BVD—Barbara Seppeler, Val Medve and Dan Seppeler, accompanied by Tom Medve (and in part, Tom Grande)—toured New England last month. Val and Barb shared the daily diary writing; see their earlier blogs, Intro, The First Week, The Second Week.
Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Tuesday, July 16
No dance tonight, but I was busy reviewing my notes from Jacqueline Schwab’s English Country Dance Musicians’ Course at Pinewoods 2010 and 2011 (sponsored by CDSS). Both years, on the seven hour ride home, I sat in the passenger’s seat, listening to CDs by Bare Necessities as I wrote down everything Jacqueline had tried to teach us. During the interim years, I also took notes on my learning process, so that I’d be prepared to teach an ECD Musicians’ Workshop, should the opportunity arise. Well, ready or not, it was to be today—at Tom and Val’s house near Burlington, VT!
It was exhilarating, to say the least, to share my hard-won knowledge with two very receptive, musical and simply delightful people from northern Vermont. These musicians are as in love with ECD as I am. The ninety minutes were quickly over, and I am so hopeful that my insights were useful. [Val’s note: Before the workshop, Dan caught up on sleep with a nap; I picked up our CSA share and then cobbled together a simple supper. We held the workshop in our air-conditioned dining room (due to the 90 degree heat outside, even at 6 pm.]
Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Wednesday, July 17
No dance or class! We are all in a state of collapse… but we are going to St. Michael’s Playhouse tonight to see Neil Simon’s Rumors, and what fun that turned out to be. I love to see plays and musicals, but hardly ever get to see anything professional, so this was really a special treat for me. [Val’s note: Having some free time during the day was a very welcome respite from our hectic schedule. Tom mowed the lawn as others napped. Supper was at a local Italian restaurant, for which I had a coupon — and the leftovers served as our lunch the next day. Today and the next day, Dan and I spent some time programming the final round of dance gigs.]
Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Thursday, July 18
Back to work at English country dancing today and very happy about it!! Val and Dan called the dance for the beginner-friendly ECD series in Richmond, VT. I played the grand piano there, which is a really beautiful Steinway with a touch that is not too stiff. (I do work harder when I play there, but by the end of the night I am used to it!) [Val’s note: Our Richmond series has been happening for several years. It’s an inexpensive way for new dancers to try ECD, since we ask for a very small voluntary donation and usually have recorded music. This evening, our regular dancers from Montpelier arrived in TWO carloads, bringing one or two new dancers with them. It’s a joy to have such dedicated dancers in our community! Today’s highlight for my husband Tom? Sharing two micro-brewed beers with Dan when we got home!]
Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!, Friday, July 19
We’re back on the road, this time to Nelson, NH! We’re very excited about this gig! This Monadnock region has a very active contra community, and a relatively new ECD series, so we were all so happy to bring our new dances—and especially our support!
Before the dance, Allison Aldrich and Hunt Smith provided us with a tasty supper at their home. We were amazed and intrigued by Allison and Hunt. Hunt built their lovely home. It looks like a cabin, with all natural wood, and a kitchen with the pots hanging from the ceiling. Hunt’s exquisite artwork hung on the walls. He is a maritime artist and his work is astounding in its detail and beauty.
In a small hallway off the kitchen, I noticed an odd shelf of multiple heights. On closer inspection, I realized that the “shelves” were old wooden organ pipes! This discovery led to Hunt inviting us to visit his workshop, where he creates hand-made violins from blocks of wood. He handed me a violin-shaped form, and said, “Whatever you do, don’t drop this!” It was unexpectedly heavy, as it contained the outside of a violin plus a form on the inside…and no, I did not drop it. [Val’s note: And Bob Dalsemer—from John C. Campbell Folk School and the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award—will be happy to hear that, since this was the violin he commissioned Hunt to make!]
The Nelson Town Hall was our dance venue. It’s a quaint and interesting space. It seemed that we stepped back in time at least one hundred years. They said they could fit five (very cozy) contra lines in there, and there was a small stage, as well. I opted for my electric piano, instead of the on-site grand, as my smaller keyboard packs a nice sound, plus I can be closer to the dancers.
I was told I need to smile more, which I am sure is true. But in my defense, I was playing ECD solo, and for me that takes a ton of concentration! (No one can bail me out if I make a mistake!!) I am lucky to give callers a tight-lipped nod when they give me the number of times to play before ending, so usually I smile when it is done…like whew!! I will work on smiling more!!!! :-)
Dance highlights included Dan’s wonderful dance, Lambs on Green Hill, which he choreographed and also composed the B music. (The A section is a traditional Scottish tune called Ned of the Hill.)
At the end of the dance, Dan and I met Ramona and Jerry, our hosts for the evening. (Val and Tom stayed with Hunt and Allison). Ramona and Jerry were gracious hosts, chatting the late evening away with us. Their home was so pretty, and the air-conditioning was such a welcome relief from the heat of the dance. In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and after touring their luscious July gardens, we helped them with their ECD skills. Dan never misses an opportunity to teach dancers, so it was quite an effort to get him to stop…as Val and Tom were waiting for us!! But it was all fun!
Val’s post, Friday, July 19
It had been decades since I attended a contra dance in the Nelson Town Hall. Most likely it was in the early to mid-1980s when I had gotten “the contra bug” and traveled all over New England to dance. Since that time, quite a few wonderful improvements have been made to the hall. Lisa Sieverts, who calls contras at the hall and is one of several people instrumental in the contra series’ organization, told us about the renovations (which I believe are continuing). It’s a very sweet space in which to dance, call and play. We had a small but earnest and enthusiastic turnout. I later learned that this Monadnock ECD series draws dancers from some distance—but since our BVD Tour was visiting those other dance communities, it may have impacted attendance that night in Nelson. Another factor was the hot and humid weather (high 90s during the day, I recall). Allison Aldrich promised—via Facebook postings—that the temperature would drop dramatically in the evening, to make for very pleasant dancing. In reality, global warming visited Nelson on July 19th: the temp did drop, but not as low as Allison predicted (per her past experience). Luckily, the many window fans helped cool the venue a bit.
Because the ECD series in the Monadnock region was recently established, we expected mostly dancers new to the genre. However, with one or two exceptions, the majority of the dancers were experienced English dancers. We were thrilled to see Mary Jones on the dance floor. She had come to Nelson on an errand for CDSS and then decided to stay for the dance since the evening was so lightly attended. This was very kind of her—and much appreciated by our BVD group.
Parts of my program quickly flew out the window when I recognized so many dancers and gauged the overall skill level. The simple Geud Man of Ballingigh was replaced by my BVD Tour fave, Colin Hume’s much more challenging Sting in the Tail, since the numbers (six couples) were just right for that dance. Once again, our solo pianist Barb rolled with the punches and quickly found the tunes for this and other alternate dances.
Allison and Lisa organized (and contributed to) the refreshments at the break. There were delicious treats—and the refreshing mint iced tea was my go-to beverage to quench my thirst. Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening. We may have ended a bit early, due to the heat, however.
Val’s post, Saturday, July 20
Tom and I had a good night’s sleep at Allison and Hunt’s house. It certainly helped to go to bed at a very reasonable hour (11 pm—early for us on this tour, late for Allison and Hunt). We enjoyed Allison’s excellent homemade granola for breakfast, along with cups of tea. We were treated to a delightful morning concert, with Allison and Hunt practicing the New England tunes they would play later that morning at the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. Before the concert, we listened to the two long-time performing musicians talk about how to draw and engage your audience—approaches that also work for dance callers and dance musicians. Lots of great information that I wish we had recorded or captured on video. Perhaps this could be a future video project undertaken by CDSS?
We drove directly from Nelson, NH to Burlington, VT for the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. Our ECD session was scheduled for 6:30 pm, following on the heels of singing Happy Birthday to the Festival, on the occasion of its 30th year—with everyone dining on a decorated sheet cake.
The muggy weather had finally broken, so we had clear skies above the Dance Tent and welcome breezes wafting through it. Due to financial difficulties, the Festival was cancelled in 2012. It was resurrected in 2013 on an earlier-than-usual weekend in a new venue, the Rock Point School (a scenic spot, nestled between North Beach and Burlington High School). The 2013 festival had been scaled down and many performers (including ALL the callers and musicians who performed in the Dance Tent) donated their services for free so that the Festival could earn some money to ensure future festivals.
Barb’s post from the pianist’s point of view!
It’s time to go to the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. I had never been to a folk festival before, so this promised to be a lot of fun, and it was! We walked to the dance tent and immediately joined the contra lines. We couldn’t help it, the music (by Frost and Fire) and calling (by Will Mentor) were so great! But after two dances, our clothes got soaked from the humidity. Knowing that we were to perform soon, we were forced to stop, at least for a bit. I was astonished to watch Frost and Fire’s Aaron Marcus play piano for contra AND supply foot percussion! I have never seen a pianist do anything like this, and he was incredible! I want to learn!!
I was introduced to the musicians who were to be my bandmates later that afternoon. Peter Macfarlane and Hollis Easter from Frost and Fire and Joanne Garton from The Turning Stile.
Right before we were to perform, Dan and I noticed a dancer in the contra line. He was one of our dancers from the Hobart/William Smith English Dancers in Geneva, NY. (This is the ECD club that Dan and I started, teaching and playing every Friday during the academic year.) We were flabbergasted when Ryan motioned to Eileen, another of the Hobart dancers, who immediately ran over to hug us! What a greeting!
Our performance was well-received, with a very long line of dancers who appeared to immensely enjoy themselves!
Every night we have maintained our debriefing meetings to determine how to improve ourselves. Our Massachusetts gigs in Whately (Monday) and West Newton (Wednesday) are bearing down on us, and we need to be at our absolute best for these dances. But first comes tomorrow’s ECD Musicians’ Workshop and English country dance in Norwich, Vermont. To be continued…