Princess Reel | Bowing Down Home
About this tune
The Princess Reel is one of the most widely played tunes on Prince Edward Island. It is one of those tunes where differences among the Island’s various regional styles come out most saliently.
Individual versions or twists of this tune tend to be highly variable. For example, the two dozen or so examples here makes it seem that there are as many ways of playing the “cadential” (final) phrase of each turn as there are fiddlers.
For all its popularity, Princess Reel is a relatively tricky tune to play. The low turn’s signature phrase requires performing precisely timed sawstrokes while rocking back and forth between neighboring strings. And in the noting hand, for this phrase the first finger must be planted firmly on B (second string), while a slightly flattened third finger periodically reaches up to stop both the 3rd and 2nd strings simultaneously at G and D, respectively.
Oral tradition has it that the Princess Reel first appeared on the Island in the 1920s or 30s, having probably originated in New Brunswick. Attwood O’Connor informs us that when he first encountered it the tune was known as Charlie’s Reel; he adds that it was later changed to Silver Wedding Reel and finally to its current appellation. Teresa MacPhee Wilson (b. 1928) describes how the tune first came into her family:
I remember yet the first time my father played the Princess Reel. A cousin of mine came here and he played it on the organ. Well, I'm telling you, after he left, we all hammered at that tune until we got it down pat. Then my father learned to play it on fiddle, and he made a good job of it, too. [Question: “How did you all `hammer at it?’”] I'd remember one little bit. And they'd go over it and they'd say, “No I think it's like this.” And we played it on the organ and we tuned [sang] it, and we did every thing until finally we had got it down pat.