Hi everyone, Well I just crawled out of the Maine woods after a week plus of teaching at Maine Fiddle Camp. Camp was a great success this June. We were finally back at our old venue, Camp NEOFA, and the attendance was great and there were zero “health” issues (covid). So all of a sudden, here it is the end of the month and I don’t have a blog posting, so I figured I’d post a couple tune history articles I did in past Maine Fiddle Camp newsletters. Here’s the first one from last August: “Snow Deer.”
If you go to the MFC web page, you will see a list of tunes that have been selected as “Welcome Tunes,” that is to say tunes from the vast MFC common repertoire that we will play together on the first night of camp. Here they are: Road to Boston, Liberty, Cock of the North, South Wind Waltz, Bonnie Tammie, Finnegan’s Wake, Over the Waterfall, Maison de Glace, Snow Deer, Skye Boat Song, One Hundred Pipers, Jamie Allen, Steamboat Quickstep, Gaspé Reel. On the MFC website , you can listen to recordings, fast and slow, and find sheet music as well.
Tune History, “Snow Deer”
I thought I’d start to tell a little about these tunes in upcoming newsletters. Let’s start with “Snow Deer”. “Why Snow Deer?” you might ask.. Well I was first aware of this tune form the playing of Lucien Mathieu, Don Roy’s “Uncle Lou”, who was a special guest at MFC for many years. Lucien was a member of the “Maine French Fiddlers” with Don and other notables, but spent a lot of time competing in fiddle contests in Maine, New England and the adjoining Canadian provinces. During these soujourns, Lou rubbed elbows with many of the northeast’s fiddling elite and also picked up a lot of tunes. I am pretty sure Snow Deer was one of these. Lucien passed away in 2011 but his music lives on. Here are some words about “Snow Deer.” First of all, the title is a little confusing. The tune is not about snow or deer, but is actually a Tin Pan Alley (click the link if you want to read more about Tin Pan Alley – interesting read!) song from the early 20th century, written by Percy Wenrich who composed it around 1910. From its pop-music beginnings it entered the traditional North American fiddle repertoire. Here’s the original sheet music from 1913. SnowDeerSheet.pdf (dropbox.com)
This is a song (words and music) and the story is about a cowboy who fell in love with a Native American woman named Snow Deer. The tune was captivating enough that it soon got picked up by fiddlers all over North America. It quickly found itself in fiddle repertoires all over the US and Canada notably: Michigan, Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Brunswick.. I’m quite sure uncle Lou picked it up somewhere in Maritime Canada. Here’s Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys’ “Western Swing” version from the 1930’s . Note the twin fiddles which seem to have been retained wherever the tune has travelled!
Moving on, here’s a sung version by Woodie Guthrie from 1944
Finally here’s a recording by Tim Rued from Northern California.
Movin’ right along it seems only fitting to include Fiddlin’ Lou’s nephew Don Roy playing the tune with Fiddle-icious: Snow Deer – Fiddle-icious (fiddleicious.com) Finally, Snow Deer was a Camp Tune in 2012 and has been featured again for 2022.. here’s MFC link: Snow Deer (mainefiddlecamp.org)
Here’s another tune, this one from the Canadian Maritimes. “The Mouth of the Tobique”
THE MOUTH OF THE TOBIQUE is a New Brunswick, Canadian reel in G Major played in standard tuning. It is a Fiddle Camp tune this year and at Camp it is most often played AABBCC. The C part, as brought to my attention by Frank Ferrel, is just a syncopated version of the A part. Our own musicologists, Doug and Carter, collected this tune from an old timer in Maine who played it just that way and you can hear this year’s Camp version here. The tune was composed by a New Brunswick “native Canadian” (First Nation) fiddler named Francis Sowish probably some time between 1910 and 1930. You can also find the tune in Don Messer’s tune book, Messer “Way Down East”, 1948, where the annotation is just for the A and B parts. However, if you listen to Messer’s recording of the tune he plays it AABB (sort of) where the second A part is the syncopated version. Might as well go to “the expert”: Here are some words from Frank Ferrel: “I learned the tune from an old Don Messer recording where he played it in a medley with the Souris Lighthouse. He plays it through straight then the second time through he plays the syncopated variation as A2 throughout the rest of the piece. So it would be; AA/BB/AAvar/BB, etc. It is written in his “Don Messer’s Way Down East Fiddle Tunes” book as a straight two-part reel with no third or variant part. I have other recordings of him playing it straight as well. (here’s one of them with an intro about Don’s guitar player by Graham Townsend:
I did a YouTube video with Patti Kustrok a few years back as part of her 365 days of fiddle tunes. We were up in New Brunswick on the Tobique (in Three Brooks, NB) and played the tune as we both learned it from the same Messer source –
Carter and Doug swear it’s a three-part tune as they learned it years ago from an old player who made it his way, and others as well, but such notable players as Graham Townsend, Ned Landry and others all play it straight or ala Messer.”
This might be the place to talk about the Tobique River. The Tobique (Bennet Konesni informs us that in New Brunswick they pronounce it “Toe Bik”) is a river in western New Brunswick and flows generally southwest into the St John River (south of where the St John is the border between Maine and Canada) and ultimately into the Bay of Fundy. Every year in July there is an event on the Tobique called “Fiddles on the Tobique”.. read a bit about that here: https://www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca/Products/F/FiddlesontheTobique.aspx Here’s another short video:
The next Maine Fiddle Camp starts again August 6 and 13. August 6 week is full but you can still sign up for week 2 (August 13-18).
I’ll be on track next month!! – bill
Tune Histories: “Snow Deer” & “Mouth of the Tobique”
Maine Fiddle Camp tunes
The CONTINUING TRADITION Number 17