[Callers] Calling to the tune "Sheepskin and Beeswax."

Meg Dedolph meg.dedolph at gmail.com
Tue Jan 7 09:38:17 PST 2014

Hi Delia,
I'm a caller and I'm in a band, so here's my 2 cents ...
Yes, I think there are some tunes that don't work as well for dancing as
others. Sometimes highly syncopated tunes don't work as well. Sometimes
noodly tunes don't work so well, because the tunes aren't very well
punctuated. There is a caller in Chicago who asks us not to play "Rainy
Night in Montague," because she finds it difficult to find the beat in the
A part. If the caller is not familiar with jigs, those can be confusing. I
think it all depends on what you're used to. There's a particular French
Canadian tune we hauled out once that was too syncopated for what the
dancers were doing, and after we played it through once, the caller turned
to us and said, "Switch. Now." I can't remember the name, unfortunately, or
I'd provide it as a good example of "What not to play."

Having looked up Sheepskin and Beeswax to refresh my memory, I'm curious as
to what is happening that makes this tune confusing to call to. I listened
to the version done by La Bottine Souriante, and it seems pretty
straightforward. Is the band's rhythm player (guitar, piano, bass,
whatever) laying down an easy-to-hear 4-count groove? And is everyone able
to play it up to dance tempo? Something funny I've noticed is that it is
sometimes easier to rush tunes with lots of notes. I think it's a mental
thing - "This tune is hard because it has all these notes in it, and so I'm
going to try to get through it as fast as I can...." - and then, before you
know it, the groove is shaky. It could be that the tune doesn't sit well at
the tempo you need it played at. We were at a dance week recently and
picked "Lost Girl" for a square dance, which is ordinarily a great tune
 ... but the caller liked blistering tempos for squares and it was hard
work to make that tune sit well at such a speed. Afterwards, the band all
agreed it was a bad choice on our part.

Sometimes, if I'm calling and I feel like I'm getting lost or misplaced in
the tune, I start stepping in place to help me keep track. And if it's a
tune I've never heard before, I often count the eight-count phrases in my
head while I'm calling. If the band is receptive, you might ask them to
medley it with another tune that's easy for you to understand, so you
either get a good start together (and by the time they get to the "hard"
tune, the dancers might have it and you won't have to worry about calling
so much), or you know you'll have something coming up that you can get your
bearings back on.
But in the end, you're all in it together on stage, and if you don't like
calling to this tune because you get lost, then maybe it's a good idea for
the band to find something else to play? There are lots of fiddle tunes out

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