The House Party | Bowing Down Home

On the appointed evening of a typical Island house dance, relations, neighbors, and friends would converge at the hosts' home. Those who lived within a radius of two or three miles generally came on foot, while others from farther away arrived in horse-drawn vehicles. As Emmett Hughes recalls, in general it was customary for Islanders to wear their finest clothes to these events.

House parties were usually held in the kitchen, since most rural Island kitchens – designed to accommodate large families – were more than big enough for this purpose.

If there was no fiddler in residence, the host-family would generally invite one from the community to play. Ervan Sonier describes the excitement occasioned at a house party when the fiddler first walked in the door.

The fiddler would grab a chair, get situated in the corner and strike up a lively jig, reel, or set-tune. Sometimes the only accompaniment was the fiddler’s own feet keeping strong time on every beat. People seated on surrounding benches and chairs might tap out the time along with the fiddler, or provide an additional level of rhythm by playing spoons, or by striking an old pie-plate with a stick or kitchen utensil. When players of more formal accompaniment instruments such as pump organ, piano, or guitar were on hand, they would start in as soon as the fiddler touched bow to string.

Eventually, a square set would be organized and the company embarked on an evening of dancing. Each community had its own particular version of square set that was danced over and over as the night progressed, and dancers were generally able to function without benefit of a caller. Many Islanders have spoken glowingly about the warmth and high energy atmosphere of these events. As Hélène Arsenault Bergeron puts it, these parties were not "sit politely and quiet affairs."

When more than one fiddler was present at a house party, they would usually take turns providing the music.

When there was a long break between square sets, the company would often be entertained with displays of individual prowess such as step-dancing, singing or story telling. In the case of step-dancing, this change of pace provided no respite for the fiddler, who was expected to strike up the dancer’s favorite tune when the latter got up to perform.

As the house party was winding down, a snack or meal known as lunch was generally served by the hostess.

House parties were generally over by about one or two o'clock in the morning. If the weather was mild, fiddlers and accompanists sometimes found a congenial spot on the way home and played still a few more tunes before going their separate ways.

Click on each of the names below for more descriptions of Island House Parties:

Peter Doiron, John Gauthier, Howard Hancock, Ralph Hardy, Francis MacDonald, Herb MacDougall, Angus McPhee, Ervin RaffertyStephen Toole, Cecil Trainor, Clifford Wedge.