On Wed, 14 Oct 2015, Michele Roy via Musicians wrote:
I'm a fiddler in a contradance band and would love
to have tips on how
to pick tunes to satisfy callers - you know, the "balance in the first
part of the B" sorts of requests. I'm always surprised at how many
callers have no idea of names of tunes and aren't able to suggest
something when looking at a band's set list. I agree with Emily in
Ottawa for what she'd like to see, too.
Shelly Ann in New England
Hi, Shelly Ann! Another contra dance fiddler here, and this is one of my
favorite topics! (Are you sitting comfortably?)
You may know some of these things already, and be able to figure out
Are you a dancer yourself? If so, next time you contra dance, pay
attention to what you liked (or didn't) - and why - in the relationship
between tunes (or the way the band played them) and dances. (You could
alternate dancing and observing/taking notes.)
Even if you don't contra dance, you can learn a lot by watching the
dancers. It may be good to try this while *not* playing, just observing.
If possible, observe and dance to a variety of other bands.
When choosing tunes, I start by asking to see the caller's card. I also
take into account where we are in the evening (beginning of a half, end of
a half, or somewhere in the middle), what we've already played, and how
close we are to the last dance of the half.
Some things I think about are phrase length, character of the figures,
mood of the dance (especially if the caller can tell you), and placement
of that dance in the evening's program.
You may already know how long certain contra dance figures take (how many
beats or bars). The way the dance instructions are arranged on the card
will tell you a lot of what you need to know: they're usually broken down
into A1, A2, B1, and B2; each of those parts contains 8 bars or 16 beats).
Appendix E of Mary Dart's 1995 book _Contra Dance Choreography_ has sample
"cards" for 20 dances: http://www.cdss.org/elibrary/dart/appendix_e.htm
Many figures take 8 beats (4 measures) or 16 beats (8 bars).
Figures that I always watch for are balances (2 beats + 2 beats), forward
& back (4+4 beats), and down the hall & back (usually 8 beats down & 8
beats to return, I think).
Some tunes come with the phrasing you want; others can sometimes be
adapted by adding or leaving out notes. As David Kaynor put it, "When
there's a lot of four-beat 'forwards and backs' and real chopped up
things, like when you circle left for eight beats and then change
direction and circle to the right...the band should do things that chop up
the musical phrases." (Dart 1995, ch. 2,
*Mood or feeling:*
You might try making some notes on your list of tunes or medleys,
characterizing each one. Is a tune light-hearted? intense? slinky?
straightforward? spooky? cheerful? mellow? exuberant? silly? elegant? etc.
Are there heys and gypsies, or figures that flow smoothly without
choppiness? Look for tunes that do the same. (I particularly like slinky
minor-key jigs to go with heys and gypsies.)
Are there lots of balances? Consider exuberant, rowdy tunes.
*Where the dance falls in the program:*
The same dance done in different parts of an evening might go equally well
with very different tunes.
. . . . Yikes, look at the time! I'd better stop for now.
Here's the link to that chapter of Mary Dart's book again because it
contains so many good insights:
Hope this helps,
Susie Lorand (Ann Arbor, MI)