English Country Dance..and its 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.
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).
Here's a video of a dance
from a movie of Pride and Prejudice
. Watch Elizabeth dish Darcy
the while they are dancing...and listen
to the beguiling music they're dancing to with such grace and flowing
It is still danced and contemporary callers are always adding to the
Here is a video of a good present day dance, English Country
Dance Atlanta - Fandango - Saturday Night Three Dances
beguiling music they're dancing to. The music lends grace to the
dance. and the dancers grace the music they dance to.
Finally, a complicated and dizzingly synchronized contemporary dance with contemporary music, The Chocolate Equation,
with Heys and Stars rippling down three couple sets
Dancing the dance....
Playing for the Dance
Something about what is involved is
The Early Morning
I used to get together in the morning before breakfast at Ashokan (a
weeklong summer music and dance camp in upstate 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)
Here's some of our music from these mornings, back in 2005:
(contemporary, Lynn Tocken composer, 2.5MB)
Charlene Thompsen, 1.2MB)
(contemporary, Machlis, 1.1MB)
Nancy (period, 1.9MB)
Lady Mountain Waltz (contemporary, Charlene Thompsen, 1.2MB)
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
alternating on melody and counter-melody backup until it seems
then go on to another; we don't redo . I roll a recording and, as
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,
mostly modern and all but two are waltzes. Waltzes, of course,
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
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
(Jonathan Jensen) 03:16
(Colin Hume) 03:09
If you'd like a CD of this, write me at this email address. We've
recorded A Few Trifles More
since then, and are working on Just
we are playing Peter Barnes' The
Dark of Night.
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
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
finally decided I wanted a recording, which only barely happened on
the third time. Earlier the same day we had played the second
and managed to get together again at 10PM that night. I was
there was only one copy of Barnes, this was the first time Adlai had
many of these tunes and I had to play standing up,reading the music
Adlai's shoulder, all of which leads up to this: This recording was
much a spur-of-the-moment happenstance with imperfections (and recorded
a Sony video camera!)….but the overall effect when things clicked was
gorgeous that I thought others would like to hear it.
The Old Mill
Holland (period) [4MB]
Jack's Maggot :
Thee More : 1686 [2MB]
: 1728 2.4MB]
Hole In the Wall
: 1698 (Purcell)
: 1703 [1.9MB]
Well Hall : 1701
Mount Hills :
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
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 Puritan 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.
is available from him (click here and select Books & CDs)
Country Dance And Song Society
which has a lot of resources for ECD including their store
much to my surprise, EFDSS, in
England, doesn't seem to carry it.
More Traditional English Dance &
Another traditional English dance form:
Morris Dance...... Um, how to describe it? It's a ritual dance
done in the English countryside usually in the spring, with villages
all having their own particular dances; It's history stretches
least to the 1500s....and it's done because it's always been
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
chief instigator) and Jeanne Velonis ont the right
My Summer Music & Dance Camps
I've attended two wonderful music camps, Northern Week at Ashokan
...and Pinewoods, usually English Week
Of course, everything is upside down with Covid; check these websites
to find out what is available and happening....
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 Angels Bring
My Concertina Story
Back before eBay, maybe around 1990, I had taken up the English
Concertina. I started with a Lachenal student model, but soon was
looking for a good one, a Wheatstone. Before eBay and the
internet, they were terribly hard to find. Someone mentioned then that
the Salvationists had them, often no longer
played, but left behind by aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents who had
been, as the Savationists say, Promoted to Glory. Instruments they had played
and kept in their memory, of them and the music they made. It was
suggested I get into contact with the local Sally Ann...which I
did....who in turn suggested that I write to the "house organs" of the
various U.S. SA regions. So I did, and of the 5 of them, three were
kind enough to allow me to run a want ad in their back pages.
It all but rained concertinas. And I met such wonderful people, your
officer corps....all of them were kind, engaging, helpful souls. I
grew up in the American South, where Christianity is fervently
professed...but less often witnessed in the true spirit of Christ in
daily life. The talk, not so much the walk.
But my contact with Salvationists in this search for concertinas was
humbling: to a man and woman, they responded kindly with an open heart.
They all but gave the tinas away, happy in knowing that they would make
music again. Most of them needed a lot of work (attics are not kind to
tinas), but they were quality instruments that were
restorable. I sent them to a shop that specialized in their repair,
where they were restored to like new condition. I would get each one
back....and then if it wasn't better than what I had, I sent it back to
the shop and they sold it.
In a time when concertinas were scarce as hen's teeth, this was a wonder that made everyone happy.
And all of them came with stories. My daily player, a lovely quick
SWheatstone model 6, was passed to me by a Salvationist woman in her 80s (I was maybe 45 then, now
I'm 75) who as a little girl had sat on the case to see out the window
when they drove to an SA picnic where one of her family played it......
In a world where righteousness is so often its opposite,
self-righteousness, I have had my eyes and heart opened by the spirit of
Christ in the Salvation Army. Their witness blesses us all.
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