Repertoire | Bowing Down Home

The Island fiddle repertoire is made up of tunes from a variety of national and regional traditions. Its core is Scottish and Irish, but it also includes tunes from Cape Breton, mainland Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, New England, and the Southern United States. In addition, there are many tunes composed on the Island, and versions or variants of tunes "from away" that have evolved among Island fiddlers over the generations.

Some tunes arrived with the first generations of immigrants. In the days before mass media, additional tunes entered the repertoire at a slow but steady trickle. Musically inclined Islanders encountered new tunes while traveling abroad; outsiders sojourning on the Island brought new tunes along. Since nearly every community in eastern North America then had its stock of fiddlers, tunes passed easily from player to player by ear and circulated freely throughout half a continent.

Published music notation has also played a major role in the introduction of new tunes. Although the ability to read music has never been widespread among Island fiddlers, in every generation a small number of local fiddlers, pipers, or organists were in fact musically literate. Whenever they played tunes from notated sources, it made it possible for other musicians to assimilate the tunes by ear.

The introduction of mass media greatly accelerated the process of bringing new tunes into the repertoire. In the 1930s, for example, fiddling broadcasts originating in New Carlisle, Québec and featuring Québecois players were the source for such popular Island tunes as St. Anne's Reel and Joys of Québec. A little later, Islanders started picking up long-range broadcasts from such US stations as WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia; these introduced such fiddle tunes from the Southern US as Ragtime Annie and Mississippi Sawyer.

Since the mid-to-late 1930s, the two predominant sources for new repertoire among Island fiddlers have been recordings and broadcasts by Don Messer and by fiddlers from Cape Breton.

See also these special topics: Tune Genres, Fiddle Music’s Written Tradition, Medleys , Tune Origins.