Hangman’s Reel (Le Reel du Pendu) – Fiddle Tune a Day – Day 342

Jean Carignan was an AMAZING fiddler. Henry the Fiddler Introduced me to Jean’s playing on Youtube about 5 years ago, and I became an instant fan.

Jean’s bow work is fantastic. I don’t know if I have ever heard someone play with as cool of bowing rhythms, while still being spot on precise. Two other fiddler’s who are notable in the area of sweet bowing are Orville Burns, and Bruce Molsky, but Jean is at the top of the pyramid in my book.

I learned Hangman’s Reel (Le Reel du Pendu) from a Youtube recording of Jean Carignan, and I spent hours on end trying to capture his bowing feel. I have done my best, but You have to hear the original, because it’s inimitable. Thanks to Chris Ricker for uploading this great footage!!!



 Hangman’s Reel according to Fiddler’s Companion

HANGED MAN’S REEL. AKA ‑ “Hangman’s Reel.” AKA and see “The Nightengale [1],” “Reel of the Hanged One,” “Reel Du Pendu.” See “Hangman’s Reel [1]” (Old‑Time version). French-Canadian, Reel. Canada; Quebec, Prince Edward Island. A Major (Brody, Hart & Sandell): G Major (Perlman). AEac# (usually) or Standard tunings. AABB (Perlman): ABCC’DEF (Hart & Sandell): AABBCCDDEEFF (Brody). A widely known reel among French-Canadian fiddlers, it is considered one of the “showcase” tunes of the repertoire.  “Reel du Pendu” (Hanged Man’s Reel) exists in myriad versions and variations, some of which are quite distanced from one-another, although they all feature scordatura tuning in the key of ‘A’. Fiddler and researcher Lisa Ornstein writes the tune “typically features a nuclear melody which is followed by a number of short strains based on arpeggiated motifs which gradually descend from the upper to the lower octave; many versions include the use of left-hand pizzicato on the open strings… virtually all versions are characterized by the use of an AEac# scordatura and by an associated story which credits the composition of the tune to a prisoner condemned to be hanged.”  Ken Perlman (1996) writes that this reel is always played in a medley with “Reel du Cordonnier” on Prince Edward Island in the form of two time through for “Reel Du Pendu,” once for “Reel du Cordonnier” and finally two more times through of “Pendu.”


There are several variants of a story associated with the tune, all having to do with a condemned man and an offer of reprieve as reward for a performance or musical task accomplished. One such variant is that the condemned man was able to secure a last-minute reprieve—challenged and given an out-of-tune fiddle, he was able to play a tune no one had ever heard before. Another version goes (from Louis Boudreault) that the (sometimes musically untrained) condemned was given an untuned fiddle and was told that if he could play a reel by morning he would be pardoned: he did—he was—and “Reel du Pendu” is the result.


The tune’s origins remain unclear, writes Ornstein, who was unable to find any antecedents for the melody in music from France. There are some similarities with the Scottish reel “Grieg’s Pipes,” as well as with the American “Lost Indian” family of tunes (another family with myriad variants, including the Louisiana, back-to-French version, “Reel du sauvage perdu” {Lost Indian}, according to Hart & Sandell, 2001). The earliest mention Lisa Ornstein found of the tune in Quebec was in an account by agronomist and author Georges Bouchard (1888-1956), who wrote about his childhood in the latter part of the 19th century in the village of Saint-Philippe-de-Néri (in the Kamouraska region). There “Reel du Pendu” was played by the fiddler at the end of a dance, retuning for the piece, after which the crowd dispersed. The earliest sound recording appears to be by Quebec fiddlers Joseph Allard in 1928, and Isadore Soucy, who recorded it five times on 78 RPM between 1927 and 1952.

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  1. Roland White says

    Love this tune Vi. Great you posted incredible fiddling. I discovered Jean about the same time I found Graham Townsend. But Jean is one of my all time fav fiddlers. As you say best bowing work I have ever witnessed. Here is another unbelievable performance with Reel de Rimouskihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjlkRH2wl7Q.

  2. von williams says

    Is Hangman’s Reel notated? I WANT IT if it is – if not will try to copy
    by ear – Thanks! Von Wms

  3. says

    Just came across this. Sorry for the very late reply. There are 2 tunes called Hangman's Reel. This one is also known as Reel Du Pendu. It's a French/French Canadian tune. The other is a derivative of this tune that is played in the Appalachian style. I'm sure that sheet music exists, but I don't have any. If you search google for reel du pendu sheet music or hangman's reel sheet music, there are some notes out there, but none that saw that really capture what I do on it.

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