Lifetime Contribution Awards

  • Thank you David for inspiring and mentoring me as a caller. Ever since the first dance I attended at Guiding Star Grange, I admired not only your great teaching and selection of dances, but also your fiddling/calling combo, your great harmonies and your use of the English language, especially in humorous ways!

  • At 12:55am on November 9, 2019, in the room below the stairs at the Westford Regency Hotel I spotted David and friends playing such wonderful music. With his permission I videoed this. It was a magical 45 minutes in the wee hours of the morning.

  • Thank you David for all the music and dances, and especially the instruction and encouragement for playing music. Your gift of music widened my world. Much love!

  • I was so astonished to discover at the Kaynor Thanksgiving (I think it was 1975) that up there (living at my brother, Chapin's house) in Burlington VT you, cousin David, had begun playing fiddle and were playing the same “contra” repertoire that Van and I had been playing down in the Connecticut River Valley!

  • A Bunch of Old Guys

    Several years ago, David got hired to call and bring a band to play at the Montpelier, VT, contra dance on the first Saturday in February at the Capitol City Grange. He "hired" George Wilson (fiddle [maybe a little 5 string banjo]) from NY state, Dave Guertin (guitar) from VT, myself (bass) from Maine, and of course David himself (on fiddle and viola) from MA.

  • Vermont Fiddle Orchestra Spring 2016 ConcertDavid, you've been such a delight to know, admire, learn from, and play with. Thank you for the many, many ways in which you have demonstrated how love for dance, music, and community can come together and create a more joyful, inclusive world. So much love to you, David.

  • Dear David,

    I met you at SAMW camp many years ago when you were my fiddle teacher. I had played violin through high school and a bit in college, but after that I'd only played infrequently for the following 20 years. You encouraged me, and invited me to the sessions at your house which I attended for several years until I started playing Irish style fiddle.

  • David, Rebecca McCallum, and Dave Bartley play for the Amherst contra dance in October 2021. Photo by Mary DeFelice Bartley.David, Rebecca McCallum and Dave played for three dances in New England as The Intracontinentals in October 2018, just before his diagnosis. As always, it was a joy and a privilege to play with David.

  • A Celebration of Montague May Days Past:

  • As a part time student at Springfield College in 1970, I had nowhere to go at Thanksgiving. The Kaynor Clan took me under their wings and I attended their major family gathering (at the Willows? Restaurant). I think that is where, in the midst of all the singing, I saw where David absorbed his sense of harmony. If you listen carefully to his work, barbershop harmony is never far off!

  • Over the years, Pam and I often played with David at his Friday dance at the Guiding Star Grange. We'd often meet at a Chinese restaurant in Greenfield (I am sorry, I don't remember the name) for dinner before the dance. As these things often go, we'd be late and David would be waiting for us, already having ordered.

  • David, I'm sharing a couple pictures of you from 2006--they're not the best pics, but to me they capture your playful spirit. I think you had joined an "all-women" band onstage and had dressed accordingly, and this memory of you always makes me smile!

  • David directing the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra's Winter 2017 concert in Montpelier, VT:

  • Two among many fond memories:

    1) Madison Hall in Morrisville, NY working with you and the VanNorstrand brothers. You did Petronella. You warned the dancers that clapping might confuse the band. Of course they clapped and you kept the band together through all manner of meter changes. Hugely funny!

  • In 1994 I moved to New Haven, Connecticut to attend law school. One weekend a month there was no local dance, so I’d drive up I-91 and dance at the Friday night contra dance David called in Greenfield. The first time I did this I arrived to a smallish crowd of mostly men. I was an experienced dancer but knew no one but David.

  • Here is a video clip from June 2015 at Fiddle Tunes: David and Paul Gitlitz playing "Flying Home to Shelley."

  • My appreciation of David Kaynor is deep and broad. Here are a few memories and some observations.

  • "Striking The Strings" concert, Jacqueline Schwab & Tim Van Egmond with Donna Hebert & David Kaynor, Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield MA 10/25/15David, this concert was one of the many times I’ve enjoyed and been proud playing together with you. You did the sound too!

  • David was the first teacher I met the first time I went to Ashokan Northern Week in the early 1990s. A classically trained cellist, I had no real idea of what this music was about, much less how to participate. From that day forward, I felt that David would always make a little space for me to join the circle, and smile graciously and impishly at my efforts to play along. I treasure all the music that David brought into my life, and do my best to pass along both his inclusiveness and his making of magic harmonies on to my students.

  • David's enthusiasm for helping people have fun has inspired dancers, dance organizers and musicians for years. His encouragement of everyone to jump in and give it a try made it easy for people to take part, in so many ways.

  • David, you have been and continue to be a great mentor to Deborah, Sonny and myself, and an inspiration for all the music and dancing we have done over the years.

  • David and me at the wedding of Nancy Spero and Rob Sullivan.Over the last 30+ years, you have been a special presence in my life, in so many ways and places: playing for dances and concerts here in Ithaca and elsewhere; telling scatalogical jokes at Ashokan; grabbing dinner at the Four Seasons in Saratoga Springs on the Friday of the Flurry; letting me and Phil camp in your back yard on our honeymoon tour of New England; hosting me when I came to town for the CDSS annual meeting; and so much more.

  • I wrote this piece for the Maine Fiddle Camp newsletter back in 2019. The story has also been forwarded to Sue Songer for "the book."

    David

    David Kaynor was a special surprise guest at the second August week at Maine Fiddle Camp in 2019. Most folks know that David has ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), an almost always fatal autoimmune disease, the symptoms of which are never the same.

  • David Kaynor in Arizona

    May Madness was a dance weekend started by Prescott's Folk Happens contra community in the early 90's. It flourished for over twenty years drawing dancers from all over the Southwest, California and beyond for a weekend of great live music and hot contra dancing.

  • David and Betsy Branch together for a 2010 house concert in Portland, OR.A long car ride to a gig with David, during which he regaled us with the entertaining tale (among many other entertaining tales) of how he came to Swedish folk music many years ago.

  • I first knew of the Kaynor brothers in the Greenfield area in the mid 70s. I lived in Shelburne Falls and taught in Bernardston, and danced with Dudley in South Amherst until there started to be spinoff dances up in the hills. I particularly remember one the Kaynors led in the Buckland Town Hall, just down the street from my friends the McCuskers (formerly owners of McCuskers Market on Main Street Shelburne Falls).

  • Hi David! Nora and I have such great remembrances of all your many visits to Ann Arbor. We are sharing a few photos of your visit in January 2019. What a fabulous time that was.

  • Will be celebrating you at Fiddle Hell! You've always been a huge musical force in my life—starting with the Northfield and Greenfield dance bands, where I met my husband-to-be 35 years ago! Congrats to you on this recognition and much love and thanks.

  • David was calling a dance at the Guiding Star Grange in Mass, in the early 1990's—and one particular dance had an odd progression, which David described as "spitting dancers out at the top, and spitting dancers out at the bottom." Wit that I thought I was, I called out from the floor: "David, what's with all the spitting? It will get the floor wet!"

  • David, the jammer, at Ashokan Northern Week, 1980sFond memories of many Ashokan Northern Weeks with you, David, from 1985 to 2019. Remembering your wonderful tune sessions, your great teaching, your incredible calling, your incredible contra dance swinging, your bad jokes, and your overall humor and silliness. Here are some memories from the 1980s and Ashokan.

  • Skattungbyn, DalarnaDavid, I'm sending this photo from Dalarna in memory of meeting you at Ransäter and all that followed...from Greenfield to Polka Pants to jamming with young folks at Swannanoa. Sending you Bästa hälsingar! och Grattis!

  • Here's David with Bob McQuillen and me at a FiddleRama gig at Northwest Folklife Festival.

  • David used to hand draw all the flyers for his 4th, 5th Friday Guiding Star dances. Here's an example of one I kept. The title of my dance "The Calligrapher" is a recognition of this amazing talent that David had!OK, I've been working on this for a while, but when I write a dance it often takes a long time to tweak (years some times). This dance isn't tweaked yet but is based on a dance I saw David call maybe 20 (25?) years ago. The "hook" is a "squeeze balance" (line of four balances in to the middle of the line and out).

  • NHMC Calling Class - 2013

  • Thank so much for being part of my company of Musical Mentors and friends. Special memories of Ashokan, Brasstown, and a very special Memorial Day parade in Montague.

  • Thank you for being such a wonderful friend, caller and musician, mentor. Love you David. I will always remember our great times hanging out in Ithaca, Ashokan and at other dance events.

  • Appreciation for David K from David M:

  • I was working in Europe in June 1984 and found out that David would be in Sweden at the same time, so I arranged to visit him there. It was Midsommar—the longest night of the year—and many festivities took place.

  • Greetings from Trudy W., Fiddle Orchestra of Western MA bass player:

  • I was staff photographer at Ashokan for several years. Here's what I could find of David. Couldn't upload them all at the website, so I created this page.

  • Happy Birthday and Congratulations, David!

    We are looking forward to seeing this celebration scrapbook with entries from so many who love you and have been inspired by your music, teaching, openness and community building.

  • WB Reid (banjo), David Kaynor (fiddle), & Laurie Andres (accordion)—Eastside Contra Dance (Kirkland, WA)—December 12, 2015Dear David—What joy you have generated on earth! I've known you since my time in New England during the roaring 80s of contra there. I eventually landed in Seattle and started the Eastside Contra Dance in 2010 with Laura Me' Smith and Mark Parker. Always a treat to have you with us at year end to support our small dance which I tried to present as a New England experience. You were the authentic touch!

  • How amazed I was the day I learned that you were THE David Kaynor who was the composer of the Montague Processional! So much has happened since then. Thank you for helping me to believe in myself, for making music a part of my life, and for the gift of having known you. Because of you, I will always have the joy of music and dance.

  • The Carolina Cat Wranglers in Floyd, VADavid, the Cat Wranglers would be nothing—probably not even exist—without your guidance and inspiration. Thank you so much!

  • David Kaynor at Montague May Day, 5 May 2013I seem to have only these two photos from Montague May Days past with David in them, even though his presence has permeated that event over the years, and so many other times in my life.

  • I first encountered David Kaynor at Ashokan Northern Week in 1984, and during the rest of the ‘80s he was the essence of Northern Week for me. The highlight of each day was his leading a procession of musicians to the dining hall before dinner playing a Swedish walking tune. Memorable as well was his contra dance calling while playing the fiddle, seasoned by his inimitable dry sense of humor.

  • My favorite among many memories of David comes from English & American Week at Pinewoods, 1989. A scheme was hatched on the final day, and by evening everyone was in on it. Director Jim Morrison asked David, who was on staff and had been donning dance skirts all week, to wear trousers on the final night "for the sake of the old-timers among us."

  • I’ve known David since the 1970s, but it was at Ashokan Northern Week in the early 80s that I had one of those Ah-ha moments during the daily Swedish jam he led before processing to the dance pavilion.

  • I am writing in regard to the recognition of David Kaynor. I have enclosed a copy of a dance ["Bells of Montague"] I wrote for him in 1989. My wife Debra Schultz and I stayed at his home after a dance I called at Greenfield. At that time, his home was very close to a church in which the bells rang throughout the night. Thus the inspiration for the dance.

  • David, I've had the pleasure of your musical company in several contexts, but I think playing for services at First Church Somerville will always be my favorite. So I'm sharing some photos from a few of those services with gratitude for all the musical moments I've experienced as a direct or indirect result of knowing you. Thanks for every one of them.

  • Coming full circle ... Fiddle Orchestra of Western MA, fall of 2017Growing up in Wilbraham, I was fortunate to have Kaynors in my circle of friends...specifically Cindy and Carol. Although we shared Choralyres, theater, and swim team during our years at Minnechaug, I never knew David directly because he was out of high school before we got there ('68-'73).

    David was a presence felt nonetheless!

  • David playing his waltz, High Clouds with Just Desserts, at the Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music First Saturday Contradance, September 3, 2017:

  • David was among my very first introductions to contradancing, somewhere around 1984, in Maine. Bates College in Lewiston had contradances. Cindy Larock organized them, and David was one of the first musicians I heard and met there. We both used to wear those Amish pants and in later years David inherited a couple of pairs from me.

  • It is always a pleasure being in David's company. I have sat in on many jams trying to keep up and he is always so welcoming.

  • Such wonderful memories of crossing musical paths with you over the years, David, at workshops, dances, and jam sessions up and down the west coast. And that first meeting in Portland, Ore. back in the 1990s — discovering that you lived in the same small town in Massachusetts as my brother!

  • Dear David,

    I am pleased to number myself among the many hundreds of people who can easily conjure your voice in my head.

  • My first time at the John C. Campbell Folk School was Dance Musicians Week in 2017. I was in the Indian Cooking class and my husband Greg Miller was busy Blacksmithing. We danced and listened to music every night.

  • David & Tom Morley at John C. Campbell Folk School, March 2018I wanted to share this photo, my memory of the last time David and I got to play together. It was March 2018 and David was teaching a week of classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I drove in from Chattanooga to give a guest presentation and David and I got together several times and played tunes together.

  • As one of the original faculty, and then as a board member, David's generous spirit and inclusive approach is pretty firmly baked into the DNA of Northeast Heritage Music Camp. Most campers can probably point to David as one of the first people to welcome them, gesturing toward an open spot in the informal porch jams he always seemed to be in the middle of as everyone arrived, and inviting them to join in.

  • Dear David, I feel so lucky to be mother-in-lawed into your wonderful family. I cherish so many happy memories of being with you and your siblings—what an amazing bunch you are! I'm putting into the scrapbook a short video from a wonderful afternoon of you fiddling with old buddies on the porch of the cottage in Harpswell on August 25, 2013. One of many such great afternoons—I always love your music!

  • David's Greenfield dance, 2nd, 4th, 5th Fridays often fell on Dance Flurry weekend. David, of course, never wanted to cancel the dance, so for many years he hired Pam Weeks and myself to cover the dance for him while he was in Saratoga Springs. We'd drive through Greenfield on the way to the Flurry, play and call the dance, stay over in Montague, then continue to The Flurry on Saturday AM.

  • David, we love you and we so enjoyed playing with you whenever you came south. Here's a favorite photo of ours from the JC Campbell Folk School in 2018, where you called and played with Over the Moon.

Submit your own memento

Read even more memories and messages from the April 17 celebration.

A Celebration of David KaynorDavid Kaynor of Montague, MA is the 2021 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award recipient, in recognition of his enormous contributions as a dance community organizer, musician, caller, and mentor to generations. We held a Celebration online on David's birthday, Saturday, April 17, 2021. 

David Allen Kaynor passed away on June 1, 2021. We're so grateful for everything he brought to our world, and for the opportunity we had to honor him with this award.

View the video of the Celebration: 

Click here to read the chat log from the Celebration. 


David Kaynor at Northwest FolklifeDavid Kaynor at Northwest Folklife. Photo by Doug Plummer.

David's Acceptance Remarks

I'm delighted and humbled to receive the Lifetime Contribution Award.

I think about the colossal contributions of past recipients, and I ask myself, Why me? Although I enjoyed and believed in what I was doing as a dance caller, fiddle teacher, session host, musician, and graphic artist, I considered myself irrelevant to the lofty circles and activities of the Country Dance and Song Society.

A low point in my musical life came in the spring of 1981, when the president of NEFFA told me that, in their opinion, what we ... my cousins, uncle, other Fourgone Conclusions band mates, and I ... were doing had nothing to do with New England contra dancing.

My response to numerous real or perceived organizational snubs was to submerge myself in the pleasures of the moment in my core interests and pursuits: Long distance running, cross country skiing, dancing, calling dances, teaching basic Swedish dances, teaching basic fiddling, and playing music. I also became something of a calligrapher and graphic artist.

Eventually, I found a niche as a teacher and caller. This led to countless gigs in which I enjoyed a happy integration of my artistic, spiritual, and political ideals and having to earn enough money to get by.

All these facets of my life came together when I became Music Director of the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra and the Fiddle Orchestra of Western Massachusetts. These groups welcomed all musicians of all skill and experience levels. My tasks included including all. Our practices blended learning and arranging tunes with in-the-moment adventure and fun. I wrote out many harmonies while on AMTRAK'S Vermonter, where the conductors knew me by name and the scenery was sweetly familiar.

I'm grateful to Jay Ungar and Molly Mason at Ashokan, Bob Dalsemer and Annie Fain Liden Barallon at the John C. Campbell Folk School, the Reiner family of Fiddle Hell, Paul Rosenberg and Peter Davis at the Dance Flurry, my colleagues at Northeast Heritage Music Camp, Mike Reddig in Flagstaff, Arizona, Fred Karsch in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sue Songer and Betsy Branch in Portland and Mark Lewis and Carla Arnold in La Grand, Oregon, Sherry Nevins and Tom and Amy Wimmer in Seattle, Lindon Toney in Olympia, Washington, and numerous other organizers and bandmates in the Pacific Northwest. These folks gave me opportunities to share my developing skills and deep love of music and dancing, not just once, but over and over.

Thanks to all these people, I was able to cultivate relationships with and within their communities. This, in turn, enabled me to not just share tons of fun, but also share experiences of growth and development in many ways. Our skills and repertoire evolved and so did our senses of self, possibility, and purpose.

We didn't just perform music and dance. We SHARED it. This became a fundamental personal philosophy: There are times and places for performing, but sharing can happen so much more often, and it's good for us all. Maybe it's even good for the world.

I've struggled to matter for as long as I can remember. This showed itself in a number of ways, including sports and music and dance. I was always dogged by the weight of self doubt. This finally dissipated in the final years of my career, thanks to all of the above who provided opportunities for us to explore mattering together.


Program Schedule

Part I—Introductions (~15 minutes)

  1. Montague Processional (3 mins) Video
  2. Introductory words from co-hosts Lissa Schneckenburger and Andy Davis Live
  3. Welcome from CDSS Board President Gaye Fifer Live
  4. Words from David, Read by Becky Hollingsworth Live

Part II—Lifetime Contributions (45-60 minutes)

  1. Sustainers Video
  2. Jay Ungar and Molly Mason Live
  3. Fiddle Hell Video
  4. Stuart Kenney Video
  5. Peter Siegel Live
  6. Footage from Guiding Star Grange
  7. George Wilson Live
  8. Northwest Interviews (by Doug Plummer) Video
  9. Sue Songer Live
  10. Bob Dalsemer with Katie and Corie Pressley (a.k.a. The Pressley Girls) Video
  11. Fred Karsch and Katie Pressley Live
  12. Vermont Fiddle Orchestra Video
  13. Fiddle Orchestra of Western Massachusetts—Becky Shannon (FOWM) Live
  14. Van Kaynor and Cammy Kaynor
  15. Chris Wise (Montague Common Hall) Live

Part III—Finale (10-15 minutes)

  1. Award Presentation—Gaye Fifer Live
  2. Closing and thanks—Lissa Schneckenburger and Andy Davis Live
  3. High Clouds Video

Extra Conversation / Breakout Rooms

  • Participants who wish to stay and chat will have the chance to go into breakout rooms.

Community Submissions

You can view the digital scrapbook here, or submit your own mementos to be included!

Please email KaynorLCA@cdss.org if you have any questions.

Kate BarnesKate Barnes; photo by Kayla BurnettThe Country Dance and Song Society is pleased to announce that Kate Barnes of Greenfield, MA, is the 2020 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. Kate was selected in recognition of many years of performance and teaching at CDSS programs, the international importance of her publications, her generosity of spirit when running music workshops, and her contributions to current and future communities.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the award celebration scheduled for September 26th, 2020 has been postponed. While we cannot yet say for sure when it will be possible to resume planning for this event, we hope to gather in celebration of Kate and her many contributions to our community at a later date. If you have already registered for this event, you will be notified by email when a new date is confirmed, and event information will be posted on this page.

“As a contra dance piano player, Kate pioneered an improvisatory style that brings joy to dancers, and influences musicians directly and through countless workshops. Her decades-long work with Bare Necessities created fresh interpretations of English country dance music to lift our feet, and the three volumes of the Barnes books are the standard reference collections of tunes used by musicians throughout the dance community.”

—David Millstone, Lebanon, NH (caller, former CDSS president)

“Kate has contributed consistently to the scene for more decades than I know. She’s inspired dancers with her music —exquisitely played, full of forward motion and joyful variety, sensitive to the period, tune type and occasion, and in tight teamwork with other musicians. She’s a reason many people like English dancing.”

—Bruce Hamilton, Menlo Park, CA (caller, former CDSS president)

“I’ve had the great fortune to travel the US, Canada and even as far as Denmark with The Latter Day Lizards. Everywhere we go Kate is universally known and respected and admired for her musicianship, warmth and quick-witted humor. I can’t think of a better recipient for next year’s CDSS Lifetime Contribution award!”

—Dave Langford, Arlington, MA (musician, bandmate)

“Since I first heard and started playing with her in the 1970’s, her passionate, creative, traditionally spirited-but-not-stifled playing and composing have been a bottomless wellspring. Kate’s ink-stained (and later electronic) publishing labors of love have saved many musicians from hauling libraries around in order to play for a dances and have encouraged many to learn the underappreciated craft of playing for dancing. I’m grateful for Kate’s strong, courageous commitment to self-expression, and her deep commitment to the much-needed-in-today’s-world, affirming values of our dance community.”

—Jaqueline Schwab, Cambridge, MA (musician, bandmate)

sue songer directing portland megabandWhen Sue Songer started learning contra dance tunes in 1989, she had no idea of the forces she would set in motion in Portland – and beyond. She only knew that she found it personally useful to transcribe tunes that she had learned in order to keep them in her head. Before long, others started asking her for her transcriptions. As word spread of her growing collection of tunes, she was approached frequently by strangers asking for copies of her collection. From this, the Portland Collection music products were born, with Clyde Curley as her collaborator.  The three books and four CDs have become staple resources for contra dance musicians around the world. Sue never would have imagined in 1989 that her transcriptions would travel as far as Australia!

In 1996, Sue – inspired by the large contra dance band Rum and Onions – decided to try leading a large contra dance band in Portland. She thought that maybe it would last a year or two.  25 people signed up the first year, and they liked it so much they asked to do it again.  The Portland Megaband now has about 75 members, a wide variety of levels and instrumentation, and plays for an annual dance for 500 dancers. The dance raises money for a scholarship fund for community members to continue their music and dance education. Sue's positive leadership has made the Megaband a community favorite. Furthermore, the Megaband dance in March gave rise to a 5-day long event known as the Cascade Promenade, capped by an all-day contra dance featuring regional bands and callers on the Sunday after the Megaband dance. People come from far and wide for this annual celebration of music and dance---all sparked by Sue's idea in 1996.

Sue is also active as a dance musician and teacher. She currently plays with two contra dance bands, Joyride and The Stage Crew, plus she collaborates with many other musicians for contra and English dances. She has led large contra dance bands in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Coos Bay, Oregon, and was a teacher and musician in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for CDSS's Centennial Tour. She has tutored piano numerous times at the American Festival of Fiddle Tunes, and she teaches every July for Contra Dance Musicians Week at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.  

Sue and clyde curley

Furthermore, Sue has been active on boards and committees of many organizations, including Northwest Folklife Festival, Portland Country Dance Community, CDSS, and Northwest Passage Dance Weekend.  

Sue approaches all of her work with dedication, passion and – most of all – kindness. She is always supportive of musicians, no matter what their playing ability is. She has inspired so many, more than she could ever imagine. She graciously thanks the members of the Megaband every year for their hard work and dedication, and tells them how proud she is of them. In return, everyone who has worked with Sue is proud of her achievements and appreciative of her invaluable contributions to music and dance.

bill alkire 1The Country Dance and Song Society is pleased to announce that Bill Alkire of Wooster, Ohio is the 2018 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. Bill has positively impacted the world of American traditional dance for over 70 years as a dance leader, organizer, choreographer, and mentor.

On Sunday, February 25, 2018 there will be a celebration in honor of Bill’s award. This open-to-the-public occasion will be held in Wooster at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wayne County. The award presentation will begin at 2:00 pm followed by a dance until 5 pm with invited callers leading contras, squares, mixers, and English country dancing for all. 

 

The following letter was written by Susan English who is organizing Bill’s award celebration. You can learn more about this event at www.woosterdance.com/lifetime-award and RSVP by contacting Susan at senglish@umich.edu.​ Read on to learn more about Bill’s remarkable contributions to traditional dance throughout his life. 

At age 15, Bill was leading play party dances for his Methodist Youth Fellowship in central Ohio. When they danced in the barn of Lynn Rorbaugh, Bill learned more about dance leadership. He called his first public square dances while still in high school and worked his way through Ohio State University by teaching dance throughout the Columbus area. He served on the committee of the Ohio Folk Festival for several years, serving as General Chairman in 1950, when over 3,000 people participated.

bill alkire calling bwAttending Berea Christmas Dance School for the first time in 1948, Bill discovered new dance forms, including contra dance, English country dance, and Appalachian clogging, which he subsequently introduced to dance communities across Northeast Ohio and beyond. Bill returned to Berea Christmas Dance School multiple years on staff, teaching traditional squares, Appalachian clogging, beginning English, and dance leadership.

After a 1979 visit to Black Mountain, North Carolina, he founded the Cedar Valley Cloggers of Wooster, Ohio, a black-shoe traditional performance group that continues today. As artistic director, Bill adapted a broad range of traditional figure dances to clogging performances.

Bill has served on staff at Pinewoods, Mendocino, Dancing Bears of Alaska, Michigan Dance Heritage, Kentucky Summer Dance School, Cumberland Lakes, and, in 1994, the Silkeborg Festival in Denmark. From Kentucky Summer Dance School he received an appreciation award for his service from 1982-1986. Bill was the American dance leader for many years at Oglebay and Maine Folk Dance Camps, Folklore Village, and at various Recreation Leaders’ Labs--Great Lakes, Chatco, Black Hills, Northland, Laurel Highlands, and Buckeye. For his lifetime service to Buckeye Leadership Workshop, he received an Emeritus Award in 1998.

bill alkire 2At home in Wooster, Ohio, Bill prepared a generation of youth for square dance and square dance calling competitions at the Ohio State Fair. He called contra dances starting in the 1950s, and his monthly old-time square dance ran continuously for 50 years. After 2000, Bill co-founded the intergenerational program at Terpsichore’s Holiday and performed “Minuet to Macarena,” a revue of couple dance 1800 to present, from the Wheatland Music Festival to the Atlanta Waltz Society.

As a former mental health professional, Bill sees cooperative group dance as a key to healthy relationships and vibrant communities. Over the years, aspiring dance leaders have turned to him not only for his expertise but also for his philosophy of dance. Though currently not in good health at near 90 years old, he was still passing it on to the next generation well into his 80s.

Postscript: Sadly, Bill passed away on September 12th. He was a true treasure and will be missed by all whose lives he touched.

Note: Photos on this page courtesy of Susan English.

sandy bradley 2009 photo by carol nedler croppedPhoto by Carol Nedler

Sandy Bradley of Raymond, WA, was the 2017 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award.

Sandy exemplifies the power of inclusion and collaboration in developing and nurturing dance communities and high-quality musical talent. She, along with stellar old time musicians, brought about Seattle's trad square dance revival, and she developed a welcoming, supportive and appreciative dance culture that still characterizes the Northwest scene today. A superb caller of squares and a superb old time musician, she greatly influenced many callers across the U.S. through her tours, teaching at camps, and her weekly live radio program. 

She was honored at the Award celebration on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Seattle, WA.

Read more about Sandy in the Summer issue of the CDSS News. And check out http://stickerville.org/potluck/, the web home for the recording, graphics, MP3s, liner, notes and all the calls for Sandy's calling recording: Potluck and Dance Tonite. Also of interest is an interview with Sandy conducted by Bob Dalsemer at the 2009 Dare to Be Square event in Seattle. 
 

jeffwarner 72dpi(PHOTO BY RALPH MORANG)The Country Dance and Song Society presented the 2016 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award to Jeff Warner of Portsmouth, NH. Jeff is one of the nation's foremost performers and interpreters of traditional music and an advocate for bringing folk music to people of all ages, through his deep knowledge and love of American and English folk songs. His warmth and encouragement of singers, both experienced and new, young and old, has enriched many lives.

Jeff grew up in New York City, listening to the songs and stories of his father, Frank Warner, and the traditional singers his parents met during folksong collecting trips through rural America. When traveling with his parents, he listened while they recorded the locals who remembered the old songs of their region and community. (These recordings are preserved in the Library of Congress.)

In the 1960s, after receiving a BA in English at Duke University, and after a two-year stint in the Navy, Jeff was editor-in-training at Doubleday Bookclubs, heading, it seemed, toward a literary career until a friend asked if he would help run a nonprofit music school, the Guitar Workshop, in Roslyn, Long Island. He stayed with the school for nine years, working as administrator, guitar teacher, grant writer, and community program coordinator, and learning music theory and arrangement by teaching. His position also helped put him in touch with the significant people involved in the post-WW II folk revival movement that was embraced by both the commercial and academic worlds. In the '70s, he left to carve out a career for himself in historical music. Because of the US Bicentennial there was an increased demand for American songs in schools and Jeff filled that need with outreach programs into the schools.

He says that he is not a traditional singer in the academic sense-someone who has acquired the traditions either through ethnicity or family ties-but refers to himself as a singer of traditional songs taking an historical approach to the music.

"I teach American history and culture through traditional song and" (borrowing a phrase from historian David McCullough) "making history as interesting as it really was." For Jeff, old songs are like archaeological objects which teach about history — "they're living historical artifacts that serve as evidence about the people who used them and the times they lived in."

In 1997, he moved to Portsmouth and began performing in New Hampshire schools as a Roster Artist through the State Arts Council. He has recorded for Flying Fish/Rounder, WildGoose (UK), and other labels. His first solo compact disc, recorded in 2005, is Jolly Tinker on Gumstump Records. His 1995 recording (with Jeff Davis), Two Little Boys, received a Parents' Choice Award. He is the editor of his mother's book, Traditional American Folksongs from the Frank and Anne Warner Collection (Syracuse University Press, 1984), and producer of the CD set Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still: The Warner Collection (Appleseed Recordings, 2000), which is comprised of his parents' field recordings. He appears on the NH State Arts Council's 2003 compact disc Songs of the Seasons, for which he also co-wrote the liner notes.

From 1979 to 1993, Jeff toured nationally for the Smithsonian Institution. He continues to travel extensively in the US, Canada, and the UK, performing at museums and historical societies, folk clubs and folk festivals. In addition to singing and storytelling, he plays concertina, banjo, guitar, and several "pocket" instruments, including bones, spoons, and the jig doll/limberjack.

He is past president of the Country Dance and Song Society, and a past officer and founding member of the North American Folk Alliance (now Folk Alliance International). He has been an artist for Virginia and Ohio Arts Councils, is a speaker for New Hampshire Humanities, and is a producer of the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival. In 2007, he was named a NH State Arts Council Fellow.

Listen to him sing Baldheaded End of the Broom from Jolly Tinker.

The award was presented in Ashland, OR, on Saturday, October 22, 2016. You'll find details here.

We're thrilled to honor the many accomplishments of Jeff Warner. 

“Delightfully Consumed”—How Music and Dance Took over Glen and Judi Morningstar

as told to Caroline Batson, CDSS News Editor

Glen and Judi Morningstar, an integral part of Michigan’s folk dance and music community for this past thirty-five years, are this year’s CDSS Lifetime Contribution Awardees. They have played and written music, called and written dances, taught music and dance, published music and dance books, led international music and dance exchanges, and facilitated leadership workshops—in short, they have accomplished much and inspired many (and been inspired by many, Glen and Judi will tell you). The article below is based on email correspondence with them, July-August 2013. ~ C. B.

Grand March with Glen & Judi MorningstarGrand March at the LCA celebration for Glen & Judi Morningstar in Lansing, Michigan on November 16, 2013. Photo by Donald F. Cardwell.

The Beginning of Music and Dance

The multi-talented Glen and Judi Morningstar are musicians (fiddle and five-string banjo, Glen; dulcimer and piano, Judi; and bass and mandolin, both), dance band leaders (both), dance leader and organizer (Glen), tune author (Judi), and they are dancers (contra and English country dancing, eighteenth and nineteenth century historical dancing, square dancing, recreational dancing), AND they are singers (shapenote singing, folk song), dance researchers and educators. They are busy people.

Music has always been around them. Judi’s dad, Adrian “John” Emery, was a guitar player and grew up joining in the house party dances of the day; her granddad, Henry Emery, was a harmonica player; and her mom, Eva, was a stride piano player. Her other granddad, Herbert Smith, was a fiddler and played with his brothers in their family band. A lot of music was played in their home while she was growing up.

Glen’s parents were grange members and dancers, traveling the polka and grange hall circuits in Saginaw and Bay Counties, Michigan. Both sets of grandparents, the Crellers and the Morningstars, were grange members and dancers too. Glen’s parents, Glen Sr. and ruth, met at a grange dance. Glen and his sister, Sue, joined in as youngsters. The music of his uncles, Bill and Norman Creller, guitar and mandolin, was always around the house. Uncle Bill was in a country western band (now he plays Hawaiian guitar...builds them too). Uncle george Lukezic played bass in a polka band out of Saginaw... he was “spot on,” Glen says.

Into these musical households, Glen and Judi were born, three days apart and across the street from each other, in Saginaw. Their families moved to different neighborhoods when they were very young, so they didn’t officially meet until teenagers, at neighborhood baseball games, and then at the same high school, where they started going steady. I’m not sure if they courted each other with music, but Glen used to ride his horse to meet Judi when she was visiting friends near his home. Upgrading to a car helped their relationship, they say.

The Folk Community

Music, dance and song became a larger part of their lives when they moved to rochester, Michigan in 1975, with Glen’s transfer to Chevrolet Manufacturing r&D. There they discovered the rochester Folk Workshop, and from there were connected to the traditional music and dance community in southeast Michigan. Paint Creek Folklore Society, led by Vince Sadovsky and John Carter, was just forming, as well as the Detroit Country Dance Society, led by Burton Schwartz and Paul Tyler. These connections broadened quickly to include rising Michigan dance communities in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Holland, Kalamazoo, grand rapids, Midland and Traverse City. Glen and Judi were “on fire,” they said, learning to play additional instruments through other Paint Creek members, and honing their traditional dance skills. In 1979, encouraged by Burt Schwartz, they traveled southward to Berea Christmas Country Dance School and that REALLY got them hooked. They returned to Berea CCDS in 1981 to join the staff leaders for many enjoyable years.

Organizing—the Start of Many Things

They still have the plaque on the wall. Judi and Glen, along with music pal Tom radcliffe, played their first gig for the Fenton Cub Scouts, in Fenton, Michigan on February 14, 1977. Judi played Appalachian dulcimer, Glen played banjo and Tom played guitar, and they sang the popular folk songs of the day. They had met Tom at PCFS, and Tom and Glen were the President and Vice President by then. Judi, too, served as both, and she and Glen each had terms as the newsletter editor. Judi, a.k.a. Aunt Lu, wrote a nearly-monthly article, “Ask Aunt Lu,” for Paint Creek Folklore Society’s newsletter, Keepin’ Tabs.

“Dear Aunt Lu... My husband recently took up the fiddle. It’s awful listening to him practice, it sounds like he’s torturing our cat and the neighbor called the ASPCA. I hate to discourage him but he’s driving me MAD! Signed, Raving & Ranting

(Aunt Lu’s response) “Dear Raving... This is a common problem among couples where only one decides to learn an instrument. Here are a few hints: Take up the fiddle with him (this will give you empathy). Buy him a mute (it works wonders for your nerves). Banish him to the basement. Encourage him to practice the same time every day and find something else to do, preferably in another city.”

Along with Tom, Glen and Judi organized the Paint Creek annual concert in 1977 as a society fundraiser...Tin Whistle Coffeehouse it was called, and it still runs today. A year later they organized the olde Michigan ruffwater Stringband from members of the folklore society who had either been playing for concerts and dances or were looking to be a part of that fun. With other members of Paint Creek, they organized annual music, song and dance picnics. The picnics grew into a Zing into Spring weekend (cohosted with the Detroit Folklore Society), and then an annual May Play Day, a mini-festival, with traditional music, song and dance workshops, a Maypole dance, an early evening contra and square dance, and evening concert. Paint Creek officers Gene Menton and Rick Ott worked with them to organize the first one, and it was held at Detroit Country Day School where gene was teaching. From the dancing fun at the May Play Days, came the annual Starry Night for a Ramble Contra and Square Dance, launched in 1984, organized with Jan Boonstra Pavlinak and Susan Grace Stoltz, and it, too, continues. Judi has been the annual band leader for the Paint Creek Country Dance orchestra for many years, along with JoAnn Shulte and others; they gather annually, practicing that year’s tunes for the Starry Night dance.

In the 1980s, Glen and Judi were “delightfully consumed” with organizing music, song and dance events. Ruffwater had been playing in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, as part of the offerings of the original Dulcimer Player’s Club, and Glen started leading impromptu dancing in front of Henry Ford’s family home and the Village Town Hall. They caught the eye and ear of Bob Eliason at the Village and started the monthly Lovett Hall dances in October 1981, with Glen leading the dances and ruffwater playing the music; guest callers and groups performed as well, right up until the dance was retired in 2005. Meanwhile, Judi helped organize a women’s band called Just Friends, with Lori (Thompson) Cleland, Cecelia (Horodko) Webster, and Rosemary Kornacki, with a focus on concert presentations in the traditional and folk styles. Their reputation grew and they performed at a number of national festivals including the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the old Songs Festival.

The Danish-American Exchange and Michigan Dance Heritage

At Berea Christmas School in 1982, Dr. John Ramsay asked Glen to organize a music, song and dance exchange with a group of musicians, singers and dancers from Denmark. Away they went! Conversation began among Thy Folkedanserslaug (folk dance group) and Thy Spillemandslaug (music group) in Denmark, Paint Creek Folklore Society in Michigan, and the Frankfort Country Dancers in Kentucky. A year and a half later, twenty-five musicians, singers and dancers came from the Thy region in Denmark to stay for a week in Michigan and a week in Kentucky, presenting their music, songs and dance. They stayed in local homes, including Glen and Judi’s. “It was phenomenal!,” Glen and Judi said. The following year (1985), the Kentuckians and Michiganders traveled to Denmark to perform there, and then to Sweden with their host families. The exchanges were repeated in 1987 and 1989, opening Glen and Judi even further to the power of connection among a community’s musicians, singers and dancers.

Also in 1982, Don Coffey and “T” Auxier launched Kentucky Summer Dance School, and the Morningstars were thrilled to be a part of the staff in its early years, learning a ton of practical information about working with organizers and other musicians, callers and dancers. Four years later, at Berea Christmas School, Peter Baker, Jonathan robie, Jean gal and Glen, four of the Michigan dance gypsies who were there put their heads together— it was time to have a week or weekend of similar music, song and dance back in Michigan. The four brought the idea to the Michigan folk community, and, with their support, Michigan Dance Heritage Fall Dance Camp was launched in September 1987. Bob Dalsemer, Joel Mabus and Bud Pierce were the first headliners...“perfect.” An MDH Spring Dance Camp, called Trillium Twirl, was added by the dance community in 1992 to fulfill the large demand for this grand fun...both are weekend camps and, yes, they, too, continue to this day.

Ambassadors of Music and Dance

In 1976, Glen and Judi’s involvement with Paint Creek Folklore Society opened the door to sharing traditional music, song and dance at a variety of venues in Michigan. They enjoyed being ambassadors for the traditional arts at shopping malls, town festivals, weddings, barn dances, birthday celebrations, family reunions and, ultimately, to their community. They saw the membership of PCFS grow from twelve to seventy over five years. Their good fortune in being connected to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village for almost twenty-four years allowed them to host over two hundred contra dances in the hall that Henry Ford built specifically for traditional dance...sprung floor, crystal chandeliers, winding staircase, panorama of second floor windows, bandshell. They met many people from across North America and Europe at those dances, they said, and believe they left a positive feeling of good music and fun dancing (and a great museum) with them. The Danish Exchanges were very influential on the global perspective of traditional music, song and dance for the Michigan and Kentucky dance leaders. Participating in launching Michigan Dance Heritage’s two weekends are a real boost to keep the energy in the traditional arts at a high level for their local dance community.

One special highlight happened in 2005 when they were hired by Don and rhonda Cardwell of Dearborn to lead the dancing for their Cape Breton Summer Dance School at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s on Cape Breton Island. They were immersed in dance workshops and Cape Breton culture presentations each day there. In the evening Glen led dancing in Baddeck for the many styles of dance sets found around the island. The musicians...“wow!” Jerry Holland, Buddy MacMaster, roberta Head, Bara MacNeils, Mac Morin and more. A photo of Judi playing with Buddy is priceless. Over the years, their band’s core of hammered dulcimers, has kept Glen and Judi involved with the dulcimer festivals in Michigan and the Midwest—leading instrument workshops, shapenote singing, and performing for concerts and dances. This year marks thirty-five consecutive years at the Evart Dulcimer Funfest. It’s like a big family reunion, they say: singing, dancing, concerts, workshops, jamming, eating, camping. “Yay!!” they say.

Influences

Who has inspired you musically, I asked. Bands like Bill Spence and Fennig’s All Stars, they said. The Highwoods Stringband, the red Clay ramblers, Hillbillies from Mars, and Bare Necessities. Instrumentalists Dudley Laufman, randy and rodney Miller, Laurie Andres, Shane Cook, Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, Bud Pierce, Jay round, Bob Spinner, Bob Hubbach and Les raber.

Dancewise? Glen’s biggest inspirations came from Burt Schwartz in Michigan for his historical dance work, Bill Alkire for his fun squares out of ohio, Carole Howard from Central Michigan University for her recreational dance leadership skills, Bob Dalsemer, Tony Parkes and Ted Sannella for their contras and squares. Don Armstrong from Colorado stands out for his contras, his personal skills with people, and his promotion of our traditional dances worldwide.

And organizationally? There are so many, Glen and Judi told me. Notably, Don Hays and Debbie Jackson from Paint Creek Folklore Society, John ramsay, Joe and Patty Tarter from Berea Christmas School, Peter Baker and Jerry Hickman from Midland Folksong Society, David Baur from Trillium Twirl, Don Armstrong from the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, Don Coffey from Kentucky Summer Dance School, Svend Hamborg from Thisted, Denmark, Bob Dalsemer from everywhere good, Ted Sannella from Maine, Don Theyken the personable collaborator from Michigan, and a host of skillful organizers from AACTMAD (Ann Arbor Council for Traditional Music and Dance), the Ten Pound Fiddle (East Lansing), and the Oakland County Traditional Dance Society—“What they accomplish each year is astounding!”

Recordings

Not content to continue to lead dances, form bands, organize events, support their local dance and music societies, and perform, Glen and Judi... and I don’t know how they do it, but they do...record (both); compose, lead bands and write music books (Judi); and teach music and dance in elementary schools and homeschool communities (Glen).

Their first Ruffwater Stringband recording was in 1981—“Michigan Winter” and was a 33-1/3 LP on vinyl. DgA Productions brought their portable recording studio to Lawnridge Hall in rochester which was the home base for Paint Creek Folklore Society. They were all in one big room together, thirteen of them, with their individual microphones. The band had practiced hard for the seventeen cuts and they recorded it all in two sessions. It mixed easy and had a great live sound. The second recording was “Michigan Spring,” produced in 1992 at Numark Studio in Utica on audio cassettes and leading edge CD, and, again, recorded in one big room with individual microphones. But this time sound “fences” were added for this recording to allow more separation of the fiddles from the dulcimers from the piano etc. It, too, mixed pretty well and still had a good live sound. They also did a number of small diameter 33-1/3 instructional records for the Lloyd Shaw Foundation from this collection of tunes. The third recording was “Michigan Summer” and was a CD in 2002. They stepped into the digital age with this recording—no longer in one big room, but rather recording the bass and rhythm tracks first, then the melody tracks separately, then the vocal tracks. It was a techie geek’s dream. Michael King Studio in Birmingham coordinated all of this recording, and it was substantially more work to mix, but turned out well. Judi has enjoyed recording two cassettes, “A Dulcimer Holiday” and “Here’s to Song” with Just Friends. Although they never made the digital crossover, they’re proud of both recordings. She also is heard in two CDs, playing piano for Bob Hubbach in “Up North, Down East,” and more recently in “Out the Buckhorn Way.” 

Homeschooling

When they began leading youth dances in 1986 they were delighted that a group of about two dozen homeschoolers wanted to partake in traditional music and dance. This first group grew rapidly each year, spawning a new group of homeschoolers that then began their own annual dance. Both groups continued to grow and by 1996, attendances of one hundred eighty young people were common. A third homeschool dancing group spawned from the second group in 2002 and this group grew VERY quickly through the support of the Center family out of Royal Oak. In 2010, the Center family group moved to a new dance club facility in Madison Heights and attendances of four hundred and five hundred young people have amazed them. In the past year, Glen has received requests to lead these dances for homeschool groups in Memphis and Hart, Michigan, whose members had attended the dances in southeast Michigan. The Memphis group was organized by an energetic fifteen-year old young lady named Hannah. The first dance there saw one hundred forty teenagers attending. The expansion is underway!! Glen and Judi see the next two generations of traditional dancers, musicians and singers coming in part from these homeschool groups and the elementary schools where Glen is leading his Dance Your Way Through History program [see web extra]. The Morningstars’ goal is to provide a fun, significant social experience for these young people so it becomes an instinctive part of their lives. They know that someday soon these students will be playing the music, leading the dancing, singing the songs, and organizing the events for their generation.

Over the Years

I asked Glen and Judi if their perception of traditional dance, music and song has changed over the last thirty-eight years. “YES!!,” they said. It had become increasingly clear to them, they told me, that the necessary things for a healthy lifestyle are found in traditional music, song and dance. The benefits of discipline, working together, exercise for a healthy body and mind, self-confidence, organization skills, shared respect, social skills and much more, are all to be had in the traditional music, song and dance world we live in. Now, how do we engage even more people to join us and realize these benefits, and share the fun?,” they ask each other. And us, the readers.

Retired? Ha!

Glen is retired from General Motors and Electronic Data Systems where he held many positions in Manufacturing Engineering and Information Technology. His profession has shifted to leading dance programs in schools, historical settings, for dance communities around Michigan and dance weekends across the country. He also does community volunteer work as an Advanced Master Gardener. Judi taught Appalachian and hammered dulcimers and piano for many years, and still takes the occasional student. She is a prolific tune writer and book publisher, as well as an avid reader who volunteers at Highland Township Library, and she designs and constructs her own jewelry when it’s time to relax a bit. Her immediate goal is to update the music notation in her Ruffwater Fakebook to take advantage of the crisp and clear notation in more modern music applications. Nothing has changes— they’re still busy people.

From Music and Dance, Into Music and Dance

Over the years, occasionally, not too often, but from time to time, I hear or read concerns about the lessening of the traditional music, song and dance community. But with folks like Glen and Judi Morningstar, their friends and fellow organizers in Michigan and elsewhere, strong folk communities have been and are being built. To throw oneself so enthusiastically, over so many years, with so many accomplishments to your name and still keep going, may be unusual to some, but the Morningstars of our world keep me feeling that the traditions we love are in superb hands as they pass from generation to generation.

“What are the most valuable thoughts you’ve taken away from your activities so far?” I asked at the end of the interview. “The memories of caring, dedicated, forthright people around us,” they said. “They have made our activities a true delight. What a joy to work with people in all the aspects of traditional music, song and dance, who lean forward and pour their hearts into making this community click.” I can’t say anything better about these two people myself. So, on behalf of the Country Dance and Song Society, I say thank you, Glen and Judi Morningstar—you have leaned forward and poured your hearts into our community, making it stronger and longer lasting by your gifts of music, song, dance, friendship, organization, and the ability to inspire. It’s a joy to honor you with this year’s Lifetime Contribution Award. Long may you thrive.

george foggGeorge Fogg, of Boston, MA, was the recipient of CDSS’s Lifetime Contribution Award for 2012. A teacher of country dance since 1968, he is an expert at getting beginners out onto the dance floor, is endlessly enthusiastic about dancing and dancers, and full of good humor that quickly makes everyone around him smile. A volunteer extraordinaire, he has put in an astonishing amount of hours organizing, promoting, archiving, and doing committee work for many dance organizations, some of which he helped found. His five books (the popular “Neal Book,” co-authored with Rich Jackson; his own “Country Dances from Colonial New York,” a.k.a. the “Alexander Notebook”; and three books co-authored with Kate Van Winkle Keller) are invaluable. The award was presented on Sunday, October 14, 2012, in Belmont, MA.

Read a profile of George Fogg by Nikki Herbst from the Fall 2012 CDSS News.


LCA jim morrisonwritten by himself, November 2014

Prologue   California   Dartmouth College
New York City   Changing CDSS Directorship
Historic Dance Performance   Agnes deMille   England, 1971
Morris   Collecting Dances and Music   Bands   Steel Guitar
Fiddles   Irish Set Dancing   Epilogue

PROLOGUE

I gained a habit early on of suspending my artistic and critical biases in the presence of someone with any amount of multi-generational musical or dance culture. I have likewise always deferred to the tradition bearers of English ritual dance when it comes to the best way to do their dances and the best way to preserve them. Customs are not modular, each aspect is interrelated, and to extricate one piece of a musical tradition without the others, from a single moment without the before or after, and give it a different function in a new place is not preserving anything.

Over the centuries popular culture has always raided traditional culture for the next thing. Traditional culture is mostly a survival of the popular culture of old. Though symbiotic in this way, popular and traditional culture serve very different functions. The popular needs change, thrives on novelty, and has a commercial intent. The traditional nurtures a physical community and accommodates all generations and inclinations. It changes as it needs to, but doesn’t change for the sake of change.

I bring up these issues at the beginning of this biographical sketch because I ruminate over these issues all the time, and I have come to realize that most people have other things to think about. I hope it helps make some sense out of the choices I have made over the years, such as the traditional fiddlers, cloggers, shape note singers that I have championed at dance camps, and teaching sword dances in their entirety with their songs, marches, other ancillary bits. Throughout a long career I have watched for and tried to preserve the part of our material that has passed through many hands, and view this as the great treasure of old music and dance. It is not a sequence of notes, a particular step, or a rousing chorus. Rather it is the spirit, intent, unique groove, and the knowledge that it has worked its magic before and will work again.

I found that there were more topics to address than there was time to write, and my initial intent of writing down what happened and why is a better topic for a book. So I describe below some of the things that happened.

CALIFORNIA

I was raised in a dark hollow in the California coastal mountains, a chasm deep enough to stop the fire the day Oakland burned. When I was ten we moved to a hillside where I could race to school in under four minutes, but it took 15 to get back up. I still like vertical landscapes best.

My family had considerable musical inclination in former generations, particularly on my mother’s side. In my home there was a residual music appreciation which included going to the Oakland Symphony, my grandmother playing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Kitten on the Keys on piano, my dad playing Benny Goodman on the phonograph. My mother and her two brothers played piano and knew the lyrics to all the songs of their day. My parents liked to dance, but left us at home when they went dancing. I have learned in later years that my great grandfather played for mining camp square dances on guitar and harmonica, and I remember him showing me his elaborately inlaid old Washburn guitar and harmonica holder.

At the same time, I started listening to unapproved music on my neighbor Jon Benner’s basement radio. Everly Brothers, Elvis, Chuck Berry were our favorites. My mother interrogated me to determine if I liked Elvis for his music or his appearance. At that time I had no idea what Elvis or any of them looked like. I took guitar lessons when I was 11 from Mr. Meecham at Montclair Music Center, who taught me classical and flamenco guitar fundamentals. He took the master classes when Segovia came to town, but also played at a strip club in San Francisco some evenings, which, when realized by my parents, brought my formal music education to a close.

For the next few years I sought out anything involving an acoustic guitar, played Hard, ain’t it Hard with friends at the Joaquin Miller Elementary School assembly to mixed reviews, learned songs from the Limelighters, Kingston Trio and Burl Ives.

Then in 1963 the 1960s finally arrived, including the Beatles, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the civil rights movement, starting high school the year Oakland integrated the schools, and especially Bob Dylan. Hearing Dylan sent me looking for more in his vein, and I found what seemed even better in the Berkeley folk scene: Merritt Herring’s guitar/singing classes at the Live Oak Center, John Lundberg’s guitar shop on Dwight, concerts at the Jabberwock, and Freight and Salvage, and especially the Berkeley Folk Festival. I heard and met many of the people that would be important to me later: Jean Ritchie, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger, Hank Bradley, Doc Watson, Sam Hinton, Frank Warner and others.

Mississippi Fred McDowell appeared at the Berkeley Folk Festival in 1965 and I was transfixed. I went to all of his sessions and performances, and later heard him at the Berkeley Blues Festival, Jabberwock, and Freight and Salvage clubs. The intensity of his performance made anything else I had heard seem tame. In hindsight, I would say that Fred McDowell’s incredible traditional blues groove was what turned me into a lifelong traditional dance music aficionado. I only tried to play blues for a few years, but kept looking for Fred’s spirit in other genres.

Meanwhile, I was still a high school student, sailboat racer, rock climber, and, surprisingly, chairman of the student race relations committee. I bring this up because the one hugely successful thing our committee did was to put on soul dance lessons in a room of the Skyline High School gym. I think I got the idea then that putting on a dance was easy and that I could do it.

DARTMOUTH COLLEGE

I left California for Dartmouth College in the fall of 1966. A string band whose name I can’t recall played in Hanover in 1967 and I invited them back to the commons room of my dorm, Cutter Hall (now El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), after the show. I had been wishing I could be in a band with a fiddle and that night somehow decided I would have to be the fiddler myself. I knocked on Fred Breunig’s door and asked if I could borrow his violin. He was asleep when I knocked, but managed to ask if I could play the violin, and then loaned it to me anyway. A few days later I borrowed another violin on a more permanent basis and secreted myself in the room the janitors used for garbage, emerging eight hours later slightly able to play Crow Black Chicken and Boil the Cabbage Down.

Later that year I walked into that same commons room and saw two tall men standing there, looking lost. They told me that a student had arranged for there to be a dance that evening. I knew the student, and knew that he had left the college at the end of the last term. Dartmouth was still all male, but I enlisted help from friends to knock on doors in both our dorm and the nearby one that housed exchange students from Mt. Holyoke. We had a good dance with eight or ten couples, I joined in on guitar, and I learned about the ongoing dance at the Nelson, NH town hall. Have you guessed? These guys were Dudley Laufman and Dave Fuller, a great accordionist who has had very little recognition due to falling off a ladder just as the contra dance scene took off in the early 70s. So I didn’t discover contra dancing; it discovered me.

Dartmouth’s Tucker Foundation started a program in 1968 that placed students as teachers in disadvantaged communities and the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC and Murphy High School hosted the pilot program. George Ainley and I were the first students. I arranged to work at the Folk School the summer ahead, and so arrived the day the June dance week began. I was looking for mountain fiddlers, and had no clue about the Folk School’s long history of dance and music programs. All at the same moment I encountered Phil Merrill, Gathering Peascods, Otto and Marguerite Wood, Genny and Jack Shimer, Totur, George and Marguerite Bidstrup, Johanna Kulbach, and tried to play the recorder. John Ramsay was both Folk School director and chief dance instructor. It was from him that I learned my first morris and sword. Standing out in the field a few evenings after my arrival I could hear a banjo ringing out across the landscape. Following the sound, I discovered that Carl Green had music sessions in his garage/service station in the middle of Brasstown, so I had begun finding mountain fiddlers too.

At the end of our residency both George Ainley and I attended Berea College’s Christmas Country Dance School. Here I met fiddler Lewis Lamb, Genny Shimer, Gene Murrow, and many others. It felt as if I had discovered a way of life formerly unknown. I wanted my life to be like Christmas school all the time. Be careful what you wish for!

Back in Hanover, NH, George and I, along with Fred Breunig and others, tried to get a morris team started (we danced Headington, made bell pads, and practiced in the basement of the fraternity on which the movie “Animal House” was based). More successful was our contra/country dance, which started in the commons room of the women’s dormitory, moved to the Catholic Student Center, and finally (under Fred’s leadership, and after I had graduated) moved to the White Church. I went to the dance in Nelson on a regular basis, meeting Allan Block, Bob McQuillen, Newt Tolman, Pete Colby, Ted Levin, and many others. We generally had a full car from Hanover, often John Wheeler’s pickup truck, and weren’t ready to go home when the dance ended, so went on to someone’s house (mostly Debbie and Loring Puffer’s, neighbors of Dudley Laufman) and stayed up all night playing and carrying on, arriving back in Hanover as the sun made an appearance in the rear window.

I graduated in the summer of 1970 without any plan whatsoever. At John Wheeler’s suggestion I spent the rest of that year as a summer camp counselor and tutor in Lynchburg, VA. We went to many fiddle contests, and also to Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts.

NEW YORK CITY

Other things were going on including a war, a draft, and a lottery for the draft which I lost (#13). I applied for and received conscientious objector status, and needed to arrange for a public service job as alternative service. I remembered a conversation with May Gadd in New York when she had told me “what CDSS needs is a young person like you.” Amazingly, my draft board agreed to my working for CDSS as my public alternative service. I subsequently was determined unsuitable to serve at my physical exam, but I decided to go ahead and work for CDSS as planned anyway.

May Gadd immediately promoted me as a square dance caller, an under-emphasized aspect of the organization’s purview at the time, and square dances were held in some of NYC’s most obscure locations. One public school in the East Village required a guide to find the hall. After several months I was allowed to teach morris dancing in the regular weekly classes at Metropolitan-Duane Hall, and after a year or two English country dance. In each instance I got May Gadd’s evaluation the next morning in the office. This was my primary apprenticeship in dance leadership.

I found curious things around the CDSS office, such as the recordings made of Cecil Sharp’s ballad informants, by Maud Karpeles and Evelyn Wells in 1955, tucked away in a corner and apparently never played. Or the book American Country Dances as Danced by the British Soldiers in their Winter Quarters, gift of Bessie Osgood of Cambridge, MA, likewise undisturbed. Or the 78 rpm records of Jinky Wells of Bampton playing the morris tunes.

My responsibilities in the office consisted of fulfilling orders and purchasing merchandise for the sales program. I replaced Paul Skrobela in this role. At the time I arrived (in the very last bit of 1970) our biggest seller was Irish linen tea towels with heraldic themes. Of course we also sold morris dance paraphernalia, tune and dance books, vinyl recordings, and tin whistles.

In those days there were fairly frequent public performances by New York country dancers; English country dancing was the main focus, but morris, sword and American contras were also included. We danced at street fairs and hospitals, and had particularly good receptions in mental wards. May Gadd directed these as long as she remained director. There were also the Spring and Christmas festivals that were held at Barnard College’s beautiful hall and which drew hundreds. Here there were fairly elaborate performances that were rehearsed and slightly costumed. (In the 1930s-1950s these events took place at the Armory in New York’s upper east side and drew thousands of participants and observers.)

The CDSS office at 55 Christopher Street was the whole second floor of an old brownstone next door to the Stonewall Inn. It had two rooms, front and back, a small storage closet on the stair landing where I found various treasures, and a larger back storage space that also served as kitchen. Ed Durham and Frank Edwards turned the back room into more of a proper office as the staff grew in the mid-70s. Throughout my tenure the secretary sat next to the window on the street side, and had the only view. Which was a great view of all that went through Sheridan Square, including the subway entrance. The rest of us were more or less in the back. There were two electric typewriters, a mimeograph machine, costumes, dance equipment, file drawers, and a desk for each employee. These employees numbered three in the beginning, but grew a little as the years went on. Here is a synopsis of my office mates:

May Gadd

Director of CDSS from its inception, inspirational dance leader, protective of territory, old when I met her but once a dynamo, she devoted her life to CDSS and asked little back. She started dancing in England as an adult, quickly becoming part of Cecil Sharp’s demonstration group and then EFDS regional coordinator based in Newcastle. She retired in 1973.

Phil Merrill

CDSS music director for life but not an employee. By far the best English country dance player I have been privileged to dance to and work with. Phil was a great dancer in his younger days, and had studied to be a concert pianist at Eastman before stage fright sent him our way. His music actually did tell you what to do.

Genny Shimer

Inspirational dance teacher and organizer. Though not an employee at first, Genny held an important leadership position even before becoming director in 1973, and was critical to many endeavors including the American Country Dance Ensemble (the Bicentennial performance wing of CDSS), family weeks, and the purchase of Pinewoods Camp. She and her husband Jack were also close friends despite our generational gap.

Joan Carr

Became a key assistant to three directors - Genny Shimer, myself and Nancy White Kurzman and provided crucial continuity during the late 70s and early 80s. Joan, Kate Charles, Marney and I all lived in the same apartment building.

Winifred Kelly

Secretary for many years, retired weeks after I started. She was followed in this position by Bob Dalsemer (1971), Joanne Childress (later Joanne Davis, 1971-1972), Jane Ross (later Jane Leibert, 1972-1973), Kate Charles (1974-1976), Jody Evans (1977-78)

Ed Durham came on staff as coordinator of the American Country Dance Ensemble in about 1975 and added many modern touches to the office including a multi-line phone system, which I viewed as a miracle of sorts.

Elizabeth Hodgkin (membership secretary) and Frances Houghton were regular office volunteers

CHANGING CDSS DIRECTORSHIP

By the time I arrived at CDSS headquarters May Gadd had been at the job for about 42 years, and was 79 years old. She had built up what currently existed, not just once, but again after World War II. She understood and implemented Douglas Kennedy’s populist reorientation of country dance, and had seen CDSS thrive in the new non-elitist guise. But she was uncomfortable when activities spread beyond her control, and, for example, took the formation of the Village Morris Men as a challenge to CDSS rather than as the natural outcome of a job well done. I think she recognized the need for new leadership; certainly everyone else did.

Genny Shimer took on the directorship in 1973 at a time when many things were in transition. The Conant family needed a break after decades of operating Pinewoods Camp, morris teams and contra dances were poised to spring up all over the country, as were local dance festivals. During Genny’s leadership Pinewoods Camp was purchased by the several user groups (including CDSS), the American Country Dance Ensemble was started, regional leadership conferences were started, and the Family Week at Pinewoods was inaugurated. Genny’s stature as a dance teacher and her level-headedness made the transition from May Gadd’s leadership widely acceptable within the Society, and her many years within the organization helped her navigate the various personal and group agendas existing at the time.

Genny had only agreed to a two year term and did not intend to sign up for another, so in mid-1975 I became director at the age of 27. My strengths were my direct involvement in the morris and contra scenes, my waxing dance leadership skills, an expanding understanding of how dance history fit together to create the present, enthusiasm, and wanting to do everything. My weaknesses were same list differently viewed: I took on too much, both for myself and others, I used enthusiasm to cover what I hadn’t yet thought through or understood, I made early American dance seem too fussy because I confused an evening of social dancing with historic recreation, and I was too busy calling dances, morris dancing and going to meetings to know what was going on in the office. Fortunately, I had a very good team in the office who graciously picked up the slack. Joan Carr and Kate Charles started during Genny’s tenure and already knew what to do. Joan was also an outstanding diplomat.

The purchase of Pinewoods Camp by the newly-formed Pinewoods Camp Inc. created more opportunity for CDSS and the other users. Genny had rightly put Family Week at the top of the list for CDSS expansion (the first Family Week was in August of 1975, just after I had become national director; Genny was program director of the week). But there were more weeks available in the summer, and I made American Week the next priority. The first American Week at Pinewoods was 1977, and as program director I put primary effort into bringing tradition bearers to the party. Even back then, I was more interested in the origins and local perpetuation of music and dance traditions than I was in disseminating bits and pieces of these traditions to a new audience. At the time there was an audience for both the wonderful, uninterpreted music, and also for the inter-cultural social scene created by reaching out to important tradition bearers. Perhaps that day will come again.

Marney and I were contemplating the future, and among other things thought raising a family in New York would be hard. I proposed moving the headquarters, and we looked at a number of possibilities. In the end the board decided to stay in New York and look for a new director. I still had a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and was made Artistic Director as a half time employee for the next three years, returning monthly for meetings. In June of 1977 Marney and I moved to Charlottesville, VA and have been there ever since.

HISTORIC DANCE PERFORMANCE

My own curiosity about dance history, CDSS’s proclivity for public display, and the public funding surrounding the Bicentennial of American Independence were on a collision course that would lead me into show business, musty libraries in distant cities, costume balls and dance history conferences. I applied for and received three successive grants from the NEH to study early American social dance. CDSS created the American Country Dance Ensemble of which I was made director. I published a few of the dances I had uncovered in Twenty-Four American Country Dances, 1976.

The American Country Dance Ensemble was a major effort during the mid-1970s; dozens of volunteers sewed costumes under the direction of Honey Hastings for many months. We originally planned two shows, one depicting American social dance in the second half of the 18th century and the other a retrospective of the 18th and 19th centuries. Bookings were harder to get than we had imagined, the all-18th century show proved more popular and required fewer costumes. So to consolidate our efforts and cut our losses the second show was abandoned. One thing that has stayed with me from practicing for this second show was Genny Shimer’s careful teaching of the Viennese waltz. Though the dancers were all volunteers, musicians Phil Merrill (harpsichord), Marshall Barron (violin), Julie White (flute), Iris Hiskey (soprano), and narrator Alex Blachly were paid. Margaret Ann Martin later replaced Phil Merrill, who didn’t like wearing a costume very much.

A similar effort was undertaken in Boston; my own connection with the Boston show was limited to a couple of workshops on material as yet unpublished. What was the impact of these projects? No doubt more costume balls than otherwise would have occurred. Some living history locations, including Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg, added dance to their interpretation. Certainly a few dance groups started focusing on early American dance. Probably CDSS was stretched too thin for its own good. I personally gained an ideal platform to try out reconstructed dances and dance style with good dancers in historic clothing.

AGNES DEMILLE

November 28th,1973 (the note on my calendar says “2:30 pm at Gay’s, bring fiddle”) May Gadd invited me to her apartment on Bleeker Street to meet her longtime friend, Agnes deMille, whose ballets and Broadway musical choreography changed the course of theatrical dance in the mid-20th century. She was a ballerina as well, and danced the lead role in her best remembered ballet, Rodeo. But before she was famous, she came to morris and country dance classes sponsored by CDSS. Phil Merrill reported that her “split capers” in morris were unequaled and gravity-defying. Miss deMille often used elements of traditional social dance in her creations, and when she needed material, she came to May Gadd (or Phil Merrill in the instance of Brigadoon). So this meeting was one with a history for the two of them, of which I was naturally ignorant at the time. The first tune I played for her was June Apple, and she never wanted to hear another one.

Agnes deMille was putting together a company to perform a number of her ballets on tour, and she wanted square dance and flatfoot material for an introduction to her latest creation, Texas Fourth. But she also wanted me to be in the production as fiddler, dancer and caller. And I agreed to do it! (I later figured out how Agnes cast dancers - whether their face could be distinguished from the back of an auditorium. Apparently my cheekbones were up to the task.) The show included interludes by ballad singer Jean Ritchie and tap dance legend Honi Coles. The Agnes deMille Heritage Dance Theater started rehearsals in mid-January, worked intensely for six weeks in various venues including Carnegie Hall rehearsal studios, and then toured in the northeastern United States for the month of March in 1974. I also performed my segment of the ballet in Agnes deMille’s “Conversations on the Dance” a number of times over the next decade, and was frequently her waltz partner on these occasions. I couldn’t do a second tour later in 1974, and Fred Breunig learned my role and toured with the company. I also reprised the role in 1983 when Miss deMille was given a Broadway tribute at the Shubert Theater; we were on last, and Isaac Stern opened for us.

ENGLAND, 1971

I went to England for the first time in July of 1971 at the invitation of Ron Smedley. Ron had seen Wayne Henderson of Brasstown buck dance one evening at the Berea Christmas dance week, and also met me. He put together a month long tour of performances and festivals for the two of us that was breathtaking. Mostly I played fiddle and Wayne danced when we performed, but when we had a fiddler who could play a mountain hoedown available I also danced and we had a routine worked up. At the Loughborough festival we saw Bampton morris, danced English celidh dances to the Rakes, listened to Steeleye Span, John Kirkpatrick, and Packy Byrne. In Sheffield both the Grenoside and Handsworth sword dancers put on performances just for us. We met Northumbrian clog dance legend Johnson Ellwood, and actually got in the set and danced with Monkseaton Rapper (in the back yard of the Browns’ house, not in public). We opened at the High Level Pub for Sean McGuire, Irish fiddle virtuoso, and I started to learn wooden shoe clog from Peter Brown. We met Pat Shaw and attended one of his Another Look at Playford sessions and taught American clogging to London Folk, EFDSS’s performance troupe directed by Ron Smedley. Our final performance was at the Royal Festival Hall at the EFDSS 60th anniversary; I played for Wayne to dance and then we both danced to Brian Jackson’s fiddle. We were in august company: Loftus Sword, Monkseaton Rapper, Headington Quarry, Bampton, the Copper Family, the Watersons. There were more, but that is enough.

Wayne returned home and I went to a weeklong dance leadership seminar led by Nibs Mathews, EFDSS director, and Ken and Sybil Clarke. It was the best course of its type I have seen; particularly effective were the evening sessions arranged for uninitiated dancers with a post mortem discussion scheduled the next morning. I got back to New York and left a few hours later for Pinewoods Camp.

MORRIS

From that first trip to England I had developed many good friends, a revised impression of English folk customs, and a near desperate passion for morris dancing. I returned to England almost every summer for the next decade, then more infrequently after the children started to arrive. Back in New York I collaborated with John Dexter, Karl Rodgers and Howard Seidel, all former Village Morris Men (1968-69), in trying to start a new New York morris group, which, however, never really got very far.

John left NYC to join a string quartet in Ithaca and quickly succeeded in starting Binghamton Morris, whom he brought to a Greenwich Village morris tour sponsored by the Pinewoods Morris Men in the Spring of 1974. Some of the Cooper Union students who had been holding square dance weekends with me as caller were inspired by the morris generally and the spirit and quick progress of Binghampton, and wanted to morris dance themselves. This finally provided critical mass to start the Greenwich Morris Men, who first danced in public in June of 1974.

Karl Rodgers was our only Village Morris alumnus, and he very quickly left us due to the choices I was making for the group. Single tradition (we danced Fieldtown) and a more expansive style of movement were the main contentions, but I also think Karl and I were on opposite sides of a dichotomy created by Cecil Sharp many years before. Sharp presented morris to refined society in a form that could be accepted, though it made it into a cricket match in appearance. He also admired the regularity of the Headington Quarry dancers and tended to “Headingtonize” the other traditions. I had recently been to both Headington and Bampton for Spring Bank Holiday and was completely enchanted with both, and disillusioned with the Morris Ring style of dance. Now I am sad that we didn’t find a way to compromise. And I am glad that Greenwich had the fine run that it did.

Greenwich Rapper started about a year later when Tony Poile moved from London to Connecticut. Tony had a burning passion for rapper, having danced with Chingford Lads and London Folk, and soon also started Greenwich Guard rapper at the high school near his home in Connecticut. Everyone in Greenwich rapper was also a Greenwich Morris Man, but we had different practice nights and worked very hard on our stepping. Greenwich Rapper folded about the time I moved to Virginia in 1977, but Greenwich Morris continued and thrived.

The Greenwich Morris Men rented a Winnebago and traveled to Knoxville, TN for the first Knoxville Dance Festival in February of 1978, stopping in Charlottesville on the way. Local dancers saw them dance and liked it, and we were able to start the Albemarle Morris Men a few months later. Excepting Ralph Compton, a former Berea dancer, no one had danced morris before so they danced what I told them to without complaint. Workshops with Roy Dommett over the next few years modified our style considerably, and for the better. And we are still going strong today, many of the men being in the their fourth and best decade of dancing.

COLLECTING DANCES AND MUSIC

Since my time as a student in Brasstown, NC, I have tried to attend as many traditional community dances as I could. The majority of these events were in the southeastern states of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, but also included dances in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. I also interviewed people who had been callers and dancers about what they remembered from times past.

My method at a dance was to be as innocuous as possible, aware from folklore classes of the danger of changing what one hopes to observe unchanged. I wrote down what had happened at the event as soon as possible afterwards, including both dance and non-dance details. When I could I described the figures and calls, and in one case transcribed a tape recording of a whole dance, all 50 pages worth. When I had a tape recorder I would carry it in small bag and just leave it running under a bench or in a corner so as not to draw attention. Today these are some of my most cherished recordings.

After my second child arrived I did much less traveling to collect dances, but playing in local country bands brought me in contact with lots of local culture, including dance culture. I mostly stopped notating what happened by this time. Virtually all of the teaching I do of American traditional dance comes from the material gleaned in these years.

Since I plan to publish the original notations with some explanation I will only add here that the dancing at the best of the traditional community dances was by far the best dancing that I have encountered. The fire hall at New Creek, WV, the Woodhill Community Center in Union County, TN, the monthly dances of the Ed Larkin Dancers near Sharon, VT, Bill’s Roller Rink in Blairsville, GA, the Stella, VA Ruritan Club in my mind epitomize what the local dance can be.

What was different from the average revival contra or country dance? At interest-based events we dance with other dance enthusiasts, while traditional dance communities dance with the neighborhood. Another major difference in traditional dance communities is the educational content, of which there is none; there is no teaching, and it is not missed or needed, the dance is a party, the dances are the same every week or month, as are the caller and band in most cases, and variety is not a virtue. Which leaves room for good dancing in a social setting with the same folks who cut your hair, service your tractor, or teach your kids.

BANDS

I have most always been in dance bands, and rarely other kinds.

Cottey Light Orchestra might have begun the day in the early 70s that Tom Kruskal and I came across a band stand on the shore of Oakland’s Lake Merritt where we gave a concert for ducks. Or perhaps it started the night that Tom, Tony Barrand, myself and maybe another culprit decided that a midnight strolling serenade was needed by folks at Pinewoods Camp. The band was named at Pinewoods a few years later when John Dexter, John Roberts, Tom and myself were housed for the week at Cottey House. Several nights, Tom, John Roberts and I went back to Cottey House to play lumpy English traditional tunes, morris tunes, historic tunes, anything that could be slow and emphatic. John Dexter, single at the time, came in later, Coleman lantern in hand, and announced “the search goes on.” The he joined in the music. Soon we heard the Old Swan Band and realized we weren’t the only ones who thought this kind of band was a good idea. Tom and I did a number of dances and short tours and together with Tony recorded Round Pond Relics in 1980. A second album, Over the Water, was made in 1994 and featured John Dexter, Tom and myself.

In New York I played old time music with groups made up for the moment, drawing from Bill Garbus, Pete Lissman, Jerry Schieber, David Spilkia, Jim Miller, Paul Brown, Jeff Woodring, and others. We also had a contra and square dance band named Urban Felicity that consisted of myself on fiddle and calling, Margaret Ann Martin (piano), Karl Rodgers (accordion, calling) and Betsy Blachly (percussion).

After moving to Charlottesville I had a few years when I played with Freyda Epstein (fiddle), Sue Read (piano and guitar) and me playing steel guitar and fiddle. Starting in the mid 80s, and continuing for more than a decade, we had a band named UFO consisting of Laura Light (fiddle), Pete Vigour (guitar and fiddle), Kim Cary (bass), and Jimbo Cary (drums), and myself playing steel, fiddle, guitar and calling. We played some western swing and country along with the jigs and reels.

In the mid-1990s our local middle school had a good band program. My oldest son Will played drums in the concert and marching bands, while Owen, who had taken seven years of violin and then quit, didn’t participate in band at all. But he did take an introductory guitar class the Winter he turned 14. He took off with the guitar, playing his black Fender Stratocaster or my Gibson J-45 non-stop, day and night, in bed, on the telephone, all the time.

I needed allies with whom to play dances, and it soon was apparent my sons could be them. For the boys, the chance to make $50 or $60 in an evening seemed great, but I think they liked playing, too. The instrumentation was already chosen for us. The sound was sparse and rhythm heavy. As Owen’s prowess as a lead player burgeoned, I started putting down the fiddle and picking up the guitar to add rhythm behind Owen’s leads.

The name of the band, Morrison Brothers, was sort of a joke, as I was obviously not a brother to anyone else in the band, but was sort of not a joke, in that I hoped from the start that the brothers would have the major input into the direction the band took. This is still my favorite playing experience.

I now also have a band with T. J. Crow (aka T. J. Johnson, mandolin) and Sue Read (piano) in a band that is local by design and called “In Wildness...”

STEEL GUITAR

In the mid-1980s I was thinking about ways to stay closer to home with my young and growing family (which now included my daughter Claire), still heard the siren call of the steel guitar from my youth, and learned that one of the great players, Buddy Charlton, was living nearby and giving lessons. I found a used steel for sale (a ShoBud double neck with hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs marking the frets) and started lessons. I eventually upgraded to an Emmons La Grande model and played with several local country bands. I also tried to incorporate the steel into contra and square dance bands, notably in UFO. I ultimately found bars and fraternity parties too loud, degrading, and hard on gear (but not Moose, Elk, and VFW clubs—I liked playing at them) and rededicated myself to traditional fiddle. I also was frustrated with my own progress on the steel and realized that I loved the sound of the instrument a lot more when it was being played by one of the leading geniuses but not so much when played by lesser practitioners, myself included.

FIDDLES

I acquired my first fiddle at Dartmouth, but I don’t remember how. I went into Israel Young’s Folklore Center in New York on my way to Brasstown the very first time. There I met a fiddler who offered to set up my fiddle and find me a better bow, and I just gave it to him there and then with a forwarding address of John C. Campbell Folk School. This was risky, in hindsight, but my trust was validated when the fiddle came three months later, much improved, and with a nice Otto Hoyer bow I wish I still had.

I traded that fiddle later in the year to Randall Collins who had a music store in Murphy, NC. I don’t know anything about that fiddle, but it is the one I played for the next ten years. It was stolen from my car during a CDSS executive committee meeting along with the Hoyer bow. Randall Collins left Murphy a few years later to join the Pinnacle Boys of Knoxville, TN, a bluegrass band with a great twin and triple fiddle sound. Today he is back in the music store business in Blairsville, GA.

To replace it I bought a good German factory instrument from Tom Hosmer (who wrote a regular violin column for Strings Magazine) in Rochester, NY and a strong Pfretzschner workshop bow. After a violin maintenance and repair session he led at Buffalo Gap Family Week in 1991, I asked Rodney Miller to make me a violin. That is the 1993 instrument that I have played ever since. Violin and bow geekdom have gradually permeated my consciousness.

Though I almost always play my Miller violin in public, I have also have:

A 19th century factory fiddle with painted grain that belonged to Pug Allen, fiddle and banjo player from Stuarts Draft, VA that I mostly play cross-tuned. It is the one on the cover photo of Round Pond Relics and I recorded Betty Anne with it on the Morrison Brothers Band’s second album;

A 1910 violin by Ole Bryant of Boston that has the remarkable quality of sounding better in the presence of an accordion or concertina;

And my other lifetime achievement award—a nice German Guarneri copy from about 1900 that was John Ashby’s main instrument in the 1940s and 1950s. It was first bought by an Olinger, neighbors to the Ashbys, given (or sold?) to John Ashby by Charlie Olinger, and given to me by John’s son Skip Ashby in 2012.

IRISH SET DANCING

At one early Charlottesville Dance Festival a session in Kerry set dancing was offered by Michael Denny and Linda Hickman. The dance taught was the North Kerry Set and we had great music from members of the Washington, DC band Celtic Thunder. I soon learned a modest repertoire of polkas and slides, listened to recordings of several Cork and Kerry musicians, and taught the North Kerry set at late night sessions at dance camps, morris ales, and parties. I had no awareness of any other sets, and basically thought this one dance was “the” Kerry Set. The dance worked great in the right social situation. A style of dancing emerged that was exuberant, heavy footed—just right for the occasion, but not close to the tradition. On one occasion I was asked to call with the Boys of the Lough at the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo Park. The ballroom was packed beyond capacity, around 600 people, and the Boys of the Lough were great players but so used to speeding up in their stage performances that I was struggling to make the contra dances work. So I called different dances, first a southern square dance to jigs, which was better. Then I remembered the North Kerry set and taught it, hornpipe figure and all. Finally the Boys, the dancers and I were all happy, me in particular because Michael Denny was there to watch the whole thing and see what he had started.

Decades and hundreds of North Kerry sets later (about 2002), Timmy “the Brit” McCarthy was brought to Charlottesville by the Blue Ridge Irish Music School to teach the sets of Cork and Kerry, at which he is a master. He came back for the next five or six years, and I went to his weekend of dance in Ballyvourny. I was captivated by both the music and the dances and have been increasingly asked to present them at workshops and festivals. I have limited myself to the sets of Cork and Kerry because this is what Timmy does, and because life is short.

EPILOGUE

Having written far more than I had ever intended, I will not say anything about the following:

Pinewoods, Mendocino and Buffalo Gap dance camps, Albemarle Morris Men’s week resident in Bledington, Gigs from hell, Fiddlers who have changed me, Gibson Guitars, the first American Dance Week, Douglas Kennedy, Pat Shaw, Shetland in 1976, sound reinforcement for dances, clogging lessons, Steve Hickman, what happened after the curtain fell at the Shubert Theater, Chuck Ward, Laurie Andres, workshops for various morris and sword groups, the Free State Ramblers, the Virginia Vagabonds, Brad Foster, Napoleon Bonaparte Chisholm, Cecil Sharp in central Virginia, dance history research, Minstrelsy, the minuet or Jimi Hendrix. And definitely nothing about the night I was licked by a skunk.

 

The Lifetime Contribution Award was presented to Jim Morrison on November 22, 2014, in Charlottesville, VA.

     
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