A question I really ought to get used to: "Whats the name of your band?"
Do I have "a band"? To varying degrees, I'm associated with several ensembles which have names and others which don't. For many reasons, for better or for worse, all are part time. Here is a potentially somewhat useful list:
Three Good Reasons: Susie Secco (piano), Susan Conger (fiddle), David Kaynor (fiddle, calls)
We're not active these days but occasionally work together. We recorded the Montague Processional CD and have played for innumerable dances around the Connecticut River Valley including many "family dances." We played at Wannadance Uptown in Seattle, New Year's Eve at Ashokan, Pittsburgh's fall dance weekend, and the Christmas - New Year's week at the John C. Campbell Folk School.
Susan's book Along the River presents tunes composed by musicians in our part of the Valley (roughly, between the Amherst/Northhampton and Brattleboro/Putney areas. Subsequently, she recorded a companion CD involving many of the musicians presented in the book. For more information, e-mail her at "email@example.com" or check out her website.
Susan and Susie are seasoned veteran dance musicians. They were the long time core of the band on fourth and fifth Saturdays at Munson Library in South Amherst, Massachusetts.
Three Good Reasons (usually with me calling) was the core of innumerable "all-comers' bands" for Sunday night contra dances in the Montague Center Grange Hall. The money generated by these dances, in its entirety, has been given over to the Grange and has contributed significantly to the repairs and gradual improvements to the wonderful 165-year-old building.
These may be the last dances in the region to be done entirely without amplification. My thoughts on this can be read in my "writings" section. At any rate, I believe these dances have proved time and time again that a with solid core of strong musicians, and an inclusive approach to choosing tunes, contra dance music can include an enormous variety of players and still achieve greatness.
For over ten years, Susie and Susan were been the core of the Monday night music session in Montague Center. From their inception in 1995 when the Monday night Amherst dance, for the first time in its 17 year history, became closed to sit-in musicians, Montague Center music sessions have distinguished themselves from others in the region by actively welcoming and involving newcomers and players with limited repertoires and playing speeds.
The Greenfield Dance Band:
Some 5 to 7-person combination of musicians which includes Stuart Kenney (bass, banjo), Mary Cay Brass (keyboard, accordion), Peter Siegel (mandolin, guitar, banjo, percussion) and me (fiddle, occasional guitar, and, often, calls). Other candidates for inclusion at any time: Van Kaynor (fiddle), Susan Conger (fiddle), Mary Lea (fiddle), Lissa Schneckenburger (fiddle), Lise Brown (flute, saxophone).
Any two of us in the GDB can work as a duet or as the core of a larger ensemble.
The Greenfield Dance Band evolved in the mid 80s, by which time Stuart and Mary Cay and I had already accumulated many hours on the stage of the Guiding Star Grange Hall with such frequent guest musicians as Van Kaynor, Bill Tomczak, Sue Sternberg, and Diane Sanabria. Increasingly, Bo Bradham was joining us and contributing much to the band both musically and in energy and involvement, and he and Stuart and Mary Cay hit on the idea of playing regularly and calling ourselves The Greenfield Dance Band.
We made several road trips and played at a few dance weekends (e.g. Alta Sierra, Old Songs Festival, Dance Flurry, When in Doubt, Swing), but for the most part, the Greenfield Dance Band has mostly been precisely that.
From the start, we have been both reliably solid and spontaneously adventurous in our playing. Starting back around 1984, Stuart, Mary Cay, and I explored interactive, three-voice accompaniment to an extent which was not then heard at contra dances. Where previously, much or most contra dance music had required that accompaniment be largely unvaried and exploration only occur in the melody, we did the reverse; melody became the contant and accompaniment the variable. I see the points where tunes and phrases begin and end as intersections and the Greenfield Dance Band as a convoy whose drivers respond to each others' turn signals. The basic melody and conventional chords are a trailhead of sorts. One counts on at least some of us remaining there, or close by, while the others venture off the beaten path.
This approach was't and isn't universally well received. But it has been interesting and fun.
The Fourgone Conclusions:
Debatably, this band still exists. Debatably, it includes Becky Ashenden (piano, accordion, bass), Chuck Corman (guitar, bass), Doug Feeney (mandolin, tenor banjo, guitar),Van Kaynor (fiddle), David Kaynor (fiddle, guitar), and Cammy Kaynor (fiddle, recorder, calls). At the time of his passing in March 2010, Ed Kaynor was still considered a member of the band.
We recorded The Fourgone Conclusions: Contra Dance Music from Western Massachusetts (Front Hall 029) which Front Hall in their wisdom determined to not format as anything other than an LP.
The Fourgones played for a lot of great dances in Petersham and Northfield in the late 70s and 80s and occasionally, even now, in Greenfield. Cammy composed some wonderful tunes, dances, and tune-dance pairings during that period, and a lot of people had a lot of fun. I wish Cammy would write up his take on the band, which most people associate with his calling, dance composing, and overall concept of what makes a good contra dance. I think it was a very intense time for all of us in our individual lives. I made a number of mistakes which I will probably always wish I could undo. But in terms of musical development and the growth of a dance scene, it was a very rich time. I believe that a lot of good things happened for a lot of people.
Some of my happiest memories are of long Friday afternoon runs with Cammy on the soft footing of long trails in the then vast and unspoiled forests near the Amherst Kaynors' Market Hill home before packing into one of our many patched-together, multicolored old Saabs and carpooling up to Northfield for another wonderful dance.
In the late 90s, Van, Doug, Becky, and Chuck teamed up with Ron Grosslein of Swallowtail to form "The Moving Violations" and play on the first Friday of every month at the Guiding Star Grange Hall. By 2010 the line-up had changed some but is still very much a presence on the national contra dance scene.
I play on some recordings:
A note about The Mad Hatter and Lissa: This recording and the memory of the small part I played in its creation give me undiminishing pleasure. It is one of the truly delightful recordings of our time and one of the most COMPLETE artistic statements a recording can make. At the time she herself produced it, Lissa was 17 years old.
Lissa's newer recordings are great. Recently, I had the great good fortune to get to play on three tracks of her "Dance" recording which includes some gorgeous, uplifting renditions of classic contra dance tunes.
Lissa and her music have grown and branched out as her new recording demonstrates. I am wistfully nostalgic for the cute backwoodsy Maine kid with the precocious playing skills and style who delighted us all with her playing and dancing and then went straight home in her mom's car after playing a dance while the rest of us broke down sound gear and went back to someone's house for a beer. Now, she breaks down sound gear and goes back to someone's house for a beer. I love hearing her cut loose with fresh, exciting, and unique blends of passion, joy, and mischief in her music and contra dancing. It has been a genuine privilege and great pleasure to be her friend and colleague since long before other musicians thought her old and sophisticated enough to be theirs.
I still have a book! Actually, a bookLET: Calling for Beginners by Beginners, which I wrote some years ago, of which there are a number of copies around the dance scene. It contains a number of really easy dances along with thoughts on teaching and (for better or for worse) some philosophy. I have been able to get ahead of some of the bills and so have had some more copies made.
Some of my ideas have evolved since then (1992), along with my pedagogy, repertoire, and (I hope) writing style, but it is potentially interesting and useful even now. For more information about it, including how to acquire it, contact me.
I am a writer by nature, so more is sure to come.