Lord MacDonald's Reel | Bowing Down Home
About this tune
As recently as the 1990s, Lord MacDonald’s Reel was one of the most widely played tunes on Prince Edward Island. Fiddlers across the Island seemed to put everything they had into the tune: both in terms of creating individual versions, or twists, and in terms of the intensity of their performances. Consequently, Lord MacDonald’s is one of those tunes in which contrasts among the Island’s various regional styles show up most clearly.
One of the great joys of listening to multiple versions of Lord MacDonald’s Reel, is that no two Island fiddlers play the melody alike. One spot to watch in particular is the cadential phrase (closing segment) of the high turn, where fiddlers have come up with at least a couple of dozen ways to get through those last measures.
Fiddlers report that in the old days, Lord MacDonald’s Reel was the tune most requested for accompanying step-dancers. According to Teresa MacPhee Wilson, the tune also had a special role at Island fiddle contests.
Lord MacDonald’s Reel appears in numerous late 18th-century Scottish Tune Collections. One of its earliest appearances was in Alexander MacGlashan’s A Collection of Strathspey Reels (1778). Subsequently, it was published in such well-known works as The Gow Collection (vol. 3, 1792), Lowe’s Collection of Reels, Strathspeys, Jigs [. . .] (1844), Surenne’s Dance Music of Scotland (1852), Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, aka 1000 Fiddle Tunes (1882),The Athole Collection (1884), and The Skye Collection (1887).
The odds are that this tune has been in circulation on PEI since its earliest days of settlement. In any event, newspaper accounts indicate that the tune was played by competitiors at the Great Contest of 1926.