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" <
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).
Emily in Ottawa
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