Bob Brundage – Well hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is June the 19th, 2004. Today I’m talking with a gentleman up in Lebanon, New Hampshire, David Millstone. I was intrigued by some of the commentary that I saw from him on the traditional square dance callers email discussion group and I’ve been in contact with him by email several times since and I just felt as though we had to get an interview with him. So David, why don’t you tell me a little bit about where you were born and brought up and a little about life before square dancing.
David Millstone – OK. I grew up in Pennsylvania – I was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania – home of the Little League – lived there until high school and then my family moved to York, Pennsylvania in south central PA and at that point had no connection with traditional dance. In high school I started playing guitar- folk guitar – a friend brought a guitar over and I stayed with that. I still play guitar a little bit. Went to college in Pennsylvania, Haverford College. Graduated from Haverford in 1968 and then over the course of the next few years lived in various parts of the country – Denver and Chicago – lived in San Fransico for a few years. Then in January of 1972 came to New England to visit 2 friends for what was going to be a 2-week trip and here I am - laughs – 30 some years later. I arrived in New Hampshire in the middle of – January 2nd – in a raging snow storm and something about it felt right. I think it was the living in San Fransico where the weather doesn’t change much, right? Shortly after I got here some friends dragged me to a contra dance with Dudley Laufman and that was my first exposure to this kind of dance. By the mid-70’s I was hooked. It took a second time – the first dance I went to I didn’t know what was going on. I loved the music – just loved the music but didn’t know what I was doing and everyone in the hall looked like they knew what they were doing and I was very nervous so I didn’t go again. There wasn’t a dance nearby but then a couple of years later – a housemate said, “We’re going to the dance in South Strafford” and I went along and that was it. From then on every chance I got I was off dancing.
BB – Right. Was that Dudley again?
DM – That was Dudley, yep. This is the early 70’s and Dudley was like of a force of nature. Everywhere you turned there were Dudley dances. He was calling once a month in South Strafford, Vermont which was about 20 miles from where I lived and that was the dance that we went to every month. At that time he was married to Patty, his second wife and she was there banging away on her drum and keeping a close eye on her husband. I just fell in love with it.
BB – Right. Well, I knew Dudley back at the University of Massachusetts when I worked there back in the early 1950’s.
DM – Oh, my God.
BB – Well, would you call him one of your mentors?
DM – Yeah, Dudley was – I mean there is still a vast amount of my repertoire that I use for family dances – you know one night stands, weddings that comes from Dudley and he certainly had a profound influence on me. Many years later, after I had been calling for quite a while – sort of fast forward – Dudley got to a period in his life where he was he was tired of calling. This was a man who – well still does 300 gigs a year. He was getting pretty tired so he’d get some jobs and he’d call me up and say, “ Do you want to call this one? I’ll be your music” and I’d say, “Fine” and I’d go along and call but Dudley being Dudley would have a few things to say and he’d end up calling a couple. I noticed, at that point since I’d been calling for a while and I could see these things, I noticed how economical he was in his instructions. This is a time when I might say something like, “ Everybody swing your partner” and Dudley would say, “ All swing” and I mean he had been working for years and years and years in schools – I mean he would do 180 days a year in schools – that’s how long the school calendar is and a lot of that was working with out amplification and I’m sure he had developed some skills just to protect his voice. So, in terms of learning to teach a dance quickly – in terms of having a repertoire of real simple dances that you can use with anybody – that you don’t have to spend a lot of time teaching because teaching is a natural for Dudley – he just wants to play the music and get you moving. I learned a lot from him.
BB – Right. This was a feature of Don Armstrong too. He was very, very precise. I’m sure he studied the way you describe something – especially the more complicated contras and he was really a past master at that. Did you ever know Don?
DM – I did. I met Don on 2 occasions when he was on staff at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy weekend. In fact, one of them shortly before he died. So I got to dance to him and talk with him some and, obviously in retrospect wished that I had had more time. When I got from the Lloyd Shaw Foundation a copy of the movie that was made – Visible Anthem which was – I was watching that movie and there’s a guy in a classroom who is teaching how to call. I looked and I called to my wife and I said, “ Sheila, look it’s a young Don Armstrong”. There were a couple of moments in that movie where someone is calling for a dance and it is clearly Don. His inflection – his articulation – the man was so precise with his use of language. It was always very easy to understand him. One of the things that I liked about Don is that he really felt strongly as I do about the importance of variety in a dance program which is a battle that in the contra dance world some of us are fighting.
BB – Right. How about your association with Ralph Page?
DM – I did not have much to do with Ralph. I started calling
and Ralph was down in Keene and I was caught up in the Dudley scene – the sort of younger callers so I only overlapped with Ralph at the very end. The person who had the greatest impact on me as a caller was Ted Sannella.
BB – Oh, is that so? OK
DM – I had been calling for – oh, a few years – I don’t remember how many exactly and before I met Ted we invited him over to this area to call a dance and he ran a caller’s workshop. There were 3 of us at the caller’s workshop. He went through an hour and a half’s worth of material with us and it was like Saul on the road to Damascus. Oh my gosh. So this is what you need to think about. Up until that point my model was Dudley who just sort of spouted stuff off the top of his head. Then I was dancing with Jack Perron and Chris Madigan and a few other New England callers and the model was typically be – they’d call a dance, the dance would end and then there would be 3, 4, 5, 6 minutes while they were sort of shuffling through cards and thinking about what to do next – maybe this and maybe that – everyone socializing. Ted walked in for that evening’s dance and he had his program planned. He had his alternate plan. He had the 2 in mind for each of the dances and I came to find out that if he was working with a band that he didn’t know he’d get in touch with them ahead of time to find out their repertoire – to get recordings of theirs. He’s spend as much time or more time planning for the dance than the dance itself took. That was a whole new concept.
BB – Yes, he was very well organized. I knew him way, way, way back. I don’t know if you knew that I was on the Board of Directors of the New England Folk Festival –
DM – In the 50’s.
BB – in the 50’s, yes and that’s where I met Ted and Connie Taylor and all the people that I’ve even forgotten since then. Well, that’s very interesting. I noticed that you mentioned more than once that you were interested in square dancing in movies. Did you know that Alan Brozek has a lot of movie clips? Do you know Alan?
DM – I’ve been in touch with him. He’s in Connecticut. He sent me an audio tape of your brother and Ed Gilmore calling at a New Year’s Eve dance in Connecticut from the 50’s. No, I didn’t know. I knew that Larry Edelman collects movie clips. I’ve never met Larry but we’ve corresponded – he’s in Colorado but I didn’t know that Alan has one. I will definitely speak to him about that .
BB – He played it for me the day I interviewed him at his home. Of course we were old friends because of Connecticut Caller’s Association, etc. dating way, way back to the early days of the Caller’s Association. In the early days of modern western. But he’s another one who had stuck to the contras – you know, all his club dances he calls a contra or two. Very interesting guy. I wanted to bring that out but speaking of videos I’d like to hear more about this unique name called. “Paid To Eat Ice Cream”.
DM – OK. Well, for years, I mean as I mentioned Ted was sort of my calling guru. For years I felt that someone should make a movie about him. That he was such an important figure in the contra dance world. And then he up and died – at too young an age. I went over to visit him about 2 weeks before he actually died and got him on what Jean, his wife said was probably his last good day. Ted was gone and there was no movie. I started thinking that maybe someone could do one posthumously but realized that so much of the fun of the movie is seeing the person and I didn’t know what there was for footage. So I thought about the dance world and thought, “Well, who’s left?” and one of the people who came to mind was Dudley – another was Bob McQuillen. In 19 – I think ’88, ah ’98 I had a sabbatical leave – I’ve been an elementary school teacher – I just retired a year ago – I had a leave and I submitted as part of my proposal that I was going to spend part of that year learning more about video production. I just thought that that was a really interesting skill to develop. So In the course of that year I started learning about video. No, it was the following year, ’99 because in summer of ’99 I was on staff at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. I was one of the callers representing New Hampshire. The festival always sort of spotlights 3 groups so that year it was South Africa, Romania and New Hampshire. We had sent a huge contingent – about 140 people from the state of New Hampshire – stone masons, carpenters, timber framers, sugar makers and a bunch of musicians and dance callers – a couple callers. During the course of the time I was there I arranged with the videographer from the Smithsonian Folklife to tape an interview that I did with Bob. We shot about an hour’s footage. I had that as the 1st interview for what was going to be this project about learning about videos. So I decided as I mentioned to you earlier that I’d just sit down with Bob and start shooting interviews with him on tape. Then we did another interview at his house and then I said, “Bob, you know, we need to visit some of these places you’re talking about” So I went down another day and got in Bob’s Jeep and off we headed from one place to another – careening around corners – Bob was not what I would call a slow driver – laughs –
BB – Like he plays the piano.
DM – Yeah. He keeps a good clip. We got in and I said, “Aren’t you going to put your seat belt on?’ Ha says, “ The last I heard they’re not required in the state of New Hampsha” (his pronunciation). I had my camera on a tripod sitting in front of me and Just sort pointed it at him and had everything on auto focus and auto levels and so the bunch of interviews with Bob driving are telling stories. “Oh, you know, there’s the house that we bought” and the story about how it had been a house of ill repute and the guy who ran it was just about run out of town and came to Bob and offered it to him at a good price. It was just story after story. Bob was not eager to have this project happen. I asked him several times. He kept saying, “No, you don’t want to do that”. Finally he said, “ This is something you really want to do isn’t it?” and I said, “Yep” and he said, “All right, all right”. From then on any time I called him up said, “ Can we get together?” we’d work out a date when he was available, he never once asked to see the footage as it was going along – never asked how the project was going. By the 4th interview – I had given him some hints – I said,” Bob, I don’t want to just make a Walt Disney version of your life”. I had worked with Bob over the years and knew that there had been some pretty difficult moments along the way. During that last interview he was willing to talk about some fairly difficult things. He talked about his drinking and what finally led to his stopping cold – he almost killed somebody. He talked about that and he talked about Pete and April, Pete Colby and April Limber, his 2 good friends who died on the same day. Pete died in the hospital and April took her own life. That was a pretty shattering event for the guy and he was willing to talk about that. So I had all kinds of footage and the more I talked to Bob the more I realized, “ Whoa, let’s get some of the rest of the story”. I interviewed Dudley and then I interviewed people who had worked with Bob over the years – Deanna Stiles who was with him in the Canterbury and with now in Old New England and a bunch of other people and then realized that Bob had been involved - he started playing with Ralph Page in 1947 and is still playing. So I realized that through Bob’s life I could look at contra dancing for the last basically 50 years in New England. He worked with the Who’s Who so looking at Bob let me look at Ralph Page. We have a little chapter as it were in the movie about Ralph Page. Then he worked for 26 consecutive years with Duke Miller so I was able to have a section about Duke Miller. Many dancers today of course didn’t know a thing about Duke Miller although I think his Fitzwilliam dance was a very important dance in sort of contra dance history. A lot of people came through that dance and got very excited because of the results of that.
BB – Did you know that he dabbled in modern western?
DM – I did. He’s been a modern western caller I think and then met up with Ralph and took Ralph’s Monadnock Folkways class with Ralph and Gene Gowing. I think that’s what got him going as a contra dance caller as well.
BB – And what a beautiful dancer.
DM – Oh yeah. Everyone I’ve talked to talks about that. He and his wife Jean would get up and demonstrate and they would just sit in awe.
BB – Big man, yeah. No, I knew Duke for many, many years and Jean. He was one I was going to ask you about.
DM – Well I went to some of those Fitzwilliam dances. Again, at that time - I mean, in the same way that you ask people who are just starting to dance now you’d say, “Where’d you go?’ “Oh we went to Montpelier”. “Who was the caller?” “Oh, I don’t know.” “ Well, who was the band?” “ Gee, there was a fiddler I guess”. You know when you’re so caught up in the dancing in the early stages you don’t attention to much of that stuff. You know, you’re just there to dance and dance and have a great time. Many of the people on the floor aren’t really paying much attention to the music as long as there’s a beat that they can dance to. Well, in modern western squares you certainly know about it – (chuckles). So I was able to do a section about Duke Miller and then Bob played with Dudley so I was able to have a whole section about Dudley and the Canterbury Orchestra. I had a chunk about Pete and April and New England Tradition and the Bob’s current band Old New England. I also had a piece about Bob’s tune writing because at the time he had written over 1000 tunes.
BB – Is that right? I didn’t know that.
DM – Yeah, he’s now over 1100 tunes that he’s published. Also a chunk about his style of playing piano – very clear. He said, “I’m a boom-chucker. I don’t do any of that fancy stuff”. He says, “It would be nice sometimes” –“ you know he has a lot of respect and he names some people that he cared about. So I got him on camera talking about that. Since my project was to learn about video production I decided well, instead of just having all this footage I’d learn how to edit it and then proceeded to edit it on my computer and made a movie of it. I showed that movie for the first time at the Ralph Page weekend. As part of that weekend there’s always a workshop called the ‘Retrospective’. It’s a sort of look back at dance history and for many years it focused on Ralph and his program. One year, right after Ted died there was sort of a look at Ted. George Fogg was the MC and presented ‘An Evening at Porter Square’ – sort of a typical program of Ted’s material. The year that we did Bob we made him the subject of the Retrospective. It was the first time it had ever been focused on a musician and it was the first time that it was focused on someone who was alive. So, that was the world’s premier of “Paid To Eat Ice Cream”. Do you understand the title?
BB – No, not really.
DM – Well, that’s one of Bob’s lines. When people say, “ How do you feel about playing for dance piano?” He says, “ If someone comes up to you and hands you a bowl of chocolate ice cream and says, “I’ll pay $10 to eat this bowl of ice cream” that’s how I feel about playing for dances. You know, I’m doing what I really like to do and someone is paying me money as well”. We showed the movie in the theatre at UNH. It’s a wonderful movie theatre – seats about 200 people and we had standing room only. We had every seat filled – 250 people in there. One of Bob’s - Bob’s daughter came up from Florida. A son of his came in from far away and the third son showed up. Bob didn’t know they were going to be there. So there were people there from all parts of his life. We showed the movie and the last part of the movie – the closing credits – are done over a bunch of – it’s a waltz playing and the waltz of course is ‘Amelia’ which is Bob’s most famous waltz – his best known waltz and you see people on the dance floor at a Peterboro dance with people waltzing and the music is a montage of many different people playing that tune so the first 4 bars might be someone playing it and then it will switch and it will be someone else all synchronized together. So this is being projected on the screen and people have been laughing because there are parts of the movie that are hilarious and people have been crying –the hankies are out because there are some parts that are pretty sad. The closing credits go and Bob is sitting in the front row and he turns around and holds out his hand and a woman – a young woman sitting behind him gets up and the 2 of them start waltzing on the floor in the very front of the theatre with the credits going on the screen behind them. Half the audience is sitting there saying, “Who’s that?” and the other half reaches for their hankies because it’s Bob dancing with Amelia who was 3 or 4 when he wrote the tune for her and she’s now in her 20’s. It was quite a moment.
BB – Yeah, I can imagine. Well OK, getting back to dancing in movies and to these various interviews, are you familiar with the name Jim Mayo?
DM – Yeah. He’s also recently published a book and he’s somewhere – we’ve talked a little – he’s somewhere on the seacoast of New Hampshire I think?
BB – No, he’s inland fairly close to the Massachusetts border. I’ll send you his address. He intended to do an interview project like this one that I’m doing but he was going to try to do it with video but to do that now you’ve got to have a couple of cameras, you’ve got to have a couple of cameramen and it got to be too complicated and he never got to finish it.
DM – Interesting. Did he start on it?
BB – You know I don’t really know if he ever did.
DM – Because I’d love to talk to him because that’s part of what I’m doing now. I went down and talked with Ralph Sweet.
BB – Yeah, I know you did.
DM – I shot 3 hours of an interview with him and again it started out the same way as with Bob – let’s get some video tape but I’ve also now got some footage of Ralph calling dances so it might be possible in time to put together something like that.
BB – Some kind of a montage, yeah.
DM – Exactly. You’re right, it is. It’s one more technical difficulty to get in the way. Ever since I made the McQuillen movie and realized how little of our history has been recorded because I was looking for old movies of Ralph Page calling and actually found some footage that no one knew existed – some black and white footage that Michael Herman had shot.
BB – Is that right?
DM – I was going all over looking for old dance footage and I could find footage from the south. Movies that were made during the depression following the WPA in Arkansas and flat foot dancing and some squares and even some newsreel footage the overall tone of which was, “Well, howdy Ma, howdy Pa, saddle up the mule, let’s go see what the folks are doin’ on the old farmstead” very - sort of condescending but couldn’t find any New England dance footage. Then finally it was at the New York Public Library For The Performing Arts which boasts that it has the world’s largest collection of film and video and still photographs of dance with something like 10 or 15,000 items. I’d been through their catalog and couldn’t find much – found some Super 8 movies of square dancing on horseback. Just some oddball things but nothing that would work for my project. I started asking the librarian, “Well, can you think of anything else/?” She thought for a bit and said, “There is this library at the University of New Hampshire” Nope, been there, done that. “ There’s a New England historic archive up in Maine.” Nope, talked to them. They don’t have anything. “Smithsonian?” No. “Library of Congress?” No, and there was this long pause and she said, “ Well, - no, but you couldn’t look at that yet.” And of course my antennae started flickering and I said, “What’s that?” and she said, “ Well we do have this box of movies that were given to the library but they haven’t been cataloged yet.” I said, “ Well, what can you tell me about them?” It turns out that after Michael and Mary Ann Herman had died this box of film was given to the library and in fact it had not been cataloged – had not been processed and after going through a couple hoops they agreed that I could look at the footage there. They set me up with a techie up in one of the labs. He had one of these hand crank spools and it turned out to be 16 millimeter – we thought it was going to be 8 millimeter but it was nice – it was real 16 millimeter footage. So I’m taking footage in some cases which is still sitting in the boxes with mold all over the cardboard or the can. Taking the footage out and cranking through - there was something like 70 reels of tape – of film and I’m hand cranking. After a while the guy, the techie there realized that I knew what I was doing and sort of left me alone. At the end of the first day I’d been through about 40 or 45 and had found nothing that was useful for me. Lots of great dance footage for people that were interested in folk dance – International folk dance. So while I was looking at it I’d catalog it roughly saying, you know, “ Looks like – might be Irish Step Dancing” because they were in squares and doing real fast footwork and “around the house”. I haven’t done much International Folk. So, sometimes I’d say. “ This tape is a man teaching other men only – just men’s dances or just women’s dances.” So at the least I was doing a little bit of a favor for the library or. “ This roll is incredibly overexposed.” I was staying with friends in New York and they said, "Did you find anything?” and I said, “No”. They said, “ Well, what are you going to do?” and I said, “ Well, I’ll go back tomorrow – I’ll finish up the batch.”
When I got about roll 62 or something like that and not only is there nothing on there that I want but it's upside down and backwards because it hadn’t been rewound properly. I’m sort of craning my next and it’s like home movies of Easter or Thanksgiving – people sitting around a big table and I was just about to say, “ To hell with this one” and wind it back and I said, “No, you said you were going to look at them all" and I cranked a couple more cranks and let out a shriek because there’s Ralph Page upside down and backwards standing at the microphone.
BB – I’ll be darned. David, I’m going to have to stop and turn the tape over. Hold on. OK. You just let out a shriek.
DM – I let out a shriek and the guy – the techie who was working over in the far corner of that room says, “ I think you found something.” And sure enough on that reel and the next one there were shots of Ralph standing – of course this is all silent – Ralph calling – shots of his dance at the time and it must have been a time when he took some musicians because you could see Dick Richardson and others in his orchestra. I’m guessing he took them down to New York to Michael Herman’s Dance Studio and called for a dance there. So I ended up using some of that footage in ‘Paid To Eat Ice Cream’. I was very happy to find it. The library waived their customary charges for using footage which is extraordinarily expensive but negatives of film had shrunk so we had to have a new negative made, blah, blah, blah and it ended up costing 5 or 600 bucks to end of getting that footage but it was nice to have.
BB – Well, that’s interesting.
DM – In the course of doing that I realized how little – how few images there were of dancing from the past and resolved that well, if we can’t pick up anything more from the past we can at least do a better job of leaving a record for the people who are still to come. So I wrote an article for the CDSS News encouraging people to start taking footage – to set up a camera – to take pictures – to do what you’re - to interview people and from time to time I’ll go to a dance and set up a camera and just let it run.
BB – Yes, that reminds me – the last dance that I called in Connecticut before I moved to Albuquerque was video taped by Paul Trowbridge. He’s got titles on it and everything.
DM – T, R, O, W?
BB – T, R, O, W, B, R, I, D, G, E. Yeah.
DM – And where is he?
BB – He lives in Connecticut.
DM – Do you know where?
BB – Around the University of Connecticut area – Willamantic I believe, yeah. I don’t think he’s actively calling but he just came in and set up a camera on a tripod so a lot of the footage shows the same people doing the same thing. Too bad he didn’t take to camera and – but he was busy dancing.
DM – Sure, sure. Well, that’s one of the things I’ve learned is that if you just set the camera up of course you get a picture and anything is better than nothing but if he has someone behind the camera who’s periodically swinging it over to see the caller - if there’s live musicians.
BB – Well this dance was with live music – it was a modern western club dance –
DM – What year was this, Bob?
BB – Just before I moved here about ’59 – ah, ’99 something like that. No, no it was earlier than that – what am I talking about? I’ve been here 10 years. Anyway maybe I should send it to you so you can look at it.
DM – That would be fun to see. Did you make a copy of it?
BB – No, I don’t have a copy of it.
DM – Ah ha. Is it video tape or film?
BB- No, it’s video tape.
DM – Well I’d love to see it and I can copy what I might use and then return it to you. I’ve got the capabilities of doing that.
BB – OK. Well, I shared the program with Culver Griffin – I don’t know if you know him. He’s an old time caller – still using 78 RPM records.
DM – No way.
BB – I interviewed him as well.
DM – Where is he?
BB – He lives up in – up above Brookfield, Connecticut – in fact in Brook – no, Bridgewater, Connecticut. So he did all the old things. He did Dip and Dive and he did Slaunch to Donegal and in the meantime I’m doing regular club dancing with this live band, the Pioneer Trio that I worked with for 60 years. That was 3 fellows that played together for 60 years. The fiddler just passed away a few months ago.
DM – The Pioneer Trill?
BB – Yep, Trio. I thought you’d probably like to see that. I’ll send it to you.
DM – And Culver Griffin is still alive?
BB – Yes, laughs. One of the things he said when I went to Chip Hendrickson’s 60th birthday party – he was there and he said he was the only man on Social Security that had a daughter in kindergarten that belonged to him – both laugh – which was true. Well, it’s interesting that some of that stuff that belonged to Michael and Mary Ann Herman wound up somewhere else. I thought everything went to Stew Shacklette out in –
DM – No, I think they – I think Stew Shacklette got all the Folkdancer records. I don’t know what else – I just heard that they got like 2 tractor trailer loads full -
BB – Yes he did, yep. Cost them a bunch.
DM - and it ended up at the New York Public Library.
BB – I see. Of course he archived all that stuff and had the rights and he’s copied some of that – put it out on CD. I was there before he finished cataloging everything – they built a special hall – building –
DM – Just to hold it all.
BB – yes, when I was there I’ve got pictures showing boxes and boxes and boxes just sitting there. Yeah, it took 2 full trailer loads and an awful lot of work and $25,000 to move it.
DM – I know it’s coming out on CD. My one wish is that – and I don’t know if he’s got that capability is that when you take some of the old recordings you can clean them up quite a bit electronically. I had the sense that they weren’t doing much of that – that they were basically sort of re-recording it and how this was going and I heard some old 78’s that were put onto tape then someone went through and spent quite a bit of time cleaning them up and the difference is extraordinary. You can hear the caller much more clearly – there’s less separation – the caller’s voice stand out in front and I think that that’s a time consuming process.
BB – No, I thought he’d cleaned them up. I know Bill Litchman with the things that he’s done for Lloyd Shaw – the CD’s he’s put out for them have been cleaned up and are really good because he has the rights for – oh, Western Jubilee, Windsor and 2 or 3 other smaller labels. Well, this has all been very, very interesting. I’m just checking over some of my notes. You’ll have to get ahold of Jim Mayo. Have you talked to Stew Shacklette?
DM – I tried at one point – I mean I sent him an email a long time ago about something and ended up not getting a reply from him but from David, is that his name? One of his partners. Someone else told me that they’d sent something to Stew and that he was very, very slow to reply.
BB – Yes, he is.
DM – So I decided that if I need him for something I’ll just give him a call. No, I haven’t – I haven’t talked to him.
BB – No David is his financial backer – a retired Doctor. He’s the one that built the building, etc, - paid for the records to be moved. Yeah, the Kentucky Dance Foundation, right.
DM – Yeah, so one of the things I’m trying to learn more about is this Kentucky Dance Institute which was held at Moorehead. Do you know anything about that?
BB – Not really, no.
DM – In the course of the research that I’m doing now – this whole research thing is a relatively new project for me. It certainly adds another dimension to the calling. It’s fun. Part of what I find when I call is that I try to throw in – I mean, I’m working with the Country Dance and Song Society crowd – not the modern western crowd at all. It’s just a whole other world that I don’t know but I find a lot of people who are in it just for the moment and I’m trying to find ways to help people realize that they are part of a long tradition and that we can enjoy the music and the dance because of other people who have come before us who have kept it alive. One of the best ways I find of sort of getting that point across is telling stories – telling antidotes. It’s one of the reasons I love working with McQuillen because in the middle of any particular evening Bob will interrupt the proceedings with a story and it’s a story about, “ Oh, I was dancing in this hall and we did this very dance – blah, blah, blah, blah and you hope the dancers who are out there will sort of get a message that this is something that you need to keep alive and the ways to keep it alive is by bringing new people in. So, one of the things I’m really enjoying is collecting all these stories from all over the country so that I can try to pass that message on to people.
BB – Well, David tell me a little bit more about your dance in Norwich, Vermont which is still going on for 24 years.
DM – Yep. I started calling with this band, Northern Spy in 1980. I didn’t call at their very first dance – we can’t figure out whether it was the 2nd or the 3rd dance. This was a monthly dance. Spy was a new band. They had been practicing for about a year or two, just getting together to play music. I’d been calling off and on since the mid to late 70’s. I was in a folk band called Sugar Maple and we’d just played little old timey music. A little bluegrass, a little Bob Dylan covers, some ballads, you name it. We get asked to do dances or we get asked to do private parties like a New Year’s party or something or play at a wedding reception. Then people starting saying, “ Well, could you play for some dances?” and I said, “ Dancing?” and I went a friend who was a caller and said, “ Can you give me a couple of dances?” and that’s how I got stated calling. Then Northern Spy wanted another caller. They had one guy in the band who was playing banjo and calling and they asked if I’d join the band. I was playing hammered dulcimer and doing some calling and playing guitar, bass and things like that. So, we worked it out that where for a while we’d split an evening where this other guy, Geoff Lamdin would call part of the evening and I’d play dulcimer and I’d call part of the evening and he’d play banjo. In the early years we used to joke that, well if we didn’t get many people coming we’d have enough people in the band to have our own dance because was Spy, oh 10, 12, 14 – I think the most we ever had was 15 people in the band. The guy who started it, a man named Bill Sheperd had been part of Roaring Jelly which was a huge community band in the Boston area and all of us of course at the time were greatly influenced by the Canterbury Orchestra which was Dudley’s group. There could be 20 people on stage. Dudley would maybe hire 2 people but everyone else who was welcome to just show up. So in the early years Spy was this enormous band and we ran a monthly dance in Trumbull Hall which was the social hall of the Baptist Church in Etna, New Hampshire. After quite a few years two things happened simultaneously. One was, we were outgrowing the hall. It was a beautiful little hall and we had 60 people dancing and you could dance 80 people in there but we were getting 100 or 110 – it was just too crowded. At the same time the church decided that they wanted to use the hall more, including on Saturday nights so it was a parting of the ways. We bounced around for a year and then settled into Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vermont which had just had a huge renovation done to it including putting some sound- proofing into the hall. I had danced in that hall in the 70’s with Michael McKernan calling with the band Apple Jack. They came up from the Putney/Brattleboro area and at that time the hall was just horrible acoustics – all brick – so the sound would just bounce around, bounce around like crazy in there but by the time we got into it with Northern Spy they’d put some baffles in the back and had lowered the ceiling and put some acoustic tile in and some curtains so it was a much better – much better hall. And that’s where we still – that’s where we dance. We don’t dance in Ju – July and August. We’ve found that up here people just need that time to – they’re working in their gardens until at night and don’t want to shower and go off dancing. So we take a vacation. The band now is 8 musicians plus myself and we get on a typical night anywhere from 125 to 175 people in the hall. We do free admission for under age 16 and over age 60 because we really want to do everything we can to keep that age span. So many dances now, at least in the contra world it’s the same group of people who started out when they were in their late teens or 20’s only now they’re in their 40’s to 50’s. I know that that’s a lot of what happened in modern western. It seems you got a bunch of people who got excited about it and moved just decade after decade but were not as successful at bringing younger people in. I don’t know if that’s your sense but that’s what I’ve picked up.
BB – Right, yes.
DM – So, we figured if we can get young kids there – just hearing the music – that would be great and sure enough, family’s parents who liked to dance would start bringing their kids because it was cheaper than paying for a baby sitter and sure enough, the kids would start dancing. I taught elementary school right across the street from the hall in Norwich so kids who knew me as an elementary school teacher would sometimes come and bring their parents. Over the years what’s happened is we’ve developed a group of high school kids who have decided that this is the cool thing to do.
BB – Ah, good
DM – Go to a dance with a DJ in the gym at your school with a spinning ball at the top, nah that’s, that’s dull. Go to this. So there are probably 3 or 4 high schools in the area now with a bunch of kids who will come to the dances and have decided, “Hey, this is where it’s at” -
BB – That’s great
DM – which is great because they – if you get high school kids into the dance and, of course – well, a friend of mine said,
“ Well, it’s like dancing with a grasshopper”. They’re just bouncing around. They come in and initially they’re all, “Yee Haw” and clapping and stomping and as they look around they notice that no one else in the hall going, “YEE Haw” and there is no one else in the hall clapping to the music they’re just dancing. So, over time they start to bring their friends and it’s one of those spirals – if they walk into the hall and look around and see nothing but the gray and the bald they’re going to say, “ Oh, this isn’t for us” but if they walk in and see a couple of hot, young ladies that are their age they’ll say, “ All right! This is the place to be.” So we end up with this real nice mix and, of course having the older people there – the over 60 crowd – I’m almost in that category myself. I joke with the band, “ Oh we need to start making it 65 and over”. It means that we get a nice mix and I love my home dance because it’s our band and me every month. So, we’re not beholden to another committee. I mean, we can sort of do the kind of dance we want to do. I like to start out the evening with some simple dances. I like to think that’s the best way to program. Since we’re not taking people through classes the idea is that anybody that walks in should be able to do it. So, the first couple of dances I want to teach contra dance progression – I want to teach do sa do – I want to teach a Ladies Chain – a Right and Left Through – so I sort of build up figures like that for the first 3 or 4 dances so that the newcomers are learning the vocabulary not by me running a class, you know what I mean? Just sort of teaching it with all the other dancers helping out. Well, I had some hotshot dancers who came to me – a couple of them some years ago and they were upset because I was catering to the beginners. They wanted Hey For Four in the first dance and all these complicated figures and I said, “ I’m not going to do that”. I said, “ That’s not my idea of what this dance is about”. They also didn’t like that I called squares. They said, “No, no. We just want to dance contra dances”. And I said, “ Well that’s fine. You know there are a lot of dances you can go to and just do contras” and they finally announced that they weren’t going to come to the dance anymore. I said, basically, “ So long it’s been good to know you”. So, what I love about that dance is that I can call the kind of program that I really think is fun. Fred Breunig once told me he said, “ I like to program a dance evening that I would like to dance as a dancer. As a dancer I like that kind of variety. I like contras – I like squares – I like having a Sicilian circle or a big cirle – I like having a mixer in there – I usually do a mixer 3rd dance of the evening – I like throwing in a triplet or a set of triplets just – and then I love these oddball dances like – I did Nine Pin last month and people just had a hoot with it. They were laughing and just – you could feel the floor relax. I don’t know in the modern western square dance world but my guess is that it’s true when you get people who are up into Plus or Challenge level or something people who just want more and more and more complex dances. There is that same tendency in the contra dance world. People who want – you know they want the latest Hey For four on the Left Diagonal and everything – Turn Your Shadow ¾’s of the way around and you go to your 2nd person this and it just gets more – and I like dances like that myself from time to time but I think a whole evening of that is boring. The whole Swing Your Partner, Swing Your Neighbor, Swing, Swing, Swing – a dance like that I think is much better when you’ve done it right after something like British Sorrow. Very elegant, stately – done to a march and then the band cranks up into something you know, just a high powered reel and you go flying around. So, I’m able to call that kind of program and people who come to the dance seem to like it. The people who only dance there think that’s normal then they go off to another contra dance and discover that everything was Duple Improper or Becket formation all night.
BB – Well, it’s interesting that you’d mention British Sorrow. Way back years ago at one of the National Conventions in Denver Dorothy Shaw put on a pageant of the history of dancing and asked me to do the contra portion. One of the dances we did was British Sorrow.
DM – Well of course.
BB – We also did the one that I had just recently recorded called Fairfield Fancy. I recorded on Folkraft. I still have a copy of that program.
DM – Interesting. There’s a lot of Dorothy Shaw in that movie, that Visible Anthem that I mentioned. She’s some one of course that I didn’t – hadn’t run into. Sometime I’d like to get to a Lloyd Shaw event just to see what it looks like from their perspective. So, when I get hired to do dances away the 1st thing is – if it’s a series I don’t know is to get a census of what they’re looking for and many places of course just want contra, contra, contra and I can do that. If there’s other reasons to do the dance then I will if it’s a chance to work for different musicians I like for instance. Some years ago I developed a set of rules for myself for calling. I found myself in a bunch of situations where I just wasn’t having fun and I tried to think of why is that. So I came up with rules and I found that when I follow the rules it always ends being good and the rules are – I will call for love or for money. It’s those jobs in between that are the killers. So if someone – if McQuillen calls me up and he’s got a gig then sure, I’ll do it because I know I’m going to have a good time – I’ll be playing with Bob and I don’t even ask what I’m going to be paid – go off and do it. Or if someone is running a benefit for some event or good cause that I think is a good one or the local PTO – I’ve been doing a dance for 21, 22 years in the city where I live – in Lebanon – every spring we do a family dance. I don’t get paid for it I just do it because it’s a lot of fun. You know, if someone wants me to call in a city that I’d really like to visit because I’ve got friends there – great – I’ve got a reason to do it. On the other hand if someone calls up and they got my name from someone who got my name from someone – they’re having a wedding – 250 guests that’s being catered by a snobby caterer at this fancy establishment.
They’re spending gazillion dollars on this and they’re not people I have any vested interest in then I’ll say, “Sure, I’ll do it” and I’ll charge them a good fee, pay the musicians really well because there the ones who show up and do these family dances for little or nothing and figure at the worst - and this rarely happens – at the worst I’ll get there, there’ll be a bunch of people who have drunk too much – I’m going to have to plead with the crowd all night to get them on the dance floor and I’ll go home with a good check and put it in our travel fund. All the money I make from dancing I set aside and my wife and I use that for travel. So when we go for a trip it doesn’t cost us anything. It’s sort of time away from my family and the money goes for time with my family. So that’s what helps. It’s those jobs where you drive 2 ½ hours to get there, spend another hour setting up your PA, call for an evening and people have a good time but they would have had a good time no matter who was calling that night because it’s a regular weekly dance and then drive home and get home at 2:00 in the morning and you’ve been paid $45 or $60 for your trouble those in between jobs I’ve just decided I don’t need.
BB – That’s interesting. Good philosophy.
DM – Well, it’s worked for me at different points.
BB – I wanted to make mention of one article of yours that I read on the discussion group email list. It was an answer to a question from Seth Tepfer. It was 2 pages long – single spaced and really a wonderful treatise on community/family dancing. It’s very interesting. A copy of that will go to the Foundation up in New England. Well, I think we’ve covered pretty much everything I wanted to cover -
DM – Well thank you.
BB – and I know you’ve got to get ready for a dance this afternoon –
DM – And you’ve got some heavy transcribing to do. I would love it. Do you have the ability to do tape to tape copying?
BB – Yes.
DM – I would love it if you could make a copy of this just for me to hang onto myself. I’d love to have a copy.
BB – OK. I’m going to also send you a copy of the people that I’ve interviewed. Many if them, as I say – I can send you a tape copy, some I can send you a printed copy and some I don’t have.
DM – Do you – can you mark on that which of the ones that are, at least at the moment inaccessible to you because what I’m wondering - let me just run this by you – would it be politically awkward for me to mention – let’s say you’ve done an interview with someone I’m really interested in and it’s one you don’t have a transcription of and it’s one that’s sitting in Albuquerque 4 blocks from you but you can’t really get to it – would it be awkward if I wrote Bill Litchman and said, you know – because he knows about this project that I’m working on – for me to say, “I understand that Bob did an interview with so and so. Is there any way I can get a copy of it or is there a way that this can be made available?
BB – Well, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.
DM – OK. I’m trying to think that that might be a way to see what the problem is.
BB – Of course the people you’re interested in are not all the ones I’m interested in.
DM – Exactly. We definitely – we touch on a tangent here. When you send me the list of the people you’ve done what I’ll do is look it over and I’ll probably send you back some suggestions – at least in the contra dance world – of people you might be interested in.
BB – Yes, that will be great.
DM – OK. Because there are definitely some key people in contra dancing and if you’re going to be working, doing more in New England you might want to talk to some of these other folks.
BB – Yes, in fact I was going to ask you about that. Well we’re almost down to the end of the 2nd side of this tape anyway so let’s call this a day.
DM – Well, thank you very much and let’s stay in touch. I’ve jotted down a bunch of notes here – I’ve got Al Brozek and Jim Mayo and Paul Trowbridge and Culver Griffin. Let’s stay in touch Bob.
BB – All right well, stay on the line and I’ll call this the end of the tape.
DM – OK