BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England this summer. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, Intro, The First Week, The Second Week and The Third Week.
Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Sunday, July 21
The home stretch!!
Today, I am playing solo for our dance in Norwich, VT. But before that, I’ll lead my second English Country Dance Musicians’ Workshop, which I’ve titled The Band’s the Thing. Today’s workshop was a bit more difficult for me, because there was a vastly wider range of ages (from about 10 to adult), and more diverse instrumentation: flute, violin, mandolin, concertina. I tried to bring up points that would be helpful to all of us. I was disappointed that I did not get us playing together sooner, to better assess skill levels, and to help set the mood of loving English dance as a prerequisite. Next time, I definitely will do that. I was pleased and excited when my workshop musicians agreed to play two tunes with me after the refreshment break: a partner waltz and an English country dance. I hope one of the unspoken lessons was that bandmates can save you when you are in trouble. It is true!
The dance went well. At the break, I was introduced to David Millstone, the president of CDSS, who lives and calls in this area. He seemed to like my piano playing and gave me a nice compliment!
Organizer Tim O’Dell arrived early at the hall to find the entire floor covered with a blue tarp. In all the years (read: decades) that dancing has taken place at Tracy Hall in Norwich, no organizer has found the floor in this condition. Tim laboriously rolled up the four to five large sections of tarp. When Barbara DeFelice and her son Nacio arrived, they helped him.
Tim also provided chilled drinks and tasty snacks at the break, which everyone enjoyed outside the hall, gathering around a picnic table. The heat of the last week had finally broken, so the temperature was very conducive to milling around and chatting. Like all the dance organizers we encountered on the BVD Tour, Tim is a fine example of the classic dance organizer, who works tirelessly in the background for the love of the dance and his dance community.
A highlight for me was calling “Mr. John Bremer’s Return to Pinewoods,” with John Bremer on the dance floor. I must thank Bruce Hamilton for the dance instructions and Michael Siemon for the sheet music. The dance and tune were written by Shag Graetz in 1984. John, who lives in the Norwich area, is a lovely dancer and charming gentleman—AND he taught ritual dance at Pinewoods in the 1950s/1960s. For a glimpse into his rich dance history, you can read his essay at http://instituteofphilosophy.org/folklore-dance-song/a-dance-autobiography/
My husband Tom had asked for feedback from David Millstone, who was at the dance. Here are some of David’s comments:
“First of all, and above all else, THANK YOU for organizing this tour! I have an appreciation for just how much legwork was involved in pulling this together, and that truly is devotion above and beyond…you brought dances to folks at a time of year when many of us are hungry for an opportunity to dance. And it wasn’t just a dance, either—Barb’s music workshop gave participants a fresh perspective.
“I enjoyed Barb’s playing. As I told her at the break, she kept a steady beat and was able to improvise at the same time. The tune was always audible—no extended noodling around on the keyboard that left dancers wondering where we were—and this was especially helpful on dances that were less familiar …”
“The program was largely modern compositions, though there were a few older dances (Midnight Ramble, Jovial Beggars, maybe a few others) mixed in. The program started with mostly simpler dances, including two with very similar figures. This let the less skilled dancers feel comfortable with basics and gave us a chance to adjust to just one instrument.
“Thank you all, yet again, for bringing the joy of music and dance to so many venues this midsummer.”
Val’s post, Monday, July 22
Our friend Sue loaned us her country home in the Pioneer Valley (in western MA); we spent three nights there. Tom and I have been lucky to stay with her on other dance-related occasions, so we knew how peaceful her place can be. Little did I know just how restorative it was, to be on our own at Sue’s for this long of a period. It was an amazing gift. We could sleep at odd times of day, take walks along the country roads, read and relax, set up Barb’s electric keyboard inside the house, move the dining room furniture so we could practice calling, dancing and playing for our next two gigs (Whately, MA tonight and West Newton, MA on Wednesday). We could also take excursions during our free time—so we visited downtown Northampton (lunching at the brewpub, having ice cream for dessert at Herrell’s—little known fact: owner Steve Herrell was an avid contra dancer in the 1980s)—and the Botanical Gardens at Smith College. We also went grocery shopping and stopped at one of my Tom’s favorite breweries for a tasting (as well as some purchases): Element Brewing Company in Millers Falls.
Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!
Tonight is the dance at Whately Barn!! I’m playing with Bare Necessities musicians Peter Barnes and Mary Lea! This is what we have all been practicing for, a fine performance tonight! We spent all day going over music, teaching, calling—and then doing it over again. First Dan’s dances, then Val’s, and always me practicing with both of them. We recorded dances in the keyboard so that four of us could dance, and the caller could concentrate on perfecting his/her teaching and calling.
Approaching Whately Barn, I suddenly got hit with nerves. Peter and Mary were both so calm and reassuring, but I literally shook through the first three dances, and finally started to settle down to business. It was so wonderful to look out at the dancers and see so many friends, and dancers who came out to support us! Whately Barn is a beautiful dance venue! What a privilege to perform there. I had fallen in love with the dance (“Whately Barn” by Gary Roodman, to the tune “Richard’s Reminder” by Debbie Jackson) when my Barnes’ books were brand new and I was reading through them every night, discovering this beautiful music. And now to be playing in the place that inspired such a lovely dance was very inspiring!
When we finished the dance, I got smiles from both Peter and Mary, but the best part was a hug from Mary on the way out the door. Now I really can’t wait to play with them again on Wednesday! No fears anymore!!!
[Val’s note: What a treat it was to see this Facebook post from Whately/Amherst organizer Robin Hayden: “Just a great dance tonight! Val Medve and Dan Seppeler led a fun program, and the music from Barb Seppeler, Mary and Peter was terrific. Fifty-five is a bit crowded for the Whately Barn, but undeniably festive! Thanks to all you wonderful people for making the trip—loved seeing you and dancing with you all!”]
Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Wednesday, July 24
These two dances (in Whately, and tonight in West Newton) with Peter and Mary are the tour highlights for me. They are just such fabulous musicians, which of course everyone knows, but they also were so supportive and helpful, that I was able to relax and play my best. This dance in West Newton is also extremely important. Dan set up my electric piano (so I could actually face Peter and Mary) and we pushed the lovely (but cumbersome) grand piano to the side. Now I am ready! Mary easily nodded at me when she wanted me to take my turn at the melody, or I just called out, “I’ve got this!” What unbelievable fun! One moment that shines out was during “Lambs of Green Hill.” The melody is traditional Scottish (“Ned of the Hill”) and Dan composed the B section. Well, Peter took out a whistle, and it was so plaintive and lonely, and with Mary on the melody, I don’t know how the dancers could keep on dancing. It was everything for me just to keep to my business, and not get lost in the sounds around me. I have Robin Hayden (Whately music organizer) and Jacqueline Schwab (West Newton music organizer) to thank for setting up these dances for me, and of course, Peter and Mary for actually doing it. I will never forget the music those nights!
After a quick meal of pizza and salad at a within-walking-distance-of-the-dance-hall restaurant recommended by organizer Deb Karl, we entered the lovely dance venue at the First Unitarian Society of Newton. Roger Cleghorn, who would provide overnight accommodations for Barb, Dan and Tom Grande (who rejoined us the evening of July 22), worked with Dan and my Tom to provide sound. My beginners’ workshop began long before the 7:10 pm start time, since I was there and a new dancer was there. More newcomers and regular dancers joined us at the official workshop start time and we had quite the contingent.
The Newton group was one of the most polite and respectful (to callers) on our tour, listening quietly and carefully to the callers’ dance instructions as well as toning down the chatter when they were ready (and they were always ready sooner rather than later!) to hear the instructions. For Dan and me, it was a treat.
Many thanks to dance organizer Christine Robb for booking us—and to Deb Karl for providing overnight hospitality to Tom and me (as well as giving me some valuable caller/teacher feedback).
To me, the music that night was magical (as it was in Whately). It was difficult to stand still while Mary, Peter and Barb played, so I stopped trying and happily moved to the music while I called at the podium, watching and thoroughly enjoying the dancers and musicians!
Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Thursday, July 25
Back to Vermont for the last time. Oh dear, I am beginning to feel sad about the end drawing near. Tonight’s dance in Richmond is the first one in the beginner’s series of classes, so back to the easier dances—and harder work for the callers. The dance was lovely, and I was surprised to see one of the people who attended my first ECD Musicians’ Workshop. I offered him the chance to play, and he did not hesitate. Wow! He did a great job! And I got to dance!
Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 26
We have to be on the road by 8 am, as Dan and I are not quite heading home yet. We have one last dance in Iroquois, Ontario, hosted by Sara Lawson. And as we were in Val and Tom’s driveway, Tom Grande’s car seems to be in the process of breaking down. Oh no, not now! [Val’s note: We brought Tom G and his car to our mechanic, who said the car was safe to drive at the moment, but would need work; alas, when Tom G got to the Albany, NY area later that day, the car gave out and he spent a couple of nights in Albany while the car was fixed.]
Our last dance in Canada was a great wrap-up for us. These dancers expect a lot from us, as we did this last year, and they remembered and requested those dances, which included “White Wheat” and Dan’s new dance “Night Whispers.” We set the piano up on the front porch this time, and had the St. Lawrence River as a backdrop on a perfect, sunny day, with a gentle breeze.
Barb’s post, from the pianist’s point of view!, Saturday, July 27
We were in our front door by 3:00 pm, and so happy and exhausted! I hope many other groups try this, as we enjoyed this trip so very much. Traveling with the Medves and Tom Grande made the tour just delightful. Yes, it was close quarters for a long time; yes, we were extremely sleep deprived; but our over-riding love for sharing ECD with everyone we met made any inconvenience just disappear. Val did a tremendous amount of work organizing not only the dance venues, and hospitality, but also the planning and executing of meals. Dan was my hero, lugging that 80 pound beast of an electronic keyboard everywhere we went. Tom Medve did a fantastic job of keeping track of finances, numbers of dancers, mileage and other tour business. Tom Grande was our cheerleader and eager volunteer when we needed to spend hours practicing dancing, calling and playing for the “big” gigs! And I got to do what I love best, playing for English country dances! Thank you, BVD!!
Val’s post, Saturday, August 17
Now that more than a month has elapsed since we started this adventure, and I’ve caught up on sleep (!), I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people that made the BVD Tour a reality—and a pleasure. First, I’d like to thank my travel companions: my husband Tom, Dan and Barb Seppeler, Tom Grande. They each contributed to the success of the tour, as detailed in this and earlier posts. But it was their support, flexibility, patience, understanding, and good natures that I valued most.
To the CDSS staff, a very hearty thanks for your encouragement. Special thanks to CDSS Executive Director Rima Dael for meeting with us and suggesting the blog and giveaways, to CDSS Director of Communications Caroline Batson for the careful editing of our blog posts and her timely communications, to CDSS Sales and Services Manager Jeff Martel for choosing and gathering all the giveaways.
I’m indebted to the many dedicated organizers who agreed to host a BVD dance, which entailed more work on their part than just simply saying “yes.” To folks who hosted us and/or shared meals with us during the tour, a big thanks for making us feel so at ease and welcome. To those who gave us (and others who would like to give us) feedback re: the tour—be assured that your suggestions were taken to heart and were very much appreciated. Many thanks to the musicians who played so beautifully with Barb, at dances or her workshops. And of course, thanks to all of the dancers, especially those who braved the summer heat and humidity to do what we all love best—dance!
What next? My hope is to write one more post: a wrap-up that may also include some words from our other tour members (Tom Medve, Dan Seppeler, Tom Grande). Stay tuned!