Tag Archives: country dance and song society

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.

Gifts In Memory Of/In Honor Of

I’ve just finished the absorbing and humbling exercise of editing the list of 2012 Donors to CDSS.  You can see the full list here.   Its impressive amplitude is a testament both to the generosity of our supporters and to the depth of feeling that traditional dance, music, and song evoke in those who participate and in the communities they form.

I was particularly struck this year by the number of gifts made in memory of or in honor of someone special.  Interspersed in the full list, you’ll see the names of leading lights of traditional dance, music, and song – some long gone, some recently departed.  A gift in their memory speaks of a wish to honor their contributions, and in many cases reflects a cherished personal history between the donor and the honoree.

Others have shined a light on leaders and communities who matter to them now, today, with a gift in their honor.  And many of you made gifts to honor friends and family members who left us this past year.  Making such a gift is a way of doing something positive and forward-looking in a time of grief and loss.  It is also a public gesture of love to bereft families and friends that says, “I remember, and I will long remember.”

 

Rima & Robin’s DC Adventures, continued

by Robin Hayden, CDSS Director of Development, Friday, August 10, 2012

(see Rima’s blog about Thursday’s trip)

Stephanie Smith, CDSS member and archivist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Our day began with a metro ride into DC with our hostess, Stephanie Smith, an archivist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Stephanie gave us a tour of the Center for Folklife offices, including a peek into the archives themselves!

In the midst of a very busy day at the Center, Curators James Deutch and Sojin Kim generously met with Rima, Stephanie, and me to brainstorm possibilities for collaborations between CDSS and the Center at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2015, CDSS’s centennial year.

We were also privileged to view the latest cut of the eagerly-anticipated English country dance documentary—a wonderful collaboration between Stephanie, NYU historian Danny Walkowitz, and award-winning videographer Charlie Weber of the Center for Folklife.

Later, we met up for dinner with longtime CDSS friend Charlie Pilzer, on the patio of the Irish Inn at Glen Echo Park. We had a lively conversation in which Charlie shared his thoughts about celebrating the Centennial in DC and across the continent. As always, his infectious enthusiasm and seemingly boundless well of ideas invigorated and inspired us!

We proceeded in high spirits to the Friday night contra dance in the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, arriving in time to see the end of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington’s excellent 45-minute beginner lesson.

Basic skills class with Greg Frock

In the center of the photo you can see FSGW leader Greg Frock taking great care to ensure that some 50 newer dancers have the basic skills and social expectations to be successful and well integrated as the hall—one of the largest you’ll ever see!—soon fills up with 200-300 regular contra dancers.

It also happened to be Open Band night, with than 40 musicians from the greater DC area playing on stage, for a wonderful evening of contras and squares led by caller Dave Colestock of Harrisburg, PA. A full day indeed!

 

Handing off the Music (literally!)

Handing off the music to the next generation? Absolutely, and with considerable flair and musicianship, don’t you think? CDSS president and videographer David Millstone describes this video of Bob McQuillen and friends:

Contra dance enthusiasts may enjoy watching a recently-uploaded clip on
YouTube that focuses on Bob McQuillen, the New Hampshire musician and
tunesmith.

Composer of more than 1500 tunes to date and well known for his distinctive and
powerful boom-chuck piano style of contra dance accompaniment, Bob was a
2009 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. The award itself was
presented to Bob at the New England Folk Festival (NEFFA) the following April,
part of a “Salute to Bob McQuillen” session that was conceived by CDSS
member Jeremy Korr. Jeremy noted that 2010 would mark the eighth decade (!)
during which Bob had been a NEFFA participant and he helped arrange for a
special group of musical guests to highlight the occasion.

In this clip, Steve Zakon-Anderson calls “Young at Heart,” a contra dance he
wrote years ago for Bob.The musicians shown include Bob’s “Old
New England” bandmates, Jane Orzechowski and Deanna Stiles, and two
members of his Pacific Northwest band, the “Rhythm Rollers,” WB Reid and
Laurie Andres.

Bob has had a long and close relationship with Jane Orzechowski’s family; four
of the Orzechowski children studied piano with him over the years. (The oldest,
Francis, was one of the musicians selected to represent New Hampshire at the
Smithsonian Institution’s 1999 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC.)
On the video, you can watch as the piano accompaniment is seamlessly passed
from Bob to Francis, Russell, and Neil, and then back to Bob. When they’re not
playing piano, the video shows the three playing fiddle or accordion.

Bob McQuillen was also awarded the National Heritage Fellowship in 2002 by the
National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor for traditional artists in the
US.