Hello fellow musicians from up here in the great white north!
Soooo many amazing ideas regarding open and community bands that folks have
been sharing. After a crazy March and first half of April, I've pulled
together some ideas on what we do here in Ottawa. Apologies as my email is
a bit of a 'dumping' of ideas rather than being overly thought out... it's
been written as I get a moment here and there from our 11 month old. :)
(BTW our band page has a lot of resources that I pulled together for our
local musicians... http://www.ottawacontra.ca/communityband/default.htm)
*Open vs community*
Three years ago, we set up a community band. We considered an open band
that anyone could join up on stage but with our main purpose being to grow
our pool of contra musicians here in Ottawa and expose folks to new
strategies that our local bands weren't using, we thought a community band
approach would be better. (There are a lot of local trad musicians in
Ottawa but a lot of them are not dancers and don't listen/see travelling
contra bands so they have no idea what options are out there.)
Anyway, some details about the band...
- *Mission: *At our first two gatherings, we talked about why we wanted
to play contra dance music. This led to shaping our "goals" which I think
have been particularly helpful. Whenever someone else wanted/wants to join
the band, I've sent them our web link so they can read what we're about and
whether what we're doing is of interest. Sharing the same intention helps
a lot when talking tunes, strategies to excite the dancers etc.
- *Who could join. *At first, anyone was allowed to join the band...
come to practices, check it out. We invited all current contra musicians
in the area + reached out to dancers who played + some local trad musicians
who we thought would be receptive. Skill level and experience playing for
dances didn't matter.
- *Practice regularity:* Very early on, we settled on weekly practices.
Over the first 1.5 years, a core group formed and they are super keen. A
few people float in and out but that's ok.. the nature of a community
band. And we take a break in the summer so there's anticipation for
- *Number of members: *At 12 members, we've capped the band. This is
because we can't fit more people into our practice space OR on stage.
However, even if we didn't have the space limit, twelve is reallllly hard
to corral in terms of tight arrangements so I think we would have maxed out
anyway. As people cycle out of this group, we'll add others. (We aren't a
professional band, we're definitely community and about learning.)
- *Can others participate? *Yes! We've promoted to other musicians
(including from other contra bands) that they can come sit in for a whole
evening as a guest. Plus, other bands (or possible new bands) can come try
out a few sets at our dances. Plus, we play a few sets where anyone can
come join us on stage. Few have taken us up on these offers so maybe we
should promote it more???
- *Leadership: *I'm the founder and leader of the band. For the first
couple of years, I tried to get others to share the leadership role. But
it turns out after repeated checking (and I still check) that they like the
current structure. I think this is mostly do to with two things (1) they
like the mission of the band and I structure practices in a way that
focuses on the mission so they're currently happy with it's direction (2) I
work really hard on bringing accessible but new tunes/ideas that are always
stretching the group in a way that excites them. We're now getting to the
point that others are bringing ideas which is great but we started with so
many novices that didn't have that base to begin.
- *Tunes:* VERRRYYYYY carefully selected for ease of playing as well as
ariety in emotional feel, style, and grooves for dancing. Not very many
reels as most of our players can't play them cleanly up to speed and even
if they could, they'd be messy with so many melody players. A few reel
sets but a LOT of marches and related material in addition to jigs.
Various keys - but lots of D & G )+ relative), especially to accommodate
our accordion and whistle players. OOODLES of variety - kelzmer, swing,
quebecois, irish, appalachian, modern contra, trad contra, swedish. And...
yes... we've 'stolen' a few sets off bands like Wild Asparagus ... our name
is 'Stolen Goods' and we're happy with this as it's a 'learning band' in
which we don't make any money. By copying really great bands, we learn
lots... it helps us see where we might go with certain tunes.
- *Arrangements: *See above re 'stolen goods' 'stealing' ideas from
other bands. We work reallly hard to learn different tricks for
arrangements from a variety of bands. The more cool fun stuff we can do
for dancers, the better. And we also like doing goofy things that make the
dancers smile. We have chord charts and we do write out arrangements of who
is playing when (although we also throw those out the window). It's HHHARD
to get melody players to take breaks in order to let other voices come
through but we're getting better. More...
... we have a few sets that we sing on
... we've started practicing the 'groove' for the set before playing the
set so everyone shares the same intention of what the set is supposed to
... we are working on getting people off the sheet music in order to
listen to others better
... we are working on various tricks we can plus in anywhere (e.g.,
- *Workshops:*Twice a year, we hire a touring band to give us a 2hr
workshop. Three of our musicians have also been to Ogontz for Keith Murphy
and Becky Tracey's dance musician course... it's fantastic when we can
learn as a group. My next idea is to have a mini-camp experience here in
Ottawa for our local musicians as a number of people can't travel.
(There are a few sets below that we haven't got in our repertoire yet but
most are being used.)
----Contra march 1. On the Danforth (in G) 2. On the Danforth (in
march & reels 1. Coleman's March 2. Whisky Before Breakfast 3. Juliann
Johnson ----Swedish-Klezmer 1. Schottishe Fran Havero 2. Leybedik
marches 1. Bear Dance/La Danse de L'Ours/Barentanz 2. Campbell's Farewell
to Redcastle/Red Gap ---Irish-NFLD jigs 1. The Miller's Maggot 2. The
Kerfunken 3. Skipper Lost his Guernsey ----Oldtime reels 1. Kitchen Girl 2.
Rabbit in the Pea Patch 3. The Judge ----Irish-Cape Breton reels 1. Lady
Ann Montgomery 2. The Dunmore Lasses 3. Union Street Session ---Quebecois
jig & reel 1. La Maison de Glace 2. Reel Beloiel ----Swedish(y) 1.
Schottishe Fran Idre 2. Griffenfeld's 3. Black Rock ----Contra jigs 1.
Glen Echo Jig 2. The Walk Home 3. The Farmer's Joy ----11: Swing 1.
Puttin' On The Ritz 2. Who's the Blue-Eyed Lady? ----Oldtime song 1.
Buffalo Gals (Gmaj) 2. Buffalo Gals (Dmaj) ----Contra-French marches 1.
March of the Lost Boys 2. March of Poetry 3. Tournemine ----English
marches 1. Mount Hills 2. Childgrove 3. Newcastle ----Klezmer 1. Zahta 2.
Galician Sher ----Contra reels 1. The Golden Ticket 2. Gloucester Girl 3.
The New Mango Technique ----Mixed marches 1. The Coral Riff 2. 250 to
Vigo ----Oldtime-Quebecois marches 1. John Brown March 2. Marche de
Queteux Pomerleau -----Mixed jigs 1. The Coming Dawn 2. Stan Chapman's
Jig 3. The Star Above the Garter -----Quebecois-Contra reels 1. Le
Contredanse 2. The Adirondack (in G) 3. The Adirondack (in A) ----Chestnut
reel Chorus Jig ----Chestnut reel Money Musk ----Contra march 1. Reign
of Love ----English marches 1. Softly Good Tummas 2. Rose Tree -----Old
time marches 1. Booth Shot Lincoln 2. There is a Mountain/Mountain
time reels 1. Red Prairie Dawn 2. Shenandoah Falls ----
French-Breton-Irish marches 1. The Chanter Song 2. The Wren
marches/reel 1. Doon the Brae 2. Screech Owl Reel 3.
Klezmer 1. Hora by Emil Kroiter 2. Podolia 3 ---- Breton-Contra marches 1.
Gavotte des Montagnes 2. Wedding Dance ---- Early-??? marches 1.
Bergamasca 2. Butcher's March ----Irish polkas 1. Kieran's 2. Glen
Cottage Polka 3. Unknown Sliabh Luachra Polka ----Irish-Contra jigs &
reel (Ogontz) 1. Connaughtman's Rambles 2. Chamonix 3. Camel Hump
jigs 1. The Fading Light 2. Jigapapaz ----Quebecois-Irish jigs 1. Gigue
Du Salon 2. Tobin's Favourite ----Old Time-RocknRoll 1. Durang's
Eight Days a Week -----Waltzes W1. Catherine Burns' Waltz W2. Old Clock
Tower W3. Sourgrass and Granite W4. Sunday River Waltz W5. In
Continental Mood W6. Haapavesi W7. Honeysuckle Cottage W8. Old Queen W12.
The Winding Song W10. Valse de Pastouriaux W11. Wedding Gift
W12. Over the Ice
W14.Es iz shoyn shpeyt (It's getting late)
W15. Fremont Waltz
W16. Valse Baulieu
W17. Hills of Manchuria
----Other couple dances C2. Hargalaten C2. Norsken C3. Ulrika Till
Canada C4. Elaine's Hambo (revised to fit dance) C5. Snigelschottis C6.
C7. Sweet Georgia Brown
Hi dance musicians :)
I lamented watching some amazing conversations happening last month about
open & community bands ... I'm hoping to chime-in much belatedly with
Ottawa's experience. But first, I have a different question all together
for the group!
Way up here in Ottawa, it's hard for our local dance musicians to get much
experience playing dance music with anyone other than other local musicians.
Thus the question: Have any of you had local musicians 'sit in' when you've
played as the hired band? This idea came up at Puttin' On The Dance 2 and
we have a few keen musicians who would like to do this as part of their
strategy for improving their chops. I've since talked to two touring
musicians who are very open to this and think that some other bands may
also be open. However, I anticipate that other bands may not be open.
So, if you have experienced something like this...
1. What worked or didn't work for you?
2. How would you ideally like it structured? Off mic only or on mic
depending on the person? Would you want a max number of people on stage and
if so what? Would you be open to a 'sit in' at any time or only on a few
designated sets? Other thoughts?
3. And how would you like to be approached by the organizers? This would
definitely be a choice thing... not forced!!! I'm thinking more on how it
could be thoughtfully presented and facilitated.
Re sit ins... I'm talking about musicians who already have some dance
experience (not random musicians).
Emily in Ottawa
I've been meaning to chip in on this topic as well. We have a local dance
in Amherst, the Fiddlers Green Contra Dance, which is always an open band.
The dance is once a month, and each month we hire a different professional
fiddler to "anchor" for the band. Often this will be a touring musician,
but it's always just the fiddler, not a whole band. We also have Linda
Henry on piano each and every month, and she takes on much of the work of
organizing and communicating with all the sit-in musicians. It seems to
work pretty well—we certainly have a lot of fun, we always get compliments
from the dancers, and because the fiddler is hired specifically to anchor
the sit-in band, they know exactly what they are getting into.
In fact, the musicians have so much fun that the sit-in band has been
growing, but this has led to its own problems, most especially in terms of
communication and arranging. So I'd be curious to hear how other open bands
handle this. Is one person in charge of "conducting" the band? If so, who?
Do they play an instrument while they conduct? What signs or symbols do
they use to communicate? When we have a small group we can all cluster
around Linda at the piano and she can shout out instructions, but we are
now too large for this to work!
- Benjamin Kalish
On Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 7:16 AM, Jeff Kaufman via Musicians <
> (Cross posting my reply to the callers list.)
> It depends on what your goals are. If you want to give the dancers there
> that night the best music you can give them that usually means letting your
> touring band play on their own. Most bands have their own tunes,
> arrangements, and style, and when fitting in extra musicians that's often
> hard to communicate and organize in the time available. Especially if this
> is a band known for having a tight sound, you're going to lose that when
> you add more people.
> But this may be worth it if your main goal is building local capacity.
> Yes, the music that night won't be as good, but if you can make up for that
> when the local musicians who sat in are playing on their own it's good on
> balance. If you go this route it's important that the sit ins are there
> because they want to learn and not just because it would be fun to play
> with the visiting musicians, or else you're not really being fair to the
> (You do still want to check with the band, because the amount the band's
> sounds will change when they incorporate new musicians is variable. At one
> extreme you have groups like Perpetual eMotion, at the other you have
> groups of individually excellent musicians who have more of a pickup band
> style among themselves. The more pickupish a band is the better they'll be
> able to integrate new musicians, and the way to find out is to ask them
> what they'd think.)
> (The above is all talking about sit ins who are included in the overall
> sound and that the band is trying to coordinate with. It's also possible to
> allow sit ins to sit well behind the band off mic while the band plays
> whatever they normally would. This is what BIDA does, though people only
> rarely show up. Some musicians find it annoying to have people noodling
> along behind them, others don't care.)
> On Apr 9, 2015 10:46 PM, "Emily Addison via Musicians" <
> musicians(a)lists.sharedweight.net> wrote:
>> Hi dance musicians :)
>> I lamented watching some amazing conversations happening last month about
>> open & community bands ... I'm hoping to chime-in much belatedly with
>> Ottawa's experience. But first, I have a different question all together
>> for the group!
>> Way up here in Ottawa, it's hard for our local dance musicians to get
>> much experience playing dance music with anyone other than other local
>> Thus the question: Have any of you had local musicians 'sit in' when
>> you've played as the hired band? This idea came up at Puttin' On The Dance
>> 2 and we have a few keen musicians who would like to do this as part of
>> their strategy for improving their chops. I've since talked to two touring
>> musicians who are very open to this and think that some other bands may
>> also be open. However, I anticipate that other bands may not be open.
>> So, if you have experienced something like this...
>> 1. What worked or didn't work for you?
>> 2. How would you ideally like it structured? Off mic only or on mic
>> depending on the person? Would you want a max number of people on stage and
>> if so what? Would you be open to a 'sit in' at any time or only on a few
>> designated sets? Other thoughts?
>> 3. And how would you like to be approached by the organizers? This would
>> definitely be a choice thing... not forced!!! I'm thinking more on how it
>> could be thoughtfully presented and facilitated.
>> Re sit ins... I'm talking about musicians who already have some dance
>> experience (not random musicians).
>> With thanks!
>> Emily in Ottawa
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