Episode 29 – Doug Protsik

This episode, Julie sits down with multi-instrumentalist and long-time director of Maine Fiddle Camp Doug Protsik. Doug likes to play the “old-time piano” for dances, melodramas, honky tonk saloons, and silent movies. He’s a founding member of the band Old Grey Goose and has toured the world as a musical ambassador for the US State Department.

In their conversation over Zoom Julie and Doug explore the culture and history of Maine’s traditional music and dance scene. Doug shares his insights on the “secret sauce” that makes Maine Fiddle Camp such a unique and vibrant community and his thoughts on how dance and music styles have changed and shifted over the years. And of course, he treats us to some tunes on the piano and button accordion!

Show Notes

The intro and interstitial tracks from today’s episode are Blanchard’s Hornpipe/Good For The Tongue from the Old Gray Goose album Maine Country Dance Tunes and Songs, She Said She Couldn’t Dance from the Old Gray Goose album Opera House Medley, Feisty Barny self-recorded by Doug Protsik, Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad Polka also from Opera House Medley and Popcorn Schottische from Maine Country Dance Tunes and Songs.

See and hear Doug Protsik in action:

Some other people and topics mentioned in this interview:

Transcript

(Click here to download)

Julie Vallimont
Welcome to Contra Pulse. This is Julie Vallimont. This week we speak with fiddler, pianist, accordionist, and dance leader Doug Protsik. Doug has been a part of the Maine country dance scene for many years. He plays with Old Grey Goose, with which he has played many country dances and has toured the world as a musical ambassador for the US State Department. Doug produced all three of their recordings, including the group’s first recording in 1978 for Smithsonian Folkways, “Old Time Country Dance Tunes and Songs from Maine”.

Julie Vallimont
On their 1980 album “Maine Country Dance Music and Song”, there’s a paragraph in the liner notes that describes their approach to dance music. They write, “the idea of traveling around and playing music goes back to the days when earlier New England dancing masters traveled from town to town on foot, horse, or train, bringing with them their special music and dance. There was once a time in rural Maine when the Saturday night dance was as integral part of people’s lives as raising their own food or haying their fields. People have always been geographically isolated in Maine and the local dance was the one way they were sure to see each other and catch up on the local news. The contradances which make up a large part of the local dance repertoire reflect this in their emphasis towards simplicity and social interaction.”

Julie Vallimont
Doug is the director of Maine Fiddle Camp, which brings people of all ages and levels togetherfor music, fun, and community. He is a big part of camp life, and with his endless enthusiasm, always proclaims that every session of Maine fiddle camp is the “best one ever”.Doug likes to play “old-time piano” accompaniment for dances, melodramas, honky tonk saloons, and silent movies. He learned his style from Otto Soper, Geneva Walton, and Danny Patt among many others.In our conversation over Zoom, Doug and I explore the culture and history of Maine’s traditional music and dance scene. Doug shares his insights on the “secret sauce” that makes Maine Fiddle Camp such a unique and vibrant community and his thoughts on how dance and music styles have changed and shifted over the years. He spoke with us from his home music room, complete with his squeaky office chair. And of course, he treats us to some tunes on the piano and button accordion! Hope you enjoy.

Julie Vallimont
Well, hello, Doug Protsik and welcome to Contra Pulse.

Doug Protsik
Oh, thank you, Julie. It’s nice to be part of this effort that you’re working on so hard.

Julie Vallimont
I am so happy to see you. I’m so honored to have you to talk with. A lot of folks know Doug as the director of Maine Fiddle Camp and one of the people who helps make fiddle camp happen. I also know you is a consummate multi-instrumentalist, a person of endless enthusiasm about folk music and dance and community and your enthusiasm is contagious. Already, I’m excited just in the few minutes that Doug and I have been talking kind of warming up for this interview, I’m already all jazzed up. So I’m very excited to get to hear from you. And it’s funny, because when we’re at Maine Fiddle Camp together, it’s a very busy place, there’s hundreds of people, many things happening at once you’re riding your bike around, trying to keep everything happening, and we never had time just to talk. There’s a lot of things I don’t know about your musical history and your stories and your background. I’m just so excited to hear about some of that. So without any further ado, where shall we begin? I would just love to hear about your piano background and how you started playing for dances.

Doug Protsik
Sure, that’s a good place to start. Well, actually, when I was a very young child, really young like four or five years old, music was just dying to come out and I don’t even know where from particularly. The first toy that I ever wanted was a drum, much to the horror of my mother, begged and pleaded her, and she finally broke down and got me a drum, but she never got me any drum lessons so it didn’t go very far. But I had this music thing and by the time I was five, my older brother was ready for piano lessons. And so I said, “Me, too”, that was being three years younger everything was me, too. You know, my older brother wants to do it, I go, “Me too”. So I said, me too and she said, well, you’re kind of young, five years old, I go, me too, me too. I started and enjoyed it, except I had this horrible teacher. This goes back a long way, I’m no spring chicken, you know. Back in the old days, the best you could do would be to have a piano teacher, which is usually some older person that was very scary to a five year old and was nothing but discipline and do as you’re told, nothing about personal expression, or personal artistry. Music lessons were based on classical approaches, which is do what you’re told, do what the music says, do it precisely that way, no room for self expression. Every time I tried to do it in a little bit my own way, I’d get my hand slapped. I go over to my friend’s house and kind of sit down at the piano and play some of these pieces I’ve been working on. Everybody say, “Wow, that’s great, Doug”, and I just play away and have fun. Then I go home and I never got away with it, it was terrible, ruined my whole attitude towards playing music. After about five years of it I just begged and pleaded with my folks, please, I know I’m doing well and but I’ve had it, I can’t take it anymore, I don’t want to play music like this, it’s no fun, but I continue to listen to all kinds of music. And then later on got influenced by friends in junior high and high school, older friends who were more immersed in the arts and got me interested in listening to a wide variety of music and then I got a really good stereo and never really dreamed of myself even in my high school era as playing anymore. But I had this love of music and so I listen to music endlessly and had a great record collection. Then in last couple years of high school and into college, I started to meet people that were playing folk music.

Julie Vallimont
Where did you go to college?

Doug Protsik
Antioch College, very liberal kind of college with all kinds of wonderful influences. Musically, I took some piano lessons there and met folk musicians and you know, sort of rock and rollers sitting in the dorm room playing guitar. And so in doing that, I saw the joy of playing music but not like reading it and not having to do it a certain way, but just self expressing. And I said, now, that’s the kind of music I want to do. And so I decided to take up music again and I started playing guitar, because it was like a folk scene. Then later on, I met more friends and since I was a novice, I was very inspired to get better, as much as possible. So by going to parties and jam sessions, there was music, there was always more experienced musicians. I just like worked at absorbing what they were doing and getting inspired. I always think that inspiration is so important, you need inspiration to know where you want to go with your music, without that, you don’t have that.

Doug Protsik
That’s why I think Maine Fiddle Camp is so good. It shows people a context of what you can do with music and how much fun it can be. I had never experienced that until college era and a little bit of high school of that kind of freedom. I really got hooked on playing and I wanted to get good at playing guitar and so I worked at that. And then I started meeting some other musicians and the idea of playing mandolin and then came along with that idea of melody. And then Elaine Malkin and I, we both moved to Maine and we were both very much interested in folk music. Elaine had played classical music and she picked up the fiddle. She picked up fiddling from her classical background. She also played guitar and sang folk songs and and was an influence on me as well in that sense. I started to play mandolin and then some fiddle. But at that point, we were living in Maine and we were trying to develop our skills. We met John Gawler through a mutual friend and started a band called the Pine Hill Band. We were looking for a banjo player, I was playing guitar and mandolin and some fiddle. Elaine was focusing totally on the fiddle. We needed a banjo player we thought and so we met John Gawler up in Belgrade [Maine]. We formed this band and we started to be a band going out and playing really southern old timey fiddling because fiddle music and old time, southern old time music songs because that’s what everybody was doing back then, this is like in the early 70s. That’s all the music that sort of the state of the art folk music scene had gotten to at that point was sort of Pete Seeger. And then all of a sudden there was going back even further into these southern old time fiddle stuff going into that and that’s where all the field recordings were and that’s where our resources were, so we did that. Other bands, like a person that’s influenced me a lot, is Greg Boardman, he was playing with a band called The Northern Valley Boys and they were playing bluegrass as well as a little bit of old time. We didn’t really do bluegrass, we kind of focused on the old timey stuff, because John Gawler was really immersed in that with the banjo. We kind of followed that type of repertoire, worked on that type of repertoire. And then around ’73 or so we’ve been doing that for a while and then we started to say, well, wait a minute, why are we playing music from traditional old time fiddle music from from North Carolina or Virginia, we should be learning the music where we live, the culture around us.

Doug Protsik
So we started to look around and realize that there was a really great musical tradition for fiddling and everything that was in our region. It was more Canadian influenced though and in New England, and it was totally different than the old southern old time music, it was much more similar to the way the jigs and reels were played in Scotland and Ireland and England before people even came to North America, and so in the northeast, it was kind of preserved in a in a more traditional way. Even though some of the tunes had the same name and came from the same Irish background, there was a totally different form and one of the big differences was in the north, they played jigs. I have yet to really find anything in the old recorded archive, old time music of the South, that represented the jig rhythm. That became very exciting, a whole new fiddle realm of music to explore and stylistically too and yet it didn’t seem like anybody around was paying attention to that. It was all bluegrass or old time music with big festivals around and that’s what was going on. There wasn’t anything that we could find that was comparable for this type of music. So we went and out into the whillywhacks to find the old timers that used to play this music, and find out that they paid for dances. They’d say, well, we used to do these dances when we had a band. A couple of the of the bands were still going by then. We went to see what the deal was and it was really fun. But we didn’t quite understand how we could necessarily make a go of it. There were just these old timers, half the time they were playing fox trots and waltzes and then they’d do occasional contra dance. We were trying to figure out, well, how is this gonna work? We’re getting tired of like playing bar gigs, that was going nowhere and cigarette smoke and everything. We’d go to a play in a bar and you go to play some Downeast jig medley and everybody said what the heck is that, I’ve never heard that.

Doug Protsik
We needed an audience for our music and we didn’t know really what to do. Right around ’73, ’74 somewhere in that range we saw in the newspaper that this guy named Dudley Laufman was coming to Bowdoin College to play for an old time country dance on a button accordion and we go, wow, jigs and reels they said, jigs and reels, dancing, this must be what maybe we’re looking for. So we went there, John, Elaine and I and then Greg Boardman on his own, had heard about it. And he showed up there too, because he was getting tired of the bar scene and the bluegrass. He was starting to get into regional music as well but didn’t know what to do with it either because it was dance music and so we didn’t know how to get the dances. We went to Dudley’s dance, and there’s Dudley playing and calling, playing the accordion, calling out and we danced. It was like oh my goodness, this is so much fun. This is so cool, this dancing is so cool. The way the dances go with the music is so cool, the way you play and call, we have to learn all that, we have to do that right away. And so we just said, we’ve figured it out, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to revive the old time country dances here in Maine somehow. So we had already been learning the music from the old timers and now we’d seen how you can run a dance by calling out the dances and getting people organized to dance to the jigs and reels that we wanted to play. If we could run our own dance, then we could have our way of making part of our living with our music and keep it going and also have a community and a connection with people. By golly, out of whole cloth, we started up a dance scene in Maine and a public dance scene. Over time, that grew, this was like in ’74 ,’75 and by ’78, everything was going great guns there were already like three or four other bands and other dances going and of course this was going on tremendously in other parts of New England, this revival scene, when we first heard the Fennig’s All Star String Band recording, that was a huge influence. We heard up Rodney Miller’s Castles in the Air, a huge, huge musical influence because he was playing that exact repertoire. And then then we learned about Don Messer, and Mellie Dunham, Maine’s famous fiddler and so we started to get more and more background and and tune styles by listening to all these different Downeast fiddlers.

Doug Protsik
We ended up calling a downeast style. But really what in our mind, what it represents is starting with the way the Mainers played it, but then it expands out into the Maritimes of Canada and Quebec. It also includes not only the Scotch and Irish tradition, but the way the French Canadians evolve the music in their own style now referred to as Quebecois music. But back then we just called it Franco American music and a big influence on that, and I think this was in the late 70s again, was the Beaudoin family from Vermont came out with a a seminal recording and later on from Quebec, La Bottine Souriante came out. So now we had a description of the kind of music that we wanted to focus on for the dance. We wanted it to represent all of the different influences that we had found out about that created this amalgam, this blend of musical styles and dances in Maine and then we learn which of the dances were the most popular of the contra dances as well like Lady of the Lake, for example, was always done at all the dances. So we incorporated that into our dance so that in a nutshell is how it all got started. Once it got rolling, we created this great dance in Bowdoinham at the Bowdoinham Town Hall and did that for about 25 years, and created sort of a unique style from that that represented what we were looking for. Over time, things kind of changed, and the dance scene sort of changed. We always stuck with our same musical approaches, which was, at a dance, we’d always want to make sure that we covered a lot of all the bases musically. We would carefully select tunes that would go with particular a dance that we would be calling. A couple of us took on the job of playing and calling, we didn’t even consider the idea of just being a caller, to us that didn’t count because we had seen what Dudley did and that was our standard.

Julie Vallimont
Dudley would sit on stage and play and call the dance at the same time.

Doug Protsik
And if you were going to call the dance, you had to lead it with your instrument and as well lead the band just because that’s what Dudley did. So we didn’t think of any other way to do it. That’s what the old timers talked about, quite often is the the itinerant fiddler caller that would go around. A lot of the old time dances we went to, they didn’t even have a caller because they did the same two or three contra dances every night. And then when the fiddler started to play a jig or a reel everybody just jumped up and just started to do Lady of the Lake or whatever or some somebody was a host or something might say, time for Lady the Lake or something and people would just do it. So when we started up our dances, that was our approach. And so our original posters, we didn’t call what is now called contra dancing. That’s not what we call it and to this day, I don’t call what we do that. I know that everybody else does and the theme of this is contra dancing. But to me there’s two other terms that I would much rather see represented. And this is what we will always try to represent, we call it old time country dancing or community dancing. If you’re going to do a little local community thing, and it’s going to be for families, we call them community dances.

Doug Protsik
There was those community dance manuals, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that publication. That was a great resource along with the country dance book. That was an important resource for us in terms of a book to refer to, and the kind of classic New England dances and tunes that are represented in that, those were sort of our our focus. So in our original posters, we would say old time country dance. But then we would list all the different dances that we would do and they would be contras of course, it would also say we do squares, and then circles. And then also because this is what the Mainers did, we also did couples dances of waltz, polka, schottische, because there’s the Scandinavian influence in the fiddling that we learned from Mellie Dunham. So we wanted to get in some of that Scandinavian feeling. The schottische was a unique tempo and musical style to represent that and the fox trot, which to this day, I still am trying to get people to understand why the fox trot was so popular for 50 years. No one refers to that term anymore, either, they call it swing dancing and they sort of do this swing dance but the fox trot came before the swing dance and it’s essentially the same gimmick. It is a different form where instead of dancing away from your partner in a stationary position, you’re moving around the dance floor, in counterclockwise ballroom direction, just like all the other couples dances, the waltz, and the polka and the schottische. It’s essentially the same thing and represents the same musical style. So we really wanted to represent all those dances, and the music that would be appropriate for those styles. We took that very seriously and then we wanted to be able to show people rudimentarily how to do some of the couples dances. But actually, what we found out was that all it took was one or two experienced dancers to get things going, and then everybody would just sort of follow in by watching them and pretty soon everybody’s polka-ing or waltzing, or schotische-ing or whatever, because there was a few people. Matter of fact, when we first started our dances, one of the best halls we ever started was the Pine Hill Band in Bowdoinham. We had the crowds from Bates College, which had sometimes gotten Dudley Laufman to do a few things a couple times a year, maybe once or twice a year for the students, and the faculty that knew about the dancing. And then Bowdoin College, and so Bowden has kind of right in between those two.

Doug Protsik
So we had these like college professors and college students who were somewhat interested in this to help get the dance started because some of the people had quite a bit of dance experience from that, as well as others. So that gave us a little bit of a core and then we just did posters and advertising in a very basic way, started up a newsletter, which eventually became the DEFFA [Downeast Friends of the Folk Arts] newsletter, but we had the Maine Country Dance Orchestra newsletter, after we formed a large group for a monthly dance in Bowdoinham. It promoted all the other bands, dances as well. It sort of kind of grew from there, but it’s had its peaks and valleys. We kept with that formula for the longest time. But after a while, the more contra-centric style from away sort of took over here in Maine as people moved from away came to Maine. They sort of brought that contra-centric and caller-centric approach. For example, musically, we wanted to lead our dances and the best way was through the music we thought, not through somebody barking out calls, that you get people to follow the music and listen to the music, and keep the dances relatively simple enough so it’s not too mentally challenging, so you can stop calling and get into the real magic of it in my mind is where the dancers and the music become like a singular entity kind of and they feed off of each other. That’s where it was really important for us to make sure that we had the right kind of music to go with the dance that we were doing. By being the caller and the musician, we were in a particularly really good position to do that.

Doug Protsik
And then over the years too there are dances that had specific music that would go with them traditionally, like Petronella, or Hull’s Victory and so we would always play those tunes that went with the traditional dance, and sometimes we do a medle. But we would also want to try to get within the framework of the kind of musical realm that we wanted to explore, we wanted to get as much variety within that. So we started to understand that there were more than two types of fast dance tunes for example, in our region. For example, we got jigs and reels, but there’s actually and jigs are in six eight, and then reels are 2/4 or 4/4, however you decide to write it, but those are two basic types of fast dance tunes. And then the jig has that six, that three beat of 123,123,123,123 and a reel has the two beat of 12,12,12,12,12. The interesting thing though, is if you tap your foot, if you have a contra beat, the jig is exactly the same, 123,456 and the reel 12,12,12,12, the beat is the same. The fundamental beat is the same for jig and reel [sings in jig time] That’s the jig. Here’s a reel [sings in reel time], the same. A lot of the old timers couldn’t even tell the difference between a jig and a reel because they were completely untrained. A lot of times, a lot of jigs were called reels and reels are called jigs. Because really, because that beat and so the biggest difference right away when we realized there was this whole different musical style that we wanted to dedicate the rest of our lives to, because we were planning on living in Maine the rest of our lives and in this region. So here was a real chance to really dedicate and the biggest difference compared to all the old recordings and all the old string band stuff we listened to and then we went and heard stuff from Don Messer, and then we heard stuff from the old timers like Otto Soper that we’d go and visit and he would mentor us and tell us these great stories of all the old dances, how there were fights all the time. The biggest difference was there’s a piano in the old southern recordings, they never had a piano.

Doug Protsik
At a northeast fiddle tunes festival a number of years ago, I was there on staff, you must be familiar with that festival in Port Townsend? They have some wonderful dancing and music there, it’s great. They invite all these fiddlers of different styles from all over North America. I’m there hanging out with some legendary southern old time musician and I’m asking him, a real old fellow, I don’t remember his name, it was a long time ago. I asked him, I said, hey, how come there’s no piano in the in the southern old time music or anything? And he says,” Well, I played plenty of dances with a piano.” When some of those original recordings were made, they went into the big city to make the recording and the big city recording people said Oh, we want real hillbilly music, we don’t want any piano, we just want all strings. They just dropped the piano because whatever they just wanted real sounding authentic like up in the hills. But in any case, whatever the reason is, the idea of playing piano in the folk music construct, never had occurred to me, I was playing guitar, mandolin and fiddle. And all of a sudden, whoa. So our mentors played piano,at the old dances, they all had piano, Don Messer had a famous piano player, Waldo Monroe. They all played what I call the old time piano style. And all of a sudden, I’m introduced to this whole deal of an old time piano style that essentially, I saw it as folk piano. Even though that term hadn’t really applied anywhere it just struck me as this is what the style is.

Doug Protsik
I started to study it like a madman, because there’s nobody else around playing piano. I had all this early piano lessons. But then I learned how to play by ear and how to play chords, and how to back up fiddle tunes, and the chords and everything. And so it was just like, knowing all that and then my piano background, it was really logical for me to jump right in heavy duty at taking over that role, because there was nobody else doing that. There were fiddlers all over the place, and wanna be fiddlers all over the place, and guitar players and mandolin players and banjo players. There was nobody playing the piano, at least here in Maine at the time or anything like that. There was no piano and fiddle sound that people had been listening to, until we started to listen to these other bands, these Canadian bands and everything else. I just dove into the piano from from two perspectives. One was to play for dance and the other thing was develop the concept of the old time piano play, because the old time piano player and that style was popular, I would say from like, 1870s to 1930s or so. And then the big band and the more modern sounds, and piano playing consequently, the old time style became totally obsolete and nobody was playing it anymore by the 1950s except maybe a few ragtime players. I realized that ragtime, saloon hall playing, these old melodrama songs and a silent movie playing and playing for dances were all jobs for an old time piano player. So I said, well, someday I’m going to learn all those jobs. But I’m going to start by learning how to backup fiddle tunes for dances, and then I’ll work on all the other stuff later or at the same time. One of the things I did was I started to study Scott Joplin music, which is totally the definitive version of old time music except it’s got that ragtime feel and syncopation. All of Scott Joplin’s ragtime music was dance music, it wasn’t sitting around and listening music. It was always dance music, and it frustrated him when people played it too fast and turned it into a showpiece. So half the time he would write up at the top, play it as a slow foxtrot. In other words don’t turn it into a, it’s dance music and that’s part of the old time style of piano playing, it’s dance music, so it has that left hand thumping away constantly, stride piano, it’s sometimes called. I just call it the old time piano where the left hand is playing bass notes and, and rhythm.

Doug Protsik
You gotta know the chords and then the right hand is playing melodies and harmonies, and that’s the old time style and when it got really syncopated you could call it ragtime. You can play jigs that way, you can play all the dance tunes that way and they did, like in the saloons and in the brothels where this style was developed. The piano player had to be a whole band dance band all by himself. That’s where that style developed. I’ve read where the depression caused people so much distress that they stopped solo gigs and hired bass players because everybody needed a gig or something. Anyway, that idea of solo piano player thing stopped. It was in it’s heyday in the ’20’s too during all the wonderful foxtrots and wonderful music of the ’20’s and that traditional sort of jazz era as well. The old time piano players used to have piano competitions, and they were always based on the power of the left hand, not the right hand, the left hand, because they wanted that bass, they wanted that song, they wanted that dance music. You’ve got to have that strong bass for dance music, you’ve gotta have that, you’ve got to pound the beat. That’s what people dance to is the beat, they step to the beat, and they gotta find the beat and that’s what dancing is. That’s really what contra dancing, square dancing, all these dances is that everybody is stepping to the beat. There’s exactly certain number of beats through a tune. If everybody’s stepping to the beat, they’re all dancing together. That togetherness of dancing together to me is the total magic of it all. I’m always saying there’s nothing in our modern culture that gives people a chance to socially listen to music and dance together and actually relate to each other, actually touch each other, actually look into each other’s eyes actually, physically hold and dance with each all in a certain way, even though it’s open to personal expression, it’s still controlled and confined by the beat, and the number of steps in each figure that goes along. We sort of stumbled on this on this musical and dance formula of having the structure of the tune and the structure of the dance. But within that structure, keeping everybody together, there’s room for a lot of self expression in the dancing as well as in the music. If you do the music you can inspire the dancers and sometimes the dancers can even inspire the music.

Doug Protsik
I remember one time we did a chorus jig, there’s a good one, it’s called Chorus Jig but it’s a reel. We were doing Chorus Jig with the tune and everything and we did that a lot back then. Nowadays people would say oh that’s that’s boring because it doesn’t have a lot of fancy figures and everything. But that’s not what we were after at all, we wanted a basic dance that was fun and simple and people get into it and then not have to call it out so much but let the music take over. I’ll never forget this, one night we’re playing Chorus Jig and we played nothing but Chorus Jig, no medleys. A lot of times you just play one tune, have fun with it, vary it, do fun stuff, but keep the one tune so that everybody stays focused on it. Dudley does that a lot. We’re not against medleys, sometimes we do medleys. We’re against playing one tune, the same tune all the way through for dance, no problem, that’s just as good as a fancy medley in our mind, maybe even better. So anyway, we do Chorus Jig, which seemed to be an endless amount of time. The dancers are dancing, and we had long stop calling, we were just wailing away on the tune. So finally, we just ended with a big flourish. The dancers were just so into it, they just kept on dancing. They just danced away and we just sat there and smiled. Because they felt everything so well that they didn’t need anything more than at that point just the fundamental beat. It had gotten so much fun for them doing this so called simple traditional dance that they really got it. Because to me that’s what’s really fun is that you don’t want to have to think too much. If the dances get too complex, if even the music gets too, out there, it’s going to be harder for people to relate to and find the beat and comfortably dance to it. Another thing that has always been important to me is to make the music and the dance accessible to everybody. If your agenda is to have one super duper contra after another with lots of figures, it’s just really hard for other people to learn, to come in and not feel overwhelmed. There’s a huge amount of the population that would just love, I think, to go out for an evening and for a nice social occasion, but not to have to think their brains out, maybe even go into the the halftime and have a little alcoholic drink or something and not have to come back and think your brains out.

Doug Protsik
So I’ve always been an advocate of the of the music, to be the inspiration and to have it sort of open to everybody. I think the best dance tunes are the more basic and more simple ones. Within that construct, you can also make sure that the tune fits the dance and that also you give people a variety of music. So for example, I mentioned we got jigs and reels, well, there’s actually a whole bunch of different types of jigs. I mean, first of all, you can just talk about whether it’s major or minor, that’ll make a big difference and then there’s sort of different stylistics of jigs of there’s a quadrille, marchy jig style. In Quebec, Gabriel Labbé, I just love his harmonica playing, the way he expresses the danceability of the tunes. He specializes in that particular style and it’s really a march in 6/8 time, but it’s still technically a jig because it’s in 6/8. Sousa wrote traditional military marches. Some of those were in 6/8 time, it’s not that unusual to have a 6/8 march. But it creates a whole completely different 6/8 feeling so it’s the same tempo. The beat is always pretty much the same unless you’re playing slower for beginners or you might slow it down for a certain feeling. The dance beat is the dance beat and so these marchy jigs, but if you play a marchy jig, it’s gonna sound a lot different than some old Irish jig in a minor key, because a lot of these quadrille marches are sort of in real bright major keys and stuff. And then you’ve got your Qubecois style of jig, I’ve noticed lately, where it’s actually relatively new, maybe it’s based on an old style, but there’s been a lot of newer compositions, where there’s longer notes. It isn’t just [hums tune], it’s more like [hums tune] a little bit more marchy but not marchy, it’s kind of in between. Anyway, we would identify all different types of jigs, and then make sure that we had those represented, when we played it. When we’d go to play a jig, we played jigs and reels, almost like 50/50, throughout the night for fast dance tunes. Maybe if there were seven dances, maybe four of them would be reels and three would be jigs. But it wasn’t like some dance bands don’t play jigs at all. I’ve even seen people sort of put the idea of jigs down as sort of like, they’re, they’re no fun, but they don’t they don’t get it at all.

Julie Vallimont
They don’t get it.

Doug Protsik
Technically speaking since a jig is in 6/8 and a reel you can say it’s in 8/8 in a sense. So, in a jig, you got six quarter note [Doug means eighth note] possibilities per measure, and in a jig, you got eight quarter note possibilities, 25% more notes per measure with the same beat. So as a general rule, if it’s a notey reel, it’s gonna have more notes per measure that a jig, but to me the number of notes in the dance tune, matter of fact, if there’s too many notes, too many ornaments, it ceases to be a really classic old time country New England style dance tune. It’s like some of these Irish reels they play now are just, they’re so ornamented and everything from like Clare County…they’re very just slow and lilting and I wouldn’t really want to play that style, the reels in particular, are that way. But then in the reels you’d always have your sort of classic reel, like Miller’s Reel or something like that or Ragtime Annie, or just any sort of classic, reel type thing that people think of a reel. In New England, there was a different thing that we noticed, they were called hornpipes but they were played like reels. The only thing I can think of is that when the Irish hornpipe, which represents a sort of slow, lilting rhythm, [sings tune], it’s the same dance rhythm as a schottische is. To me you’ve got jigs and reels, and then you got like this slow lilting thing. In Ireland, they’re called barn dances and slow hornpipes and in Scandinavia, they’re called schottisches and it’s just a much slower beat and a whole different lilting feel to them. Oh, in Canada, they call them clogs, they have all these very ornate clogs. But they’re meant to be played sort of, in that lilting thing.

Doug Protsik
The Scottish have a strasthspey that sort of represents that. That rhythm doesn’t come into play unless you were playing for schottische. Otherwise, it’s just the same tempo of jigs and reels. And so there was the fast hornpipe, they would take these old hornpipes, and they turn them into reels. But when you take a hornpipe, and turn into a reel and you speed it up like that, it has a different feel to it. And so we might do a medley, I might jump up and say, all right, I’m gonna call the next dance. Let’s have a medley of classic Downeast hornpipes and then we we pick some like lamplighters. Devil’s Dream is a classic example. People call it a reel but it’s actually a fast hornpipe. It’s got a lot of back and forth and ready-Teddy’s…not much slurring, it’s just a different, different feel to it. You know, it took us years to sort of develop this, and I’m forgetting the fellow’s name [Ted Sannella]. But we worked with him a couple of times, he was a dance caller that moved to Maine, and ran the dance in Whitefield for a while. Anyway, when we get his name will come to me. He’s passed away. But he reinforced what we were talking about, because he is a dance caller. At that point, he was a dance caller, but he really knew the music really well, and would craft the dances that he would call to a certain type of music. And he had this, he had the same categories that we had come upon. And so when we first time we met him and played with dance for him. He would say, how about I some fast hornpipes à la Devil’s Dream or something? They say I yeah, we know what you mean, you know, he was very happy that we understood and had the repertoire to represent what he was looking for. And he’s one of the few people that I’ve run into that really recognized those subtle differences and wanted to make sure that their their musical program for the dance represented all those different ones. And then you got your minor reels as well. And so and then you’ve got, you know, like, French Canadian reels that are really, you know, kind of stylistically and was sort of composed. We learned some of those from the Beaudoin family and then later on Simon St. Pierre, like…oh, and then and then you’ve got, we sometimes call them well, they were sort of a chunky reels, I guess that’s what chunky reels and what they what they were really…I think I’d rather…and sometimes we call them like polka-esque reels. So you can have a reel it’s kind of polka-esque. And then to describe the difference between a reel and a polka is really interesting. But there is sort of, but I know what I, you know, it’s like you could even demonstrating but there is sort of a difference, you know, as a real straightforward real real as, as opposed to a poka as reel.

Doug Protsik
And then, as opposed to a chunky reel, they’re all the chunky real and the polka esque real are kind of in the same general category. But in the same general category. And even more specifically, it’s what I call the Downeast two steps. And there, there’s your really, to me, that’s your really sweet spot of, of music where, you know, it doesn’t have too many notes. And it has a real great dancing…dance feel, because I think it’s important, from a dance point of view to have the dancers lock into the tune as much as quickly as possible. So they can dance to the music, not to somebody calling out a bunch of calls, they’re there to dance to the music and, and so you have to get the music out there in a way that they can understand that that’s why that’s where the piano became like really an essential component. Because in in…their…our bands…it held everything down and gave it that beat that everybody dances and holds the whole band together that way. The piano always had to have the beat, whether it was just accompanying, or sometimes I would then go into accompanying with the left hand and then play the melody for a little bit for variety at the dance, and that would add another whole tone. Sometimes I’d go way, way up to the higher range. And then really the piano sound would pierce all the way through the hall because nobody would be playing way up there and it would just cut right through. The piano player always had to hold the beat down though too. He couldn’t just have fun with the melody, at least that was the standard that I went by that all the old timers did. And if you look at old footages of Don Messer’s band and Waldo Monroe you hear and see him doing exactly that. That’s what a lot of the old timers that we were mentoring under, they listened to Don Messer’s radio program. Don Messer grew up right near Maine in New Brunswick, and and kind of represented that downeast style that I’m talking about and crystallized it. In the Canadian Broadcasting System, his tunes went out through all of Canada. So they played Don Messer style tunes, even way out in Western Canada, because they all were immersed in the same sort of tradition.

Doug Protsik
I feel sort of lucky living in Maine because we were so close to Canada and Canada is really where this music was kept alive. Our country of the United States, culturally, didn’t get immersed in this kind of music but in Canada, they did. And so in our initial development, we’ve sojourned our way up into Canada and got classic tunes and classic inspiration from up there. So many great fiddlers and access to their recordings have become a lot more interesting and over the years with fiddle camp, I’ve collected a lot of this classic music and have presented it for learning tunes at fiddle camp. Some of this we’ll have playing in the background at some point here, but that’s one of our goals at Maine Fiddle Camp is to make sure that this long standing tradition of music keeps going. So getting back to the different types of music, another thing that we would like to do that would really kick everything in gear would be to go from start the tune off with a jig and then break into a reel and whoa, if you have the right jig, going into the right reel, with maybe a key change or something like that especially. That’s was a really great gimmick. Another cool gimmick is that if you have a tune that has an unusual chord, maybe a modal chord, or some dramatic, chordal moment, you can use that as a tool to sort of get the dancers fired up and the band, one thing to do for a particular chord progression do like what we call power chords, kind of just boom, boom, boom, just the fundamental like that. But another cool thing would be if there was an unusual chord change, or something going on, we would then play a different chord for that chord. One of the gimmicks there is that you find an associated chord that has maybe one of the notes, like you got a primary note that begs for a chord and the normal chord fits that note, but then you find some other oddball chord that has that note in it, but in a different key and you intersperse that in there. So musical gimmicks like that, the change of jig to a reel and oddball chords, power chords.

Doug Protsik
Another musical gimmick that was always fun was, we call it the orchestra ending is really the old Scottish gimmick of at the end of the tune [sings tune ending], your big ending gimmick, that’s always fun. It also is kind of good to sort of let the dancers know that everything’s ending and give them a nice way to go out. We want to make sure that we get as much variety of music. In the old days we would sometimes sneak in a medley of Southern old time tunes just for variety. I can’t say that we really played them like Southern old timey music necessarily, we had to contra-ize it or get so that it was at the right beat. I think a lot of the Southern old timey tunes are really played more like a regular Downeast tunes straighter, it doesn’t have all those syncopations and that sort of expression. They say that a lot of that came from the banjo that the fiddle, emulated the banjo and that’s what created that Southern old timey fiddle sound.

Julie Vallimont
I would love to talk a little bit about your dance choices. I love hearing all your gimmicks and the way you think about tunes and everything. You know, if you see a Dudley dance, I don’t know, would Dudley do something like a jig to a reel?

Doug Protsik
No, he wouldn’t. We didn’t necessarily copy Dudley exactly. I’m all for innovation. In the past, like in terms of innovation, I’ve written tunes and written dances to go with those tunes. I’ve written dances to go with particular tunes that was my favorite at the time or something like that and that’s a lot of fun. So getting the magic combination of the right music for that dance, in particular, I like the dances that I’ve composed the music, and the dance or at least composed the dance for that particular unique music. And, and sometimes there’ll be an outlier tune. There’s one I’ve been meaning to resurrect one of these days that I learned many years ago called the Whistling Thief. The thing about the Whistling Thief it has an extra eight beats in it. And so it really isn’t crooked, because that’s a whole style of Quebecois music. I don’t think the crooked tunes work very well for dancers, because the phrasing doesn’t facilitate and then sometimes they drop beats and that doesn’t facilitate. But this has just an extra inserted in the melody sort of a repeated phrase that added a couple of measures. I wrote a dance that accommodated that. I’ll never forget the dance that inspired me the most in the very first Dudley dance was the Black Joke, that’s that circle dance, hi ho diddly dum, that’s how it starts and everybody claps their hands just like that. And then there’s this part [Doug hums tune and gesticulates]

Julie Vallimont
So you’re doing like a patty cake motion?

Doug Protsik
They’re doing a patty cake thing and it goes right with the music and then everybody sings hi ho diddley dum. And to me, that was the greatest because the way it integrated the dancers doing something exactly to the music all together, knowing how the music and the dance can work perfectly together, emphasizing the beats for everybody on the claps and the patty cake and then that singing, it just empowers everybody. Everybody is sort of almost equally involved at that point. It’s like everybody’s contributing and that’s the kind of energy that we generated at our Bowdoinham dances is that the dancers are in some way, as much a part of the band, as the band was, we even avoided using a PA system. We had a big orchestra, or quite a few people and some accordions and big upright piano and two or three fiddles, we were able to produce enough music without any amplification. Without any amplification you have a whole different vibe and a whole different listening thing.

Julie Vallimont
I love it. It’s my favorite. There was actually a moment at Downeast one year when the power went out and I think it was Rumblestrip that was playing…Glen [Loper] and Nat [Hewitt], and I just remember the two of them trying to crank out the melody. There were hand drums involved and the power went out and the dance kept going. It was just the best thing. It was just the best thing. It was my favorite part about the entire DEFFA weekend was that moment in the Survivor’s Dance when the power went out, it was so great.

Doug Protsik
Well, you know, people listen differently when there’s too much sound. It works their ear a little bit to listen.

Julie Vallimont
Absolutely.

Doug Protsik
Our idea was calling was to play the fiddle or whatever and just shout it out, two or three times and then let let them on their own, okay, let’s let the music go because the more vocalizing the less connection with the music. That’s what happened with square dancing, it started off with just like regular community dancing, and then it got to kind of club-ish and got more sophisticated. Pretty soon they were competing, and wearing costumes. And then the music got degraded, more and more until finally, all there was was…they put on a record, and it was just a beat and the caller, there was no music, it was just all calling, might be singing calling, or might be just calls, there’s no real music, it was just the beat. To me, that’s just the opposite of what I want, I want to see the dance community move towards just dancing to the music and having the music be the focus, the dynamic-ness of the music. I also think that it’s really fun, though, to be innovative and break out into different stuff. So, in the old days we might throw in a Beatles tune or something like that, in the middle of, of a contra dance if it could fit. There’s one, I’ve Just Seen a Face is a great Beatles song that is good and fast and kind of a country beat to it and you can just go right into a dance with something like that. And then and having a vocal part of the dance, that Dudley tradition of just la la-ing the tune. I like that, that’s another sort of musical gimmick is that you actually stop playing the music and just let everybody la la around and then maybe bring the music back or something like that. Also playing music that somehow would represent the time of year. The old timers, even in July, a lot of the old time dance bands in Maine would play Jingle bells, because they loved the tune so much but it makes a great contra dance too. You just throw in, Christmas time or whatever thr time of year, you might throw in some fun stuff like that or Easter or whatever, or have a little pun of a joke or something like that. You know, The Frost is All Over is a good one. You can use that in the fall and the spring because frost is all over in the fall you look out the window, oh my god, the frost is all over the place. But then in the spring is oh, thank goodness, the frost is all over we can plant our plants. Any way to sort of like have some fun, make it lively.

Julie Vallimont
I think that these are like the variables that make the style of dancing magical. Just to summarize some of the themes you’ve been talking about. It’s like music that’s accessible to people, dances that are accessible to people that the attention is not on the caller necessarily, it’s on everyone together. And also when people can dance with each other, they are free to talk to each other or show appreciation or just whoop or holler, make noise. You know, choosing these tunes that fit the dances, all these things come together to make this magic that you’re talking about.

Doug Protsik
That’s the best formula.

Julie Vallimont
There’s as much emphasis on the spirit in which you do it as there is in quote, how you do it. You know, you could do a Beatles tune. It’s not about getting it “right.” It’s about the spirit in which you do it and everyone doing it together as a community where everyone is welcome and everyone participates which is what is magical. I went to my very first contra dance in Maine where I was teaching. I was teaching environmental education in Maine and one of my co-workers said, okay, Julie, you’re a folkie, there’s this thing I think you would like, it’s called contra dancing. I don’t know how to describe it, but just come and you’ll like it. My first dance was in the Wescustogo Hall [in North Yarmouth, ME]. I just remember walking in and going under the dance floor through the basement and feel the dance floor shake above my head and before we even saw the dance, I was like, what is happening here? And then you come up the stairs, and of course the hall is no longer with us, sadly.

Doug Protsik
Oh, what a shame.

Julie Vallimont
It’s such a shame.

Doug Protsik
Great hall.

Julie Vallimont
It was a beautiful hall, it was lost in a fire. You come up to the top of the stairs and I was just hit with all these senses like just the warmth of the air and the moving dancers and the joy on people’s faces. They’re whooping and hollering and stomping their feet to the music and it felt so welcoming, and so vibrant. People threw me in there and they didn’t care if I messed up. And then when I was tired, I went up…that was when they had the balcony open, and I could go up to the balcony and watch the patterns down below and watch everyone moving all together, just like you talk about. That was a really seminal moment for me. That was the only one I went to. And then a few years later, when I moved to Boston, somebody said, oh, you should try contra dancing and I was like, Oh, I love that. But honestly, the dance in Boston that I went to was different. It didn’t have that same over effusive welcoming joy and it was harder to find a partner because people were booked ahead.

Doug Protsik
It was too professional.

Julie Vallimont
It was beautiful and fancy and nice and everyone did it every Thursday and they didn’t always seem particularly excited, because it’s like what they do for fun, and they’d sort of seemed like they are all taking it for granted a little bit. But that joyous sense, where really everyone is welcome and everyone can participate is the spirit that underlies this magical feeling of dancing. I feel like even at Maine Fiddle Camp and later on in this interview, we’ll talk about Maine Fiddle Camp a little bit. I’ll just touch on that now that you carry that thread through where everyone is welcome at Maine Fiddle Camp at any level. Everyone plays an instrument. Often we play new instruments that we’re bad at, the staff learn new instruments, everyone gets the same amount of applause when they’re performing no matter if it’s their first time playing a tune on the pennywhistle or if they’re like a super experienced fiddler. People come to the barn dance, it doesn’t matter if they’re late on the Strip the Willow because nobody cares. You see that dance, and I’ve talked about this before in Contra Pulse, but especially on Dudley nights, but any night during the barn dance, the stage is full of musicians, 30 people, you can’t even all fit on stage. There’s not even room for the caller on the stage.

Doug Protsik
That’s my one of my favorite times at camp because I always make sure that I’m part of that. Whereas a lot of other times I’m busy organizing things or whatever. I always take time to be part of the dance because I feel it’s like really one of the most important things and I want to emphasize that and I have so much fun at the dance. You play with those 30 people on stage or going out and teaching and inspiring the the new people just to experience it, reminding me of how excited I was when I first experienced it. So music’s a lot of fun though, I love that. I love the variety of that, I’ve explored over the years of styles. Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of people tuning in on that sort of same frequency. I wish I could remember the name of the dance caller that was on that exact same frequency. Dudley’s tunes are quite good and he has made a point of having a pretty good variety over the years. I’m not sure though he thinks as much about the type of tune, he’s more apt to just do whatever, the latest tunes that he’s into or something. Any dance he’s going to call, he knows that it’s the right music for so that’s a no brainer. I don’t think he necessarily thinks about I’m going to have a jig this time and then I’m going to go to a reel and I’m going to do a minor reel this time and then a fast set of hornpipes and then and then a Downeast two-step or something like that. That’s that’s what I would do. I think he’s just more more variety that way. To me some of the things that I find distressing is when nowadays it seems like what do you do is you get a caller and then a band and just kind of put them together and then hope that it works out. Over the years, I spent 25, 30, 40 years playing with the same people with the same repertoire and crafting these dances. That’s hard to replicate, that kind of experience in where you just randomly take some dance call with a whole different dance and then random bunch of music and who knows what you’re going to get. So that kind of integration is tough. That’s where Dudley playing the music and doing the calling totally controls that, he knows exactly. That’s sort of the same way we’ve looked at it is, I almost feel a little bit uncomfortable in some ways when I’m just playing, and there’s somebody else calling, because there isn’t that experience to sort of make sure that they got the right kind of music for the right type of dance.

Julie Vallimont
It’s a synergy that you can have, if you have someone who’s a full time contra musician they spend a lot of time around callers. And I could generally pick the right kind of tunes that a caller might want. But it’s a different kind of thing when you have the tunes and the dances all in your head together and you can kind of craft the whole evening. I was just remarking the other day, to me, it’s a shame, but it seems like that type of caller seems to be disappearing, the kind of person who can call and play at the same time and know the tunes and the dances. There’s you, there’s Dudley, there’s David Kaynor, who’s legendary for doing that. There’s a few others out there. I’m not even gonna try to make a list because I’ll forget someone so I’m not even going to list them. It seems like more and more that style is disappearing and that makes me sad.

Doug Protsik
Another thing I sort of wonder about, too, is that when we were developing all of this, first we fell in love, and wanted to preserve our local traditional musical styles. But right away, we realized that the dancing component was incredibly important to it. But now as time has gone on, and more people have picked up fiddling and stuff, the fiddling doesn’t always seem to be related to dancing as much anymore. It’s more of just listening or performing and that dance component of it is getting lost. What we were starting to recognize this, right away, I mean, it didn’t take long before things were changing where we were noticing that and so way back in the 70s and 80s and stuff there were still a whole bunch of fiddle contests going on. You don’t hardly find a fiddle contest anymore but 20, 30 years ago, they were everywhere. Every country fair in Maine had a fiddle contest and they traditionally it had a fiddle contest. And why did they have a fiddle contest? For the same reason they have a tractor pulls and blue ribbons for the best cow or the blue ribbon for the best rutabaga is that the country fair’s job was to celebrate and to encourage the production and life of the country person. That’s represented by how strong his tractor is, how strong his horses, how great of a rutabaga they can grow. The fiddling was such a part of the culture that they wanted to reward and encourage that part of their culture along with pie making and and other kinds of contests they got, oiled up pig grabbing or whatever, it all kind of represented country culture and so on. The competition idea would be give a blue ribbon to the best, that encourages people to aspire to be better. There’s nothing wrong with competition in my mind, I think competition is good. As long as you’re being a good sport about it and if you if you lose you should be just as gracious as you are winning, you should always be very gracious about it. It’s only bad sportsmanship to me that gives competition a bad name.

Doug Protsik
Matter of fact, I owe competition to everything I’ve done. Because when I first started to get into playing this kind of music, I was inspired by other people who were much better. I wanted to compete with them, I wanted to be as good as they were. If it wasn’t for people, to inspire, and try to get better at it, you know, to emulate. So, to me, that’s what they tried to do with the fiddle contest. And so anyway, there are a lot of fiddle contests. When we ran some of them, and sometimes it’d be hard to be judges and stuff, and whenever we did, our number one criteria for judging at a fiddle contest, was what we call old time danceability. Because we thought, and still do think that the most important job with a fiddler is to play good dance tunes and get people moving and dancing, and want to dance. That’s what we wanted to hear from the fiddlers. A lot of things, tone, intonation, rhythm, this and that, those are sort of important in most most fiddle contests but for us, 75% of it was old time danceability. And the rest, that might make the difference between a winner and a loser, a little better intonation on the waltz or something, but you know, the old time danceability that’s what would have to be the right tempo, that magic tempo that people feel, not too fast, not too slow. His name is going to come to me, that dance caller I was telling about, Ted Sannella, there’s his name. We told some friends of ours, hey, we’re going to play for Ted Sannella for the first time at some gig, we’re looking forward to that. And they go, Oh, well, you’re gonna be in trouble, oh, boy, he’s really fussy about the music, I mean, his tempos have to be just right. We go, well, we’re just gonna go and play whatever, if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it but this is what we do. So we get there and we sit down, he comes up he says, alright, boys, let’s have a tune here and I’m gonna time you and he gets out a stopwatch and boom, he puts the stopwatch put and we just play a tune and didn’t think twice about it, just play it the way we always play it. And we’re done with the tune and he stops the stopwatch, he looks at it and it was like never another word about tempo the rest of the night, I think we probably just nailed it right down to the second.

Doug Protsik
Matter of fact, I’ve done a lot of recording of dance tunes and stuff over the years and when you do a digital recording it instantly shows you how long the tune is that you’ve played and I noticed that over and over again, I’ll play a jig or play reels, or whatever it is I’m recording, if I’m thinking about how I played for dances, when I’m done, it’s within a few seconds after playing two or three, four times through. It’s within a few seconds so if you do it enough, there’s a sort of almost an intuitive feeling that can vary to depending on the dance that you might be a little slower in this context, and a little faster another and you might also ever so slowly speed up a little bit to give things more of a dynamic feel. There’s always the ridiculous gimmick of playing twice as fast at the very end. Sometimes it’s fun to sort of goof on the on the dancers for fun too, another thing that we were famous for, or infamous for, I don’t know what it was, but we would, all of us, playing on the stage would come off the stage and play right on the dance floor with the dancers. And then at the very end of the dance, we all fall down on our backs and kick our feet up in the air. During the heyday of the Bowdoinham dance, National Geographic was doing a story on the coast of Maine and, and our Bowdoinham dance at that point had become iconic, this is like in the late 80s. We’d been doing it for 15 years or something and it was a sort of an iconic dance. And around ’88 or so I’d say, National Geographic people heard about this Maine folk dance, fiddling music, traditional near the coast and Bowdoinham, we got to have this in our article. So they brought a couple of people and one of their ace photographers, you know how good the photos are in National Geographic. So they came out and they took a whole bunch of pictures that our dance one night and then they came back the next month, they said, well, the pictures weren’t good enough. We gotta do it again. So they came and they did a whole bunch more pictures. When the publication finally came out, I’ve got a copy of it somewhere, it’s the worst picture I’ve ever seen in any National Geographic, it’s so blurry, it’s ridiculous, it’s all of us on our backs with our feet up in the air.

Julie Vallimont
That’s what they chose to represent dancing.

Doug Protsik
The different musical styles that we went through, so you add the French Canadian, but then all of a sudden like the Boys of the Lough and all this big time Irish stuff came in and so everybody was playing Irish music for a while, it became sidetracked into Irish for like a year which seemed like a decade back but then then it came in the English thing and Dudley was right in on that with all the Morris dancing and English dance tunes and English country dance through the CDSS. There was a phase where we kind of like discovered that and explored that a little bit. But every time we go into these other realms, and that’s where the accordion came in which really changed our sound big time. For one thing, it was a big time sound. I mean an accordion can be as loud as two or three fiddles. It doesn’t have to be, it’s not always played that way but the way we played it, it certainly was. The first accordion that came on the scene was the button accordion. That was the instrument that Dudley was playing when I first met him at that dance. He had played a piano accordion quite a bit before then and been playing button accordion and then later on, he really got into fiddling and stuff. He was leading the band with accordion so that was very interesting. I was busy though, learning piano and working on that. Some of my colleagues really started to get into playing the button accordion because it’s not that much different than a harmonica. A lot of folk musicians knew enough on the harmonica, how it worked and so it wasn’t that big of a deal to go into the old push and pull on the button accordion.

Julie Vallimont
The notes are different on the push and on the pull. It’s a little bit of a brain brain twist.

Doug Protsik
You know, I played both, most people don’t play both of those instruments.

Julie Vallimont
I can’t do it, I tried.

Doug Protsik
Well, I played both. And guess what? The button accordion is actually easier, believe it or not and I’ll tell you why. First of all, it’s diatonic. Right? That means there’s no accidentals to goof up on, right?

Julie Vallimont
Just the notes of the scale.

Doug Protsik
Just the notes of a major scale, of a straight major scale, you’re all set so you got that going for you and so that really limits it. I always think you gotta have the left hand in accordions, they’re just as important as the right hand. The left hand in a button accordion, you have fewer options, but you have to know which direction to push and pull and all that. So that seems to be really difficult if you’re used to a piano accoridon. You don’t have to worry about the bellows. It’s just a an air pump to supply the air where as the button accordion, you have to go back and forth. And so logically would seem like that’s more difficult because of that. I actually found that it’s easier in this sense is that once I’ve learned a tune on the button accordion, I’ll never forget it, the only reason that I say that is because it’s a holistic body experience.

Julie Vallimont
That’s a great way to describe it.

Doug Protsik
In other words, you’ve heard of muscle memory. Well, you end up with an incredible amount of muscle memory because this back and forth thing,

Julie Vallimont
Cause you literally have to move the bellows in order to change notes.

Doug Protsik
That’s right. You can’t think about it, if you thought about it you’d go crazy with a piano accordion, you can think a little bit about your fingering, but here, it’s muscle memory, it’s the limited number of notes and it’s the fact that I don’t know a single button accordion player and that includes myself, that really knows what the notes are you’re playing, the names of them that is. Like, when I play the fiddle or the piano or the piano accordion, I know the name of every note I’m playing. It’s in my brain, that’s the note. Button accordion, I don’t care. I could care less about what note I’m playing, because it’s all ear, it doesn’t help to look down. There’s no logic to it, just a bunch of anonymous buttons. I suppose you can intellectualize it, and I’m a real intellectual player, I love to analyze everything I do. I like to know, everything I do, it helps me remember things, it helps me replicate tunes. I like to know, the fiddle tune, what key it’s in, it really helps me remember the tune if I know the name and association. It puts it all together, but you have to take the time to sort of figure out a tune, get familiar with it, and then play it enough. I find that once I’ve done that, and so I actually think that in terms of melody, I really love the fiddle as the best melody instrument for dancing. But I think in my mind, the button accordion might be the next one. The reason is, is that makes fiddling to me, magical and fun in fiddling is the bowing because the left hand, a note is a note, the more it’s in tune, the more it’s gonna ring out and sound better and everything else but a note is a note. Whereas the bow has like these infinite possibilities. Picking a mandolin, there’s not a lot of possibilities, it’s the pick goes back and forth. But a bow, you can either slur the note or you can bow the note.

Doug Protsik
The difference between the bowing and the slurring is what the magic is of the tune. And so in playing the fiddle you don’t want to just all back and forth but you don’t want to too many slurs, you really want the bowing to compliment the tune and make it very danceable and you have that option with the bow. The bow makes the music magic. Now, a button accordion doesn’t have a bow, no other instruments do. But it has the next best thing, it has bowing built into it. Because if the phrase requires you to go back and forth with the notes, that’s the bowing, but sometimes you might get two or three notes with the bellows going in the same direction and that’s the slur, the bow. With the button accordion, you are getting the bowing effect. Because when you change that direction of the bellows, just like when you change the direction of the bow, you are momentarily totally stuffing the note, clipping it. That creates a different feel as opposed to the slur. It’s the combination of the [hums tune]. The slurring in the bowing that that makes the fiddling and and it took me many many years to get to a point where I could control that and then actually use it as a form of self expression. But initially when I was playing the fiddle it took all of my energy to play the notes right and if I was calling the dance, I had to call the dance and I just didn’t have the ability to control the bowing so my bowing wasn’t as good as I would have liked it, but I didn’t have that ability. Over time, I’ve learned to at will change the bowing and get the nicest bowing strategy for the tune to make it most dnceable. So to me, that button accordion effect and the way Gabriel Labbé uses it with his harmonica playing, he has a double reed. The other thing is the musette sound of an accordion. I have to have the musette sound, to me the musette sound that most button accordions will have is the definitive old time accordion sound, and a straight tuned accordion, to me it doesn’t have that old time sound, to me it’s almost sounds like a classical musician trying to play a fiddle tune. It doesn’t matter how great Itzhak Perlman calls himself a fiddler, but I bet he can’t really play a really good dance tune for a barn dance and really nail it, you know what I mean?

Julie Vallimont
It wouldn’t have the right grit and rhythm to it.

Doug Protsik
He wouldn’t have the right bowing, he wouldn’t have the right feel. He’d play the notes too perfectly. If it’s too perfect, it’s can’t be fiddling. He’d put some vibrato there, he couldn’t help the vibrato or something.

Julie Vallimont
Just to explain for our listeners, Sylvia Miskoe and I were just talking about this a few days ago. Musette is also what we are calling wet tuning, where you have two reeds that play the same note and they’re purposely tuned a few cents apart from each other, so that they beat against each other, or a musette can be three of the same reed at a time. And that gives you that super rich full sound.

Doug Protsik
It does, it’s actually a sort of an internal vibrato, actually tune one of the reeds a little bit sharp. Yeah, and so you get a little eeeeeeeeeee going on, and to me, it says the accordion sound. Maybe it’s just because I heard Dudley doing that. But to me, it just evokes that old time sound. I learned to play the button accordion and I’ll play that for dances. But also, because I was studying piano, right around the same time that accordions came in to our musical family and colleagues and band members and everything. There are like three or four musicians in our musical group at the time that went head over heels over button accordion, and to this day it’s their major instrument. They never left it. Whereas some other musicians dabbled in it, like I did, learned half a dozen, a dozen tunes, but then focused on other instruments. But anyway, because I was doing old time piano and sometimes playing the melodies on the old time piano it dawned on me that I should play the piano accordion. And as it turns out, the piano accordion was a really relatively easy thing for me to transfer what I was doing on the piano, because the piano, according to me, is set up to be a perfect dance instrument, because it has the left hand of an old time piano player capability, you push one button and you get an octave bass note. You push another button right next to it and you get a triad chord, major chord or move a little bit further and you get the same chord as a minor. It’s got the counter bass and the fifth right next to it.

 

Doug Protsik
So it’s so logically laid out in fourths and fifths going up and down. It’s the most brilliant simple design and if you get into a pattern of the left hand doing bass and chords boom, chick, boom chick boom, chick boom chick and then a few basslines. You’re literally emulating exactly what the old time piano player is doing with octaves and chords with this type of style and the left hand except I all you have to do is push a few buttons. So it really gives you that rhythmical background and chordal capability and chromatically too and then of course with the right hand, you’ve got the keyboard, that’s where, to me, the piano accordion is actually much harder than the button accordion, because the piano keyboard, melodically speaking is not that easy to conquer. Because every key has a different different pattern. Like with the button accordion every key is exactly the same pattern.

Julie Vallimont
But on the piano because of the black and the white keys…

Doug Protsik
Every key is very different, minor, major every 12 tones. They all have different feel to it, different fingering, different chords, different accidentals all that you have to account for and then you’ve got the fingering, like an abundant chord in there, that there’s some fingering gimmicks. But with piano I’ve found that you really need to sit back and just really find the perfect fingering for a difficult phrase that I don’t want to just wing. I want to make it the most efficient way to do it, there might be like, two or three different ways of doing it. I want to find the way that speaks to me the most and is easiest for me and is physically facilitates the playing. Sometimes it takes a little studying to figure out how you might attack a melody with the piano. But with button accordion it is what it is. There’s not that many options unless you have a two row and then you drop down to the second row to get the same note in a pull instead of a push in order to get the right chord with the left hand, which is a pull, but the note that you want with it is a push, so you can get that same note with a pull if you drop. So there’s some of that gimmickry going on with chords but basically a tune is pretty straight.

Julie Vallimont
While we’re talking about chords and accordions, maybe now would be a good time. Would you be interested in demonstrating some of these things for us on the piano? I would love to hear you play a little piano.

Doug Protsik
Oh, sure. What I thought I would demonstrate what I was talking about with the button accordion. Let me let me get my button accordion and then I’ll do something with the piano. Let me get that.

Julie Vallimont
Sure. Doug is going to get his button accordion.

Doug Protsik
You know, another another thing I was going to mention is that when I play the piano accordion, I always want the piano accordion to sound like a button accordion. So I worked my technique with the piano accordion. First of all, I made sure that I get the right kind of musette tone on the piano accordion and that’s hard to find, a lot of them don’t have that. A lot of the old button ones, they all have the musette tone. I mean, you got the left hand hand, plenty of bass, your three basic chords. You even have a two chord, we have the one chord going this way and the same one going that way. You’ve got minor. Very limited, you only have two keys, so you only need a few chords. A lot of the dance tunes have only two or three chords anyway or can be played better. So, it’s all muscle memory. I play it once a year at the most. These tunes I’ve learned 30 years ago.

Julie Vallimont
Do you want to play us a classic Downeast tune on the button accordion?

Doug Protsik
This is my favorite one, an old French Canadian tune, Glise de Sherbrooke. A lot of times we say it sounds like Buffalo Gals so we’ll sing the words to Buffalo Gals with it. [Doug plays tune].

Doug Protsik
I could not play that for two years, pick it up and play it exactly the same way, because in my mind there’s so much muscle memory and also it’s really good for calling too because it’s such an unthinking instrument. The piano accordion, there’s a lot to think about, all these different keys and fingering and strategies and this is the most unthinking, intuitive ear playing instrument. A good example of one of the classic tunes on piano that one of my mentors played, and is really a good example of the Downeast tune I’ll never forget when we first heard this tune. We went up to Canada to Nova Scotia to find out more about Downeast fiddling when we heard about this fiddling family, the fiddling Comeau family in Comeauville. So we went to the Bay of Fundy on the coast to Comeauville and said, hey, we’re looking for the fiddlers in Comeauville. Oh, yeah, they live up right up by Comeau Road here, right up there on the hill. Anyway, we went there and the the father was the venerated old timer, who played the fiddle. His son, Johnny was a little bit younger than we were or right around the same age. Of course, he’d grown up with fiddling so he was a dynamic fiddler. Here’s the funny thing back then, is that the trad stuff hadn’t really hit with the younger generation up in Canada, because it had been around for all the old timers. When we got up there and played with Johnny and his buddies, all they wanted to do and talk about was bluegrass, that at that time up in Canada, bluegrass was the thing. They even called themselves bluegrass bands and they did bluegrass repertoire. They all had a big background in the traditional stuff. But they didn’t want to play that, they took that for granted. They wanted something different from away and so we went up there and he said look, I’ll teach you one of my tunes but you have to play some Bluegrass for me. So so we faked a little Bluegrass and then he showed us the old classic, he taught us The Old Crooked Stove Pipe and so I always like to show people the Waldo Munroe version [Doug plays chords on the piano] You gotta have that good steady bass, Otto Soper showed me that if you flick down with your little finger you can almost get as good a sound like is an octave. [Doug plays the piano].

Julie Vallimont
Oh, that makes me so happy.

Doug Protsik
Anyway, we were very excited to learn the Crooked Stove Pipe, we love the name of it. We love the whole thing about it and it’s a great dance tune. Good example the kind of reel that’s pretty much sort of like a two step tune, you know, not too many notes, very danceable, cool chords too. That was the other thing, that up in Canada, these traditional tunes, especially the ones that were even composed by people from the region, maybe a couple hundred years ago, but nonetheless, didn’t come originally from Scotland or Ireland. They will always have cool chords and it became a stylistic thing where they added more chords than the way they have figured it out in the southern old timey stuff. One of the big chordal things that was very different and new to me, the chords are very important for establishing the music to dance to because if you have exciting chord progressions, that can really make things more interesting. I’m going to get just a little technical here, a lot of times your standard tuner would have one chord, the four chord and the five chord. What we found was that they utilize the two chord in the downeast style stuff, and you hear that in this Crooked Stove Pipe goes from the C down to the A, and there’s an E note there and that’s shared by both the C and the A. They would utilize the two chord and they would more often than not, they would use it as a major, because normally a two chord without an accidental is a minor chord, like you’re in the key of G it would be an A minor, but they would use the A major, they would even use an A major with a dominant seventh on it. And what that would do would be just add that extra bit of chordal oomph to the tune. Quite often the tune would even beg for that once you got an ear for it, it would beg for it or sometimes you’d sort of insert it in there and add that element to it. Having fun with the chords, expanding the chord realms, a good example of that is what they did with the Irish tunes, I think I attribute this to the famous Irish bands from the 80s or whatever.

Doug Protsik
There are a whole section of minor tunes in the repertoire that basically traditionally would have two chords in them, say you’re in E minor, for example, you have your E minor and then you just go down the whole step for the D and there’s a whole lot of tunes that have that progression and only those two chords and so backup musicians got tired of playing just two chords. And so they became inventive and then we called it Irish New Age gimmick or something like that. When we went to play a tune at a dance and it was going to be one of these minor modals with just the whole step below major to the minor mode which the vast majority are. Somebody would shout out let’s go New Age Irish or something. And then anybody playing chords would know that then we would go to the alternative. What that gimmick is, it’s really cute. Say you’re in A…say you’re in E minor…They said no, no, not only can we add some chord to it, but we can even have a cool bassline so they start off with the E minor, they go into D, that’s normal Now normally you’d go back to the E minor, but instead, they go down a whole step to C which shares a note with E minor, the E, therefore harmonically fits, and yet sounds totally weird. So then you got [Doug plays on the piano] You’ve got the C, and now you’ve got this baseline, then you finish with B minor, which is the relative minor of D, which means it relates as an alternative, because you can sort of use the relative minor as an alternative to a major chord. Because they relate they, they share notes, and they relate to each other and so the gimmick is just that [Doug plays on the piano].Then you do that with…can’t think of a tune right now. But you do that with a regular straight minor tune, you know, what I’m talking about, it just like, really adds a whole new element to it. So fun chords and the bassline too that it adds to that. The only thing about it is that I don’t really want to do the whole tune with that gimmick. I like to use a gimmick as a gimmick, play it straight, but then throw in, because if you just start off with the gimmick, then there’s nowhere else to go. So it’s nice to have something to go to that’s different to liven up the music to inspire the dancers is what the idea is. The idea is to have have the music be so much fun, that the dancers hear the fun-ness, the fun that you’re having, the fun that you’re doing with the music. And that inspires them to have fun with the dancing and it makes you want to even have more fun with the music.

Julie Vallimont
Having that like, playful attitude is so important. Musicians have to play around with the music, they have to play around with the dancers, the dancers have to play around the dance and each other. You have to be innovating and messing around and trying new things because that keeps it fresh.

Doug Protsik
Well, that’s the thing that bothers me about dances or tunes that are too complex, because, to me, as a dancer, I want to have mental time to smell the roses while I’m dancing. I want to be able to have some mental space to appreciate the music, I want to have some mental space to appreciate my partner, I want to have some mental space to accommodate my partner, recognize where they’re coming from. And whether they want to do 12 twirls or whether they don’t want any twirls at all or whether they’re an older lady who needs to be treated very gently, or whether they’re some young wild person that really wants to go for it. I want to feel the rest of the dancers, well, that takes mental energy and if I’m spending all my mental energy, listening to the caller, and going through the next complicated figure I don’t have the time to do that. I’m working hard, I can do it to some degree. It’s just to me, it’s really nice when you can just let yourself go with it. I don’t know, if you can really do music justice, if you’re reading it, you have to have it in your heart and in your mind and in your spirit and then it comes out. If you’re just sort of reading it just becomes a rote kind of thing somewhat, unless you’re a fantastic reader that can sight read and still bring out the magic of the tune. But I can’t, my ear takes over my eyes all the time.

Julie Vallimont
You can’t be inside the tune if you’re sight reading it. You can’t really play inside the tune and play with the tune until you know the tune so well that then you can play with it.

Doug Protsik
Absolutely.

Julie Vallimont
The reading music will never get you there.

Doug Protsik
I’ve had a big repertoire, but I like to stick with tunes that I really know well and that I can really do. I’ve got a big enough repertoire. You don’t need a gigantic repertoire but you do need a solid repertoire where you can really play it at the right tempo and have the right feel to it. Then you got to think about what’s good for the dancers, what do they need, you know? I just want to bring up one other point about the contra-ization of the old time country dances. I really think that square dances are a whole different approach and singing square dances that’s a nice thing to have at a dance just to sort of introduce people to that element and what it has to offer as far as dancing goes, it’s a different form and it has other ways of relating to people. Circle dances, there’s all kinds of circle dances, there’s circles mixers, there’s Sicilian Circles with couples facing couples, there’s trio circle dances. So those interactive circle dances to me are really magical and magical in the sense that you’re really working together as a unit. And to me, the ultimate fulfillment of all of this is that to be able to get hired to play for a wedding and play the nice music for the ceremony and play some exciting music as people are greeting the bride and groom or eating or something like that. But then, at some point, if you can get everybody up and call a dance, and have everybody dance together with the music that you’ve been playing, and unite everybody in the hall to to celebrate. You end up with, to me, the best and the most exciting elements of what the dance is all about and has absolutely nothing to do with the complexity of the dance, everybody is welcome to join in.

Doug Protsik
There’s a real special art that I’ve that I’ve worked on all my time doing this kind of music, dancing and calling, is to be able to inspire total rank beginners who’ve never done any dancing whatsoever. Maybe never even heard fiddle music, they’ve heard the music for a while and then get them up right away with minimal amount of instruction and calling and get them up to do a dance and have that all worked out really well, where everybody just has a great time. Even though they’ve never done it before, I’ll only call it through three, four times, and then they’re on their own and they get it right away if they have any sort of musical sense of rhythm. Everybody gets it right away and it’s such a feeling of giving people such a wonderful experience to really share with people. Please tell me if there’s something in our modern culture that represents what I’m talking about in any way, shape, or form. I just, I can’t think of it. I know that when I was growing up and went to my first dances in junior high, I went into a gymnasium where the music was being blasted so loud, you couldn’t even talk to anybody. And it was a dark room and then you were somehow expected to know how to dance when you really didn’t. So then you just go out there with your partner and everybody just sort of moves around and whatever and there wasn’t any relating. It was like everybody’s sort of doing their own thing. When I first experienced that togetherness, that community feeling of the dancing and sharing it, it made all the difference in the world because it was for everybody and everybody joins in and everybody has a great time and everybody dances. If you’re playing the music, and right away when I get people up to dance I just get them clapping to the beat, I start playing the tune. So the beat is infectious and I say all you have to do is find the beat.

Doug Protsik
So here’s the tune, see if you can clap along and everybody, right away, they’re all clapping along and they get the beat. And then you just have them step to the beat. Every step is a beat of the music. There’s 64 steps one time through a fiddle tune and, and their’s 64 steps in a dance and it all fits together. That’s what unifies everybody is the beat and so to me, that musical downbeat is everything. I’ve heard people say, oh, it’s the upbeat, you want people to be up. But, to me, it’s the downbeat, that’s where people are stepping. For example, it really bothers me that in general new age dances. new age contra dances aren’t doing the balance the old time way anymore. There was this English version of a balance where you just sort of step towards your partner and back like this kind of thing, so very English Dance, just very proper and all that. And to me, the old time country dancing that farmers in Maine and everything, they had their boots on, and they were cutting up. If you read the Country Dance Book they have these wonderful drawings of dancers and they show that the real balance, which is you step on your right, and you kick across your body with your left, then you step on your left and you kick across your body with the right, and you mirror image your partner that way. When you step down, your first step is right on the beat, Well, you get a whole bunch of dancers stomping for their balance, boom, on that beat and the whole hall goes. They actually built the halls to do that. They actually specifically designed the floor joist to give a certain amount, because they wanted the floor to do that.

Julie Vallimont
Is that a sprung floor?

Doug Protsik
Yes, exactly and I’m sure Wescustogo as well, but that might have been the ultimate example of a big large hall with a sprung floor and so you go down in the basement and you’d hear the beat of the feet.

Julie Vallimont
Could you play us another Downeast classic tune, the kind of thing you’d hear at the evening barn dance?

Doug Protsik
I have a whole medley setup on the piano here that I did the other day when I was a special surprise guest at the Fiddle Hell concert. Maybe I’ll just replicate that again, I’ve got it cued up on the the piano here.

Julie Vallimont
Doug has pre-recorded a piano performance into his piano and he’s gonna hit the button and his piano is gonna play it back while he plays fiddle.

Doug Protsik
That’s right and it’s gonna give me…Doug’s gonna give me four potatoes. We always started our, our dances off saying to the piano player, four potatoes and that meant four beats to set the tempo for everybody and then and also cue the caller, give the caller time to get the first call in before the tune starts. I’ve done that with the piano. So I’m going to play a jig called the Barber’s Jig, it goes way up high, you’re getting this harmonic and I call it the Barber’s Jig because I learned it years ago from a fiddling barber in Augusta, a French Canadian fellow. I never learned the real name but Eric Favreau told me the real name in French is something like the traveler or something like that. It’s a fun jig and it kind of goes into an interesting minor mode so it’s a real classic [tune I] learned from old Maine fiddler and then I’ll go into the Logger’s Breakdown which is a breakdown which is kind of like a reel sort of, and then Tommy Boyle’s Reel. Tommy Boyle was a fiddler from Maine and Nova Scotia. He spent half his time in in Maine, half his time in Nova Scotia. And one of our mentors knew him well and raved about his fiddling and his Downeast repertoire but he had passed away when we’re learning about him. So we didn’t get to hear him but I was playing at fiddle contest years later and I was going to play Tommy Boyle’s Reel and so I just happened to mention I said, hey, does anybody out there know anything about Tommy Boyle, this really cool reel and we heard he was a great fiddler. And son of the gun his like, great granddaughter came up afterwards and said, I couldn’t believe you played that tune I recognized it right away and then he said Tommy Boyle like that. She says guess what, I have an old cassette recording of his playing that he went to some record yourself record thing and recorded a bunch of tunes. She gave me a cassette copy of it, eventually digitalized it and presented it to some fiddler campers. But the interesting thing was is that we found that his repertoire that he was playing, was the exact same repertoire that we were working on. We knew every tune that he had been playing and it kind of reinforced the idea that we were on the right track with the repertoire. So here’s three tunes from Maine with Doug on the piano. Here we go. How about four potatoes on the piano. [Doug plays tunes with the piano].

Doug Protsik
Balance was good, I never checked the balance on that.

Julie Vallimont
It’s a little piano rich.

Doug Protsik
I noticed that on the meter there but oh well. Did you hear the fiddle okay, does it get by?

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, I could hear the tune. But the piano has that firm downbeat presence for sure. I didn’t wan to stop you, you were on such a roll. I didn’t want to interrupt you to fix it.

Doug Protsik
Oh, well, I can do it again if you want, or not, it’s up to you.

Julie Vallimont
I think it’s close enough. I think Zoom is funny about how it handles fiddle. So I think that was pretty good. Well, this has been such a wonderful time talking and in conclusion the thing that strikes me over and over again, and it kind of goes back to the very beginning of this interview, when you’re talking about how you learned and how you decided to revive these traditions or keep them going and start a dance tradition in Maine or keep going a dance tradition in Maine. You mentioned all those people that you started it with. I think just the the whole Maine traditional music and dance scene is just a really good example of building community through dance and music, and really bringing people together and all those folks you mentioned in the beginning. John Gawler is like part of the Gawler Family Band, which is a really important band.

Doug Protsik
Ellen Gawler showed up years later, Greg Boardman.

Julie Vallimont
Yeah, and started Maine Fiddle Camp.

Doug Protsik
Yeah, that’s right. There was a core of us, Jeff McKean is another and Bob Childs when he was around in Maine, he helped to get things started by calling and getting bands going. It takes certain people to really sort of lead the way and so we had a core group of people. Once that got going, more and more bands started and it really took off. I remember in 1976, I was convinced that this whole dance scene was going to take off like you wouldn’t believe. We got asked to play for for Ralph Page at this gigantic square dance festival in Portland at the Augusta Civic Center, they took over the whole Civic Center and had all these square dancers from all over the country in this big square dance convention. Ralph Page is featured and they wanted a real contra dance band, because he was going to call a contra dance. Even though it was like this square dance thing they were going to break a little bit with their tradition and throw in a traditional contra dance. We worked with another Mainer named Hillie Bailey, who helped us a lot because he ran a square dance club and had his own log cabin dance hall, he had his club do dances and he used recordings. When he heard that we were doing these old time country dances, contra dance and stuff, he wanted to introduce his folks to that and he wanted the live music for it. He had us come and play some contra dance music and he taught his square dancers or some contra dances through us and we learned how to do the schottische through him so he was an important resource.

Doug Protsik
A lot of us had the same influences, Elaine Malkin was there back then and a couple of members of Greg’s band, but they’ve either moved away or one of them has passed away. Carter and Katy Newell came on the scene later in the 70s, early 80s. Those people that we’ve mentioned are actually the ones that started Maine Fiddle Camp initially. It was kind of a core group that represented the Maine Country Dance Orchestra, and other side bands, Old Grey Goose and all kinds of other bands and stuff. But we all were tied together with the development of the dance scene. When a lot of people started having kids, the idea of starting a fiddle camp came about so that we could pass it on to the next generation. So that was like an instrument to allow us to do that. It’s kept on and done quite well and I’ve always tried to emphasize that important connection of the fiddle music and the dancing. I know that’s sort of the general theme of what you’ve got going here. That I’m determined to not let die at fiddle camp because to me that connection of the social dancing, not just step dancing, necessarily step dancing is great, too and another whole art form, another whole thing, too, that can be explored and developed. I’m hoping to have some full time step dance teaching at fiddle camp, but the social dancing, that’s really important. I don’t want people to forget that they’re playing dance tunes and they should always be played at a good dance tempo, with that old time dance-ability factor way up there.

Julie Vallimont
That’s right. And now dancing in Maine, there’s dances around the state, and there’s a lot of new people organizing like new, relatively speaking, like, Chrissy Fowler, worked on the Belfast Dance for a long time and Maggie Robinson. I’m not trying to even make this a complete list and I don’t live in Maine, but I’ve gotten to know some of these folks playing. They kind of do this hybrid model where they’ll have family dances, and then they’ll book out of town bands for contra dances at night.

Doug Protsik
There’s a standard formula now. It’s the same formula you probably find wherever you go in contra dance theme. I’ve always been an advocate of, of decentralization and to me that’s what’s happened with the contra dances, it’s become centralized in that there’s one formula now.

Julie Vallimont
Right, any caller or any band can be put together and play any dance.

Doug Protsik
That’s the formula, boom, boom and then it’s contra, contra, contra, contra, contra, contra, maybe a waltz at the break and then contra contra, contra contra, whereas ours was always this…you know, this shocked me…I generally don’t really play for modern dance as much anymore, those dances. I’ve done that but I get so much more pleasure out of playing and calling and just playing my tunes for another caller. I don’t feel that same connection musically with the crowd either, it’s not the same like it was like if there’s this connection like we had in the old days.

Julie Vallimont
For better or for worse, the the modern dancers are wanting to connect with something different, like different kinds of music, they have a different ear, different aesthetic, fancy arrangements, different kinds of tunes that go along with the different kinds of dances.

Julie Vallimont
I’m not opposed to creativity on the dance level. Although I wouldn’t want a whole evening of it. I mean, we used to do some of that innovation and some of that newness.

Julie Vallimont
So the question is, what is that essence that is the common thread between all these kinds of dance where the music and the dance support each other, so that we can avoid having a split between these two different styles where the dancers are unfamiliar with one and it feels like there’s two different worlds? It’s an interesting question. It’s just so wonderful to hear all your stories and thoughts and experiences and your enthusiasm is contagious. It’s made me so happy to listen back to all these stories and think about dancing and it brought me right back there to the dance floor. So thank you for that, Doug.

Doug Protsik
You bet, glad to do it. I love the CDSS, they do great work, always have. I love being put in partnership with them with our nonprofit as well.

Julie Vallimont
Wonderful.

Transcript may be edited for clarity. Apologies for any typos. Thanks to Ellen Royalty and Mary Wesley for their help in preparing this transcript.