Introduction | Bowing Down Home

Prince Edward Island has been home to a strong fiddling tradition for over two hundred years. First established by Scottish immigrants, it was also shaped by Irish immigrants arriving a generation or so later and seasoned by the unique rhythmic sensibilities of the Island’s original European inhabitants: the Acadian French.

Although most other Celtic and North American fiddling traditions have been well represented by widely available commercial or field recordings, this has not been the case for Island fiddling. There was no active professional fiddling scene on PEI until quite recently, and no local promoters or enthusiasts emerged to establish a local recording or broadcast industry devoted to home grown fiddling. And since the 1930s, Island fiddling has stood in the shadow of two major broadcasting powerhouses: Cape Breton fiddling on the one hand, and Maritime fiddling – founded by Canadian media legend Don Messer – on the other. Consequently, the outside world has been largely unaware of PEI as a major fiddling center.

For generations, Island fiddling flourished on the local level. Nearly every “district” had its stock of fiddlers, who played their lively, highly expressive music year round at house dances, weddings, “frolics” (work parties), church picnics, community socials, and schoolhouse dances. “Them times,” fiddling was an absolutely essential aspect of Prince Edward Island community life, and it was virtually unthinkable to hold any important community event without having a fiddler on hand to provide music for dancing.

Most of the fiddlers whose music is represented on this site developed their playing styles and attitudes about music during this heyday of community fiddling and carried them virtually intact into the modern era. And because musical individualism was an important local attitude, virtually every old-time Island fiddler developed a highly distinctive personal style and a unique approach to the tunes in their repertoire.

The mid-1950s through the early 1970s saw great changes come to PEI, and as one consequence Islanders transitioned from community music and dance to entertainment provided by mass media. As the importance and visibility of fiddling declined, the art no longer drew youngsters to its fold.

In 1975, some Islanders became alarmed by this state of affairs and began taking concrete steps to preserve Island fiddling. They founded the Prince Edward Island Fiddlers' Society, which set up annual fiddle festivals and developed instructional programs to pass the art on to youngsters. After nearly twenty years of effort, these and other efforts aimed at the revival of fiddling bore fruit and a new generation of players came into its own. Nowadays, visitors to the Island at most times of year can find performances by local fiddlers not only at festivals, but at concerts, town fairs, theatre productions, and at the nearly ubiquitous local talent shows known as “ceilidhs” (KAY-lees).

Although fiddling as an activity was saved by the revival movement, and some extraordinarily talented new players have appeared on the scene, for the most part the styles of the older generation of players have not been passed on. In fact, much of the record we have of the vibrant, lively styles played by the last generations of traditional fiddle players on Prince Edward Island is right here on Bowing Down Home.

About The Content

Bowing Down Home has two primary aims: to preserve and disseminate the sound of old-time Prince Edward Island fiddling, and to make the material available to serve as a stylistic model for current and future generations of musicians. We are well aware that only when young musicians become inspired by such models, can an endangered musical form be preserved.

We tried our best to encompass the full range of Island fiddling as it survived into the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. We offer a generous sampling of tunes from the Island repertoire: literally hundreds of them in all. Over 120 Island fiddlers are featured – anglophone and francophone alike – representing all the Island's diverse regional playing styles.

To convey the full flavor of regional and individual styles, in many cases we have made available multiple versions of the same tune: each by a different artist. Click Paddy on the Turnpike, for example, and you will access a tune page offering literally dozens of renditions by fiddlers from all across the Island.

As a special feature, we are also able to present digital reproductions of home-made recordings representing well-known Island fiddlers from generations past. Although the fidelity of these recordings has been diminished by several rounds of copying, the power and originality of the playing still shines through.

This site offers more than a sampling of Prince Edward Island fiddle music. Through a series of oral history selections, visitors to the site have the opportunity to hear artists' speaking voices and get a sense of their personalities. You can also hear fiddlers hold forth on a variety of subjects: how they learned to play, how they interacted with their communities and surroundings, and how they thought about and processed music.

Not all the oral history selections on the site come from fiddlers. Among those whose perspectives also add significantly to our understanding of Island fiddling and its milieu  are accompanists, music instructors, dancers, community leaders, luthiers, radio personalities, traditional singers, and amateur folklorists.

 

- Ken Perlman, Curator