Category Archives: Updates from the Office

Early Music is more than music before 9 a.m.

CDSS’s Early Music Week at Pinewoods—Fairest Isle: Music and Dance of Great Britain and Beyond

Beautiful music under the trees, June 26-July 3, 2014

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DSC_0511_EM 2010_lady in mask_michielsEnjoy the fun of playing rollicking English dance music, or the beautiful polyphony of composers like Byrd, Gibbons, Dowland, Jenkins, the lively rhythms of Holborne, the poignant harmonies of Purcell, pungent Scottish tunes, the intricacies of high Baroque composers like Handel, and so much more.

In this idyllic and restful setting, you’ll be treated to fabulous food, wonderful people, plenty of opportunity to carouse and have fun, as well as to play great music together, and to dance to the music of some of the best English country dance musicians around. The fun is what distinguishes this from a lot of other workshops. And yet the teachers are also highly accomplished renowned experts in the field of early music.

Come and feel the special magic of CDSS Early Music Week at Pinewoods, no matter your age or level of ability. Discover why people return year after year and why others wish they’d found out about it earlier!

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photo by John Sidtis

Our program offers musical challenges and opportunities to players and singers at every level, from highly experienced to those who are just beginning. From morning technique and consort classes to afternoon special topic ensembles, we will play and sing music from the vibrant Middle Ages to the virtuosic Baroque.

If you’ve never played a musical instrument (but wish you could) or if you studied music years ago (and fear you’ve forgotten everything), there are classes to get you started or to help brush off the rust. Introductory classes are offered in recorder, viol, and harp.

Advanced and intermediate players have a wide array of classes from which to choose. Singers of all abilities will benefit from singing class, chorus and mixed ensembles with instruments. EM 2010 Driving in-1_whoDancers and dance teachers can learn an instrument and participate in the nightly dance parties and the daily dance classes, including high-level technique classes, challenging ensembles and historical dance.

All classes are led by the outstanding and dedicated performing faculty. Our staff features active professionals and acclaimed teachers of early winds (recorders, reeds and brass), strings (viols and violin), harp, harpsichord, voice and dance.

This year, we are offering a class called What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body. This class (sometimes called Body Mapping) leads musicians to play and sing with greater ease, to avoid injury, and even heal from injury. It’s eye-opening, relaxing, practical and fun.

— Frances Fitch, Program Director

Comments from some recent participants:

  • Outstanding! Sang things I never knew I was capable of.
  • So amazing what we learned and accomplished.
  • This was the most I have ever learned in a dance class.
  • It was as close to perfect as I can think of.
  • Great positive energy. Had a great time!
  • Loved my week here. Will be back next year!

Scholarship Opportunities

In addition to the scholarships available through CDSS, summer scholarships are offered by Early Music America (deadline: April 15) and The Viola da Gamba Society of America(deadline: April 15).

Early Music Week is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. We thank them for their support.

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Handing on the Tradition

by Zoë Madonna

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Outside the dance hall (Photo by Zoë Madonna )

The 2014 Ralph Page Legacy Weekend’s Saturday dance was buried in eight inches of wet, heavy snow that started falling at about ten in the morning and did not stop till late evening. Fortunately, the gym of the Memorial Union Building at the University of New Hampshire was heated enough to keep everyone comfortable. The kind of vigorous dancing that makes dancers sweat through their shirts was nowhere to be found at Ralph Page; even after three hours of dancing, I was hardly tired. The tunes were played at a moderate pace, some dances didn’t have partner swings, and one of the staff callers tells me he’s never used a calling card in his life.

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The past into the future (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

The Ralph Page weekend is more of a celebration of social dancing history and tradition than it is a modern “dance weekend.” A loop of David Millstone’s documentaries on Dudley Laufman and the history of contra in New England played in one room, where dancers could rest their feet. Memory books about now-deceased Ralph Page mainstays were laid out on a table. Workshops and dance sessions were themed around the past; a retrospective of mentors (Bob McQuillen, Larry Jennings, Ralph Sweet, Marianne Taylor), a program themed around one of Ralph Page’s Tuesday night dances at the Boston YWCA, and a session of “contras and squares that folks think ‘Dudley doesn’t know.’” “Dudley” is Dudley Laufman, who made immeasurable contributions to getting youth involved in contra dancing in the 1960s. He still plays fiddle and accordion, calling while he plays.

I was there because I’d gotten a calling scholarship, so I was in attendance at Dudley’s workshop on the “dos and don’ts of calling.” He hadn’t come with any dos and don’ts past “don’t ask at the beginning how many people are there for their first time” and “don’t let the band boss you around,” but the other attendees had plenty of questions for him and he had plenty of stories to tell, like the time he and his wife Jacqueline played a gig on a Boston Harbor yacht for a convention of insurance salesmen, during which they had to wear full colonial dress and were  not allowed to speak to their fellow performers or the audience. Dudley is in his 80s and had heart surgery recently, but that isn’t stopping him from calling barn dances. These days, a Dudley set usually consists of a few chestnut contras, some circle dances, a New England style square, and a Sicilian circle or two. Moves that have become commonplace in modern contra, such as the hey for four and gypsy, cannot be found in Dudley’s sets.

Dudley also had plenty of questions for me, whipping around with surprising speed for someone his age every time he remembered something he wanted to ask. “If a bus full of Girl Scouts, no, if a bus full of people with Down’s Syndrome pulls up and everyone comes in, what are you going to call?” I puzzled that question over for a minute before saying I’d call the simplest circle mixer I know. “Would you have them change partners?” asked another caller. I didn’t know what to answer. I still have a long way to go.

The defining moment of Ralph Page for me happened during lunch on the final day. As I was walking through the cafeteria, the jam session that had been playing struck up Money Musk. Two couples set up at one end of the cafeteria aisle and called for a third; I grabbed a partner and we three couples started dancing. No calls were needed. We all knew this dance. By the time my partner and I were waiting at the top, the line was at least twelve couples long. By the time the dance ended, there were at least twenty couples on the line: a good quarter of the people at the weekend, dancing Money Musk in a cafeteria for fifteen minutes with unabashed joy.

The Ralph Page Legacy Weekend was created in 1988 to recognize the contributions that caller Ralph Page (1903-1985) made to contra and New England folk dancing. It’s held the weekend before the third Monday in January (MLK, Jr. Day), at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH and sponsored by the New England Folk Festival Association.

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

“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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbPl91kTFro

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.

Encouragement

by Zoë Madonna

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Zoe, in blue.

In come I, an Intern, welcome or welcome not, sheltering from the polar vortex in Western Massachusetts and helping out at the CDSS office for my winter term project this year. I’m Zoe, I’m a junior at Oberlin College, and I’ve been dancing and singing since shortly after I started school there.

I don’t remember what or who exactly brought me to my first contra dance; someone had told me that it was a. fun, b. possibly relevant to my interests (I had started playing piano accordion a few months pre-college), and c. happening at the school gym on Friday night. I was only there for the last half of the dance, following a production of Waiting for Godot. I missed the beginner lesson and was therefore adrift on the floor; some people I knew from various other activities were there and asked me to dance. Initially I was terrified of messing up, of causing a traffic accident with another dancer, of being not fun to dance with. Unlike lindy hop, which I had begun to learn two months prior, my partners wouldn’t be stuck with clueless me for just three or four minutes, and the amount of damage I could do was significantly multiplied by the fact that contra required me to interact with everyone on the floor.

When I stopped looking at my feet after a few dances, I was pleasantly shocked by what I noticed passing in front of my eyes as I danced down the hall, allemanded my neighbor, and stumbled my way through my first attempts at a hey for four. These experienced dancers weren’t only tolerating the other newbies and me; they were smiling at us, helping us by way of a guiding hand or a point at what shoulder to pass. They were asking us to dance.

Like many of my generation, I’m quite wired into social media, and I once searched the “contra dance” tag on Tumblr to see if anyone else had posted stories or just snippets of their dancing lives. The most re-shared post on the tag was not wholly about dancing, but included a few sentences about the author’s negative experience wherein “barefoot dancers of all ages gave [the author and his friends] fierce stares and shouted directions at us when we failed to do what the dance dictated.” I have seen those same fierce stares directed at new dancers on multiple occasions in various scenes, when veteran dancers meet a newbie and see an obstacle to their enjoyment of the dance, rather than a future dance partner and community member. It takes courage to step onto a dance floor for the first time and meet the eyes of complete strangers, and when those first attempts are scoffed at or refused, one cannot expect that the new dancers will have any desire to return.

I left the gym that night riding on a cloud of endorphins kicked up by fiery fiddle notes, feet stamping the floor in unison, and the almost constant smiles of my partners and neighbors. If I had been met with the same reception as the discontented Tumblr author was, I cannot say whether or not I would have returned for the next dance (and the next, and the next, and…). Experienced dancers actively welcoming in new ones with a smile and a request to dance is the only way how the tradition will stay alive and evolve through my generation and all who will come later.

Small to Large Gifts—It All Helps!

by Rima Dael and Caroline Batson

Help us Help Teachers! CDSS + Valley Gives, Thursday 12/12/13, until midnight

CDSS VGIt’s Valley Gives Day, 12/12/13, the 24-hour e-philantrophy event! This year CDSS is raising funds to create online toolkits to help teachers and parents bring the rich heritage of North American and English traditional dance, music and song to more classrooms and communities. See recent blogs on CDSS’s website about why we think this is important.

Here’s what a gift, small or large, can do for us:

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Photo by Daniel Friedman

$12—Why give $12? Because today is 12/12! $12 is meaningful because it is about what one can spend on coffee easily in a week, if you’re getting regular coffee. If you’re getting lattes, $12 doesn’t get you through the whole week, but $12 is a meaningful commitment to help CDSS help teachers bring dance, music and song into classrooms.

$20—Dance, music and song are important in the lives of children. See Nils Fredland’s blog about teacher support. And this just in, we’ve got more requests from other schools to replicate the teacher training he just did with CDSS member David Wiley!

Erin Nolan_Karana and JuliaFWP2012$53—A tank of gas. We travel to speak to teachers and artists. CDSS Education Director, Pat MacPherson, used a tank of gas to go learn about the Common Core State Standards at a creativity conference where she met a professor from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA. At this conference there was learning and networking with teachers on how to use the Arts with the Common Core State Standards now adopted by most States.

$100—Online resources for teachers. We’ve talked to teachers who have asked us to provide them with online resources. Why online? It saves them time! Online resources will showcase teaching notes and how other teachers have used dance, music and song in their classrooms. Let’s make this happen for them!

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Photo by Paul Bestock

$250—We want to get with it, electronically! We have some great resources for teachers that exist in binder and booklet format, but need to embrace the 21st century to digitize and update these resources for use online.

$500—Tablets have become a great resource in the classroom. Not as heavy as a laptop, and a good way to read book, articles, research on the go and show videos. The e-book format is exciting for us as we envision a resource that will connect theory to practice and right on the same page a “how-to” video or audio! We’re excited to make this happen.

Donate before midnight! CDSS + Valley Gives

Kicking off Valley Gives at Eastworks

As we gear up for our local community giving event, Valley Gives, CDSS staff took an unusual lunch break today to pay a visit to neighboring friends and arts organizations in the Eastworks building where our offices are.  As requested by folks in the building who saw us last year, we once again took up antlers, sashes, fiddles and a triangle and performed the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.  The folk dance dates back to the middle ages, originating from the English village of the same name.  People’s reactions ranged from stares to gasps, from “Woahs” to “No one will believe me when I tell them about this”…and lots of smiles.  Many people took cell phones out and recorded us in their offices spaces, restaurants and dancing down the hall.

We love sharing our traditions and giving back to our community.  In this spirit, if you’re in the area please join us this Thursday, 12/12/13 at 4:00 pm as the Valley Gives bus makes a stop in the Big Y parking lot in Northhampton.  We’ll be singing songs together and spreading the word about Valley Gives, a 24-hour e-philanthropy event for local nonprofits in western MA. You can donate to any of the over 300 non-profits in the Pioneer Valley.  We hope that you will consider donating to CDSS. Your donation on 12/12/13 could help us become eligible for thousands of dollars in prizes!  You don’t have to live here to donate.

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,” http://myimprobability.blogspot.com, posted 9/21/13.

Legislative Testimony

by Rima Dael, CDSS Executive Director

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Rima and Sen. Connor Ives

This past Friday, Pat McPherson, Director of the CDSS Education Department, and I provided testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord) and Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D-Newburyport), Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee, are traveling around the state with fellow committee members to solicit ideas from the arts, cultural and tourism communities, and the general public, to help the Committee develop policies that strengthen arts, culture and tourism in Massachusetts.

Tourism is recognized as the third largest revenue producing industry in Massachusetts with a $3.6 billion payroll across 124,700 jobs. In 2011, 21.3 million people visited the state and spent $16.9 billion, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Tourist surveys consistently indicate that arts, culture and history are among the top reasons for choosing to visit our state. Nonprofit cultural organizations employ nearly 18,000 Massachusetts residents, generating $28 million in payroll taxes and $1.2 billion in annual in-state spending.

“Tourism and the arts bring Massachusetts to life,” said Atkins. “People come from all over the world to visit Walden Pond, Tanglewood, the Freedom Trail and our other internationally renowned destinations. Our artists, dancers, and musicians produce captivating works that produce jobs and showcase the creativity of our Commonwealth. On this tour, our Committee will explore the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Massachusetts, its impact on our economy and our communities, and ways the Legislature can help sustain it for future generations.”

Our primary goal of providing testimony was to raise the visibility of traditional dance, music and song in Massachusetts and showcase the good work of the Country Dance and Song Society over the past 98 years.

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Rima and Rep. Andrews

“I look forward to visiting different parts of the state and working with the Regional Tourist Councils to promote these areas and the attractions that they offer in an effort to encourage economic growth throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives.

Senator O’Connor Ives and I shared a fun moment as fellow alums of Mt. Holyoke College. Rep. Andrews, a member of the committee, came up to ask advice from CDSS on thoughts and resources for bringing dance to a community in her district and engaging children and their families in participatory dance. Also in attendance were Linda Henry, CDSS Outreach & Grants Manager; Lynn Nichols, CDSS Webmaster; and CDSS member Alex Krogh-Grabbe of Amherst.

CDSS is working on creating toolkits to provide to members with best practices to engage local elected leaders to increase the visibility of traditional dance, music and song, and provide testimony on the value of our participatory arts in our communities. We thank the Massachusetts Cultural Council for their on-going support of our work and thanks to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development for their time visiting towns around Massachusetts.