I am a flute player who is travelling to Massachusetts next weekend for a
conference and will have the evenings free. I love to jam and am wondering
if there is anyone on the list who is out there in western Mass who might
know of a jam that is open or want to play some.
I am an intermediate beginner player, as far as dance music goes.
It was three years ago that Seth and I started SharedWeight. The first
invitations went out on September 19th and the first messages went out
shortly afterwards. We'd like to thank everyone for sharing their
thoughts, material, opinions and attention. It's been our privilege to
see you take our vision for what these lists could be and make them a
This next year is going to be an exciting one as well. As the Musicians
and Organizers lists get going, there are more plans in the works for
You are a genius.
No kidding. if only everyone else I've played with had thought things through this way, life would be so much easier.
It does take a LOT of experience, though, to understand the tunes and match up at this level. We're working on it! When we have played 1/10 the number of venues you have, we will be a lot more with it. Meanwhile it would be good if the callers had the same feel for things and could suggest some tunes that they know work well with various dances, (like in English CD. But then you lose the opportunity for Catharsis and all the other great new tunes...)
OK, I'll wade in. Having sat in the fiddler's chair for almost 30 yrs, (and behind the caller's mic almost as long), I'd say your "rant" covers lots of thoughtful, and dance-technical ground, but for me is overly analytical.
What I like to hear from a caller is not much more than "jigs works well for this one", or "reels, please" and modified with "smooth & flowing", "march-like", "brisk", "old-timey is good for this dance", etc. Or, "I'm going to call Petronella next." Beyond that, I don't much care for, or need, more detail.
The caller's job is to clue the band as to style & feeling of tunes desired for a particular dance, and the band's job is to be observant of the dance, the appropriate tempo, the skill level of the dancers and to help denote where important phrases & pauses might be. I'm certainly not going to rearrange a set of tunes because there's a balance at the start of B1, or an allemande followed by a circle. Our sets are arranged to inspire the dancers through their progressions of key & chord changes, and thematic ideas. They are also chosen within genre's: old-time, standard New England, French-Canadian, Irish, flowing jigs, bouncy jigs, which will suit the flavor of the dance.
Occasionally Heaven is inadvertently achieved when the perfect tune meets the perfect dance, but I'd say the vast majority of the time both the caller and band achieve consistenly solid results, if not Nirvana, by thoughtfully pursuing what I've thumbnailed above.
All the best,
Oakum Bay String Band
Blue Hill, ME
For those of you not on the Callers list, here is a message posted by
Amy Cann wrote:
> Dead silence for weeks and then a four page rant?
> OK, I'm going to stop lurking and finally jump in. Brace yourself.
>>> Because there are balances both at the top and the bottom of the A1, it
>>> helps to have an appropriate tune. I wish I could recommend one.
> I have never quite understood why *other* musicians want to know where the
> balances are.
> Sure, it's good to "spike" the balances in my playing, but I can do that
> ANYwhere in a tune - and if I can't, I ain't no fiddler.
> And sure it's good to know where the balances ARE, but I can get that by
> watching the dance - and if I'm not watching the dance, then I ain't no
> Let me posit something: what we're really talking about here is LENGTH OF
> The one thing I want to know from a caller: how long are the phrases that
> you care about?
> The balances often mark the starts or ends of a phrase, but they're not
> always the actual issue.
> As both a caller and fiddler/pianist, I find with many callers (I'll get
> to the exceptions later) that the fastest way to match the tune to the
> dance is to say - "hey, can I see that card a sec?"
> First, I get to check out everyone else's heiroglyphics, and second, I can
> see what's going on faster than anyone could ever explain it to me.
> And here's what I'm looking for: where do things stop?
> Well, not stop, more like.."gather."
> It takes 16 beats to get through an A. This is NOT the same thing as 16
> steps. When you step, your weight is passing from one foot to the other.
> We take LOTS of steps in contradancing, but what we also get are lots of
> GATHERING moments, when we suck our weight together under us.
> Circle left = /step step step step /step step step step/ -- IF the next
> move is slide-left-along-the-lines.
> It also can = /step step step step /step step step GATHER / -- IF the
> next thing is going to be balance-the-circle.
> Think about it.
> Sometimes we gather ourselves, alone; sometimes in pairs, sometimes as a
> four person circle or line-of-four, wavy or not, and sometimes as a
> whole-room line.
> (We usually do this for one of two reasons: because we're about to go the
> OTHER way, or because we ARE going to go on, in a moment, in the same
> direction, but we're setting up some sort of delayed-gratification thing.)
> And often, without that clear gathering moment, the next thing won't work
> Think lines-forward-and-back: in some dances the line MUST suck itself
> together, snap into formation, BEFORE moving forward, or it won't have
> that satisfying clarity.
> NOW, tunes have places where they continue and places where they
> stop/gather too:
> Sometimes they go: deedle-deedle-noodle-noodle-deedle-noodle-doodle-needle
> for the whole time.
> Sometimes they go: deedle noodle CHUCK, deedle noodle CHUCK, chucka
> noodle chucka noodle YA CHA CHA! (hear the stops?)
> Another way to think of it: 16 beats could be 123stop 123stop 12345678 or
> it could be 1stop12345678910111213 stop or it could be.... you get it.
> NOW, the whole reason contradancing stays fresh (this my theory, and just
> my theory, but *I* believe it) is because even though the same people come
> every week, and the dances have a certain number of moves, and the band
> plays a limited number of tunes, the COMBINATION is never the same.
> Different partner, different neighbor. Different tune/dance pairing.
> Different 4+4 +8 tune layered over 8+2+2+4 dance.
> Imagine doing an allemande/balance/allemande/balance sequence to a tune
> that stops and starts right along WITH you. It can feel very satisfying,
> neatly packaged.
> Doing that same sequence while the tune keeps driving onwards? Now there's
> a delicious sense of urgency, gotta-catch-up.
> The better the dancers/caller/band, the more you can stretch the limits of
> that kind of interplay.
> HOWEVER, there are places where the dance stops/gathers, and the tune
> REALLY needs to do the same.
> In a group with lots of beginners, at the beginning of the night, at the
> beginning of a medley:
> Long-lines-forward -and-back really should have a tune that goes
> 1-2-3-stop, 1-2-3-stop.
> Any place where it's important that couples stop swinging and get on to
> the next thing.
> Any place where shapes need to quickly coelesce out of thin air, do
> something, and then morph quickly into a new clear shape:
> Pass thru to ocean wave, Bal line , outside alle R 1/2, Bal line.
> Plus specialty moves like bucksaws and zigzags, where everybody needs to
> "get THERE, now STAY there, now get THERE" all at the same time or they
> get in each other's way.
> And there are some tunes with such good built in stops (Joys of Quebec,
> the B part) that it's a crying shame to waste them on something sinuous
> and connected.
> I personally see it graphically. Here's a mythical dance (don't worry who
> does what with whom, ok?):
> A1: Bal, pull by,
> alle L 1ce, alle R next 1ce
> A2 Long Lines fwd & back
> Swing in center
> B1 Down hall lines-of-4
> Back, cast off
> B2 Chain
> R&L back
> And here's inside my head:
> A // , // , - - - -
> - - - -, - - - /
> - - - /, - - - /
> - - - - - - / /
> B - - - - - - / /
> - - - - - - - -
> - - - - - - - -,
> - - - - - - - -
> The A parts definitely need a tune that comes in groups of 4, or the lines
> won't form and the swings will dribble into the down-the hall.
> The B part could use a 16-er, if it weren't for the cast off:
> since they have to come UP the hall AND cast off in one phrase, they
> better do their turning around at the END of the previous 8 bars, and the
> band better help them :
> Down 2 3 4 TURN as a couple,
> UP 2 3 4 cast off get ready to chain.
> Time for a French Canadian, or maybe a march. Saut de Lapin would be
> Give me the card, I will pair up the tunes.
> Tell me how long the phrases are -- "short and choppy in the A, long and
> connected in the B," and I will pair up the tunes.
> Give me a description that makes sense to YOU - "I need something that
> goes UH uh uh, UH uh uh, digga digga digga digga UH uh uh" and I will grin
> and match up the tunes.
> Or show me with your hands, or use really good adjectives - sprightly,
> brisk, sly -
> - or make tune comparisons, " something a lot like La Bastringue, but not."
> But tell me where all the balances are? "Beginning of A1, last 2 beats of
> A2, third beat of B1 but only for the ones.." and I will smile politely
> and say "can I see your card a sec?"
> And, God forbid, if you call a dance like my mythical one in a community
> hall full of Old-Home-Days beginners, and ask me to play the relentlessly
> driving old-time tune you heard Wild Asparagus play at the
> advanced-dancers night in the big city? I am gonna LIE to you, tell you I
> never heard of that tune, and say, "can I see your card a sec?"
> 'course, with certain callers, I do EXACTLY what you tell me, 'cause you
> already thought all of this out yourself, bless you, and you know who you
> I'll be really interested in feedback from all four people who actually
> read this whole thing.
> Amy Cann
> Callers mailing list