Stephen Toole | Bowing Down Home

Stephen Toole and accompanist Margaret Ross MacKinnon, 1992

Biography

Stephen Toole’s music represented a true blend of the Eastern and Western PEI fiddling sounds. It was both lively and ornate, featuring both highly syncopated bowing accents and understated double stops.

Toole grew up on a mixed farm in southwestern Queens County, one of a family of ten children. His father Walter Toole and his brother Charles played fiddle, and two sisters played guitar and piano. Quite often they would have musical evenings at home. Since there was only one fiddle in the house, Walter, Charles, and Stephen had to take turns playing.

Stephen took up the fiddle at age 11, and was playing for dances by the time he was 14. At that time, people in the district took turns hosting house parties; they also organized schoolhouse dances and Lawn Parties.

Toole learned his first tunes from his father and from other fiddlers who played for dances in the area. Among them were his great uncle Michael McCatty, Dave Ferguson, Golden and Gordon Graves, Morris McQuaid, and Patrick Trainor. He observes, “There was probably three or four fiddlers every dance you'd go to.” Generally, they would all take turns providing the music.

In the 1950s, Stephen was still playing for dances three nights a week, he would then get up early to drive to a carpentry job in Summerside. Then for many years, he organized his own weekly square dances in and around Charlottetown; at the last of it those dances took place at Birchwood High School. In the 1970s, he was a founding member of the Queens County Fiddlers.

Of special interest to fiddlers: Toole demonstrates how Island fiddlers warmed up by running through the double-stops typically used for common fiddle keys, a process he calls taking sound out of the fiddle. He also describes what it takes to make a “good” Island fiddler.

Tune Selections

Toole, Stephen - Daisy's Jig / Whiskey Jig Accompanied by: Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Farmer's Reel Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Fisher's Hornpipe Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Flowers of Edinburgh Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Homeward Bound / Ste. Anne's Reel Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Little Burnt Potato Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Lord MacDonald's Reel Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno; Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Northside Tune / Over the Briny Ocean Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Norwegian Waltz Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Old Man & the Old Woman, The Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Orange & Blue Jig Accompanied by: Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Princess Reel / Ottawa Valley Reel / Paddy on the Turnpike Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno; Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Rose of Tennessee / John Dan MacPherson's Jig Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Sheehan's Reel Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Smash the Windows / Inverness Jig Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Spin 'n' Glow Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Western Queens
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Toole, Stephen - Topless Tavern Waltz Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno; Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Oral Histories

Demo: fiddlers’ warm-up; common double stops Taking sound out of the fiddle: going over the main fingering shapes in a key before starting to play in that key info and transcript
Toole, Stephen - Dances around Green Road 2 or 3 house parties a week in different areas, dances in the lumber warehouse in Bonshaw on the river, school house dances info and transcript
Toole, Stephen - School picnics in southwestern Queens County Lawn Parties: school benefits in southwest Queens Co. info and transcript
Toole, Stephen - What makes a good fiddler? Music in you; good timing; know a good selection of tunes: jigs, reels, and waltzes (100 jigs, 100 reels), fairly lively: too slow is no good, and you have to be fairly generous (with your time) too. info and transcript

Video Clips