Tag Archives: harmony of song & dance

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.

YES! There are still scholarships; space at Harmony of Song & Dance; and other camp updates.

Missouri native, and Harmony Week staff member, Leela Grace

The CDSS weeks at Pinewoods, Timber Ridge, and Ogontz are all starting soon. Read on to find out more about remaining spaces, scholarships, and especially about our new week, Harmony of Song & Dance.

If you have registered, we can’t wait and know you can’t either. If you haven’t registered you, there is still space at several weeks. You’ll find that info at the bottom of this post.

Scholarships

Yes, there are some scholarships still available. If you’re interested in coming to camp but need help doing so, just get in touch with Linda Henry — linda@cdss.org or 413-268-7426 x105.

Harmony of Song & Dance, July 23-30

Singers and dancers, don’t miss out on the opportunity to be a part of our new week. The staff is incredible and varied and there’s still space. You’ll find:

  • Revels’ music director George Emlen sharing sea shanties and pub songs
  • consummate musicians and storytellers Kim and Reggie Harris teaching songs of the underground railroad
  • the imimicable Keith Murphy guiding a workshop on accompanying songs and ballads
  • wonderful concerts and dancing
  • and, yes, much more!

Matt and Shannon Heaton will also be on staff.

Read more about the week here. Seriously, don’t miss out on this incredible week. As mentioned, there are scholarships available for those that need them.

If you have any questions about Harmony of Song & Dance, scholarships, you can contact Steve at camp@cdss.org or call Linda at linda@cdss.org / 413-268-7426 x105.

Here’s a video of staff members Kim and Reggie performing:

Full availability list

Visit cdss.org/camp for the most up-to-date availability.

– Max

Harmony of Song & Dance: A new week at Pinewoods

A message from Peter Amidon, co-director of Harmony of Song & Dance week at Pinewoods.

Peter and Mary Alice Amidon

I studied, and loved, instrumental classical music through and after college, playing piano, guitar, cello and viola da gamba. Then, when I was 25, and living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was introduced to traditional song and dance. It was an epiphany; I loved the physicality of the singing and dancing, and the fact that it was participatory. I loved that it came from and was for the common people. I sold my viola da gamba and bought a fiddle and a banjo.

I met my wife Mary Alice at a contra dance and in 1976 we went to CDSS’s Folk Music Week at Pinewoods. I went into Pinewoods to learn more fiddle tunes, and I came out a singer who also played fiddle. It was a life-changing experience. Over the last 35 years many CDSS Pinewoods weeks — Folk Music, Family, English & American Dance — have helped define who Mary Alice and I are and what we do.

Now we are honored to be chairing The Harmony of Song & Dancethe new CDSS week for singers who love to dance and for dancers who love to sing — with a dynamic and diverse staff of dance and song leaders.

Kim and Reggie Harris

We are bringing together some of our favorite music and dance activities…

  • group harmony singing by ear and from written arrangements
  • English folk songs
  • Appalachian ballads
  • shape note
  • secular and sacred gospel singing
  • contra, English, and ritual dance
  • work songs and sea songs
  • tune sessions and playing in a dance band

…with some of our favorite people…

  • dynamic and gifted singing leaders Kim & Reggie Harris
  • Cambridge Revels music master George Emlen
  • master singer/instrumentalist Keith Murphy

    Becky Tracy and Keith Murphy

  • profound bass and dance caller Nils Fredland
  • delicious English pianist and humorist Karen Axelrod
  • elegant and graceful fiddler/singer Naomi Morse
  • master English dance caller and choral singer Brad Foster
  • sublime yet powerful dance fiddler Becky Tracy
  • steeped-in-traditional-music-since-birth singer/banjo player/clog dancer Leela Grace
  • Master of All Ceremonies and leader of songs from across the pond (Scotland & England) and ritual dance Alistair Brown
  • brilliant Irish flute/whistle player/singer Shannon Heaton
  • innovative guitarist and singer Matt Heaton
  • inspired leader of joyful song Mary Alice Amidon
  • and pretty good singing leader Peter Amidon (me).

This would be our dream staff, except they are all really coming!

I believe that the act of singing and dancing together creates a powerful and joyful synchronicity. It is a foundation of Mary Alice’s and my lives and the foundation of the Harmony of Song & Dance.

We hope you will come join us for what we are expecting will be an extraordinary week.

— Peter Amidon, June, 2011

Harmony of Song & Dance at Pinewoods will take place July 23 – 30, 2011. There is still space available! To find out more visit www.cdss.org/harmony.

There are also still scholarships available at this writing. To inquire, please e-mail camp@cdss.org.

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