Episode 8: David Cantieni Part 2

Part two of Julie’s conversation with David Cantieni – founding member of the bands Wild Asparagus and Swallowtail, who has been an important fixture of the Western Massachusetts contradance scene for many years. They go through David’s roots, his transition from classical oboe to traditional music, the excitement of the bombard and the influence of French tunes, how he has seen the dance scene change in the last 30 years, and a much more.

Transcript

Julie Vallimont
Welcome back to Contra Pulse for the second half of our interview with David Cantieni.
So. I’m interested in talking to you a little bit about if you’re interested, your thoughts about musical arrangements.

David Cantieni
Well, actually, I was just thinking, I was thinking maybe more important to me, though arrangements is one thing. And this comes down to bands and arrangements. I do feel that because like on the stage, we are all sort of one and mixed together and the musicians are creating, are also creating an environment, the sonic environment that’s going to hopefully inspire dancers to, first of all be in sync and, and second of all to be inspired to move. The whole idea that we musicians are in service, you know where it’s a service. And not only just to the people on the dance floor, but just sort of service to the whole experience. You know, we’re in service to ourselves, of course, but also just like being that catalyst. You know, we’re the catalyst and so, if you have certain musical needs that aren’t being met at a contra dance then you have to find the outlet for those needs in another place because the needs of you know, tempo and rhythm, and clarity, phrasing all of that is like in service to the dance experience or the total experience. But contra dancing definitely has specific needs, such as phrasing, and then you were talking about arrangement, and I suppose that comes under the heading of drama. And in the old dances you know, I’m not sure that the traditional when I was coming up that the band really thought much about drama. But again, this is since I was peripheral to it, I don’t know what the discussions were, but I expect that it had more to do with just rhythm and tempo and, and repertoire, you know, you have to know these particular tunes in order to be part of it. So, your question about…..

Julie Vallimont
It’s really about anything musically that you want to talk about. Like, how do you choose what to play? And how do you approach it and how has that changed?

David Cantieni
Well, because there are all the new dances coming along. You know, it’s all with the traditional dances, you knew what to play, pretty much. If the dance had a name that went with the tune. You know, you’d at least play that tune and sometimes, well, let’s take Chorus Jig. We always used to go into Drowsy Maggie even though that, you know in the Irish repertoire, it’s a two part single reel. Somebody along the way added a third part. And so we doubled the first part and then played the second and the third parts to match. But we always knew we were going to play that. And it was a really nice contrast and then we’d go back to Chorus Jig and everyone here was like coming home and it was great. So maybe that is the first sort of dramatic change I can think of in the old, old tunes. Because if we were playing, say, Money Musk you’d just play Money Musk, if you play Lamplighter’s maybe you would have turned that into a medley? I’m not sure yeah, probably. In the new tradition, since we have all these new dances, some are like smooth and so you do have to somehow pick tunes that seem to work and a lot of it has to do though, there’s so many ways to play the same tune and if someone says okay, play that tune, smooth so that we can, it’s possible. But definitely there are tunes that line up better than others for certain dances. I don’t know if I can go into any detail on that.

Julie Vallimont
So these kind of things are evolving together, where callers are starting to do more different kinds of choreography and then asking for different things of the musicians. And then either that’s a chance to delve into parts of your repertoire you don’t get to or you have to go searching for repertoire.

David Cantieni
Yeah.

Julie Vallimont
Either one or a combination of the two to meet those needs.

David Cantieni
Yeah. And in our, you know, with Asparagus at this point, we have been doing a lot of original tunes. I guess I might sit down and say, oh, I want to write a tune that feels like this, but I don’t ever sit down and write a tune that is going to go with this dance, which would be an interesting exercise to do. Maybe in a year or two when we get a vaccine, I’ll write one that’ll go with a new dance. So we end up having these tunes that various ones in our band write and it’s up to us to try to figure out what sort of feel it has or how we want to present it, and then see what sort of dance it might go with, whether it’s a balancy dance or a smooth dance, or faster or slower.

Julie Vallimont
And then the advantage in working with George is that he knows your repertoire, and he knows the dances and his repertoire and so….

David Cantieni
Yet, the way we have developed to work is George picks the dances and we pick the tunes to go with the dances. He says, okay, this is my program and then sometimes he’ll say, can you change this around? Like, you know, maybe we could switch those because we want to do…….

Julie Vallimont
Yeah. That’s interesting, because there’s a few different bands that have band-caller partnerships serving another one. Each of them work differently depending on the caller and the band members and how they function.

David Cantieni
So how do you do you think Nils picks the dances at that point? Or does… I suppose you could pick all your program of music for the evening and then Nils or whoever the caller would be would pick the dances to go with that musical program?

Julie Vallimont
Yeah. Or Nils… I don’t know, we’d have to ask him. I have a memory or a feeling that he could also say, hey, I want to do this dance. Do you want to do this set with it? Like, they go together well, and so it becomes a combo that shows up often. You have to ask them about it. And there are some bands who would then say to the caller, this is what we want to play tonight and it’s not even a caller that’s part of their band, but this is what we’re gonna play in this order… can you program to it? And some callers enjoy that and some callers don’t.

David Cantieni
And we’re sort of in the middle, I guess. You know, occasionally we we do work with other callers and we have some favorite callers that we like to work with besides George, who have a working relationship with us for one reason or another. And sometimes they’ll request tunes that they know that we play to go with a certain dance and that works out pretty well, too.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah. That act. I love that act of working with a caller on the fly to create an experience in the moment. It’s just the best feeling when it works.

David Cantieni
Yeah.

Julie Vallimont
Sometimes you’re on the hook and the dancers are getting antsy and the caller wants you to play potatoes and you don’t know what tune you’re playing yet.

David Cantieni
Well, some people like that better than others.

Julie Vallimont
I learned not to let it stress me out. It took me a few years.

David Cantieni
Ann hates it. I’m kind of in the middle about it. It can be fun. It can be fun. And also I like that with a pickup band. I do like just slamming some tunes together and hoping that it’s gonna work, and a lot of times it does.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah. And if it doesn’t, there’s just another dance right after it. I mean, what’s the biggest difference in your musical process between playing in pickup bands, which you do often, and you have some kind of pseudo regular occasional pickup bands, versus playing in a band like Wild Asparagus or Swallowtail?

David Cantieni
Well, it’s really uneven between Wild Asparagus and Swallowtail, there’s a huge difference, because in Swallowtail, for some reason, it’s become the standard to alternate sets of reels and jigs. And sometimes we’ll put together a list of the current things that we want to play but no order. And there’s much more than, you know, we’ll have a big list. So we’ll get to choose, you know, but it’s generally sort of set medleys. Sometimes we’ll put together something on the fly and with Asparagus, that’s not it at all. We’ll, you know, before the dance, we figure out what we’re going to play. We usually only do two sets of jigs. Unless for some reason, we need another set. And it makes it very smooth and much less stressful in that we know it’s like okay, now we’re going to play this and George is teaching the tune and we think about what we’re going to do and I think overall, well for us, and maybe for the dancers, it leads to a very smooth easy experience.

Julie Vallimont
It flows.

David
But there is something fun about the band going like, oh, we don’t really know what we’re gonna play yet. Just hang on, you know, and…..

Julie Vallimont
Then the caller tells jokes.

David Cantieni
Yeah. And it makes the dancers realize that they’re actually people on stage, because it’s easy to ignore that even as a dancer. Especially in the early days I didn’t know who was playing and I didn’t really care.

Julie Vallimont
Right, I didn’t either. Is it a community entertainment the world is making for each other? Or is it a polished thing that you’re presenting for people?

David Cantieni
Right. And it is somewhere in there.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, somewhere in between and different dances are on different ends of that spectrum. So I guess I should ask you the inevitable question. Well, let’s talk about bombards. Oh, French music.

David Cantieni
Yes, there are a number things that I was thinking of, itactually has to do with wind playing, but bombard obviously is the most well, athletic of them. And playing the bombard is a full body experience, you know, I mean, it’s not just twiddling your fingers, like it seems that flute is, or whistle even more so, but playing the winds, you’re using your being, the whole breathing into your instrument is a very different experience than holding a mandolin or a guitar or even a fiddle. Though you have that fiddle right up next to your ear. It doesn’t have anything to do with, except for the resonance. I don’t know, my theory is that even with those instruments, fiddle more than any others, do affect the resonance of your body. And probably piano too, you know, you’re sitting next to this big thing that has percussion coming at you and all of that, but so the ultimate is obviously the bombard, where you’re just blowing your brains out and the volume is stupendous, though my experience especially around other bombard players is other bombard players seem louder to me than myself. So there’s that just the physical fact of that instrument is really remarkable. And it being a primitive oboe, I was set up perfectly to start playing it There is a history with that, in the early days at Hampshire College, one of my classmates was also into contra dancing and music. That would be Bob Walser.

Julie Vallimont
Oh, Bob Walser, you went to school together.

David Cantieni
Isn’t that funny?

Julie Vallimont
Small, the world is so small.

David Cantieni
So he was at Hampshire, and he’s now in Minneapolis. And on our first or second tour, we stopped to stay with Bob. And he by then had gotten into French music. And he gave me a bombard, he said, you know, you’re the only person that I know who I’ll be able to maybe play bombard with. I’m really interested in this. And so he gave me a bombard. I guess he has a bombard. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard him play the bombard. But that sat around. I didn’t use it for a number of years. So that would have been in 82 or one of those years when we were touring and Wild Asparagus did another cross country tour at least one in 84-85. It was just the three of us. And that might have been when Bob gave me the bombard in the 90s, early 90s we played at Augusta Heritage arts workshops in Elkins, West Virginia. And at that time, there was a band called the house band. Yeah, they were conducting a Celtic band workshop. And since they were all Brits rather than Irish, they were not part of the Irish week, even though they played a lot of traditional Irish music. They also played French. They played African, they played like European stuff, you know, some French, some Belgian.

Julie Vallimont
In the bal folk scene?

David Cantieni
A little bit, they were peripheral to that too. But I met John Skelton who is one of the major flute players around in the States, but he’s British, he grew up in the Irish part of London, and has stories about that. But he was playing bombard in the House Band, and it included John Skelton, Jed Foley, who used to be in the Battlefield Band, and Chris Parkinson, who’s played accordion and piano. So anyhow, John was playing in the context of this trad band, so he was the model for how to use the bombard outside of say, a French Bagad, which would be a whole band of bombards and binious and hurdy gurdys and things.

Julie Vallimont
Drums?

David Cantieni
So that’s when I started playing bombard in the band, and we invited the house band to come and play with us. And there are some amazing historic pictures that Ann just dug out of the House Band coming to Greenfield to play with us. And they had no idea about how to do it so it was great for them to just have us as the sort of the framework and then they could just do what they wanted.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah.

David Cantieni
A mosh pit of musicians.

Julie Vallimont
So what tips did you learn about bombard playing from that experience?

David Cantieni
Well, you can’t play it continuously, you know, that’s one of ….

Julie Vallimont
It’s physically impossible.

David
Physically impossible.

David Cantieni
And so, you know, the the French tradition of trading which, I wonder what came first, because there’s a singing tradition of someone singing a verse and then people joining in and singing, sort of like a sea shanty, I suppose, but yeah, call and response in the bombards are like that too Like you’ll play a phrase and overlap with the next bombard, if there is a second bombard, but what I do is that I phrase generally across the bars and trade back and forth with whoever else is playing melody, which would be Becky or George.

David
So the tip was just how to get in and out and how to make it in an interesting flow in the music, and I hope it works.

Julie Vallimont
Talk about drama, it certainly creates excitement. Without fail, it will get some kind of reaction from the dances.

David Cantieni
And there are certain people that I know it hurts their ears, you know, and I’m always very apologetic and it’s like, well, I kind of have to do this and it’s kind of fun and pretty amazing.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, it doesn’t make sound if you try to play quietly. There is no quiet option on a bombard.

David
And there’s no point. I can play it soft. I mean, there’s a certain amount of volume but there’s no point. It’s like, it’s not really playing it. It’s sort of like, if you were practicing, like if you have a practice chanter on a bagpipe. I think practice chanters are generally very soft.

Julie Vallimont
Practice chanter. So to practice the fingerings and other things without the full volume. Just for anyone who doesn’t know what that is.

David Cantieni
Yeah, usually I work stuff out on the on one of my whistles, because the fingering is exactly the same.

Julie Vallimont
Was there anyone else playing bombard for dances?

David Cantieni
Not at that time. And now there are a few. Yeah, there’s a… who is it on the west coast. Guy in Oregon does. I think he’s a caller, too. I should know. He’s maybe the only one that I… do you know of any others? There’s Mark Roberts who plays occasionally. Mostly we make him.

Julie Vallimont
It’s funny. I know some burgeoning ones and some closet ones. But I don’t know of anyone who does it regularly for dances now that I think about it. Or I can’t remember them. Sorry if I forgot you. That’s interesting.

David Cantieni
Yeah. No.

Julie Vallimont
So Wild Asparagus, maybe in the beginning had this kind of New England repertoire tunes and then some Irish tunes. Where did the French influence come from?

David Cantieni
Well, it must have been from, well, not only John Skelton, who taught me some of the early tunes. The first tunes that I learned were these tunes called Hanter dros, which is like an Andro, but it’s in three. Simple French Breton dance, ‘Course in Brittany, you don’t… it’s sort of like the French Canadians wanted to secede from Canada, Brittany wanted to be not part of France.

Julie Vallimont
their own cultural identity.

David Cantieni
it’s Celtic. Yeah.

Julie Vallimont
And that goes back centuries. Very old culture.

David Cantieni
So I learned Hanter dros and then Becky and Keith had an interest in that. Becky joined the band. After I started playing bombard though, I think she started in 93, 94. And at that time, I don’t know if she was into any of the French tunes. But she was steeped in French Canadian, however, and I feel that the funny thing about the French Canadian is that there is also that trading tradition. Yeah. Of singing and dancing, and having the sort of overlapping phrases. So it seems like a French thing.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, different things from French culture migrate around and then evolve separately in their own places. I’m not a musicologist. But it seems like it.

David Cantieni
It sure does.Yeah, I don’t know. But so we did have the sympathetic sort of interest in that French stuff. My French repertoire is not huge, I have to say. I enjoy it immensely when I get to play it.

Julie Vallimont
And I feel like both Wild Asparagus and Nightingale have been very successful at playing French dances for contras,

David Cantieni
French tunes.

Julie Vallimont
And adapting them to the dances or writing new tunes that are in the style of French tunes. More contra friendly.

David Cantieni
Well as you were saying, way early on, you can use any tune. As long as you can force it to fit into the form. People use swing, and Ragtime and classical. I’ve heard plenty of classical. You know, there are people that play Mozart and Bach.

Julie Vallimont
Right, Moving Violations love to play classical music.

David Cantieni
And I don’t know if if early Asparagus did that, because my oboe chops were really tuned to the classical stuff. So you know, fitting the French in and being dance music. You know, there is such a great tradition of dance in traditional French dance.

Julie Vallimont
They’re not that far apart in some ways. The style of dance is different. The spirit in which the dance is done is very similar.

David Cantieni
And of course, the history of contra dance has to do with French dance, too, because it’s an amalgam of the English and the French. And my understanding is that the early Yankee Americans came up with this brand new dance form as a protest to the English dancing, and it became an amalgam of the French and Scottish and some English.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah.

David Cantieni
So it follows.

Julie Vallimont
So is there anything else that you’d like to add? I mean, I could talk to you literally all day. I feel like we could talk all day and cover all these issues.

David Cantieni
Well, maybe for the archives. When we started out, we didn’t grow up dancing, and there’s so many people today, musicians in particular, that have grown up dancing. But I think that there’s also a group of musicians who come to playing for contra dances because it’s an outlet for music. It’s like, well, you know, we’re not really a concert band, but we want to play out, we want to play traditional music, and so let’s play for a contra dance and not really versed in what’s needed, what makes for really fine contra dance experience. And one of my top issues is tempo. And of course there is a certain amount of controversy about tempo. But well, maybe it’s not a foregone conclusion that there is any controversy about tempo but I’m finding myself often, especially in the pickup band situation, trying to slow down, trying to play slower, because my favorite kind of dancing is not where you run from one place to another and trying to get there in time with the music but having the time, having it be matched, and I suppose it may show the difference between bands that are made up of country dancers and bands that are not made out of country dancers or people that know that tradition. So my pet peeve is is tempo, and I personally don’t really like to dance faster than 120. And that would be my top. I much would prefer to dance at 114 or somewhere in that area, and when we we used to play with Rodney Miller — he actually played in Wild Asparagus on a number of tours, Sam Bartlett, Sue Sternberg, but Rodney in particular plays really slow. I mean, what I remember is, wow, how slow it seemed that he was playing, how relaxed his playing is, and I’m sure some of that is illusion, because he can play as fast as he wants, I’m sure but he stands out in particular as one who had a very relaxed tempo.

Julie Vallimont
I think his fiddling has a real groove to it. And some tunes have a different groove to them that comes out at a slower tempo, when you speed the tempo up, the tune loses that little bounce or whatever that it has in it.

David
Yeah. And I remember the early days of dancing. There was a real, the style has has really changed, you know, in dancing, and there was this weird sort of flat footed gait that I think you can see in old videos that is gone, but I think the rhythm is still there. I think there is still some sort of underlying rhythm. I feel it in my own dancing with swinging. And I try to get that whatever it is when I play, and sometimes I manage it.

Julie Vallimont
That kind of groove. Feeling.

David Cantieni
Yeah,

Julie Vallimont
Yeah. I do think that there’s something different about playing tunes and dancing at slower tempos. You know, I don’t know. Do you see it? What do you notice on the dance floor? does it bring out different things in the dancers?

David
Yeah, it’s harder. I think one reason that there are some dancers and some musicians that like to play faster is that dancing faster is is in some ways easier because again, you’re just going from one place to another and you don’t have to fill any time so there’s less opportunity to get off. And possibly the same with playing in a band if you if you play maximum tempo that you can then there’s less room for messing up the rhythm. But i think that given more time on the dance floor there’s more chance for finesse and grace and of course, there’s also more chance for fancy moves and doing athletic things.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, which is interesting.

David Cantieni
And I’m not a proponent of that. But I suppose it just shows my age.

Julie Vallimont
Oh, I think there’s also aesthetic differences between them. I remember when I first started playing for techno contras, I just assumed that all the young dancers wanted to dance fast. Yeah, so I would play 121-22. And then some people came up who had been doing and they asked me to slow the music down, because they wanted more time to dip each other. And I was like, of course they want maximum time for flourishes. And so I did a variety of tempos, but it’s just interesting. Everyone has slightly different objectives.

David Cantieni
Oh, absolutely.

Julie Vallimont
I mean, I feel like if you just look at the choreography of a contra dance, each dance probably has a range of tempos that it works best at over the flow. It’s magical to come out of a Hey, and then your partner’s right there, rather than you have to get there early, and you have to wait, we’re rushing through it, you know, like a lot of the tempo depends on the choreography. So it’s possible that changing choreography also affects the tempo.

David
Yeah. Well there are definitely some dances that must not be played fast because there are too many moves. You know? I think that is it a Dave Kaynor dance called Fiddlehead Reel or something like that. And I remember, one of those earlier composed dances. That whenever we play it, it’s like, oh, yeah, we can’t play this too fast. Because it’s one move right after the other. And then there are others where there’s so much time that you might as well play fast and it will work.

Julie Vallimont
You prefer dancing to slower tempos in general?

David Cantieni
Yeah.

Julie Vallimont
What do you do with your time?

David Cantieni
Move slower, I guess?

Julie Vallimont
Crazy thought! Just for those out there who think it can’t be done. It is possible.

David Cantieni
Yeah, really. Well, you know, it is getting your timing right. Just like playing. I think most of the time that I practice, I practice slow to really slow. And in some ways that’s harder because, to be more accurate. You have more time to be wrong.

Julie Vallimont
Yep. And it requires a certain amount of control. It’s easy to let your fingers, like your motor thing just fly you through a passage. I used to play a lot of Haydn piano sonatas, all these runs and trills and cadenzas and stuff and then, you try to slow it down, and you’re like, oh, I’ve never played that once right my whole time. Like, the notes aren’t all even or whatever. Slowing things down is really a test. Otherwise, you can just let your momentum carry you through it. Whether that’d be dancing or playing without having the control. That’s an interesting parallel there, huh? Does Wild Asparagus mostly play slower tempos or do you have a variety of tempos through the night?

David Cantieni
Well, clearly we have a variety and I’m sure that it varies from day to day and night to night, you probably know that sometimes you feel like the band has been playing really slow all night, you go like, shouldn’t we speed up? and they’re like, no, we’re going fast tonight, you know? So it is so subjective.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, I think about tempo and then perceived tempo. And they’re very different. And it also depends on the condition of the floor, how humid it is, if the floor is sticky. How many dances there are…

David Cantieni
With the techno stuff, you can set the tempo… you just decide on the tempo, right?

Julie Vallimont
Absolutely. So it’s given me a fun learning lab for tempos. And I can change the tempo at will during the dance up or down and watch the effect that that has.

David Cantieni
Well so can we!

Julie Vallimont
All good musicians do that, right?

David Cantieni
Yeah. But now we have all those technological things like the phone with the little beats per minute thing, you know, Ann uses that, especially at the beginning sometimes, even though her rhythm is really great, sometimes her sense of how fast to go, you know, especially the accompaniment isn’t like normal. Then she’ll just look at her little metronome or the beat per minute thing and set it up and go, okay, that’s a good tempo and usually it’s, 110 114 or, you know, somewhere around there.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, you have to calibrate yourself. There’s sometimes I find on tour when I’m really tired my starting potatoes can be a little off sometimes. I don’t know why but it’s like that internal clock that you build is faster or slower or both like is I used to play fast and I was tired and now I play slow and I’m tired. I think as I’ve gotten older as a musician and playing trad music the more I enjoy playing too slowly. I think when you’re new, it’s like, this is so thrilling tho play this tune really fast. I’ve just really enjoyed playing tunes slowly with that lilt in them. And I notice it most at the end of a summer of not playing many contra dances, just jamming at camps all summer. The first few dances in the fall, especially in Buddy System. Noah would have to remind me what tempo he likes to play it.

David Cantieni
Does he have a favorite tempo?

Julie Vallimont
I think Noah has a very good sense of tempo. I think his innate tempo is around 117, 118 for some tunes, and then a lot faster for others. But then some people rush different amounts when they, we’ll call it a natural speed up versus a rush. Rush is a judgmental term. But some people speed up naturally and some people don’t, and there’s some tunes where…I’m not even talking about him, like where he or I or anybody would be very rock solid and then there’s other tunes that encourage you to play faster every time we go through them. It’s interesting to think about.

David Cantieni
But when I’m on the dance floor, and I hear a band rushing, it just annoys me. Which is different from speeding up, intentionally speeding up or even when the spirit goes like, Oh, yeah, this is gonna be a little higher energy, which means, though, again, you know, there’s the whole debate about, do you actually have to speed up to increase the energy and obviously they might be linked but not…

Julie Vallimont
Right, like a jig to reel is a perfect device for that. Yeah, you go to the jig to the reel, tempo stays exactly the same and all the dancers feel like it’s faster.

David Cantieni
Yeah. Right.

Julie Vallimont
Or you speed up during the jig to reel if you’re not careful because you get excited, right? Yeah, and rushing is different because it creates this kind of frantic energy where the music isn’t centered.

David Cantieni
Which can be exciting.

Julie Vallimont
Which can be exciting!

David Cantieni
I have a feeling that in our early days, especially in Swallowtail, that’s one thing that we were really good at. And it really got people wound up.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, it can be exhilarating to barely be able to do the dance sometimes. You know if you’re on the floor. Yeah, it really depends. There’s so many different things that people want out of dancing.

David Cantieni
Yeah, that too.

Julie Vallimont
I find that when the tempo is slower and more relaxed, people talk to each other more time to talk to your neighbor, your partner during a swing. When it’s fast, there’s no time for talking. People get quieter but they whoop more!

David Cantieni
Yep. Right. And so as a band, you might say, oh, they’re liking it more, because they’re like reacting more, you know, or like this huge transition. You know, they must really like it, even though it might just be really ugly. Right? It brings out the vocal reaction.

Julie Vallimont
But I had to remind myself that when we’re playing a slower, more relaxed groove, the dancers are talking to each other. They don’t work as much, but it doesn’t mean they’re not having fun. It just means they’re focused on each other and not on us. And then I think, oh, that’s what I want. Right, right. like yeah, if they’re all talking to each other and have a good time. You don’t have to have whoops to know that people are having a good time. Just a different kind of good time. Mm hmm. Do you see music changing in the future? Contra music? Do you think it’s kind of settled into something now? Or do you think it’ll?

David Cantieni
Well, you know, it has been a huge transitional time. Now, you know, with all the new compositions, you know, people are experimenting with instruments. And in some ways it’s been it’s pulled back a little bit, you know, Ann used to play synthesizer, not just electric piano, she would have her electric piano and a synthesizer. And that’s sort of a sign that synthesizers in general are less popular than they were. I don’t know how you feel about that. But, you know, there’s those experimental limbs that you go out on. And then you come back and you say, Oh, you know, that was good. And I don’t know what the experimentation now is, with music. It seems like now there’s more experimentation with new dance moves or you know, then of course, there’s a whole social turmoil of the gender issues in calling, that’s become like, so much bigger than who’s playing what onstage and whether you can play classical music or swing. Like in terms of as a community what we’re figuring out, talking about.Yeah, yeah. So when we come together again, to dance, the things we have been through, in this pandemic experience will definitely have an effect. Musically, I don’t know. I mean, I feel that just looking at our band, our aesthetic. I don’t know what the aesthetic trends. I feel like we have over how many years developed or refined or changed our aesthetic. It’s evolved. Whatever it is.

Julie Vallimont
You define the sound now Kind of iconic.

David Cantieni
Yeah, and that’s the funny thing. It’s like when the band starts up, it’s not. It’s like this whole Gestalt, which is, you know, it’s true with any band, right? I mean, when you and if it’s just the two of you, or if it’s a bigger band, it’s got this sound. So I can’t pinpoint anything, you know, it’s just like, Oh, well, there’s the band. They’re just starting up.

Julie Vallimont
You know, when I think of Wild Asparagus, I think of bringing in new tunes from outside of New England. I think of your grooves, especially halftime groove.

David Cantieni
Yeah, yeah. Well, I I do believe that we were the first to do that.

Julie Vallimont
Where did that come from?

David Cantieni
It came from… the story that I… At least I think… is where it happened was… We were playing in Colorado, and we’d been playing a really long weekend. And Stuart was in the band, and Ann was in the band, and they were just really, really tired. And they were like, you know what, we just can’t do this. We’re going to play at halftime. And I remember it was some E minor tune. I believe. I think it was what we call Lafferty’s I think that was the first one. I’m not sure but it seems to be what I remember. And then we started doing that and it worked. It was fun.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, so for listeners, halftime is where the tune stays same tempo and speed but the rhythm accompaniment is in bigger units, instead of un-chick, un-chick, un-chick it’s like unnnnn chick, unnnnn chick.

David Cantieni
And the tune is still going along bubble deedle doodle deedle etc.

Julie Vallimont
Exactly. So it has more of like this backbeat groove to it, which is very fun to dance to. And so I think of that as like a quintessentially Wild Asparagus thing. Deep halftime groove. And now a lot of bands do it because it’s good. And it works. What do they say, flattery is the sincerest form of imitation. Imitation is super flattering. Yeah, I’m not a writer.

David Cantieni
Something like that.

Julie Vallimont
People like it. And they did it too. Basically.

David Cantieni
Yeah. And I think before before we were doing that, the thing that you were supposed to do as a piano player was play oompahs.

Julie Vallimont
Right, boomchuck. I don’t know that there was anything else, like if you listen to the old albums, Just oompah, that’s it. Bob McQuillen. Right. Or if you listen to Randy’s playing on the New England chestnut.

David Cantieni
And it was good. Nothing wrong with it.

Julie Vallimont
Damn good. Yeah, no, it’s a solid foundational thing. But that’s what the piano player did and then, we could talk about the evolution of piano players, don’t get me off on that, I’ll hijack your whole interview. You know, now piano players can do different things, but Ann is a perfect example of that, where she’s a piano player who can play boomchuck very well and doesn’t always, and has other things in her repertoire that she also does very well.

David Cantieni
Well, also, you know, the whole thing about improv, we were sort of at the forefront of that in the old days, which we don’t hardly do anymore at all, I would say. like in our band, Not always, but pretty much we have the melody going all the time. I mean, we go away from it but I think we may have been the first band to start not playing the tune, and I don’t know if we started that with Vandy. Then when we were playing with with Kerry that was off the table, there was none of that except sometimes maybe when I was playing on my own, I would start going off the tune a little bit but it was always…

Julie Vallimont
You don’t go off the tune with Kerry, and you don’t leave the tune behind and just stop playing it.

David Cantieni
And then with Sue and Sam, you know, Sue is very traditional player as well, and and I think that we did some experimentation with that and a lot of experimentation with rhythm with Sam, and you know George playing bodhran and Sam on the banjo, and he played some mandolin, too. So, I guess maybe I’m just trying to remember. And I have to say, Becky is not a huge improviser either. So somewhere in that mix we did. Maybe it was with Vandy then. And we did a recording with Bill Tomczak. Our second recording had Bill and Vandy on it. And of course, he’s the ultimate in swing and being a great improviser and taking the tune and changing it around.

Julie Vallimont
Right. There’s different ways of improvising. There’s improvising within the tune. Improvising, like deconstructing the tune, but then there’s also playing the tune and then having a solo. And that’s what I see a lot in the dynamic between you and Becky, where you’re playing unison melody, and then you play saxophone solo. That’s another way of doing it.

David Cantieni
Yeah. Yeah. In that context, I suppose it would be sort of sort of improvised, if we’re trading, if I’m playing flute or whistle. It might be that one of us will play an accompaniment. You know, not totally disappear from the scene. Again, unlike some pickup bands, where you trade the tune around, you say, okay, you take the tune this time and you, and you, we’re really focused on a lot of unison playing. And unison creates this whole timbre that you can’t get with one instrument.

Julie Vallimont
And it’s a real melodic groove to lock into where the tune itself can provide some of the groove.

David Cantieni
Yeah, absolutely. I mean the way I see it is as opposed to say jazz and blues, which is also traditional music in a way, especially blues. Traditional Music is not based on chords, the framework of our traditional music is Melody. That’s the framework and you can put any chord you want underneath it. And maybe you know more about jazz than me. But I know you can do substitute chords and you can change chords. But basically, if you don’t play that set of chords, you’re playing something else. You’re not playing whatever it is, Ain’t Misbehaving, but with this tradition, it is melodic. And so all of the accompaniment is optional. But that means that as a melody player, you’re responsible to hold it down, and then when you get off into improv, it really gets foggy, murky, where you’re going, you know, but you always have to come back to the tune. You know, it’s got to come back to that concept, whatever that is of the tune.

Julie Vallimont
I love unison playing. And I love it for contra dances. Wonderful.

David Cantieni
And it’s hard. It’s really hard. Like, I think there’s a difference between, say a home band playing the same tune together. But if you’re thinking about unison there’s something different from like, just everybody jamming on the same tune,

Julie Vallimont
Right? You might play the same… first you have to compare versions of the tune and get the same one if you want to sound really tight.

David Cantieni
Yeah. And, you know, Becky in particular says you know, I like it when you don’t play all of the same notes, and we’ll be playing, she’ll play a different ornament than me, usually we do agree on, on most of the notes.

Julie Vallimont
And you’re also playing different instruments and a tune sits differently. And that kind of ornament. they are different depending on what instrument you’re playing,

David Cantieni
But the blend, when you get the blend, it’s just heaven. Just like good dancing.

Julie Vallimont
That’s one of my favorite things about Wild Asparagus. Honestly, it’s the unison melody. Really, it’s something I hope we don’t lose from our dance.

David Cantieni
We will. I don’t think so. I’ve learned a lot. You know, Mark Roberts, I think is a great, you know, as far as my flute models, because again, in Contra dance music, there traditionally weren’t many models for me. There are a number of notable New England wind players there was Harvey Tolman who I never met but was playing winds. And oh, Jerry Jenkins is the guy I was thinking of. But I didn’t see him quite as a model, except that he was doing it. He was playing recorder and stuff like that. And who else… there is Sarah Bauhan, who is a contemporary of mine, we’re about the same age, she might have started a little younger and also I think she was more at an earlier age, dancing and being in New Hampshire, that whole scene.Who else? Anyway, I do remember just feeling that I didn’t really have anyone to copy until I got into Irish music. And that’s another reason that I follow Irish music, is there’s so many great examples of wind playing. And different ways to play winds. There are many, many styles of wind playing in the whole Irish tradition. As is true with fiddle, accordion, pipes.

Julie Vallimont
it’s interesting, though, playing an instrument for contra dances is when you don’t have a lot of role models who are already doing it. So in that sense, it makes perfect sense that it would be an Irish influence. You know, the way you start doing it, because that’s a genre where the flute is very much at home. Well, this has been so wonderful to talk to you. I we could talk for eight more hours.

David Cantieni
Well, it’s been a… Wow. Time flies. You’re gonna have a lot of editing. At least you don’t have to do it. A lovely thing to do on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Julie Vallimont
Oh don’t worry. This is all gold. Liquid gold. Thank you so much for coming today. Yes. appreciate it so much.

Transcript may be edited for clarity. Apologies for any typos. Thanks to Ellen Royalty and Margaret Youngberg for their help in preparing this transcript.