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
is 'Stolen Goods' and we're happy with this as it's a 'learning
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