A Tribute and a Chronological Look at Tom’s Dance and Music Accomplishments
by Deborah Kruskal
Tom is known mostly among the dance community for his fifteen plus years of work with Great Meadows Morris and Sword. For those who don't know GMMS, it is a high school group consisting of several rapper teams, most of which exist for only three, four, or five years (such as the original Velocirapper). There is one team, Candyrapper, which has continued on for eleven years, changing members as seniors leave and freshman arrive. In addition the entire group practices morris together. Tom has also run Hop Brook Morris for twenty-one years, since our daughter, Lily, was ten.
But there are many other ways that Tom has contributed – some short lived, others still in existence. Here is a chronology of his various contributions, the events and initiatives that he has started in his desire to “give back” and to share his love of traditional music and dance. I have witnessed the birth of all but the first two of these endeavors. In writing about them, I find I cannot hide my total admiration for what he has done over all these years.
- Tom organized and ran the first Pinewood’s Morris Tour when he was a sophomore at Harvard (1965). He had just come back from England where he met and toured with the Chingford Lads and was totally enthralled with “the Morris”. He was determined to dance out here in Cambridge. So he gathered men from the Wednesday night morris class (which later led to the creation of an active side of the Pinewoods Morris Men) and danced throughout Harvard Yard. This is possibly the first public tour in this country, although Tom thinks a team called the Village Morris Men may have had a tour in New York City at about the same time. He had to go to Harvard’s Board of Overseers to petition for a permit to dance. As it was the beginning of the Vietnam riots, he somehow had to convince them that their group would be civilized. (He did not tell them that they danced with very large sticks!) The Harvard Tour has continued annually every fall since that date.
- After college, he moved to California. He knew Chuck Ward from Berea. Chuck and Nora Hughes wanted to start an English dance, so the three of them collaborated in starting the Bay Area Country Dance Society. Nora was the administrator, Chuck the musician, and Tom the caller. When he moved back east six years later, he urged the group to hire Brad Foster as his replacement.
- In 1975, having moved back to Cambridge, Tom became a Director on the original Board of Pinewoods Camp and acted as chair of the Management Committee for six years.
- After leaving his position on the PCI Board, he joined the CDSS Board as Treasurer, for a term of nine years. He remained on their finance committee for several years after that.
- In 1979, Tom and I found ourselves buying a very large house in Nantucket (it wasn't our original intention – we wanted a tiny cottage, which we found, but it came along with a fourteen-room house!). Nantucket was quickly seen, by Tom, as a perfect venue for a morris tour. So a year or two later we began Daffodil Weekend, though it wasn't on that date to begin with. The weekend was a family affair with the Pinewoods Morris Men, their wives (or girlfriends), and children all staying at our house (with a few in guest houses). It has been a favorite event of the team ever since, with children taking care of toddlers, who grew up to take care of the next round of toddlers. Each year PMM dances through the crowded streets of the town, followed by dancing in S'conset at the tailgate picnic of antique cars.
- In the early 1980s, Tom and Gerda Conant, who was the Pinewoods Camp Manager at the time, came up with the idea of Labor Day Weekend as a way to extend the season. The concept of camper-run activities in order to keep expenses down was so successful that it was used as a model for Camper's Week and First Weekend.
- In 1988, Lily was in the Christmas Revels. She loved it so much that Tom decided to start teaching morris at our Unitarian church, First Parish of Sudbury. It was a step to his real mission, which was to bring a Revels-type production by the children to a Sunday service in December. Complete with a longsword dance, Abbot's Bromley, and a mummer's play it was an outstanding success. This has continued as an annual event at First Parish and is thoroughly enjoyed year after year. The morris dancing continued as Hop Brook Morris and is a youth program of the church.
- Tom and I attended Family Week at Pinewoods annually from the time Lily was four. We felt the community created by dancing together was so special that we ran a monthly family dance in Lincoln for three years, with the help of Boston caller Rich Jackson. We arranged for childcare for the youngest, dances for the kids, a potluck dinner, and activities afterwards so the grownups could dance. It involved bringing over games, a TV, and videos, i.e. a lot of work!
- In 1994, when one of the Hop Brook kids (David Fleischmann-Rose) insisted that Tom continue teaching after the eighth grade level, Tom decided to start teaching rapper. Our son, Peter, joined this group the following year when he started high school. The seven kids (six boys and one girl) became Velocirapper and wowed the community with its youthful energy. Their signature move was the forward unassisted flip. It was the first of many exciting rapper performances to come from GMMS.
- In 1995, Tom once again became a director on the Pinewoods Camp Inc. Board and served as Treasurer for nine years. He still is on its Finance Committee.
- In 1997, there were several youth teams practicing in the area. There was Banbury Cross in Brookline, for instance, which had been in existence since before Hop Brook. Tom and Peggy Marcus (whose two sons, Andrew and Aaron, danced on Velocirapper) decided to organize a morris ale for youth teams. Someone, I'm not sure who, came up with the brilliant name of the Ginger Ale. This is still an annual event, and is hosted by the various teams in rotation. In the spring of 2000, Tom decided to bring Velocirapper to the Sword Spectacular in Whitby, England, an event which occurred every four years. The youth team made a stunning impression on the Brits. Four years earlier Orion had raised eyebrows. And before that, New York City’s Half Moon Sword. Now the States were definitely being looked at with respect by the sword community.
- One of Tom’s major gifts is his ability to see opportunity. When Christmas Revels had their Appalachian performance in 2000, there was a sizable group of teens who did longsword dancing and clogging in the show (taught by Judy Erickson). The teens excited so many of the younger children and friends of the dancers that Tom decide to make a real push for recruitment. Hop Brook gained many members, while Great Meadows grew to five teams, with over forty kids. His approach was, and still is, to teach them the basics but then let them create their own dances. His guidance is minimal, but ready to step in when needed. When the kids first come into the group they think they are in charge and in control. By the time they graduate they realize that they could never have done it without Tom.
- Tom fell in love with the concertina when he first heard it on his trip to England in 1965. He became a master of playing for morris. Many had asked him for a lesson, so in 2002 he decided he would give a class. He bought four concertinas from the Button Box [in Sunderland, Massachusetts] and rented them out to the participants. This endeavor was not long-lived, but did have long lasting effects on some of the students.
- Spurred by the continuing enthusiasm of the teens in Great Meadows, Tom decided to undertake the Herculean task of bringing three teams – Beside the Point, Candy Rapper, and Slightly Green – to Whitby, England for the 2004 Sword Spectacular. This took a tremendous amount of planning: fundraising, transportation, hospitality, chaperones, and money accounting. To say nothing of convincing the parents that spending so much money for a weekend was completely worth it. The work that went into the endeavor was definitely worth it. Everyone came back excited about dancing and couldn't wait to go back.
- When the kids found out there was a competition every year called DERT (Dancing England Rapper Tournament), they insisted on going. Despite Tom's reluctance that this was not perhaps going to be as rewarding an experience, they persisted. They went, learned new figures, got recharged, and their enthusiasm and skill grew once again. In 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010, Tom took one or more teams to DERT. One year, Beside the Point won the award for Greatest Buzz Factor. And in 2009, Candyrapper came first in their division.
- The teams have performed in this country as well – at NEFFA, the Marlboro Ale, and the New York Sword Ale. All these events did not fall in his lap. He pushed, convinced, and nagged until the various organizers agreed to accept underage participants. And then he found chaperones, drivers, and musicians...and dealt with all the consequences.
- At the end of every year Tom has a huge party where all the kids and their parents from age nine to eighteen come, play games, dance on the lawn, play music, and sometime clear out our barn for a contra dance. It is a great event to celebrate the dancers and for the kids and parents to thank Tom. He honors the seniors by giving each of them one of his silver rapper pins.
- Tom also spends the same amount of energy hosting other visiting teams. We have had many teams from England stay at our home with us and tour with Pinewoods Morris Men and whoever else is available. But one time stands out in particular because it was more than just housing a group of morris men. In 2006, NIFTY, a large dance performance team of kids from England, came over. It was mid-August, and they needed some place in this country to dance. They were already scheduled for Berea, but wanted another venue. They had a lead in Cleveland, but Tom thought they had to dance in the Boston area. He put together a four-day tour – complete with hospitality, transportation, meals, and venues to dance at, including dancing at Plimoth Plantation and an afternoon performance for English week at Pinewoods. (Again, through considerable persuasion he got permission to bring them to camp for a non- program event – the most memorable part of their trip was swimming in Long Pond after their performance). And this was all at an impossible time of year, when most people were on vacation.
- In Tom's last year on the Pinewoods Board he came up with another brilliant concept. Pinewoods [PCI] and CDSS were becoming increasingly aware of how difficult it was to attract young people to camp. With Tom's knowledge of their lifestyle, he realized that filling out an application months in advance and paying $800 plus for a week that they were unsure they would like was a large hindrance to them. He wondered why scholarships couldn't be given to under-subscribed weeks at camp at the last minute. This eventually led to the Next Generation Initiative, a scholarship program that would offer a free week on behalf of both CDSS and Pinewoods. The recipient would need to be someone under 30 and new to camp, ideally with leadership potential. This was tried out in 2007 and with modifications has been adopted by all the User Groups at Pinewoods. Each year, up to twenty or so young people are now introduced to camp.
- Also in 2007, Tom decided to create a day of multiple sword workshops. He called it the Sword Workshop Extraordinaire. He had the idea of a one-day event with seven or eight teachers, each doing two or three workshops simultaneously. He found a place, recruited the best teachers, publicized it extensively, and received sponsorship from CDS-Boston Centre. The event was repeated in 2008.
- And finally, DART – Dancing America Rapper Tournament. After so many years of bringing teams to England, the powers that be on that side of the pond convinced Tom to hold an event in the States. Over a year of planning with a committee of nine produced an exciting weekend of rapper dancing in Kendall Square, Cambridge. We had fourteen teams competing in four pubs, followed by a feast and more dancing. There were workshops on the following day. Three teams from the United Kingdom thoroughly enjoyed the celebratory feel of the weekend. Next year's DART is now in the planning stage.
For thirty-three years, I have watched ideas hatch, seen them evolve – sometimes quickly, sometimes after simmering for years. Tom has always said, “Anyone can have ideas... it's making them happen which is hard.” That seems to be his amazing skill – to figure out how to make an idea a reality. He finds the right people to share his enthusiasm and momentum. He also says, “Half the battle is just showing up” – which he does, every Sunday. His schedule runs like this: 9:00 am church choir; 10:00-11:00 am, the service; 11:45 am-1:00 pm Hop Brook; 2:00- 5:00 pm (every other week) Pinewoods Morris Men; 4:45-7:00 pm, Great Meadows. Sometimes he comes home groaning, questioning why. Sometimes he's completely elated. But he continues on in a never-failing drive to create, develop, and sustain ways to share his love of traditional music and dance. I have been enlisted, I have joined in, but it has been his remarkable vision, energy, and ability to make things happen that has enabled all these ideas to come to fruition. When his kids perform, or when they leave for college – those are the only times I have seen him really moved – almost to tears. It is so rewarding for him to see the joy that he has known to be felt by them. It is, indeed, his ministry.