Medleys | Bowing Down Home
In the old days fiddlers rarely strung tunes together in performance. In recent years through the influence of Cape Breton fiddling, however, the medley (often referred to as a set or group of tunes) has become an important feature of Island playing. Following Cape Breton practice, all tunes in a group generally have the same key center, and each tune (with its repeats) is generally played through twice before moving on to the next one.
Here are some common kinds of medleys found on PEI.
Groups of reels: Fiddlers play groups of reels to accompany the figures of a quadrille, to accompany step-dancing, or in performance. Set-tunes may sometimes be substituted for one or more reels in a group, but they are never used to accompany step-dancing. Here are examples of reel groups, as played by Wilfred Gotell and Ward MacDonald.
Step-Dance Groups consist of one or more gradually accelerating strathspeys followed by several reels. Fiddlers play these groups to accompany step-dancing, or in performance. Using strathspeys as a prelude for reels is almost certainly a legacy from the accompaniment once used for an old type of dancing called the Scotch Reel. Here are examples of step-dance groups as played by “Old Peter” Chaisson and Emmett Hughes
Scottish Sets are played only in performance. A Scottish set opens with an air or march, and then – as in a step-dance group – it continues with one or more gradually accelerating strathspeys followed by one or more reels. Scottish sets were first popularized in the late 19th and early 20th century through the recordings of Scottish fiddling virtuoso James Scott Skinner; they have since been elongated and elaborated within the Cape Breton fiddling scene. Here are examples of Scottish sets as played by “Young Peter” Chaisson and Paul MacDonald
On PEI, fiddlers sometimes skip the strathspey portion of the Scottish set entirely and go from an air or march directly to reels, as in this group played by Allan MacDonald.