English Country Dance Music
I play concertina, mostly for English Country Dance.
In its heyday (1650-1850), if you lived in the country, you saw people
a) at church or b) at a dance or c) your immediate neighbors when you
bumped into them. No telephone, no cars and travel was over rough
dirt roads by horse or carriage.
So dances were a big deal.
English Country Dance was the way you met people,
got together, showed off, gossiped, flirted with your friends. The dance
was designed to do all that, and you danced with everyone, men and women.
If you've seen any of the Jane Austen movies, you'll have seen
the dance, for it was social life then...and Ms.
Austen loved it and made it an integral part of her novels
And it's still danced with grace and joy in the dance, witness this image of an English Country Dance ball...
I love the dance and its music, with wonderful period melodies in a
protoclassical style. Each dance has its own tune and there are thousands
of them, many of them using popular songs of the day. Much of
what we listen to as baroque classical music was either dance music or
based on dance music: this music.
Current ECD and its music comes from both original period sources
(1650-1850) and contemporary creation, (from the 1930's on).
Dancing the dance....
The Early Morning Consort
I often get together in the morning before breakfast at Ashokan (a
weeklong summer music and dance camp in upstated NY, more here)
and play with my friends of the Fine Companions ECD band from Binghamton,
NY; they are, here left to right, Charlene Thompson (piano) and Lee (violin)
and Julian (cello) Shepherd.
Here's some of our music from these mornings, back in 2005:
from Skerry (contemporary, Lynn Tocken composer, 2.5MB)
McKinley Air (contemporary,
Charlene Thompsen, 1.2MB)
Turning by Threes
(contemporary, Machlis, 1.1MB)
of Lovely Nancy (period, 1.9MB)
Lady Mountain Waltz (contemporary, Charlene Thompsen, 1.2MB)
Enjoyment - For Al (contemporary,
The concertina is pretty obvious in the music; if it isn't string
or piano, it's a tina. Also, I'm playing two unusual Lachnal Edeophone
concertinas: a baritone (in my lap in the picture above) which transposes
down an octave and a soprano or piccolo that transposes up an octave.
I'm using the soprano a lot here, playing a descant backup to the
cello in the high register.
Adlai and I, Bagatelle
Adlai Waksman is a gleeful wizard on the keyboard...piano, organ, accordion,
like that. One of the realities of being a musician is that partnership
is so rare...the people you play with need to be very close to your level
of musicianship, very close to your particular musical imagination/style
and able to click with you as a person (while it may seem puzzling to the
outside world, musicians know why
all those great bands break up....the wonder really is that they stay together
at all or for very long!). It is my great good fortune to have a good
bit of that with Adlai and to make music with him.
Every once in a while, Adlai (who, alas, lives far to the south in Philly)
is in the neighborhood and gives me a call...just a few hours or a few days
in advance...and we get together for a few hours or an evening in the Bard
College Chapel, a wonderfully resonant space.. We'll just pick tunes
from the wonderful ECD canon at random and play them. No planning,
no practice, no retakes...we just play the tune a number of times through,
alternating on melody and counter-melody backup until it seems done....and
then go on to another; we don't redo . I roll a recording and, as the
years go by, the percentage of pretty good takes has risen.
The Merest Bagatelle (4/29/2009)
The organ had a stuck note, so Adlai took the big beautiful Steinway concert
grand. These tunes are for contenporary ECD compositions, they are
mostly modern and all but two are waltzes. Waltzes, of course, are
slower and have more "room"...so you more readily get them right and there's more room and time for harmonization....
We had about 3-4 hours together and both of us were tired before we
began, but we did well enough. The title refers to my sense of ECD music...that
it should seem so easily done as to appear effortless, to seem trifling,
a mere bagatelle...
of the Tide - Moonlight Moorings (Heather Bexon) 04:32
Mistwold (Laufman) 02:52
Place - Planxty Hewlett (O'Carolan) 04:00
in Amherst - The Red Star Line (Kathy Talvitie) 03:18
Molly Andrew - Saturday Morning Waltz (Dave Wiesler) 03:31
Winter Dreams (Jonathan
Winter Memories (Colin
If you'd like a CD of this, send me $12 (postpaid) to the address listed
at the top of my home page. We've recorded A Few Trifles More since then, and are working on Just Another Whimsy.
Here we are playing Peter Barnes' The Dark of Night.
More on my recordings here.
Back at the Beginning (2001)
During the summer of '01, the organ in the lovely stone chapel
at Bard College was being restored. I practice there daily; as
with singing in the shower, there are lovely reverberations that make
my music sound better than it is…besides, it's such a beautiful and peaceful
One of the fellows working on the restoration, Adlai Waksman,an
ECD enthusiast from Philadelphia, asked if he might accompany me
on the organ. I was delighted, then stunned by the lovely running
accompaniment he produced with the three keyboards of the organ.This
happened during a brief opportunity…we only played together three times….I
finally decided I wanted a recording, which only barely happened on
the third time. Earlier the same day we had played the second time
and managed to get together again at 10PM that night. I was wasted,
there was only one copy of Barnes, this was the first time Adlai had seen
many of these tunes and I had to play standing up,reading the music over
Adlai's shoulder, all of which leads up to this: This recording was very
much a spur-of-the-moment happenstance with imperfections (and recorded with
a Sony video camera!)….but the overall effect when things clicked was so
gorgeous that I thought others would like to hear it.
The Old Mill (contemporary) [3.5MB]
Waters Of Holland (period)
Jack's Maggot : 1703 [3MB]
Never Love Thee More
: 1686 [2MB]
Orleans Baffled :
Hole In the Wall : 1698
Dick's Maggot : 1703
Well Hall : 1701 [3.4MB]
Mount Hills : 1721 [4.9MB]
To give you an idea of what this music looks like, here is the sheet music for the A secton of
Jack's Maggot. For what it's worth, in the 1700's a whimsical person was said to be maggot brained, thus a maggot titled dance was
a whimsical, spirited and often fast one.
To learn about playing this music, see here.
And a side issue....Religious self-righteousness and intolerance is much
in the air these days....but why is Stewart bringing this up on a page
about an archaic dance form? Because, in its day, this dance was
thought of as ungodly by Puritans and even by the Roundheads of the Glorious
Revolution....witness this Puritain diatribe
Peter Barnes has published the definitive sheet music book of the core
canon of ECD music,
The Barnes Book of English Country Dance Tunes.
There's a second volume and soon to be a third.
It is available
from him (click here and select Books & CDs)
or through the
good offices of the Country Dance And Song Society in America
which has a lot of resources for ECD here
much to my surprise, EFDSS, in England, doesn't seem to carry it.
More Traditional English Dance & Music
Another traditional English dance form: Morris Dance......
Um, how to describe it? It's a ritual dance that's been
done in the English countryside usually in the spring, with villages
all having their own particular dances; It's history stretches back at
least to the 1500s....and it's done because it's always been done.
It's a vigorous dance form with often with what I might describe as
ritualized quarterstaff combat. Here's one from the 1800's to the music of The Postman's Knock.
Here's a picture of me with a revived and but somewhat bobtailed (short
more than a few dancers) Mianus Morris side after dancing out at the
Aquafest, celebrateing the old Croton Aqueduct in Westchester county
north of NYC. On the left is Rod Santos, then me, then Jon Lipincott (the
chief instigator) and Jeanne Velonis ont the right
My Summer Music & Dance Camps
Every summer (when I'm lucky and get in) I go to two music camps,
Northern Week at Ashokan
and Pinewoods, usually English Week
My photographs of both are available here...
I made some videos of Northern Week and have posted them on You Tube:
- A video of David Cantieni (shaum/bombarde of the contra band, Wild Aspauragus), Becky Tracy (violin of both WA
& Nightingale), Jeremiah McLane (accordion, Nightingale) and a bunch of Northern week
campers hammering out a Breton tune and getting everyone up and dancing. It's
the wonder of Ashokan that the average amateur musician is welcomed to
play along world class folk dance musician talent. Wild fun: Ashokan.
- A video of the English great folk revival master, Martin Carthy, leading his Suffolk
Carols class (in the middle of the summer) in Hark, Hark the News, the
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