by ear within the family and community. Many fiddlers report that they learned their first tunes by listening to the jigging of family members. Other opportunities to hear tunes included older relatives who played fiddle, community dances, and -- by the 1930s -- radio (powered in the days before electrification by storage batteries akin to those found today in automobiles). By the time most youngsters were old enough to manipulate a fiddle, they had already committed to memory a large portion of the local repertoire.
Learning new tunes often had to be done on the fly. A couple of hearings at a dance or on the radio might be all the exposure to a particular tune you might ever get. Fiddlers developed the ability to absorb the essence of a tune in a couple of hearings. According to most accounts, retrieving a new tune from memory was often an unconscious process. A fiddler would awaken in the middle of the night, be lying abed in the morning, be at work in the fields or on a fishing boat and a recently heard tune would appear to him in its entirety. If a fiddle could then be immediately got hold of, the tune could be picked out and retained in memory. Otherwise it was lost.
Passing On the Art
There was no formal instruction in fiddle technique. What little instruction occurred was devoted to teaching the notes of particular tunes. Most established fiddlers felt that since they couldn't read music, they had no guidance to offer a novice. For the most part, fiddlers learned their playing techniques through imitation of other players in the family and community.
Perhaps the best place to learn the fiddlers' art in those days was from the heart of one of the numerous fiddling families that dotted the Island. In such families, at least one parent and a large percentage of the numerous children in residence played fiddle, accompaniment instruments, or step-danced. Not only was music making and dance continual on evenings and Sundays in these households, but community members could precipitate a house party merely by dropping in.
In the old days, most of the Island's few active female fiddlers came from these large fiddling families. Fiddling was considered by and large to be a man's calling, and those women who were musically inclined were encouraged to take up the pump organ or piano. Part of this was simply an extension of other "division of labor" attitudes that had men running the plows, mowers, and binders, and women learning to spin, weave and cook. But there was also a general feeling that fiddling at dance events was no "proper" activity for a woman. As a result, most Island women who fiddled plied their art primarily in the privacy of their homes. There was one notable exception to this state of affairs. Since the 1930s, when Zélie-Anne Poirier and her sisters established themselves as lively dance fiddlers against initial community opposition, women have played regularly for dances in the Evangeline Coast region of Prince Co.
Having the gift of fiddling was sometimes a mixed blessing. Along with the joy of playing came the strongly felt obligation to share your gift with the community, regardless of how you felt about it at the time. In fact, fiddlers were expected to offer their services gratis at house parties, community fund raisers, and (for the most part) weddings. Some community fiddlers were called upon to play several nights a week, despite the fact that they were also working from dawn to dusk at farming or fishing. After many years of this routine, it's perhaps noteworthy that only a relatively few broke under the strain.
Fiddlers did have the reputation in some communities, however, of spending too much of their time fiddling and not enough of it working. Stories abound to this effect. There is, for example a former settlement in Kings County that is said to now be abandoned because it once sported so many good fiddlers that no one did any work. And then there's the story they tell about a well-known Prince Co. fiddler whose long-suffering wife was dismayed one day to see him head off with his instrument to a house party while several weeks' backlog of chores were piling up. "How can you leave when there's not a stick of wood about the place," said she. "Woman, I'm taking the fiddle, not the axe," said he.
Fiddle contests were once held all over the Island in the warm months. While people still talk about the Great Fiddle Contest of 1926 -- when P.E.I. champion Neil Cheverie of Elmira (Kings Co.) was sent to compete against North America's finest at a competition in Boston -- most fiddle contests on the Island were modest affairs. Prizes generally were small, but the prestige of winning was so great that hard feelings often arose among fiddlers and even among the families of fiddlers. What's more, these feelings of hostility sometimes persisted for decades. As a result, the 1970s saw a general movement-- spearheaded by the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers' Association -- to ban fiddle contests on the Island.
The mid-1950s through the early 1970s saw great changes come to the Island -- rural electrification, mass communications, improved roads, widespread automobile usage, mechanized agriculture, and school consolidation. It was now possible to seek work and entertainment outside the community in which you lived. For the first time, the focus moved away from community music and dance to entertainment provided by mass communications. Hundreds of community fiddlers -- products of a tradition that had provided dance accompaniment for generations -- were still in place, but their talents were no longer in constant demand. As the importance and visibility of fiddling declined, the art no longer drew youngsters to its fold. By the mid-1970s Island fiddlers were an aging population with few members even as young as 30.
By the late 1970s some fiddlers on the Island became sufficiently alarmed by this state of affairs to do something about it. Under the leadership of a priest from Little Pond named Faber MacDonald (then posted in the Charlottetown area and now a Bishop in Newfoundland), Joe Pete Chaisson of Bear River, and several others, the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers' Association was formed -- in part to address the issue of passing the art on to the young. Eventually, branches were organized for each county. The Prince Co. branch -- run for most of its existence by John Gauthier -- was based in Summerside, the Queens Co. branch -- currently under the direction of Fr. Charles Cheverie was based in Charlottetown, and the Northeast Kings Co. branch -- under the direction first of Joe Pete Chaisson, and later under that of his sons Peter, Kenny, and Kevin -- was based in Souris.
Perhaps the most important activity of the Fiddlers' Association has been its support for group fiddle lessons aimed primarily at youngsters. Using proceeds from the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival, for example, the Kings Co. branch has sponsored free fiddle classes every Monday night for the last fifteen years at the Rollo Bay Consolidated School. These efforts have just begun to bear fruit and a new generation of players trained at Rollo Bay is just now coming into its own.
Interestingly, neither the Fiddlers' Association nor the Rollo Bay teaching program has maintained the old Island prejudice against females playing fiddle. Both Queens County and Prince county branches have substantial numbers of women playing the instrument in their performing ensembles. Similarly, females of all ages have been welcome at the Rollo Bay program since its inception. As a result, there are fine young woman fiddlers cropping up not only in Kings County, but in other areas of the Island as well.
Since the early days of its operation, the work of the P.E.I. Fiddlers' Association has been helped along considerably by a wave of nostalgia for a rapidly receding past. In many Island communities, this has led to a revival of such fiddle-oriented community events as tea parties, ceilidhs, and old-time dances. Another aspect of this phenomenon was a widespread demand for formal step-dance instruction, as parents around the Island suddenly felt the need to have their young girls learn the art (see "Dancing to the Old-Time Fiddle.")
Although there is reason for optimism, the survival of old-time fiddling on P.E.I. is far from assured. Most active fiddlers on the Island are past sixty, and most of them grew up in traditional settings where formal music teaching was not a part of life. They are not well equipped to instruct the generation "coming up," even when there are members of that generation who are eager to learn. And, despite the great success of the Rollo Bay teaching program, there is still not enough fiddle instruction available elsewhere on the Island. The great diversity of the styles and tune versions that form Island fiddling today may yet become a thing of the past.
Fiddling on the Island has always been associated with social dancing. For most of the Island's history, these dances were done in what might be termed standard square-dance or square-set formation, with four couples lined up at right angles. The oldest fiddlers remember dances called breakdowns -- the Scotch reel, the four-hand reel, and the 8-hand reel -- in which participants actually step-danced through most maneuvers. In the 1920s or so these dances apparently gave way to others -- like the lancers, the quadrille, and local variants of the above like the "Souris set" -- where most maneuvers could be walked through. Thereafter, step-dancing took the form of spontaneous "exhibitions" by solo dancers between square dances at house parties and other local dance events.
All these square dances were divided into distinct segments called "figures." Each figure had different steps, each was accompanied by a different kind of tune, and each was followed by a distinct pause that offered everyone a chance to take a breather. Most fiddlers I spoke to remember that the square dances in their respective communities had four figures. As time went on, each community evolved its own version of square dancing which varied from that of its neighbors in terms of the number of figures, the order of figures, the actual steps done, and the kinds of tunes played for them.
With the coming of the "modern" era, the nature of the set-dances changed. Islanders could now travel greater distances, which allowed dancers from several communities to gather at a single centralized hall. Since Islanders refused to resort to the expedient of using a caller (that institution had for the most part been abandoned by the 1920s), there was no trend toward standardization of figure order and step-sequence. As a result, hall dances to this day require negotiation on these matters, and the overall trend has been toward both a simplification of dance steps and a decrease in their number. In addition, the pressures of dealing with large numbers of dancers in relatively small spaces led to the development of what might be termed a circle-formation set dance.
In the circle formation dance -- which is more or less all you see in the current era -- each couple around the circle forms what amounts to a small square with the neighboring couple. Each "square" of two couples then goes through the steps of a given figure. Then the couple on the right passes clockwise through its original neighbors and forms a square with the next neighboring couple on the circle. The couple on the left passes counterclockwise and forms a new square with its new neighbors. Then both new squares go through the steps of the figure.
Although waltzes have been part of the Celtic fiddle repertoire since the 1800s, there apparently wasn't much waltzing done in rural Island communities until the Second World War. Because couples orient themselves in a large circle -- each spinning on their own axis as the circle describes an "orbit" around the room's mid-point -- waltzes are sometimes referred to as round dances.
Again, the 1970s saw a dramatic growth in the demand for formalized step-dance instruction (see "Decline and Resurgence). As instructor and provincial legislator Libby Hubley of Kensington (Prince Co.) describes it, most of the first crop of step-dance instructors had previously been teachers of tap, ballroom dancing or highland dancing. Few had grown up in households where step dancing was a part of daily life. Since progress had to be shown to parents, and pupils had a need to work toward specific goals, step-dancing became performance oriented. Routines were worked out, steps were formalized, costumes were designed, and (through association with tap-dance) metal "taps" were adopted for most step-dance performances. There are now about 600 step dance students on the Island at any given time.
Fiddle tunes are the traditional dance music of the Celtic peoples of the world. While it is unclear just how far they go back, we do know that these tunes had certainly achieved a relatively "modern" sound and general method of presentation by the late seventeenth century. Beginning at that time and culminating about a century later, collectors scoured the byways of Scotland searching for traditional tunes, and printed them in extensive collections. Once the older tunes had for the most part been published, a new breed of dedicated tune-composers sprang up -- like Niel [ed: sic] Gow (1727-1807) and William Marshall (1748-1833). Most of these composers were in the employ of Scottish noble houses, and were asked to compose tunes for special occasions. The last great Scottish tune composer of this tradition, James Scott Skinner (1843-1927), earned his living as a music hall virtuoso. Over the years,these composed tunes were added to the stock of older tunes. They are themselves now considered "traditional" by all but those few who frequent the pages of old tune collections.
Most fiddle tunes have two sections -- one part that stays around the low or mid-range strings of the fiddle (called the low turn on P.E.I.), and one that moves up onto the upper strings of the instrument (called the high turn on P.E.I.). The low turn is usually played first, but there are certain tunes where the high turn comes first. Plus, there are certain regions (like P.E.I.'s Prince Co.) where fiddlers seem to like starting many of their tunes on the high turn.
For the purposes of this book I will generally follow common American practice and refer to the first part of each transcription (usually the low turn) as Part A, the second part as Part B, the third part (if any) as Part C, and so on. Similarly, a variation on the A part is referred to as Part A', a variation on the B part is called Part B', and so on.
Virtually all fiddle tunes have four, eight or sixteen measures per part. Generally, each part is played twice through before proceeding to the next part.
Fiddle tunes are divided into a number of sharply defined tuned categories. Let's start with tunes used on the Island for set-dancing -- jigs, reels and set tunes. All three genres have two beats per measure. Moreover, all three are played at about the same speed -- at a rate consistent with a metronome setting of one beat equals about "120."
Jigs are in 6/8 time (each beat is the equivalent of a dotted quarter note). Generally, they consist of two repeated eight-bar parts, two non-repeated sixteen bar parts, or a mixture of the two formats. On P.E.I., a distinction is made between Scotch Jigs (those which have sharply defined phrases or consist largely of quarter - eighth note combinations), and Irish Jigs (those which are composed largely of streams of eighth notes). Some "Scotch" jigs included in this collection are "Tea Gardens Jig," "Come Under My Plaidie" and "Goldenrod Jig." Some "Irish" jigs include "The Irish Washerwoman," "Larry O'Gaff," and "The Land of Sweet Erin."
Reels -- called just fast tunes in many parts of the Island -- are in 2/2 or cut time (each beat is the equivalent of a half note). They are made up primarily of streams of eighth notes, and it often takes great skill on the part of the fiddler to "shape" these notes at speed into a listenable melody. Most reels have two repeated eight-measure parts, but some of the older Scottish reels (and newer tunes that emulate them) are made up of one repeated four-measure low turn and a non-repeated eight measure high turn. Some reels have just two repeated four measure parts.
All hornpipes have eight bars per part, and they have exactly the same structure as reels with eight-bar parts. In the Scottish and Irish traditions, however, hornpipes are performed quite differently from reels. To begin with, hornpipes in these traditions are played at a much slower tempo than are reels (that is, at a metronome setting of about one beat per click set at 96). Second, they are almost always played with swing eighth notes (see "Playing Directions"), while reels can be played with straight, dotted, or swing eighth notes.
On P.E.I. and the rest of the Maritimes, however, hornpipes are usually played at the same tempo and with the same style of note production as are reels. They have therefore been lumped together with reels into a single section. Those tunes that were performed in true hornpipe style on the field recordings -- like "Fay's Hornpipe" and "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps" -- are so marked.
Set-tunes are cut-time tunes played for set or square dancing that are not considered by Islanders to be reels. In many parts of P.E.I. these tunes -- which generally contain fewer notes per beat than reels, and which tend to be bowed quite differently -- are called slow tunes. In the set-tune category can be found polka-like tunes like "Crooked Stovepipe" and "Let's Have a Ceilidh," along with simplified reel or hornpipe melodies like "The Road to India." Also present are versions of popular and traditional song melodies from various eras that have been converted into cut time dance tunes. Some examples of such conversions are "Darlin' Nellie Grey," "Silver and Gold," and "Home Sweet Home." Set-tunes can have eight or sixteen bars per section. Eight-bar parts are always repeated; sixteen bar parts are sometimes repeated.
Waltzes are tunes for slow couple dancing in 3/4 time. It is interesting to note that the number of waltzes in circulation has been increased by converting a number of slow airs in 3/4 or 6/8 time -- like " The Rosebud of Allenvale" and "The Massacre at Glen Coe," into dance tunes. In addition, a number of 3/4 time songs from various eras -- like "The Four Marys," and "Little Old Log Cabin For Sale" -- have also been so converted. Most waltzes have two repeated sixteen bar parts.
Marches are cut time tunes played at walking tempo (about one beat per metronome click set at 96). In the Scottish tradition, marches have two distinct formats -- the pipe march and the fiddle march. The pipe march has four repeated eight-bar parts. The third part (A') is always an elaboration of the first part (A), while the fourth part (B') is always an elaboration of the second part (B). To complete the picture, B' has a four-measure-long second ending which recalls the last four measures of A. In a fiddle march, on the other hand, there are just two eight-measure parts. The second part (B) of a fiddle march now has the four-measure-long second ending.
On P.E.I., marches are not used for dancing. Instead, they are played primarily as opening tunes for Scottish sets (see "Medleys"). In many parts of the Island, therefore, march melodies have been converted into reels and pressed into service for dance accompaniment. Examples here (in the reels section) are "Johnny Cope," and "Inverness Gathering `Reel.'" Most of the tunes played in "march-style" on the Island are fiddle marches. True pipe marches in circulation tend to be "condensed" (lacking at least one part) or even pared down to fiddle-march format.
Strathspeys are difficult to define. They are rhythmically complex tunes in 4/4 time played in a wide variety of tempos. A strathspey of average tempo would have one beat (that is, one-fourth of the measure) equal to a metronome click set somewhere between 100 and 120. They originated in the Strathspey (Spey River Valley) region of Scotland in the early eighteenth century and were first known as strathspey reels. On P.E.I. and nearby Cape Breton Island (see "The Island Repertoire") strathspeys are used primarily to accompany step-dancing. They have essentially the same structure as reels, although the most common form is a four-bar repeated low turn, followed by a eight-bar unrepeated high turn. In the Maritimes tradition, it is customary to follow a strathspey with one or more musically compatible reels.
Airs are relatively slow-tempo listening tunes. On P.E.I., most of the airs played have forms and patterns of notes drawn from the dance tune tradition. Airs have a variety of tempos and structures. Many airs are played without a strict tempo.
As indicated above, folk melodies tend to be elastic in terms of form. On the Island, they are often altered to suit the need at hand. Song melodies and airs often become set-tunes and waltzes; marches and strathspeys become reels.
Because the fiddle tune tradition has been so well documented for so long, it is easy to get the impression that each tune has a definitive version. Even a glance through the most common tunebooks quickly scuttles this notion. In fact, versions of the same tune appearing in different books often differ in a wide variety of details.
Having had the opportunity to work with a living fiddling tradition, and to listen carefully in some cases to dozens of performances of the same tune, I would have to concur with the general Island attitude on this subject. Islanders feel that there is a core to every tune -- certain phrases that must be reproduced in more or less a note-for-note fashion for the tune to retain its identity. There are other portions of a tune that each fiddler is permitted to play in his or her own way (see "Individual Styles and `Twists'.")
In the old days a fiddler rarely changed tunes in the middle of a set-dance figure or step-dance performance. Nowadays the medley or group of tunes has become an important feature of Island playing, especially in those areas closest to Cape Breton. The Island fiddler commonly chooses all the tunes of a group from the same key, although changes of mode (see "Pitch and Mode") are common. Each tune (with its repeats) is generally played through twice before moving on to a new tune.
For set-dance accompaniment, a fiddler generally plays a group of jigs, a group of reels, or a group of set-tunes. Unless there is a big crowd, a few tunes (each played twice) will get you through the full length of most set-dance figures.
For stepdance accompaniment, the fiddler usually plays either a group of reels, or what might be termed a step dance group. In a step-dance group, one or more gradually accelerating strathspeys is followed by several reels.
At fiddle festivals, ceilidhs, or musician's gatherings most fiddlers play a group of tunes that is a variation on the Scottish Set. A Scottish Set is a medley that consists of at least three different kinds of tunes, all of which usually share the same key-note. It usually begins with an air or march, and then (like of a step-dance set) it continues with one or more gradually accelerating strathspeys, and concludes with one or more reels. Quite often the musician will keep the reels portion of his set group going until he either runs out of tunes or runs out of energy.
The central core of the Island repertoire consists of perhaps a dozen tunes -- often referred to as good old tunes -- that nearly every fiddler plays. What's more, no Islander ever seems to get tired of playing (or hearing) them! While there is some variation in different parts of the Island (see "Regional and Individual Styles"), these tunes can in general be identified as "Lord MacDonald's Reel," "The Princess Reel," "Paddy on the Turnpike," "Pigeon on the Gatepost," "Pride of the Ball," "The Farmer's Reel," "Heather on the Hill," "Sheehan's Reel" "The Flowers of Edinburgh," "St. Anne's Reel," "The Maid Behind the Bar," and "The Mirimachi Fire." In Western P.E.I., we could add "La Marmotteuse" and "The Ottawa Valley Reel." In Eastern P.E.I., we could add "Homeward Bound," and "Jerome's Farewell to Gibraltar."
This group is far from static. Some tunes -- like "Lord MacDonald's Reel" and "Pigeon on the Gatepost" have been good old tunes for generations, but others are more recent additions. "The Princess Reel" and "St. Anne's Reel," for example, first appeared in the 1930s, while "Heather on the Hill" did not achieve Island-wide circulation until the 1950s. Nowadays, two tunes composed recently by Cape Bretoners -- "Sandy MacIntyre's Trip to Boston," and "Brenda Stubbert's Reel" -- are fast moving into this company.
Most of the Island repertoire, as previously indicated, derives from a variety of outside sources. Some tunes arrived with the first waves of Scottish and Irish settlers, others came via later immigration. Most other methods for acquiring new repertoire depended on the quick ears and highly developed musical recall of local fiddlers.
Since the late nineteenth century, many Island fiddlers were forced by a poor local economy to work away for portions of the year, or even for years at a time. Many young men, for example, spent their winters in the "lumber-woods" of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine and Quebec. Many others spent years working in major North American cities such as Boston, New York, Montreal and Toronto. All of these situations created opportunities to learn new tunes from off-Island fiddlers.
Conversely, there were occasions when musicians from distant Island communities or even from away participated in local musical events. Each of these would almost certainly bring with them a stock of new tunes.
Scottish, Irish, and North American tune books -- such as Cole's One Thousand Fiddle Tunes, The Skye Collection, The Athole Collection and The Scottish Violinist -- were another major source of new repertoire (See Appendix A). Since the ability to read music has never been widespread among Island fiddlers, this method often required the presence of an intermediary. An ear-player would actually spend extended periods of time with someone -- like a church organist -- who had the ability to read music. The latter would then play tunes from a book until the fiddler had them committed to memory.
Like the good old tunes, the Island repertoire as a whole is always changing. A large number of old Scottish tunes, for example, -- most of the strathspeys and classic reels like "Archie Menzies" and "The Bonny Lass of Fisherrow" -- had dropped from general circulation by the end of the 1920s. In the 1950s, the size of the new circular-formation dance sets had grown so large that most fiddlers no longer had sufficient stamina to play reels throughout certain figures, particularly the "grand chain." This led to a great increase in the number of set-tunes learned. Most other developments in tune "fashion" since 1930 have followed local trends in fiddle music broadcasting and recording.
Since so many Island fiddlers had developed the ability to recall the essence of a new tune in a couple of hearings, the appearance of fiddle music on radio was bound to have a significant effect on repertoire. The first fiddling broadcasts reached P.E.I. about 1930. These broadcasts, which originated in New Carlisle, Québec and featured Québecois players, were the source of such popular Island tunes as "St. Anne's Reel" and "The Old Man and the Old Woman." Shortly thereafter, a number of Island players were tapped for live radio broadcasts originating in Charlottetown. Fiddler Lem Jay of Mt. Stewart, for example, is still remembered Island-wide for his annual New Year's Eve concerts, during which he always played (among other tunes) "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps" and "Jay's Reel."
Two subsequent developments in broadcasting were to have a considerable effect on the Island repertoire -- the rise of Don Messer, and the appearance on radio of fiddlers from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In 1939, a New Brunswick native named Don Messer was hired by CFCY-radio in Charlottetown to anchor its fiddle broadcasts. Within a decade, Messer's popularity grew to a level where he literally dominated fiddle broadcasting throughout Canada and the northeastern United States. Messer drew his repertoire from a variety of sources -- fiddlers he met in his travels, old tune books, and fiddle recordings from the US. Although Island fiddlers were quick to learn many of the tunes he popularized -- like "Whalen's Breakdown," "Little Burnt Potato" and "Blue Mountain Hornpipe" -- his fiddling style was never very highly regarded by most old-time players on P.E.I. By and large, they felt he played too fast and too "straight-ahead," with none of the complexity and drive so prized in Island playing.
Since the first days of Nova Scotia radio broadcasting in the mid-1930s, the Cape Breton fiddling style and repertoire has captivated many Island players. Beginning with fiddlers like Winston Scotty Fitzgerald, Angus Chisholm, and Little Jack MacDonald -- and continuing to present day artists like Jerry Holland and Buddy MacMaster -- Cape Breton has become the largest single new-tune source for Island fiddlers. Many of the tunes played on radio or recorded by Cape Bretoners were old Scottish tunes, and this led to a resurgence of this material on the Island. There has also been quite a number of new fiddle compositions coming out of Cape Breton which have achieved wide circulation, most notably those of Dan R. MacDonald and Jerry Holland.
As tunes move among players within an oral music tradition, become isolated within a region, or migrate between traditions, they tend to change. As tunes evolve, they form what are known as variants -- entities that are clearly derivative from a "parent tune," but quite different from each other. An example of two such variants are the U.S. tune "Leather Britches," and the PEI version of the Scottish tune "Lord MacDonald's Reel." There are quite a number of tune variants that are unique to PEI, such as "Jerome's Farewell to Gibraltar," the Prince Co. version of "St. Anne's Reel," and "Pride of the Ball."
Memory is often imperfect, and this can lead to what might be termed mongrels and hybrids. In a mongrel variant, portions of two or more tunes are mixed together within the same part. In a hybrid, intact parts from different tunes are combined together. An example of a hybrid tune is the jig "Paddy Carrey's Ship*," which combines the low turn of "Paddy Carrey's Fortune" with the high turn of "The New Rigged Ship." As is the case with this last tune, sometimes a hybrid can become widely played in its own right.
Over the generations, fiddlers on the Island have been continually composing (making is the term in local parlance) new tunes. Many of these homegrown Island tunes have been forgotten, but some of them -- like "The Brae Reel," and "The Women of Pisquid" -- are still in circulation. Nowadays, there is still quite a bit of tune-making going on. A substantial number of the fiddlers we taped had made a tune or two, a few fiddlers had made several tunes, and at least two players -- Emmett Hughes and Bill MacDonald -- had become prolific tune smiths. Transcriptions for most of these newer original tunes have been included in this collection.
Because transportation was so difficult in the old days, fiddlers rarely had the opportunity to hear players from communities more than a wagon- or sleigh- ride away. At one time, then, each district more or less had its own style of playing. Today, with improved transportation and communications, these many local styles have coalesced into perhaps six regional styles of playing, named for the various Island Counties -- Northeast Kings, Central Kings, South Kings, Queens, East Prince/Evangeline Coast, and West Prince. Players from each of these regions differ in terms of both overall sound and -- to a lesser degree -- repertoire. Capsule biographies organized by region for the fiddlers whose tunes are transcribed in this book appear in the section entitled "The Players."
Fiddlers of Northeast Kings Co. near the town of Souris tend to play an ornate, hard driving style heavily influenced by the Scottish-oriented fiddlers of Cape Breton. Along with the reels and jigs so popular throughout the Island, they also play a large number of marches, strathspeys and airs. Their repertoire is laced with both old Scottish tunes, and the newer tunes coming out of Cape Breton. They tend to use a relatively abrupt style of bowing, Scottish style ornamentation, cuts, and snaps ( see "The Prince Edward Island Playing style"). The pace of their music tends to be on the moderate side.
Fiddlers of South Kings Co. near the town of Montague play a shuffling, lilting style that reminds me of old 1920s-era recordings of fiddlers from the American South. They play mostly the "good old" reels and set pieces of P.E.I. Relative to their Northeast Kings counterparts, their tempos are faster, they have a more rolling style of bowing, and they use less ornamentation, cuts, and snaps.
Fiddlers of Central Kings Co. near the towns of Cardigan and Georgetown represent what might be termed an intermediate style between Northeast and South Kings. Fiddlers from this area play a lot of the Scottish and Cape Breton repertoire, but in a relatively "straight-ahead" non-ornamented style with few cuts and snaps.
Fiddlers of West Prince Co. near the towns of O'Leary and Tignish play a style and repertoire that has a distinct Acadian flavor, with strong ties in terms of style and repertoire to the fiddle-music scene in neighboring New Brunswick. The pace of music is quite rapid compared to that found in Kings Co., and the bowing style is extremely vigorous. In fact, the bow moves so fast and extends so far afield as the fiddler attacks the strings that it sometimes seems in danger of flying out of his hand. West Prince fiddlers use few ornaments, cut, and snaps, but their music is replete with lively rhythms and syncopations.
Fiddlers of East Prince Co./Evangeline Coast near the towns of Abram-Village and Wellington blend a bit of the Scottish-Cape Breton repertoire and rhythmic attack into a largely Acadian-oriented style. This Scottish influence is due mostly to the influence of fiddler Eddie Arsenault, who learned a significant part of his repertoire from Cape Breton broadcasts, and who had the opportunity to play with a number of great Cape Breton fiddlers while serving in the Canadian Army during the second World War.
Fiddlers from Queens County play what might be termed an intermediate or central-Island style -- they incorporate some "Scottish" elements into their playing, but they also tend to have a bit of a syncopated "French" swing to their bowing.
Two other stylistic considerations are Island-wide instead of regional. The first involves a distinction made between Cape Breton-oriented fiddlers and "Island fiddlers." As you might suspect, the former are those P.E.I. fiddlers who (regardless of region) look to Cape Breton for both style and repertoire. Island fiddlers, on the other hand, try to maintain for the most part the tunes and playing style of the era prior to Cape Breton domination of fiddle broadcasting. Also in the mix of Island players are the followers and admirers of Don Messer, who emulate his style and keep his repertoire alive. Most of the latter were bred in Queens Co.
Within these various styles, there is tremendous variation from player to player. No two fiddlers hold the instrument or bow exactly alike, no two conduct the bow across the strings in exactly the same manner, and no two play any given tune in exactly the same way. In fact, each fiddler regards it as almost a point of honor to put his brand (put his own twist is the term used in local parlance) on each tune that is part of his repertoire. In other words, there will almost always be a part of each tune where a given player uses a unique sequence of notes that derives from his own fancy. After all, as fiddler Leonard McDonald of Emyvale, Queens Co. puts it, "If we all played exactly alike, it wouldn't matter who played, would it?"
Accompaniment on the Island begins with the fiddler's own foot. From the days before extensive instrumental accompaniment, fiddlers have carried over the habit of affording them-selves rhythmic support via a stylized foot stomp (usually heel-toe, heel-toe) that accentuates the off-beat. Much of the time this foot-stomp is really all the fiddler needs to stay on the beat, even in situations where an accompanist is not up to the task. Foot-stomping styles tend to be regional as well, with fiddlers from the western part of the Island tending to use a more rhythmically intensive two-footed routine (heel-left, toe-right; toe-left, heel right).
In the old days the accompaniment instrument of choice was the pump organ, examples of which still grace many an Island parlor. Pump-organists had worked out an accompaniment style (unfortunately not heard much nowadays) in which oom-pah piano-like rhythmic patterns were strategically accented by sustained notes. Today the favorite accompaniment instruments are piano and guitar. The piano is especially popular -- and its style of play most highly developed -- in Northeast Kings Co.
When Island fiddlers meet to have a few tunes, it is rare to have two melody instruments playing together. Generally, a fiddler will sit himself down next to the accompanist and play medley after medley until his bowing arm grows weary (generally about 20 minutes). Then the next fiddler gets up to play. No one takes it amiss if the same tune is repeated by several different fiddlers in the course of an evening. After all, each player has his own twist on it!
All regional styles and individual "twists" aside, there is definitely a distinctive "sound" that is characteristic of nearly all Island players. This sound is the result both of shared stylistic features and techniques on the one hand, and of shared attitudes toward fiddle music on the other. These shared techniques and attitudes reflect for the most part the conditions presented by the house party era -- the need to learn in a self-reliant manner, the need to play effortlessly (and rapidly) for hours on end, the need to be heard above the din of a rollicking community dance, the need to keep strong time with little or no accompaniment, the need to make your neighbors (tired though they were after a hard day of farm work or fishing) get up and dance, the need to please an "audience" who knew all the tunes and had some very distinct ideas about how they should be played.
Before we take a look at a few specific aspects of P.E.I. fiddle technique, I'd like to quickly sketch some of the cultural attitudes that support them. Specifically, most Islanders -- whether or not they play themselves -- have a fairly clear idea of "what makes a good fiddler."
First, as locals express it, a good fiddler must not only have music in him, he must in fact be just full of music. He's got to have excellent musical recall, be able to keep a large number of tunes in memory, and have the ability to bring those tunes to life on his instrument. This ability to remember and make music are considered by most Islanders to be gifts from the Deity. They are also considered to be inheritable, like hair and eye color. One common theory on the handing down of the art holds that great fiddling often skips a generation. Consequently, the most likely group of offspring among whom the gift might fall would have fiddling grandfathers on both sides.
Second, a good fiddler's got to play good and lively. Lively does not mean fast. Instead, it means playing at comfortable dancing speed, with all the subtle rhythmic nuances of the local brand of square- and step- dancing reflected in the bowing. This last quality is referred to as putting a good timing on the music.
Third, a good fiddler's got to play true and avoid "cutting up the tunes." What this means is that -- all individualistic twists aside -- the major themes (strains) of each tune as locally known must be played intact. What's more, notes should not be left out because they are too hard to play at speed.
Fourth, a good fiddler should have a sweet, smooth sound. Good players are described as having a lovely sweet music, as being able to take "a dandy sound out of the fiddle."
Fifth, a good fiddler never stops learning new tunes or ceases "improving" the ones he knows. Acadian fiddler Eddie Arsenault of St. Chrysostom, Prince Co. likens the process of perfecting the playing of a fiddle tune to carpentry:
"It's like building a house ... [A]fter the rough work is done you gotta put on the trimming ... [B]ut the fiddler's about the same thing, you see ... When you start you put mostly the ... note, and then after a while, well you put the extra note in there in order to put the finishing touch on it -- like finishing the inside of the house. When you have the rough work done you got to do the finishing inside."
(Examples referred to are in the book, Fiddle Music of PEI)
To get that strong sweet tone prized by most Islanders, fiddlers use a powerful modified "saw-stroke" (one note per stroke with occasional "slurs"). This stroke is so natural for most experienced fiddlers that they can virtually do it in their sleep. Playing is almost always done sitting down. They put a lot of forearm and wrist into their stroke so that plenty of sound can be obtained without having to bear into the strings with the hand. They use only a small portion of the bow for fast tunes to reduce wear and tear on the arm. To allow for easy access by the bow to the lowest, or fourth string, many players hold the fiddle tilted down at an extreme angle. Alternatively, some Prince County fiddlers keep the instrument relatively level, but use their noting hands to periodically tilt the fourth string into the bow's path.
To decorate their melodies and make the sound of their tunes sing out, most fiddlers make frequent use of graces (noting-hand ornaments), bowing ornaments, and double-stops (doubled strings). All three practices owe much to the influence of Celtic bagpiping.
As in other Celtic-based fiddle traditions, most Island ornamentation is produced by slurring one or more quick notes off the same bow stroke that produces the following melody note (see Example 1). Perhaps the most common ornament is the slow grace (1a). For this technique, which is similar to a fretted-instrument technique called a "hammer-on," the player comes on to an important note from below. As its name implies, the slow grace is quite long in duration for an ornament. Although it is not considered to be an integral part of the melody, in some instances it can sound as long as a short melody note.
Two other ornaments -- the quick grace, generally comes from above (1b), and the double grace (1c) are usually performed by quickly touching an open or stopped sounding string with a free left hand finger. The actual point at which the string is touched is often not that important, since the "free finger" does not fully stop the string. There is also a kind of double grace where the player ascends or descends to the melody note via two quick scale steps (1d-e).
A technique I'll call a reverse double-grace (1f), may be unique to the Island. Here an ornament is created by a quick release and reassumption of pressure in a finger, without actually lifting that finger off the string. This "suggests" in succession both the sound of a lower stopped note or open string, and the original stopped melody note.
The term hard vibrato was coined by fiddler Paul MacDonald of Charlottetown (1g). It describes a "scratchy" ornament created by a combination of an extremely active noting-hand vibrato and a bearing-in by the bow.
Finally, there are a number of ornaments in circulation made up of three or even four notes (1h-i).
Bowing ornaments (Example 2) are a variety of techniques used to dress up the tunes. These include snaps, cuts and what I've termed a suppressed stroke. Snaps are a distinctive rhythmic device imported from Scotland, performed by a quick pair of alternate-direction bow strokes. They are usually written as a sixteenth note followed by dotted eighth note (2a), implying that the second note sounds three times as long as the first. On P.E.I. and Cape Breton, however, snaps are played in such a way that the second note is only about twice as long as the first, yielding what amounts to a tied-note triplet (2b). While snaps form integral parts of such Scottish tunes as marches and strathspeys, they are often integrated into jigs and reels as a form of syncopation. If played in a jig, they are usually written as an eighth note followed by a quarter note, as shown in example 2c.
Cuts (2d), known as birls in Scotland, are three quick notes (two short, one somewhat longer) played in the space of one 4/4 or cut-time quarter note. They are always performed with a down-up-down motion. They originated in Scotland to imitate the sound on fiddle of certain kinds of bagpipe ornaments. Cuts are much more a feature of Cape Breton than of Island fiddling. In fact, most Island players who put a lot of cuts into their music come from Northeastern Kings Co. While cuts certainly appear elsewhere on P.E.I., many fiddlers tend to substitute for them snaps or merely doubled straight eighth notes (2e).
One fiddler, Dennis Pitre from western Prince County uses what amounts to an inverted cut (an eighth note followed by two sixteenths) as a rhythmic device in his tunes (2f).
The suppressed stroke seems to have originated with Acadian fiddlers, but it has also been borrowed by many of their Celtic neighbors. It is used as a form of syncopation. On a strong beat of a tune, the fiddler manipulates the bow in such a way that a "scratching" sound is heard instead of a pure note. As the tune goes by, the weak-beat note rings, but the strong beat sounds empty. This creates the impression that the weak beat note has been accented (syncopated), and the strong beat note omitted altogether. This is shown by replacing a note-head with an "x" (2g).
Perhaps the most strongly developed characteristic of Prince Edward Island playing is the system of elaborate double stops (string-doubling) used by most of the players. This system -- which probably arose as an attempt to imitate the droning of bagpipe music -- serves the function of both increasing volume and dressing up the tune with another level of complexity. Since the non-melody string in a double stop can be above or below the melody, the overall effect is of a "harmony line" that corkscrews around the melody. These double stops fall into a number of categories -- open neighbor strings, anticipated stopped strings, doubled open strings, and fingering forms. I have already mentioned that for the tunes in this book, non-melody "double-stopped" notes are shown in reduced size.
The double stop involving an open neighbor string (3a-b) is perhaps the simplest to accomplish. When bowing a melody note, the fiddler merely takes the higher or lower neighbor along for the ride. This is a common feature in particular of key-of-A tunes, where the open first string (E) is played along with many second string notes, and the open second string (A) is played along with many first string notes.
Anticipated stopped strings (3c-d) are more or less reversed instances of open neighbors. In other words, the fiddler has a melody note on one string but anticipates that his next act is to stop a note on a neighbor string. If he likes the combination, he will stop that neighbor string early and play it as a double stop with the melody string. Both kinds of double stopping mentioned thus far create a droning effect, analogous to that produced on the bagpipes.
Doubled open strings are employed for more force and emphasis on the open note. The player in effect "doubles" the sound of the open string by finding the same pitch on the lower neighbor string. The two strings are then played simultaneously. In this book, a doubled open string is written as a note with two opposing stems (3e-f). One common Island practice is to play a slow grace into the stopped member of a doubled pair (3g).
Two-string fingering forms are used almost universally on the Island. These amount to fingering patterns that yield nice-sounding double stops. Each key -- and each "chord" within that key -- has its own distinct group of these fingering forms. Examples of fingering forms for the keys G, D, and A are shown in example 4. Note that some forms include open strings (examples marked "(a)") some are two finger forms (examples are marked "(b)"), and some involve bridging, or holding down parallel points on adjacent strings with a single fingertip (examples marked "(c)"). Note that many fingering forms yield combinations of tones (intervals) known as thirds or sixths. Because these tone-combinations are the building blocks of chords, use of fingering forms tends to give the music a very full sound, even when unaccompanied.
Note that bridging at A and E on the low strings is used nowadays as a substitute for a once commonly employed scordatura (alternative tuning) called high bass and counter, (AEAE). Other fiddle tunings used included high bass tuning (ADAE), and high counter tuning (GEAE).
Fingering forms also serve Island fiddlers in a variety of other ways. First, they provide convenient way-stations throughout the tune, analogous to the use of chord forms on fretted instruments. Second, fingering forms are used -- again like fretted instrument chord forms -- to increase the sonority of the instrument through sympathetic vibration. In other words, even when only a single string is bowed, its neighbor will also ring slightly at the pitch stopped in the fingering form. Third, their use makes certain kinds of otherwise difficult passages easy to play -- especially those made up of quick arpeggios (broken chords) such as the low turn of "The Princess Reel." Fourth, fingering forms are used to signal the accompanist what key is in the offing. To indicate the key of G, for example, the fiddler runs his bow back and forth across the tones G-B (marked "(b)" on the Key of G line); to indicate the key of D, the fiddler plays the tones D-F# (marked "(b)" on the Key of D line), and so on.
P.E.I. was settled by a relatively small number of family and clan groups who tended to occupy land in the same immediate area. As a result, there were usually many families in the same area with the same last name. This led to a situation where several individuals within a radius of a few miles might have identical first and last names, e.g., Joe MacDonald, or Joe Arsenault. To avoid confusion, many community members are referred to by a special name or handle. Most often this consists of the individual's first name plus the name of his or her father. So if an individual's handle is Joe Pete, or (in French-speaking sectors Joe à Pierre) everyone knows he is Joe, the son of Pete (or Pierre). Sometimes this is not enough and the name of the grandfather must be brought into play. So, if someone is named Joe Pete Simon, the community knows that Joe is son of Pete and grandson of Simon.
Sterling Baker (b. mid-1940s, Residence: Montague, Bred: Morell; Occupation: Merchant) learned his first tunes from local fiddlers while growing up. He started out as a guitarist, and did not take up the fiddle until his mid-twenties. While not as ornate as many of his Kings county contemporaries, his playing is exceptionally clean and tasteful. He plays regularly at a weekly summer ceilidh held at a restoration called the Orwell Pioneer Village.
Wilfred Bernard (b. 1919, Residence: Souris Line Road; Occupation: Retired Farmer, Mechanic; Pronounced: ber-NARD) started fiddling at about age 10 and learned his tunes both from local fiddlers like Joe and Angus MacDonald and from such radio fiddlers as Lem Jay and Don Messer. His playing was also influenced by recordings of early country music from the American South, which he was exposed to via Canadian radio programs. In fact he performs some very creditable versions of songs by Jimmy Rodgers, in which he fiddles and yodels at the same time.
Johnny Joe & Foncey Chaisson (Johnny Joe -- b. 1918; Residence: Souris; Occupation: Retired Postman, Trucker; Handle: "Johnny Joe Lem" / Foncey -- b. 1929; Residence: Winnipeg; Bred: Souris; Occupation: Retired Military). These brothers come from a prominent Souris-area fiddling family. Johnny Joe took up the fiddle about 1930 and played extensively for local dances through the 1970s. An "Island fiddler" of the old school he plays the Cape Breton repertoire only sparingly. Foncey learned some tunes in his youth, but started fiddling seriously only after retiring from the army.
The Chaisson (Pronounced: CHAY-son) family of Bear River is working on at least its fifth generation of players. Local memory goes back to Simon Chaisson (b. c.1880), and his son Pete Simon. The next generation of Chaisson fiddlers to come along was made up of Peter "Sr.," (who is still active) Emmett, and Joe Pete. The latter (d. 1981) helped found the P.E.I. Fiddlers' Association, the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival and the Rollo Bay Fiddle Instruction Program. Joe Pete's sons -- Kenny, Kevin and Peter "Jr." -- are generally acknowledged to be the prime exponents of Cape Breton style music on P.E.I. They have taken over the task of running both Festival and Fiddle Instruction Program. The latest generation of great Chaisson fiddlers includes the cousins Jeremy ("J.J.") and Melanie, who are 12 and 15 respectively at the time of this writing. Inquiries about future recording projects should be directed to Peter Chaisson the Younger, Bear River, P.E.I., Canada.
Kenny Chaisson (b. c.1947; Residence: Rollo Bay; Bred: Bear River; Occupation: Factory Executive; Handle: "Kenny Joe Pete") is the middle Chaisson brother. His style is elaborate yet powerful, and his repertoire of tunes is vast. In recent years he has become a prolific composer, and his tune "Names Escape Me" is becoming a standard in his part of the Island.
Kevin Chaisson (b. 1950; Residence: Bear River; Occupation: Auto Mechanic) resisted family pressure to take up fiddling during his youth and turned to the piano instead, becoming perhaps the strongest and most-in-demand piano accompanist for fiddle music on the Island. He finally took up the fiddle in his late 20s, and he has become an accomplished player. Old-timers say that of the three brothers, his style is actually closest to that of his father, Joe Pete.
Peter Chaisson, Jr. (b. 1941; Residence: Bear River; Occupation: Iron Worker; Handle: "Young" Peter) is a strong player with a stately, ornate, and sensitive style. He has a full grasp of both the Scottish/Cape Breton and the older Island repertoires.
Peter Chaisson Sr. (b. 1929; Residence: Bear River; Occupation: Farmer, Laborer; Handle: "Old" Peter) was a frequent prize winner at local fiddle contests in his youth. His style and repertoire are strongly influenced by Cape Breton players but his approach to the tunes shows the more rolling bowing attack of the older generation of Island fiddlers.
Connie Gallant (b. early 1920s; Residence: Naufrage; Bred: St. Charles; Pronounced: ga-LANT) learned his first tunes from local fiddlers. As a young man he also learned a lot of tunes from Cape Breton radio broadcasts and recordings featuring such fiddlers as Winston Scotty FitzGerald and Angus Chisholm. For many years he was renowned along the "North side" of Kings Co. for his prowess in playing "on the flats" (playing tunes in the keys of F, Bb and Eb).
Buddy Longaphie (b. c.1950; Residence: Charlottetown (QC); Bred: Souris; Pronounced: LONG-a-fee) is a third generation fiddler -- his father Gus, his uncle A.L. and his grandfather William all played the instrument. Nowadays, he looks to Cape Breton for inspiration and repertoire. He is known for his strong, hard driving, energetic style of playing.
Gus Longaphie (b. 1914; Residence: Souris; Bred: Little Harbor; Occupation: Retired Farmer, Fisherman, Laborer) started playing fiddle at 8, and was playing at dances by his mid-teens. Although he started out on Island tunes, he switched over to Cape Breton material in later life through the influence of the Bear River Chaissons and the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival. He is an extremely vigorous player. Once a gifted stepdancer, he has won numerous prizes at local competitions.
Allan MacDonald (b. c.1950; Residence: Bangor; Occupation: Heavy Equipment Operator) comes from a prominent fiddling family, and his father Hector MacDonald was one of the best known players of his time. Allan started playing in his mid-teens. By the time he was 20, he and his father were playing regularly for dances at a hall built on their own property. He is in the process of passing on his art to his son Ward, a promising young player.
Francis MacDonald (b. 1940; Residence: Morell Rear) comes from a long line of fiddlers on both sides of his family. In fact, family lore has it that his fiddling ancestors were on the very first boatload of settlers that landed in Tracadie Bay in the 1790s. Mr. MacDonald's repertoire is strongly influenced by the music coming out of Cape Breton. He plays at a weekly dance in Tracadie, QC.
Hilda MacPhee MacDonald (b. 1904; Residence: Souris; Bred: Selkirk; Occupation: Housewife) comes from a large fiddling family -- her father Roddy Joe MacPhee (a prominent player in northern Kings Co.), several of her uncles, and just about all her brothers played. Although she was an accomplished player in her youth, she feels the community attitude on fiddling by women kept her from fully developing her art.
William "Bill" MacDonald (b. 1925; Residence: E. Royalty (QC); Bred: North Lake; Occup. Retired Carpenter) came from a large fiddling family but was pressed into service at an early age to accompany family fiddlers on organ and piano. He took up fiddling at age 46 and has become a creditable player. Not long afterwards, he took up composing, and he has to date filled several notebooks with his original fiddle tunes.
George MacPhee (b. 1941; Residence: Monticello; Occupation: Fisherman Carpenter, Laborer; Handle: George Mel) comes from a long line of fiddlers (he is nephew to Hilda MacPhee MacDonald). Both his father and mother were musicians, and most of his twelve brothers and sisters played at least some violin. He is a strong, elaborate player whose tune versions often show highly original "twists." He considers himself an "Island fiddler" but a substantial portion of his repertoire is drawn from Cape Breton.
Dan McPhee (b. 1920; Residence: Brantford, Ontario; Bred: Elmira; Occupation: Retired Machinist) came from a large fiddling family with branches in both Elmira and Rock Barra. He started fiddling at 10, learned his early repertoire from local players, and then fleshed it out with tunes learned from Cape Breton broadcasts and recordings. He summers in a mobile home set up on his brother Hughie's property.
Hughie McPhee (b. 1924; Residence: Priest Pond; Bred: Elmira; Occupation: Farmer, Fisherman) learned a few tunes on fiddle as a youngster, but he played mostly guitar until his mid-20s. His parish was hoping to raise money for a new church with a series of benefit dances, but no one in the area was available to play fiddle for them. They asked Hughie to see if he could fill the role. He picked up the instrument again, and found that all the tunes he had heard around the house as a child were instantly available to him. Needless to say, he has been fiddling ever since.
Charlie Sheehan (b. 1907; Residence: Bear River; Occupation: Farmer Fisherman, Laborer) came from a fiddling family, and his father James was well known in the region as a fine player. He is also a cousin of Gus Longaphie. Mr. Sheehan started playing at age 15 and was soon playing for local dances. Nowadays he plays mostly Cape Breton material, which he performs at Fiddle Festivals with the Kings Co. branch of the P.E.I. Fiddlers' Association.
Jimmy Banks (b. 1904; Residence: Poplar Point; Occupation: Retired Farmer) started fiddling at age 9, and learned many of his tunes from his fiddling father John Daniel and from his uncle Patrick. He had a band together in the 1930s that played throughout the eastern part of the Island. He has composed a number of tunes, two of which -- "Patsy MacDonald's Reel" and "Poplar Point Reel" are included in this collection.
Reg Banks (b. 1923; Residence: Poplar Point; Occupation: Farmer, Fisherman) began to play at age 10. He learned his tunes from his father -- who jigged them around the house -- and from older fiddlers in his community, most notably his cousin Jimmy Banks. He played regularly for local square dances through the 1960s.
Wilfred Gotell (b. 1927; Residence: Georgetown; Occupation: Retired Lobster Fisherman; Pronounced: go-TELL) comes from an old fiddling family. In fact, he inherited his father John Charles' mantle as community fiddler for the Georgetown area. His repertoire includes both Scottish/Cape Breton and Island tunes, which he plays with a sweet straight-forward style. In 1967 he was declared fiddle champion of the Island at a contest in Charlottetown.
Merlin Quinn (b. 1929; Residence: Cardross; Occupation: Farmer) came from a family of singers. He yearned to play fiddle, however, and finally learned his first tunes from a local player named Art MacEachern. He then picked up a number of other tunes from his father's whistling, from local fiddlers such as Cosmas Sigsworth, and from Don Messer on radio. Over the years, he has played extensively for local dances.
Cosmas Sigsworth (b. 1917; Residence: Cardigan; Bred: Corraville; Occupation: Retired Farmer, Laborer) came from a family of singers, but there were plenty of local fiddlers -- most notably Jack Webster of Cardigan -- to inspire his early playing efforts. His mother taught him much of his early repertoire by humming tunes to him. For many years he and his wife Rita (on guitar) provided the dance music for a number of local communities.
Carl and Jackie Webster (Residence: Cardigan) are sons of Jack Webster -- one of the most renowned Kings Co. fiddlers of this century. Both play a repertoire that is a mixture of Island and Cape Breton material in a lively yet relatively "straight-ahead" manner. Jackie (b. 1932; Occupation: Ferry Worker) learned to play in his mid-teens; by his late 20s he was occasionally filling in for his father at dances. Carl (b. 1938; Occupation: Farmer, Postman) did not take up the instrument until his 30s, but he is now an accomplished dance player.
Joe Kearney (1914-1993; Residence: Sturgeon; Occupation: Farmer, Fisherman; Pronounced: KAR-ney) came from a musical family. He learned to play fiddle at about 8 years old and was soon playing for dances. His tunes came from local fiddlers such as the Murphys, the Kemps, and the Stewarts. He had a powerful bowing arm and was still fiddling vigorously when we recorded him in mid-1992.
Attwood O'Connor (b. 1923; Residence: Milltown Cross; Occupation: Retired Fisherman, Lumberman, Heavy Equipment Operator) came from a large fiddling family. He started fiddling at 7 and has been playing for dances since his early teens. His lively style is still very much in demand at area benefits and celebrations. He has been playing for many years with accompanists Stanley Bruce (guitar) and Mac MacKinnon (mandolin).
Jimmy O'Connor (b. c.1935; Residence: Murray River; Occupation: Factory Worker) had an unusual first "fiddle" -- a ukelele with a high curved bridge inserted between sound-board and strings. He learned his first tunes from his sister, who came home from dances and jigged to him the music she heard. He has a soft, sweet style of playing, and he generally prefers playing waltzes and set tunes to playing jigs and reels.
Archie Stewart (b. 1917; Residence: Milltown Cross; Occupation: Carpenter, Plant Foreman) came from a fiddling family. He started playing as soon as he "could reach the fingerboard" and was playing for dances by the age of 12. He learned his tunes mostly from local fiddlers but he does have a few tunes he learned from radio in his repertoire. For many years, he was the fiddler of choice for larger dances in southern Kings Co., and he also won first prize at a number of local fiddle contests. He has played regularly with guitarist Chester MacSwain for decades.
Alvin Bernard (b. 1929; Residence: Long River; Occupation: Farmer, Schoolbus Driver; Pronounced: BER-nurd) learned to play at age 12 from Andrew Johnson, a fiddler who lived down the road. He started playing for local dances in his early 20s, and he has continued this practice through the years. Nowadays, he belongs to Rubin's Jamboree, a group of about a dozen local musicians who play at community and charitable events. He has been playing for many years with accompanist Edwin Simmons.
Gary Chipman (b. 1944; Residence: Charlottetown; Occupation: Professional Musician) learned his first tunes on fiddle at the age of five from his father Jackie (b. 1913), who was himself a well known fiddler for many years in the Charlottetown area. The younger Chipman then expanded his repertoire by listening to Don Messer's broadcasts and recordings. He became an active dance player in the 1960s, but when the fiddle declined he concentrated his energies on guitar. His interest in fiddling has rekindled in recent years, and he is very much in demand as a performer and sideman. Inquire about recording projects at 140 E. Patterson St., Charlottetown P.E.I.
Peter Doiron (b. 1924; Residence: Summerside(PC); Bred: Rustico; Occupation: Retired Airforce Chef) grew up in an important local fiddling family. His father Adolphe was an "Island Fiddler," but he himself was attracted most to the playing of Don Messer and to fiddlers like Graham Townsend who played the Ottawa Valley Style. Like most Ottawa Valley players, Doiron's style is clean, rapid and relatively straightforward. His cassette, "The Fiddling Chef" is available from him at 368 Duke St. Summerside, P.E.I., Canada.
Jimmy Halliday (b. 1924; Residence: Eldon; Occupation: Farmer, Lobster Fisherman). Mr. Halliday's family has occupied the same property since the days of first Scottish settlement in the area. He started playing at 15, and he was playing for local dances by the age of 20. He learned his tunes from such community fiddling families as the Morrisseys and the MacLeans. He stopped playing for many years, then took up fiddle again as a member of the P.E.I. Fiddlers Association.
Emmett Hughes (b. 1921; Residence: Dromore; Occupation: Retired Farmer, Carpenter) comes from a major fiddling family. Among the fiddlers well-known in his area were his grandfather John, his father Dan, and his brother Earl. He himself started fiddling at 12 and began playing for dances in his mid-20s. His style is a blend of vigorous Island dance-playing with an overlay of Cape Breton influence. He started composing tunes upon his retirement in the early 1980s and has since become a prolific composer. In 1991 he published a work with 73 original tunes called Composition of Fiddle Tunes (available from Mr. Hughes, RR#3 Mt. Stewart, P.E.I. C0A 1T0).
Lem Jay (c. 1880-1960; Residence: Mt. Stewart) had the distinction of being the first fiddler to play on Charlottetown radio. His son Roland Jay made available to me some privately pressed 78s that were in his possession.
Roland Jay (b. 1906; Residence: Mt. Stewart; Occupation: Retired Railroadman) accompanied his father Lem on piano during his famous New Year's Eve broadcasts. He started fiddling at age 7, but spent most of his early years developing his piano playing. Nowadays he has been learning Cape Breton tunes from his daughter, pianist Cynthia Jay Crane.
Paul MacDonald (b. 1974; Residence: Charlottetown; Occupation: Student) played only classical violin until the age of twelve when a party at the house of his grandfather Johnny Joe Chaisson first brought him into contact with the Bear River Chaissons. The playing at this session must have been inspired. Paul dropped his classical studies, devoted himself to fiddling, and quickly became one of the best young players in the Maritimes. His tapes can be obtained by writing him at 6 Cable Ct., Charlottetown, P.E.I. Canada, C1B 1A8.
Danny MacLean (b. 1928; Residence: Eldon; Occupation: Lumberman, Heavy Equipment Operator) came from a long line of fiddlers. His father Angus Leslie MacLean was the best known fiddler in his region, and his brothers Jimmy, Clarence and Charlie were also well known local players. He himself started fiddling in his mid-teens and learned many of his tunes from his fellow workers in the "lumber-woods." He has been an active dance fiddler most of his life.
Leonard McDonald (b. 1933; Residence: Emyvale; Occupation: Retired Farmer, Carpenter, Potato Inspector) started fiddling at age 11. He learned his first tunes from the jigging of his mother, then fleshed out his repertoire with tunes from local fiddlers and with tunes from fiddlers on radio such as Don Messer. He was a very active dance player in west central Queens Co. through the early 1980s.
Angus McPhee (b. c. 1929; Residence: Mt. Stewart; Occupation: Lobster Fisherman) is an active dance fiddler in Eastern Queens and Northern Kings County. His vigorous style is much in favor among local square- and set-dancers. He and Roland Jay are neighbors and they play together frequently.
Johnny Morrissey (1913-1994; Residence: Vernon River; Bred: Newtown Cross; Occupation: Farmer) first heard fiddling at the house of a neighbor: "I'd be walking up to me grandfather's and I'd be passing the house and I'd hear the violin going... I wouldn't go in but I'd just stand out in the yard and listen to the music. It sounded good to me. So that's how I got to be interested in the violin."
Reuben Smith (b. 1931; Residence: Blooming Point) comes from a fiddling family -- his father Charlie and four of his uncles played. He started fiddling at 12 and was playing for dances by the age of 18. He plays a mixture of Island and Cape Breton tunes in a powerful straight ahead style. He plays for weekly dances at Tracadie, QC.
Stephen Toole (b. 1927; Residence: Green Road; Occupation: Retired Potato Inspector; Pronounced: "Toll") came from a fiddling family. He started playing at 10 and was playing for dances at 14. For many years he was an active dance fiddler in southwestern Queens Co, and for the last several years he played for a weekly dance in Charlottetown. Although his playing seems fairly straightforward at first encounter, closer analysis shows it to be replete with understated double stops and sophisticated bowing. In recent years he has incorporated more and more material from Cape Breton into his repertoire.
Elliot Wight (b. 1935; Residence: North River; Bred: Flat River) started playing for dances at 15. He learned his tunes from local fiddlers such as the MacLeans, and also from Don Messer on radio. Nowadays he plays at a weekly dance in the Charlottetown area.
Richard Wood (b. 1978; Residence: East Royalty) started attracting attention as a stepdancer when he was only 7 years old. He took up the fiddle a couple of years later and by the time we taped him (age 13) he was already an accomplished player. In the couple of years since then he has blossomed as both a fiddler and a composer for fiddle. He has put out a couple of tapes: "Cutting the Bow" and "All Fired Up." (Orders: 13 Wescomb Cr., East Royalty P.E.I., Canada, C1C 1B6).
Eddy Arsenault (b. 1921; Residence: St. Chrysostom; Occupation: lobster fisherman; Pronounced: AR-se-noh). The most influential fiddler in the Evangeline region, Mr. Arsenault's playing represents a blend of Cape Breton, Prince County and Acadian French styles. He was strongly influenced via radio by Cape Breton fiddlers like FitzGerald and Chisholm, and his playing shows frequent use of complex double stops and ornamentation. He also incorporates the rolling approach to bowing of "Island" fiddlers, the syncopation style of Prince County fiddlers, and a rhythmic attack that is typical of fiddlers from the Evangeline Coast. In 1993, he released a cassette entitled "Piling on the Bois Sèc" (available from Mr. Arsenault, St. Chrysostom, P.E.I., Canada).
Edward P. Arsenault (b. 1938; Residence: Wellington; Occupation: Welder/Mechanic; Handle: Edouard à Polycarp) took up the fiddle at the instigation of his wife Marie when he was 32 years old. He is now a sought-after dance fiddler with a lively Acadian style of playing. He is also a prolific composer, and his tune "The Acadian Reel" is known Island-wide.
Louise Gallant Arsenault (b. 1956, Residence: Wellington, Bred: Mont Carmel, Occupation: professional musician) grew up in a large musical family. Her father, the fiddler Allair Gallant, noted her aptitude at a young age and jigged tunes to her until she found them on the fiddle. Despite some pioneering by Zélie-Anne Poirier and her sisters, fiddling females were still a curiosity in her area during her childhood and her talents were much in demand for community events. She is now a powerful dance fiddler, and she appears frequently in Acadian festivals and theatrical events.
Robert Arsenault (b. 1946, Residence: Meadow Bank, QC; Bred: Abram-Village; Occupation: Community Development Officer) was a grandson of legendary Acadian fiddler Joe à Bibienne Arsenault. Al-though there were many accomplished fiddlers in his family, he himself started his musical career on classical guitar. He took up fiddle in his late 20s, and now appears frequently at Acadian festivals and community events. Write him about recording projects, Meadow Bank, P.E.I., Canada.
Toussaint Arsenault (b. 1916; Residence: Summerside; Bred: Egmont Bay; Occupation: Retired Cabinet Maker, Carpenter; Pronounced:"TUSS-in") was a well known fiddler in Southern Prince Co. He suffered a stroke in the late 1980s and was only able to remember his tunes when his friend Ervan Sonier came by for his weekly visit and music session. We were lucky enough to tape one of these sessions.
Zélie-Anne Arsenault Poirier (b. 1922; Residence: St. Nicholas; bred: Abram-Village; Occupation: Housewife, Handicrafts; Pronounced: PWA-ree-er) comes from one of the best known musical families of her region. Her father Joe à Bibienne Arsenault was a well known fiddler, and just about every one her siblings played well enough to accompany dances. She and her sisters Louise, Kate, Rita and Mary were among the first women fiddlers on P.E.I. to play regularly at community dances and entertainments.
Ervan Sonier (1920-94; Residence: Summerside; Occupation: Barber; Pronounced: ER-van SONE-yay) was perhaps the last of a long line of fiddling barbers on P.E.I. He grew up in a musical family but he learned his fiddling by watching the players -- such as Jack Proveau -- who came to visit his grandfather. After the Second World War, Toussaint Arsenault helped him improve his bowing. They were still meeting weekly for music sessions when we taped them in 1991. Sonier was an influential member of the Prince Co. branch of the P.E.I. Fiddlers' Association for many years. He was also an active composer, and two of his tunes "Seaweed Reel," and "The Mug & Brush Reel" are included in this collection.
Fiddlers from West Prince County
Sidney Baglole (b. 1912; Residence: Freetown, Bred: Southwest Lot 16, Occupation: Retired Farmer; Pronounced: BAG-lole) started fiddling at 9 and learned by listening to fiddlers in his family and community. He has been an active dance fiddler since the 1920s. Baglole has a very unusual style and repertoire. In fact, he seems to be a treasure trove of old Island tunes that most other players have forgotten.
Joseph Doucette (b. 1910; Residence: Deblois Road; Occupation: Retired Lobster Fisherman, Carpenter; Pronounced: doo-SET) grew up in a fiddling family, and learned his first tunes at age 7 from community fiddlers such as the Gaudets (Pronounced: "Goodys"), the Richards, and the Proveaus. He played regularly for local dances in his youth but gave up the fiddle when he began to raise a family. He took up the instrument again upon his retirement.
Andrew Jones (b. 1918; Residence: Pleasant View; Bred: Roseville: Occupation: Fisherman, Carpenter) learned fiddle at about 12 years of age and was soon playing for local dances. He learned his tunes both from local fiddlers and from fiddle broadcasts emanating from Cape Breton, New Brunswick and Québec. His bowing style -- heavily influenced by that of his Acadian neighbors -- is highly syncopated. Over the years, he was declared county-wide champion at a number of fiddle contests.
Harry Lecky (b. 1929; Residence Milburn; Occupation: Farmer) started fiddling in his teens and was playing for dances by about the age of 20. Nowadays he prefers playing waltzes, set tunes and song melodies to playing jigs and reels. He likes to cradle the fiddle in his chest while playing, so that his jaw and throat are freed for singing. He is often asked to accompany himself on fiddle for hymn-singing at local churches.
Dennis Pitre (b. 1941; Res; St. Felix; Occupation: Former Fisherman, Merchant; Pronounced: "Denny Pitt") is one of the most sought after fiddlers these days in western Prince Co. He has a lively Acadian-based bowing style. He learned his first tunes by placing his ear to the wall of a fiddling neighbor's house. Pitre has been playing with his accompanist Vincent Doucette (son of Joseph Doucette) for twenty years.
Elmer Robinson (b. c.1910; Residence: Woodstock; Bred: Mount Pleasant; Occupation: Farmer) is a nephew of William Harvey, who placed second to Neil Cheverie in The Great Fiddle Contest of 1926. Both his brothers played from an early age, but Robinson started out on organ and piano and didn't take up the fiddle in a serious way until his mid-20s. He has a very lively style of bowing which owes much to the influence of his Acadian neighbors. Robinson has created some very interesting and unusual versions of common tunes, some of which (like "St. Anne's Reel" and "Mrs. McLeod of Rasay") are included in this collection.
The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island is available from Mel Bay Publications, Inc.