Category Archives: Guest Posts

“Nobody remotely like him…”—Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

Text and photos by Stewart Dean

576A3583 (Medium)Nobody remotely like him, and a towering example to us all of a life well led, decently, indomitably, with heart, conviction and a burning sense of fairness and compassion.

Attached are some pictures I took of him last summer at the Summer Hoot at Ashokan.  He was then so frail, but his spirit was still fierce.

When he wasn’t at the mic or talking to someone, he would look out into space as if gazing into eternity…with utter calm.  It seemed to me he could have, at any time, stepped into the void….utterly surrendered and unafraid

He has now turned and turned….which he wrote:

His voice has been faltering but him never.

“…in our direst need, the smallest gifts: the nail of the horseshoe, the pin of the axle, the feather at the pivot point, the pebble at the mountain’s peak, the kiss in despair, the one right word.

In darkness, understanding.”

(“Dy Cabon’s Prayer to the Bastard,” by Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls)

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Youth Traditional Song: The New Kid’s Tale

by Zoë Madonna

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I was the Doctor in the mummer’s play. My role was a) to use the tiny flask and revive the Soldier and the Sailor after they had fought and killed each other, and b) make a glaringly obvious Doctor Who joke. (Photo by Suzanne Mrozak)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “youth” as “the time of life when someone is young” or “the early period of existence, growth, or development.” Something or someone is “youthful” when it “[has] or [shows] the freshness or energy of someone who is young,” or is “in an early stage of development.” With that in mind, was Youth Trad Song, which took place during the first weekend of January, a “youth” event? To encourage young people to attend Youth Trad Song, admission was balanced 80% “young” (under 50) and 20%  “young at heart” (over 50). Still, 40 or 45 years old is not considered a “youth” under most definitions; what, then, makes Youth Trad Song a youth event?

The answer to that question is involvement and openness. Before the weekend, a schedule of staff-led workshops was posted on the website, but the directing committee also actively sought submissions for camper-led workshops, with the reminder that anyone could schedule one at the last minute at the weekend; all that a would-be workshop leader had to do was write the location and the theme of the workshop on the giant schedule on the dining room wall. The result was a delightful, spontaneous hodgepodge of song (“Around the World in 80 Songs,” “the anti-pub sing,” “Georgian and Ukrainian harmony singing,” “camp songs with Jillian and Eevy!”) filling up every corner of the handful of buildings YTS occupied. There was room to create, and share creations and ideas; the only thing that everyone was asked to do for the weekend was learn “West Indies Blues” to sing together at the first dinner. The crowd didn’t even make it ten feet before breaking into “Bringing in the Sheaves,” kicking off a song circle that lasted till three AM.

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Sam Kleinman leads a song from the new shapenote tune book, The Shenandoah Harmony. (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

A perfect example of the kind of organic creativity YTS’s environment cultivates:  I participated in a mummer’s play during the open mic on Saturday night, in honor of Twelfth Night. The idea of doing the play had been brought up just that morning at breakfast by Marvin Warren, who had seen a good number of Twelfth Night plays but had yet to take part. After a bit of tossing ideas around at lunch (St. George? Sarcastic dragon?), we gathered enough people (Soldier, Sailor, Doctor, Chimney Sweep) to perform the stock play in the song “Rise Up, Jock.” We picked parts, added parts where they were needed (Old Father Christmas made an appearance in the guise of Brad from the Foggy Bottom Morris Men), we gathered and made props (most out of paper bags and duct tape, in keeping with the Paper Bag Mummers of Waltham’s tradition), learned the chorus to the song, found stock lines and insults thanks to Lynn Noel’s iPad, and found a willing stooge whose open mic performance Marvin (playing the fool) could interrupt by shouting “Room! Room!” and banging on a pan, announcing the arrival of the mummers. Five minutes before we went on, a woman named Rose volunteered to be Beelzebub and pass the hat at the end of the play, and we ended up raising some money for next year’s Youth Trad Song scholarship fund.

What does it take to be young at heart, or youthful? Some of the attendees, like myself, were at very early stages of our lives as folk singers. But then there were people at the event who have been singing for 50+ years, who have well established identities as performers and singers and leaders in folk and traditional music communities.  I wouldn’t have been too surprised if the veterans had cliqued up and did their thing while us kids did our thing, as I sometimes see at contra dance events. Instead, everyone sang like they were new and youthful and open to everything they heard, celebrating each contribution alike.

A singer, dancer, musician—and Oberlin junior―Zoë Madonna is interning with CDSS this month.

Exceedingly Good Song Night

by Zoë Madonna

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“And I bid you good night” (Zoë Madonna)

What do you get when you take a back room of a New York bar, fill it with singers coming out of varied folk traditions, sell them some food and beer, and then give them five hours to sing what they will? That’s Exceedingly Good Song Night, a monthly event in New York’s East Village run by acting coach Ken Schatz. Professional musicians and amateurs, experienced singers and first timers: generations mix and join in on the choruses at Exceedingly Good Song Night in a way I rarely see at any other traditional song event.

I went to my third EGSN last Sunday as part of a trip to New York which I wasn’t sure was going to happen until about a half hour before it did. There’s a loose theme every month; this month, the theme was “noise.” Ken serves as unofficial master of ceremonies, constantly looking around the room to make sure everyone who wants to sing gets a chance to sing, calling on people who might be shuffled into a corner of the small stage or otherwise not in the center of the room. One of Ken’s songs of choice for the night was “The Fox,” not to be confused with “What Does the Fox Say.” Most of my generation knows the story in that song through Peter, Paul and Mary’s kid’s album, but Ken’s version was set to a different melody with the relevant line “up jumped John, ringing on his bell.”

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Spontaneous blues dancing (Zoë Madonna)

Hunting songs were plentiful that night, probably because of all the hunting horns that usually appear therein; someone sang “Dido Bendigo,” and then Heather Wood, formerly of the Young Tradition, followed it with a parody version, as she sometimes does. Charlie, from Maine but visiting family in Brooklyn, sang “West Indies Blues.” There was a whole contingent down from Massachusetts at this Song Night; Nicole from Amherst sang a bluegrassy murder song (“ain’t nobody knocking at the door”), Mel from Boston sang “The Heavenly Aeroplane” (“this old world’s going to reel and rock”) and Laura from Williamsburg sang a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with a chorus borrowed from the Civil War (“shouting the battle cry of freedom”) and some decidedly not kindergarten-safe verses.

Most of the songs at Song Night have choruses or opportunities for harmonies, but most people are glad to take a little break from singing when someone wants to sing a story song or a ballad without a chorus. After Ken announced the next month’s theme, “Romance Or Lack Thereof,” I asked if it would be apropos to lead one that fit both themes and sang “The Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse,” a rare ballad with a happy ending about a man who hears his sweetheart singing (fitting both themes) and then escapes would-be killers by…listen to Frankie Armstrong’s version and find out.

Other songs I heard that night included a bunch of mountain spirituals, a handful of shanties, and one “Cherokee deer song” which is apparently supposed to travel through the ground into the leg of the deer and make the deer come to you so you may eat them. No deer showed up; they must have been stuck in the traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

In addition to all the singers, there was a healthy contingent of people with instruments who could improvise, so most of the songs ended up having a few instrument notes behind them. There were guitars, a banjo, a concertina, and a Shruti box present; the latter only came out to accompany its owner as a haunting drone under a ballad. Some people got up and waltzed during a song in 3/4 time, and during a blues number a few people got up to blues dance. Most of the songs were traditional or have been folk processed enough that they could be, but near the end of the night Ken requested a decidedly modern song and Will, from Montague, sang the “Ballad of the Button Box.” (“If you can type, you can play the concertina…”) Though I had the longest journey home (three and a half hours) this time out of any of my visits to Exceedingly Good Song Night, I was able to stay till the end for the first time; when I was living with my family, I always had to catch a train home well before closing, but this month, I was present to sing the last song, and joined in for the choruses on “And I Bid You Good Night.” I bundled myself into Will’s car and slept most of the way back to Massachusetts, tired, happy, and full of new old melodies.

Zoë Madonna is interning with us this month; her blog last week, abouther first dance experience, is here.

All In Good Time

guest blog by Chloe Levine

At precisely 4:07 p.m., the clouds seemed as dark as a B flat piano key, the wind seemed as fierce as a grasslands predator mid-pounce, and my prospects seemed as dim as a fluorescent light bulb just turned on. But I got brighter, carried in the arms of the vigorous American folk dance, prevalent on the Eastern seaboard, known as “contra dance.” (Look it up.) The exhilarating yet familiar throb of each move hitting my body–swing with your neighbor on the side, pull by through the blisters, dosido while spinning like a tornado, arms twisting wildly–was neon against the dull premise of the day. Faces swirled across my vision in a swarm, up and down the set and back, towards the cathartic band blasting from the top of the hall, and slowly they blurred into one huge smiling presence, there to catch me after the craziest of flourishes.

This coming from me, the girl who’s never seen an elliptical and cowers under her blankets at the thought of a Sunday morning jog. This coming from me, the girl who can’t stand the erosive noise of a rowing machine and gets her feet tangled in the endless straps. Regardless, today’s movement sucked the pain out of my neck like a reversed vampire and sucked the darkness out of my mood like a vacuum. It magnified the profound belief in humanity held my so many ex-hippie heirs, the flower grandchildren. Most of all, it inspired the weight on my chest to get in shape, so it got up and ran away without so much as a “time me.”

The author and her parents have attended CDSS’s family program at Timber Ridge Camp in High View, WV for the last 8 years (since Chloe was 6); they are members of Country Dance New York and live in Brooklyn. The above is from Chloe’s blog,  “Improbability in the City,”, posted 9/21/13.

Walking Into My Past

by Lily Kruskal Leahy

Morris dancing is something I grew up with. To me, it was as normal as fireworks on the 4th of July—it just came to me, like walking. I was, of course, “formally” taught by my dad, Tom Kruskal, who started a children’s morris team when I was 12 because I wanted to dance. And just as morris dance has been a constant in my life, the dance form itself has always been constant. It is a tradition that hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years.

However, in 2006, I watched something that made me more excited than I’d ever been about morris dancing. A long time dance friend, Jan Elliot, shared with my family a video of a morris dance show performed in England by a group called Morris Offspring. This group, led by Laurel Swift, was mostly made up of second generation morris dancers who had grown up just as I had, surrounded by morris dancing, and were continuing the tradition. However, they had done something completely new to this old tradition and had written new dances for far more people than the usual six. They used different tunes, figures and costumes and even omitted the traditional bells. I became transfixed and amazed. I wanted to be a part of something so innovative, but it didn’t happen. Life got in the way.

A few years later, on Monday night July 15th, 2013, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for “Rootbound,” a morris show performed by Maple Morris, a group of young, mostly second generation, morris dancers from the U.S. and Canada, and Morris Offspring who came over from England to participate. The show was the culmination of a cultural exchange between these two groups.

Maple Morris started as a group of young morris dancers who wanted to get together socially and to learn each other’s dances. They quickly became a large network of dancers putting together weekends of dancing, learning, and creating in many different locations. Around the same time, Laurel Swift, founder of Morris Offspring, was invited by Scott Higgs to teach morris at CDSS’s English & American Dance Week at Pinewoods. I had the great fortune to attend this week and was very excited to take her classes and meet the woman who had inspired me. I shared with Laurel my awe at her choreography and my vision of wanting to do something similar here. Two summers later, as the chair of CDS Boston’s 4th of July session, I invited her back to Pinewoods to teach. It was there that she met up with members of Maple Morris and started to brainstorm this cultural exchange.

While I never ended up becoming a part of this amazing show, I was honored to have had a small role in it. The story of “Rootbound” is that of how morris dance has been passed down through the generations. The characters of “the child” and “the fool” play vital roles in and amongst the dancers. The child sees morris dancing and after learning how, she becomes the teacher, and a new child takes her place. For those of us who grew up in the tradition, this is our story.

I will end with a Facebook post that I wrote the day after seeing “Rootbound.”

“Last night was like something out of a dream. When you move away from home, not only do you leave behind a place you love and family and friends, but you leave behind a community, a collective group of people that make up who you are, and you leave behind hobbies and passions. Last night all of those things came together for me in a way that doesn’t often happen anymore. As I walked into the Somerville Armory, excited to watch a much anticipated morris show, what I got was so much more. I walked into my past in which long lost faces swam before my eyes. Smiles greeted me at every turn, arms embraced me and I went through an almost waltz as I glided from hug to hug, greeting friend to friend. And as I scrambled to find my seat what unfolded before my eyes was truly awe inspiring, energizing, moving and riveting. It pained me not to be up there dancing and made me proud to know most of these young dancers–especially proud to watch my brother. And the story behind it all: my own story, all of our own stories, of the traditions passed down through the generations and embraced by this community–my community, although I may live far away. Thank you, Maple Morris, for the dream that was last night.”

Watch part of a dance, accompanied by Ian Robb’s singing (July 16, 2013).

Watch the full cast finale (July 16, 2013).

Lily Kruskal Leahy lives in Ireland with her husband and children and enjoys getting a chance to dance and going to CDSS Family Weeks when she comes home to the U.S.

BVD Tour—The Third Week

BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England last month. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, Intro, The First Week, The Second Week.

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Tuesday, July 16

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Barb, Val and Dan at the Nelson (NH) Town Hall

No dance tonight, but I was busy reviewing my notes from Jacqueline Schwab’s English Country Dance Musicians’ Course at Pinewoods 2010 and 2011 (sponsored by CDSS). Both years, on the seven hour ride home, I sat in the passenger’s seat, listening to CDs by Bare Necessities as I wrote down everything Jacqueline had tried to teach us. During the interim years, I also took notes on my learning process, so that I’d be prepared to teach an ECD Musicians’ Workshop, should the opportunity arise. Well, ready or not, it was to be today—at Tom and Val’s house near Burlington, VT!

It was exhilarating, to say the least, to share my hard-won knowledge with two very receptive, musical and simply delightful people from northern Vermont. These musicians are as in love with ECD as I am. The ninety minutes were quickly over, and I am so hopeful that my insights were useful. [Val’s note: Before the workshop, Dan caught up on sleep with a nap; I picked up our CSA share and then cobbled together a simple supper. We held the workshop in our air-conditioned dining room (due to the 90 degree heat outside, even at 6 pm.]

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Wednesday, July 17

No dance or class! We are all in a state of collapse… but we are going to St. Michael’s Playhouse tonight to see Neil Simon’s Rumors, and what fun that turned out to be. I love to see plays and musicals, but hardly ever get to see anything professional, so this was really a special treat for me. [Val’s note: Having some free time during the day was a very welcome respite from our hectic schedule. Tom mowed the lawn as others napped. Supper was at a local Italian restaurant, for which I had a coupon — and the leftovers served as our lunch the next day. Today and the next day, Dan and I spent some time programming the final round of dance gigs.]

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Thursday, July 18

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Dan calls a dance at the beginner-friendly English dance party in Richmond, VT (Tom Medve)

Back to work at English country dancing today and very happy about it!! Val and Dan called the dance for the beginner-friendly ECD series in Richmond, VT. I played the grand piano there, which is a really beautiful Steinway with a touch that is not too stiff. (I do work harder when I play there, but by the end of the night I am used to it!) [Val’s note: Our Richmond series has been happening for several years. It’s an inexpensive way for new dancers to try ECD, since we ask for a very small voluntary donation and usually have recorded music. This evening, our regular dancers from Montpelier arrived in TWO carloads, bringing one or two new dancers with them. It’s a joy to have such dedicated dancers in our community! Today’s highlight for my husband Tom? Sharing two micro-brewed beers with Dan when we got home!]

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 19

We’re back on the road, this time to Nelson, NH! We’re very excited about this gig! This Monadnock region has a very active contra community, and a relatively new ECD series, so we were all so happy to bring our new dances—and especially our support!

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Impromptu post-breakfast concert by Hunt Smith and Allison Aldrich in their NH home (Tom Medve)

Before the dance, Allison Aldrich and Hunt Smith provided us with a tasty supper at their home. We were amazed and intrigued by Allison and Hunt. Hunt built their lovely home. It looks like a cabin, with all natural wood, and a kitchen with the pots hanging from the ceiling. Hunt’s exquisite artwork hung on the walls. He is a maritime artist and his work is astounding in its detail and beauty.

In a small hallway off the kitchen, I noticed an odd shelf of multiple heights. On closer inspection, I realized that the “shelves” were old wooden organ pipes! This discovery led to Hunt inviting us to visit his workshop, where he creates hand-made violins from blocks of wood. He handed me a violin-shaped form, and said, “Whatever you do, don’t drop this!” It was unexpectedly heavy, as it contained the outside of a violin plus a form on the inside…and no, I did not drop it. [Val’s note: And Bob Dalsemer—from John C. Campbell Folk School and the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award—will be happy to hear that, since this was the violin he commissioned Hunt to make!]

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Group photo at the Nelson (NH) English country dance (Tom Medve)

The Nelson Town Hall was our dance venue. It’s a quaint and interesting space. It seemed that we stepped back in time at least one hundred years. They said they could fit five (very cozy) contra lines in there, and there was a small stage, as well. I opted for my electric piano, instead of the on-site grand, as my smaller keyboard packs a nice sound, plus I can be closer to the dancers.

I was told I need to smile more, which I am sure is true. But in my defense, I was playing ECD solo, and for me that takes a ton of concentration! (No one can bail me out if I make a mistake!!) I am lucky to give callers a tight-lipped nod when they give me the number of times to play before ending, so usually I smile when it is done…like whew!! I will work on smiling more!!!! :-)

Dance highlights included Dan’s wonderful dance, Lambs on Green Hill, which he choreographed and also composed the B music. (The A section is a traditional Scottish tune called Ned of the Hill.)

At the end of the dance, Dan and I met Ramona and Jerry, our hosts for the evening. (Val and Tom stayed with Hunt and Allison). Ramona and Jerry were gracious hosts, chatting the late evening away with us. Their home was so pretty, and the air-conditioning was such a welcome relief from the heat of the dance. In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and after touring their luscious July gardens, we helped them with their ECD skills. Dan never misses an opportunity to teach dancers, so it was quite an effort to get him to stop…as Val and Tom were waiting for us!! But it was all fun!

Val’s post, Friday, July 19

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Barb and Dan Seppeler onstage at the Nelson dance (Val Medve)

It had been decades since I attended a contra dance in the Nelson Town Hall. Most likely it was in the early to mid-1980s when I had gotten “the contra bug” and traveled all over New England to dance. Since that time, quite a few wonderful improvements have been made to the hall. Lisa Sieverts, who calls contras at the hall and is one of several people instrumental in the contra series’ organization, told us about the renovations (which I believe are continuing). It’s a very sweet space in which to dance, call and play. We had a small but earnest and enthusiastic turnout. I later learned that this Monadnock ECD series draws dancers from some distance—but since our BVD Tour was visiting those other dance communities, it may have impacted attendance that night in Nelson. Another factor was the hot and humid weather (high 90s during the day, I recall). Allison Aldrich promised—via Facebook postings—that the temperature would drop dramatically in the evening, to make for very pleasant dancing. In reality, global warming visited Nelson on July 19th: the temp did drop, but not as low as Allison predicted (per her past experience). Luckily, the many window fans helped cool the venue a bit.

Because the ECD series in the Monadnock region was recently established, we expected mostly dancers new to the genre. However, with one or two exceptions, the majority of the dancers were experienced English dancers. We were thrilled to see Mary Jones on the dance floor. She had come to Nelson on an errand for CDSS and then decided to stay for the dance since the evening was so lightly attended. This was very kind of her—and much appreciated by our BVD group.

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Lisa Sieverts and Allison Smith, who made the English dance happen, with support from the Monadnock Folklore Society (Val Medve)

Parts of my program quickly flew out the window when I recognized so many dancers and gauged the overall skill level. The simple Geud Man of Ballingigh was replaced by my BVD Tour fave, Colin Hume’s much more challenging Sting in the Tail, since the numbers (six couples) were just right for that dance. Once again, our solo pianist Barb rolled with the punches and quickly found the tunes for this and other alternate dances.

Allison and Lisa organized (and contributed to) the refreshments at the break. There were delicious treats—and the refreshing mint iced tea was my go-to beverage to quench my thirst. Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening. We may have ended a bit early, due to the heat, however.

Val’s post, Saturday, July 20

Tom and I had a good night’s sleep at Allison and Hunt’s house. It certainly helped to go to bed at a very reasonable hour (11 pm—early for us on this tour, late for Allison and Hunt). We enjoyed Allison’s excellent homemade granola for breakfast, along with cups of tea. We were treated to a delightful morning concert, with Allison and Hunt practicing the New England tunes they would play later that morning at the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. Before the concert, we listened to the two long-time performing musicians talk about how to draw and engage your audience—approaches that also work for dance callers and dance musicians. Lots of great information that I wish we had recorded or captured on video. Perhaps this could be a future video project undertaken by CDSS?

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Dancers await instructions for an English country dance, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Burlington, VT (Tom Medve)

We drove directly from Nelson, NH to Burlington, VT for the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. Our ECD session was scheduled for 6:30 pm, following on the heels of singing Happy Birthday to the Festival, on the occasion of its 30th year—with everyone dining on a decorated sheet cake.

The muggy weather had finally broken, so we had clear skies above the Dance Tent and welcome breezes wafting through it. Due to financial difficulties, the Festival was cancelled in 2012. It was resurrected in 2013 on an earlier-than-usual weekend in a new venue, the Rock Point School (a scenic spot, nestled between North Beach and Burlington High School). The 2013 festival had been scaled down and many performers (including ALL the callers and musicians who performed in the Dance Tent) donated their services for free so that the Festival could earn some money to ensure future festivals.

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!

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Frost and Fire plays for a contra dance, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Burlington, VT: (l-r) Hollis Easter, Peter Macfarland, Viveka Fox and Aaron Marcus (Tom Medve)

It’s time to go to the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. I had never been to a folk festival before, so this promised to be a lot of fun, and it was! We walked to the dance tent and immediately joined the contra lines. We couldn’t help it, the music (by Frost and Fire) and calling (by Will Mentor) were so great! But after two dances, our clothes got soaked from the humidity. Knowing that we were to perform soon, we were forced to stop, at least for a bit. I was astonished to watch Frost and Fire’s Aaron Marcus play piano for contra AND supply foot percussion! I have never seen a pianist do anything like this, and he was incredible! I want to learn!!

I was introduced to the musicians who were to be my bandmates later that afternoon. Peter Macfarlane and Hollis Easter from Frost and Fire and Joanne Garton from The Turning Stile.

Right before we were to perform, Dan and I noticed a dancer in the contra line. He was one of our dancers from the Hobart/William Smith English Dancers in Geneva, NY. (This is the ECD club that Dan and I started, teaching and playing every Friday during the academic year.) We were flabbergasted when Ryan motioned to Eileen, another of the Hobart dancers, who immediately ran over to hug us! What a greeting!

Our performance was well-received, with a very long line of dancers who appeared to immensely enjoy themselves!


Let them eat cake, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Burlington, VT (Tom Medve)

Every night we have maintained our debriefing meetings to determine how to improve ourselves. Our Massachusetts gigs in Whately (Monday) and West Newton (Wednesday) are bearing down on us, and we need to be at our absolute best for these dances. But first comes tomorrow’s ECD Musicians’ Workshop and English country dance in Norwich, Vermont. To be continued…

BVD Tour—The Second Week

by Val Medve and Barb Seppeler

BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England last month. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, The First Week and the Intro.


Posing with “Moo-sic,” a gift from Lucy and Mark Weinstein to Jackie Algon. Moo-sic was one of the scenic props for this year’s “On the Farm” Playful Ball in Ridgewood, NJ, made by Judith DeBiase.(Tom Medve, with the help of a timer)

Val’s post, Saturday July 13, 2013

We left Billie Lanz’s place in Hartford around noon, after a hearty and delicious breakfast (homemade egg casserole and fresh-from-the-oven muffins), to visit my cousin Mary in Hamden, CT, detouring slightly from our path to South Kingstown, RI, the site of that evening’s dance. Mary and I got the contra dance bug at the same time (in the early 1980s) and would carpool from Connecticut to dances all over New England and northwestern New York. (She met her husband Kurt, then living in Ossining, NY, at a contra dance in Pittsfield, MA.) Over the years, we’ve kept in touch with sporadic catch-up emails and the annual Christmas letter. So it was wonderful to visit with them and their grown son Bryan. For me, an enjoyable aspect of our time in Connecticut was visiting with former co-workers and dancing friends.

The Rhode Island dance group (headed by organizer/contact, John Buscaglia) publicized that night’s dance as a benefit, complete with an amazing potluck supper (as Barb describes in her post—to which I must add Fred Boland’s excellent, homemade seafood chowder), silent auction (which included many handcrafted goods donated by local dancers, plus three items donated by CDSS), and three-hour dance ($15 admission covered their usual caller/musician fees and other dance expenses, with the overflow going to the dance series, which had sustained a financial loss this past season). The turnout was very good—we counted 38 people. There was a mix of English dancers and contra dancers: a very social and friendly group; there was lots of good-natured chatter as sets were formed.

The tour has been a good learning experience for me, as well as for Dan and Barb. My husband Tom would approach callers and experienced dancers for feedback, which he then shared with us. And after each dance event, Barb insisted that we sit down and do a debriefing, discussing what went right, what went awry, and what could be improved, and we’d each set goals for our next gig. For instance, the dancers in Rhode Island did a fine job of dancing Fried Herman’s The First Lady once they actually got to dance it!!! My teaching was longwinded, despite a demo. And the dance itself wasn’t the best choice for the crowd and a party (rather than workshop) atmosphere. I made a substitution for the next dance: Corelli’s Maggot, which was both easy and familiar. I could hear the sighs of relief from the floor! Barb rolled with the punches and played the tune with gusto.


Dan Seppeler calls for dancers in the beautiful Land Trust Barn in South Kingston, RI. (Tom Medve)

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!

Saturday evening we reached South Kingstown, RI. As we pulled into the parking lot, I knew this was going to be a wonderful dance, as we were surrounded by a manicured low stone wall on a beautiful lawn. I thought it looked like England!

We received an enthusiastic welcome, along with an amazing potluck dinner that included roast chicken, lots of watermelon and ice cream. (This is comfort food… ooh la la!)

I finally had to admit that everyone here was a stranger to me, but it did not last for long, as dancers were asking me if I knew other dancers…and I did! By the time I began to play, I felt at home, especially as dancers happily responded to the music and calling. Once again we had the best fun! What a wonderful community we are!

And the fun was not over when the dance ended. I happened to ask if we were close to the ocean, and was told—at 11:30 p.m.— that it was a five minute drive away. We piled into our cars. With about ten dancers, plus our BVD group, we got permission to go inside the locked gate and walk to the shore in the pitch black.  We could hardly see where we were stepping, but the ocean was so loud as we approached it, we knew which way to go! We stood on the shore and collected pretty stones that we found with flashlights, and laughed and talked for far too short a time. I did stick my finger in a big wave so I got to touch the Atlantic Ocean. Yay! Exciting! Tom Grande said goodbye to us, leaving for a weeklong Early Music Clinic in Pittsburgh. He will join us later in the tour.


(L-R:) Jackie Algon, Bill Evonsky, Tom Medve, Susan St. Germain, at Jackie’s home in Fairfield County, CT. (Dan Seppeler)

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Sunday, July 14

After we left the Rhode Island shore (around midnight), we had a two-hour drive to Jackie Algon’s house in Fairfield County, CT. We were exhausted when we reached her home so late at night, but she was up and waiting to greet us. My jaw actually fell when I walked into her front door and saw the beautiful space for the dancers, and the high ceiling, and, of course, the piano! We were able to sleep in the next morning. In the afternoon, the group of invited dancers began to arrive. We were so excited to see Orly Krasner and Tom and Susan Amessé, and my birthday buddy, Lucy Weinstein, among the 38 dancers! I had the pleasure of being in a band and not playing solo this time—Jackie had asked two local musicians to join me: Mark Eisenberg (recorders) and Sue Polansky (flute).

Jackie had a lovely meal planned for us, even taking the time to make a watermelon basket filled with fruit. The dancers augmented Jackie’s grilled meats and fruit salad with other delicious items. There was so much good food!

That night after everyone had left, we worked and worked on a new-to-us dance, Asking for the Road, by Dorothy Attneave, published in the CDSS News years ago [issue #166, May/June 2002], and with Val and Dan (and everyone else!) putting their heads together, we got it!

We stayed at Jackie’s that night and the next day. After many a goodbye and thank you, we left for Schenectady, NY for another private dance party.

Val’s post

In the morning, Tom changed into his yard work clothes (which we brought from Vermont, having offered Tom’s gardening assistance to Jackie) and planted lots of pachysandra on the hillside. I went back to sleep. Sleep deprivation was a real problem during our tour. I now have a greater appreciation for traveling callers and musicians. As someone who sometimes hosts out-of-town callers and musicians, I can see the importance of letting my guests decide what and when to do something while at our house (but working within our schedule). Sometimes you just need some quiet time/alone time to recharge your batteries!

Although Jackie has a beautiful in-tune upright piano at-the-ready in her dance room, we learned that some dancers found the music so loud that it was painful. Dan quickly got Barb’s electric keyboard from the BVD van and was able to turn down the volume on the keyboard. With the other musicians now aware of the sound levels, the music was no longer a problem. We did get off to a late start, however.

There were two dance highlights for me. I taught and prompted Weekend in Wilton, a beautiful dance set to a traditional Scottish tune (The Arran Boat Song), which Susan and Tom Amessé wrote for Jackie. It was definitely a treat to introduce the dance and see Jackie dancing it! I had an older version of the dance instructions, so from the dance floor, Susan caught my eye and with a simple tap on her left shoulder, clued me in to calling the dance as it had evolved. The other highlight was teaching Colin Hume’s The Sting in the Tail to yet another group of good dancers. (I had called it earlier at the Reel Nutmeg party on July 11.)

The next morning, Jackie made the four of us (Dan, Barb, Tom, me) a delicious breakfast AND mango smoothies. We waddled out of her home around noontime, after putting all the furniture back into the dance space.

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Schenectady Union College Group (Tom Medve)

Val’s post, Monday, July 15, 2013

We met Ann Thomas, plus Steve and Jeannette Sargent, for supper in Schenectady at a lovely restaurant (with good beer!) called The Van Dyke. It was a nice way to relax and ease into our evening dance at nearby Union College.

When we arrived at the dance venue, our clothes were immediately soaked by the humidity and the effort of moving all the heavy classroom chairs into the hallway. We are not spring chickens, being in our 50s-60s. Here was yet another reason to recruit younger dancers—they’d have more energy and oomph to move all those chairs!

After so many hot, humid dance evenings on our travels, my husband Tom decided that we needed an alternate name for our BVD Tour. His suggestion? The Sweat and Turn Single Tour! (A common figure/movement in English country dancing is set and turn single.)

Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!

We were on the second floor of Union College and the heat was unbearable when we walked in the room. Windows were thrown open and fans began to do their slow, laborious work to cool us off. In spite of the heat, dancers arrived (with more fans!) ready for a great time. We were so happy to see Steve and Jeannette, sweet Grace, the two Bobs, Bill, and the Bells. We missed Gretchen, though! Ann Thomas was there as well. After the dance, we went to Ann’s house to relax and party the night away! Dan and I stayed with Steve and Jeannette that night, while Val and Tom went to Albany with Bill. After Dan and I enjoyed a leisurely and lovely breakfast with the Sargents (while watching the Tour de France), we were again on our way (with tasty bagged lunches packed by Jeannette), this time for a few days at Tom and Val’s house in Vermont, where we had a little free time to recover!

BVD Tour—The First Week

by Val Medve and Barb Seppeler

BVD—Barbara Seppeler (pianist), Val Medve (caller) and Dan Seppeler (caller)—accompanied by Tom Medve and (in part) Tom Grande, are touring New England this month (see their earlier blog). Here’s a diary of their first few days.

Val’s post, Thursday, July 11, 2013

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Ready to go (Tom Medve)

Getting ready to hit the road from our house in northern Vermont … Dan got a good rate on a minivan rental in the Rochester, NY area (his home base). We needed a vehicle large enough to carry all four of us (plus our Rochester dancing friend Tom Grande on parts of the tour), PLUS sound equipment, luggage, gadgets, calling/music aids/books, and Barb’s electric keyboard (a very long and heavy Roland FP-7). You can see how the van looked with everything loaded. Dan made a good choice of vehicle, because the seating areas were clear of “stuff” so we could ride very comfortably. Dan is doing all of the driving (bless his heart!).

Barb’s post: From the pianist’s point of view!

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Val & Barb at the CDSS Office (Dan Seppeler)

First stop: CDSS! We stopped off in Easthampton, MA to pick up some giveaways. Executive Director Rima Dael, and staff members Robin Hayden, Pat MacPherson, Jeff Martell, and Caroline Batson wished us well and sent us on our way!

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Reel Nutmeg dance, Windsor, CT (Dan Seppeler)

Our first adventure began in Windsor, CT at Helen Davenport-Senuta’s house for a potluck dinner before our first dance, which was a private party for members and guests of Reel Nutmeg, an English country dance performing troupe based in the Hartford area for over 30 years. We were astounded not only by the very warm reception, the great food and lively company, but also by Helen’s creative handiwork: the beautiful glass artworks (including 6 foot tall flowers) in the yard and stained glass windows inside. We were treated to a quick tour of the Monet-like garden pathways and then we were off to our dance venue. The dancers were delightful, as they were very advanced and responded so very quickly to both Val and Dan’s calling. I was very surprised to meet some dancers I knew so far from home. One of the highlights of the evening was Val’s rendition of Colin Hume’s The Sting in the Tail, which amused dancers as they progressed from their own three couple set into the other three couple set. I just had to end this dance with a slightly discordant “sting” on the end to suit the dance! Another highlight was Dan’s version of Giverny, a dance by Terry Glasspool to a tune by Charlene Thomson. It’s a dance we learned at the Binghamton Ball this past March. I love to play this, and the dancers seemed swept away with the lovely dance and tune. It was warm on the dance floor, but despite the heat and the brave fans, there were more than 24 dancers!

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At Billie’s home: Dan, Barb and Val collaborating on the upcoming New Haven dance (Tom Medve)

We stayed the night at Billie Lanz’s lovely home in Hartford. What an interesting experience we had, as Billie had portraits of her ancestors on her dining room wall, and showed us maps of her family’s farm from the 1700s! There was even an 18th century chair there. The dining room table was so pretty, all set in blue and white. Tom Grande met us at Billie’s house in the “Middle of the Night” and the next day we went to explore Hartford, where Val worked and lived in the 1980s.

Val again, later that day

I presented Helen, Reel Nutmeg’s co-director, with CDSS giveaways: two ECD book/CD sets. Helen will give the sets to Nutmeggers Luanne Stiles and John Lam, who hope to start an ECD group when they relocate to one of the Carolinas later this year.


Barb’s post: From the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 12, 2013

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The Abbey Road photo: Barb Seppeler, Tom Medve, Tom Grande, Val Medve (Dan Seppeler)

Enroute to Bushnell Park after lunching at City Steam (so Tom Medve could enjoy a brewed-on-premises beer), we were crossing the street, moving across the big painted white lines, and Dan took a photograph just like the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover! Val took us to the Bushnell Park carousel and we all took a ride. What fun!

Our dance that night in New Haven, CT was in the Undercroft of Christ Church. Yes, we were in the basement, with multiple fans running to keep us all cool. We improved our numbers of dancers, topping out at 28! Highlights included From Among Dragons by Leslie Lasseter, and Barn Elms from the Fallibroome Collection. Ooh, these are exquisite melodies! And once again I was surprised to run into a dancer I knew from Pinewoods!


Val’s post, Saturday, July 13, 2013

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The New Haven dancers (Tom Medve)

We received this lovely note via email from Susan Leff (an organizer, along with Barbara Ruth and Caroline Murphy, of Friday’s New Haven dance): “Many many thanks. The programs both Thursday and Friday night were delightful. Thank you for so carefully tailoring the program to the dancers. Our new dancers seemed happy, and all the rest of us had a lovely time. Thank you.”

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Tom Medve on his way (Val Medve)

And BVD travels onward…


Singing and Dancing in Macedonia

by David Millstone

Rehearsal in Monastery of Virgin Mary 6

Rehearsing songs in a historic church near Struga, southern Macedonia; photo by fellow camper Sophia Emigh

I’ve been a contra dancer for some 40 years and an English country dance enthusiast since 1987. For decades, the only singing I did was with my fifth grade students, who didn’t understand that I couldn’t really sing. With that background, what took me on a overseas trip with Village Harmony for two weeks of singing and dancing, Macedonian style?

It started when I told my wife, Sheila, who has spent years coming along with me to dance weekends and camps, that it was time that I accompanied her instead of vice versa. (“He makes it sound like that was a punishment I endured,” she quickly adds. “I love to dance.”) This was the trip she picked. “It’s okay,” I said. “I can just spend my time documenting the trip with photos and videos.” This was met by a steely gaze that quickly translated into “You Will Sing.”

So, there I am in southern Macedonia, a self-identified non-singer with little experience in folk dance, and after the first few days I’m ready to hide under the covers. It’s a Slavic language, many songs are based on an oriental scale with elaborate vocal ornamentation, and then there are those odd meters: 7/8, 9/8, and more. My hands can clap the rhythms, but not always connected to the tunes.

This is just the singing; let’s not discuss in detail my feet. Unlike country dancing, stepping one beat at a time and learning a series of different figures, these dances all come in the same simple formation but with unfamiliar demands on my body—slow steps and quick steps, weight shifts, hops and pivots, downbeats with an uplifted foot. “The music tells you what to do,” right? If so, this music was telling me, “Get out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.”

For there were many around me having no trouble. There were strong singers, accustomed to learning by ear and holding down a part. Some had come to Balkan camps before, some sing and dance Balkan in their home communities, some even speak Serbo-Croatian or Macedonian. Although I’m a totally competent country dancer, I was definitely Out of My League on this dance floor.

This tale of woe has a happy ending—I had a great time. A lot of that was thanks to my fellow campers. “I don’t sing,” I mentioned to a tenor near me early on. “What do you mean?” he said. “Everyone sings.” He wasn’t making a political statement, just presenting this as a fact. Lesson learned: stop making excuses, listen, and open your mouth. I discovered, too, that I wasn’t alone. Their solution? Give it a try, and so I did. Can’t sing this particular tenor line? Okay, I’ll stick with the bass part here… it’s simpler. Not sure how this section goes? Turned out I wasn’t the only one, as one of our leaders drilled the group on the same four bars of music until we all had it.

Same thing with the dancing. I practiced by myself behind the line, got coaching on the side from those who knew what to do, and gradually felt more comfortable. (Yes, dancing in 12/8 is still awkward.) Some of it was letting go of the notion that I had to be able to do everything well. Sometimes I stumbled around in line, doing fragments of a dance and gradually adding other pieces. No one pulled me out for remedial lessons, no one frowned; folks on either side trusted that I’d ask for help if needed. When we gave our final concerts, singing and dancing in small villages, the locals offered no critical judgments—they joined our chorus on many well-known songs, grinned at our pronunciation, reached out a hand and made space in line with a smile.

In a few days, it’ll be time to join the community chorus at Harmony of Song & Dance, CDSS’s next program at Pinewoods. I can’t wait. I get to sing again!

In addition to being a contra and English country dancer, caller, dance historian, videographer, co-author (Cracking Chestnuts), coordinator of the Square Dance History Project), and new international dancer and singer, David Millstone currently serves as CDSS’s President.


by Nathaniel Smith

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Maple Morris; photo by Sarah Pilzer

Maple Morris & Morris Offspring present Rootbound:
Celebrating the life of English folk dance in North America

with music by Ian Robb, Amelia Mason, Eric McDonald and Emily Troll
original lyrics by Susan Cooper

July 15, The Armory Performance Hall, 191 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA
July 19, The Berkeley Church, 315 Queen St E., Toronto, Canada




Rootbound_thumbMaple Morris (North America) and Morris Offspring (United Kingdom) are thrilled to invite you to their collaborative theatrical Morris dance production, Rootbound. A blend of vigorous dancing, musical exploration, vibrant costumes, and creative storytelling, Rootbound will tell the story of a dancer’s journey in the North American Morris dance community.

Morris is a surviving English traditional folk dance that has been performed since the 1400s and has been associated with seasonal and harvest rituals. The dance is vigorous and athletic and the high leaps are accented by the use of white handkerchiefs and bells. Laurel Swift of Morris Offspring describes Morris dancing as “a complex and energetic art form demanding athleticism, coordination, and musicality from its performers, expected to display both discipline and individuality at any moment. It is rich in material, forms and movement, rarely tapped by the wider arts world yet offering a unique source of artistic possibilities.”

Maple Morris is a community of young dancers from across North America who are dedicated to promoting creativity, leadership, and continued excellence in future generations of the North American Morris Revival. In 2011, Maple traveled to the UK to collaborate with England’s foremost innovators, Morris Offspring. The result was the production Must Come Down, a stage performance showcasing Morris dancing at its most inventive.

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Morris Offspring; photo by Alan Cole

The return leg of this collaboration this summer will see Maple Morris joined by Morris Offspring in a brand new stage production in Boston and Toronto. Rootbound will feature music by the powerful singer Ian Robb (of the folk trio Finest Kind:, Amelia Mason, Eric McDonald, and Emily Troll, words from acclaimed author Susan Cooper, and new Morris dance creations by Maple Morris and Morris Offspring.

Beer and wine will be available at both performances. Premium ($40) and general admission ($25) tickets are available at

For more information, visit our website:

Rootbound is supported in part by the Country Dance and Song Society’s Outreach Funds.

Addendum: See the Boston Globe 7/11/13 online article about the event,