A suite of six authentic fiddle settings for one extraordinary tune
Fully-styled tune settings, song lyrics in French and English. Mp3s with Donna Hébert, fiddle; Max Cohen, guitar
New England setting pdf, G major,
New England setting pdf with bowing vocables: with French lyric from Madame Bolduc “Tout le monde a la grippe” performed by Josée Vachon.
NE lesson mp3,
NE jam mp3,
‘Tout le monde’ mp3 (used with permission)
Who is this Mrs. McLeod?
Sometimes she’s Mrs., sometimes she’s Miss; in Ireland she’s Mc and in Scotland she’s Mac, but wherever she lands, she’s a fine fiddle tune! With more than 30 different names (see the entry in Andrew Kuntz’s The Fiddlers’ Companion for more names & settings) and dozens of different but related melodies, Mrs. McLeod’s Reel is a tune with a long history.
An early setting was collected by Scots fiddling master Neil Gow around 1800 from a Mr. MacLeod on the Isle of Skye and the title is also referred to in Irish literature in the late 1700s. English novelist Thomas Hardy, a fiddler himself, mentions the tune in “The Mayor of Casterbridge.” When it crossed the seas to the new world, McLeod’s worked its way both North and South, picking up and dropping parts, changing keys, even acquiring words in both English and French. After rolling out West, it eventually became the centerpiece of American composer Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo”. Not bad for an immigrant Scots-Irish fiddle tune!
Six variants of McLeod’s are collected here. Five are culled directly from the regional fiddling traditions they represent and the last one is an original blues setting of my own. There were many settings to choose from, but these were the most fun to play – probably the deciding factor for fiddlers!
The Scots, Irish and New England settings were found in older collections. I learned the Scots strathspey in A major from one of Neil Gow’s collections many years ago, about the same time I learned the New England setting in G major from ‘Ryan’s Mammoth Collection” (formerly published as “Cole’s 1000 Fiddle Tunes”). The Irish setting in D major, “Miss McLeod of Rosses” is different from both the Scots and New England tune shapes, but still sounds enough like its parent to claim heritage. I found it in Kerr’s Merrie Melodies, Vol. XI.
Québecois singer Mary Travers, know in Québec as La Bolduc, used the New England setting in the 1930s for a song she called “Tout le monde a la grippe,” (everyone has a cold), which she wrote following an influenza epidemic. The nonsense syllable chorus, a French-Canadian turlutte, sings “tiddly-um ACHOO, ta-ta-tum, ta-ta deedle, da-da tum ACHOO, ta-ta-tum, ta-ta deedle da-da dum,” mimicking the sneezing cold sufferer. The CD song track (used with permission) is from Josée Vachon: ça fait rire les enfants, 1996 (available from Josée at www.joseevachon.com). I am fiddling on the track, and the sneezing chorus includes my daughter Molly, then aged 8.
I first heard the Acadian French setting from my mentor Gerry Robichaud, a New Brunswick fiddler. Québecois fiddler Claude Méthé also shared his version with me and I use that setting here. I adore the three-phrase B part and the syncopation is very satisfying to play. Pay attention to the accented (>) driven bows in the style to make the rhythm pop.
The Appalachian Old-Time setting was gleaned from jam sessions and is very close to the one I later found in the Scots collegion “Kerr’s Merrie Melodies, Vol I.”. In A major, it uses virtually the same melody as “Hop High Ladies,” as it’s often known in the Southern U.S. Played with characteristic open-string drones, this is a smoothly-bowed setting with two and three-note slurs across the downbeat to mark the rhythm. The last, blues setting, is one I composed, resetting the shape of the melody over a blues scale, turning it minor.
Each tune setting incorporates a style lesson. Make the effort to get the bowing rhythms right and you’re 90 percent there. Go for the syncopated bowings (tied or driven bows in groups of two or three over the beat and bar line) and you can create a wonderful groove. Learn rhythmic bowings first, adding left-hand ornaments when the bowings are secured.
Experienced fiddlers are constantly drumming new rhythms over a melody line; bowing is the “open sesame” to rhythmic improvisation. Playing along with the mp3 tracks while reading is a very effective way to learn the tune and understand how the groove changes from style to style. Style points for each tune are broken out on the lesson mp3s. Each tune is played several times through, then again on a second track with guitarist Max Cohen playing in standard tuning.
Mrs. McLeod’s Reel is a grand old lady who has traveled far and wide to become a standard tune in many fiddling traditions. Playing the tune settings given here will help you appreciate and experience her journey. Bon voyage!
© 2006 Donna Hébert, fiddlingdemystified.com. All rights reserved.