Chaisson, "Young Peter" | Bowing Down Home
Three brothers from Bear River – Kenny, Kevin, and “Young Peter” Chaisson – are among the most widely respected and influential musicians on Prince Edward Island. Bringing to fruition a vision first conceived by their father Joe Pete Chaisson (c. 1914-81), they helped found the PEI Fiddlers' Association, the Rollo Bay Scottish Fiddle Festival and the Rollo Bay Fiddle Instruction Program. As leaders of the Eastern Kings Fiddlers, they helped promote a strong interest in Cape Breton repertoire and playing style among an entire generation of fiddlers from northeastern and north-central Kings County. As coordinators of the Rollo Bay Fiddle Instruction Program, they helped set the stage for the development of a new generation of accomplished players, including JJ Chaisson, Timothy Chaisson, and Sheila MacKenzie.
“Young Peter” Chaisson – so nicknamed to distinguish him from an uncle who lived across Bear River Road – was the eldest of the three brothers. He was an extremely strong player with a stately, ornate, and sensitive style. He often seemed intent on capturing and projecting every possible emotion and musical nuance from the tunes in his repertoire. His playing appears on the Rounder CD, The Prince Edward Island Style of Fiddling: Fiddlers of Eastern PEI, and also on a number of self produced CDs that have been released since the early 1990s, such as The Road to Rollo Bay (which also features the playing of his daughter, Melanie Chaisson).
Once Peter showed an interest as a youngster in playing fiddle, he found himself under a considerable pressure from his father to progress.
Some of the kids would be having a hockey game out in the back rink and I'd be looking out the window watching them playing hockey, trying to concentrate on practicing the tune. And you didn't leave the house and play hockey until you practiced that tune and knew it.
Peter learned by ear listening to his father and uncles playing, and also by listening to his father’s extensive record collection featuring Cape Breton fiddling. Also a factor were fiddling broadcasts from station CJFX from Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The Cape Breton fiddlers he listening to most in those early years were Angus Chisholm, Winston Fitzgerald, Carl MacKenzie, and Buddy MacMaster.
Peter took an extremely active role in promoting the Island’s Fiddling Revival. For many years, he oversaw the property on which the Rollo Bay Scottish Fiddling Festival is held, was in charge of Festival finances and logistics, and also managed the Rollo Bay Fiddle Instructional Program.
For well over three decades, Peter and his brother Kevin spent every Monday night from early fall through late spring assisting at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Instruction Program. For many years, Peter’s special job was to be on hand to demonstrate authentic performance style. Starting around 2003 and continuing until his death in 2015, he offically took over as instructor of the advanced class. He also started teaching lessons privately from out of his Bear River home.
As a teacher, Peter was known for being a stickler on using the priming technique, in which the 4th finger is used to double the sound of the open higher neighboring string. In his own playing, he favored a variant of the technique in which he comes into the doubled note via a slow grace (the tune used for illustration is Smith’s Reel).
In 1991, Peter and Kevin shared a family story about how their father and most of his brothers took up the fiddle despite paternal opposition. They also describe how a fiddler’s sound acts like an “accent” in language to help indicate a musician’s place of origin.
Of special note: Peter discusses and plays The Prince Edward Island Wedding Reel, which he learned from his father.