Mason's Apron | Bowing Down Home
About this tune
Mason’s Apron is known all across PEI and has in all likelihood been played there for generations.
An early version of this tune entitled Braes of Glenorchy appears in Alexander MacGlashen’s A Collection of Strathspey Reels (1778). As Mason’s Apron, it was carried through the 19th and early 20th centuries by a succession of popular tune collections, notably The Gow Repository (1799), Surenne’s Dance Music of Scotland (1852), Kerr’s Merry Melodies (1875), Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, aka 1000 Fiddle Tunes (1882), The Skye Collection (1887), and O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903).
The earliest known commercial recording of Mason’s Apron was cut in 1915 by an accordion player from New York City named John J. “Dutch” Kimmel. It has since been recorded by dozens of musicians from the Irish, Scottish, and various North American traditions.
The Southern US tune Wake Up Susan takes the low turn of Mason’ Apron and combines it with a completely different second part.
In the late 1940s, fiddler Sean McGuire of Belfast, Ireland created a widely emulated set of variations for Mason’s Apron. I had an opportunity to interview him in 1995, and here’s how he described their genesis:
I was in very serious classical studies. I was doing slurs, rolls, syncopations, detached bowing, staccato bowing and I done two years bowing exercises. I had also mastered all the positions on the violin, and I thought "Wouldn't it sound nice to jump from one octave to another!" And there you've got the creation of The Mason's! It identified me right away; everybody loved it. And it never fails to captivate the audience, all the years that I've been playing it. And I remember the days I was wrestling with it: being up in the eighth position and wondering how I was going to get back down. And I sorted it out and eventually I got it. I spent a year working on those variations.
Notation for this tune as played by Eddy Arsenault is in Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island.