High Level Hornpipe | Bowing Down Home
About this tune
The High Level Hornpipe is widely played all across Prince Edward Island, as fiddlers make their way unfazed through the intricacies of operating in the relatively challenging key of Bb.
Composer Hill was born in Scotland, but moved to the rapidly growing Newcastle area as a young man to seek his fortune. He composed quite a number of tunes that are still widely played, most notably Beeswing Hornpipe and this tune, which was named in honor of the newly constructed High Level Bridge over the River Tyne between the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead. The High Level Hornpipe was first published in a weekly music magazine called Koehler’s Violin Repository. James Scott Skinner later incorporated it in both Harp & Claymore (1903-4) and The Scottish Violinist (c. 1910); he also recorded the tune in 1922. It was subsequently recorded by such Cape Breton fiddlers Dan R. MacDonald, Little Jack MacDonald, and John Campbell.
In the days when fiddle contests were held on the Island, a common tactic was to transpose a tune normally played in a difficult key to a simpler one, hoping that the judges would not notice. Hughie McPhee, for example, describes a contest he witnessed in Souris. He overheard the judge declare that he would award first prize to a fiddler who could play successfully "on the flats" (i.e., in the flat keys). The award went to someone who played High Level Hornpipe, which is generally played in the key of Bb. But what the judge didn't know was that this particular fiddler had transposed the tune to the key of C – which has no sharps or flats – and was therefore no more entitled to win than the next fellow.
Notation for this tune as played by Ervan Sonier & Toussaint Arsenault is in Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island.