October 30, 2003
Bob Brundage – This is Bob Brundage again and tonight we are talking by telephone to Mr. Bob Dalsemer back in Brasstown, North Carolina and – been looking forward to this interview for some time so Bob, why don’t you tell us, first of all I’d like to mention that the date today, what is the date today Bob?
Bob Dalsemer – Today is October the 30th I believe –
BB – October the 30th, right
BD – 2003
BB – 2003 right. OK, so why don’t you start out by telling us where you were born and brought up?
BD – Well, it’s a pleasure to talk to you Bob Brundage. I’ve heard about you for years. Probably I should be me interviewing you but I will tell you a little about myself. I was born in 1943 in Baltimore, Maryland and lived there all my life except for a few years in college and then I moved here in 1991 to Brasstown. I was raised kind of in the northern suburbs of Baltimore, and always interested in music and (?) it and actually at some of the dance camps that I’ve taught at, Augusta, Pinewoods. and some of those I’ve actually done even a, sometimes a week-long class that sort of modern western square dance for traditional contra dancers with live music also. Most of the time they’ve had a lot of fun with it.
BB – Yeah. That was sort of my next question. I’m sure you were involved in week long things and weekend things?
BD – Lots of them. But not so much in the modern western. I’ve called at I guess just about all the major ones.
BB – Pinewoods?
BD – Weekends, Pinewoods I guess I’ve been up there oh, I think I looking the other day, I think I’d been up there like eighteen times, since, I think the first time I was there was seventy-six and I was there quite a bit between seventy-six and nineteen ninety you know, after I moved down here I was running a few weeks for them up there doing various programs.
BB – Ah, you’re fading out a little bit, Bob.
BD – I’ve directed the program up there a number of times for different weeks that they have and they also have another camp that called Buffalo Gap, I’ve been at that one. Of course, was on staff down here at our winter dance week before I even moved down here for quite a few years, and now I’m kind of running all the dance program at the folk school as well as all the music program.
BB – How about Berea? Did you go back there?
BD – I went to Berea, I went back to Berea, the last time I was at Berea was maybe seventy nine, something like that and I’ve been invited back but since the week that we run here is the same time as theirs. I’ve never been able to do it but Joe Tarter who runs the Christmas Country Dance School now
BB – Yes, I know him
BD – is an old friend and I keep telling him. “Joe, when I retire I’m going to go back to Berea”. Also during the eighties I did a lot of traveling. I probably called in, oh maybe thirty to thirty-five states including Alaska, Canada, a number of foreign countries including England, Denmark, Belgium, Russia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Ukraine.
BB – Any of the Asian countries?
BD – No, no Asian countries. I have two adopted boys from Vietnam. We’ve been there twice, never done any calling.
BB – OK. Well, you were mentioning live music, I guess, do you use live music most of the time now?
BD – I do, most of the time. Two things where I sometimes will use recorded music, occasionally I’ll, a small group will ask me to do a one-nighter and I’ll do that with recorded music on occasion and then I run here at the folk school I have a little hour long dance session every Tuesday night where I usually do a couple of circle mixers, a couple of contras, a couple of squares to kind of introduce folks to the dancing and I use recorded music for that probably maybe once every month or once every two months we’ll have live music but the rest I use recorded music.
BB – Yes. Well, tell us about the Folk School.
BD – Wow, that could run out your tape pretty quick. Well, the Folk School is of course a school for adults based on the model of the Danish Folk Schools originally founded in 1925 by Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler and Olive Dame Campbell was also the person that, she and her husband who died before the school was founded helped Cecil Sharp come over to this country and take his trips around Appalachia where he collected music and of course the Kentucky Running Set and she actually the co-author of the first collection of “Folk Songs From The Southern Appalachians” I think it was called.
BB – Right. Are you the director there now, is that it?
BD – I’m the Coordinator of the Music and Dance Program, so actually I’m not even full time. My wife is full time at Folk School. She runs the office and is the Registrar and I’m a part time house husband. So I’m not, I was when I first came, still doing some traveling but I haven’t really done a whole lot since we adopted our kids.
BB – Yes. OK, it’s funny that your name came up on my computer today. I was transcribing an interview I had with Bill Heyman, or Bill Heyman from Supreme Audio who is a Callerlab Milestone Award recipient.
BD – Oh, wow. Good for him
BB – And he was talking about Pinewoods and your name came up in relation to a friend of yours named of Peter Barnes on piano. A great piano was the way he described it.
BD – A wonderful player, yes. He put out some recordings a number of years ago that actually Bill is handling on his web site now, sort of traditional kind of stuff that probably, stuff that you haven’t thought about in years. Smoke On The Water and Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
BB – Well, how about Northern Lights?
BD – You know, interestingly enough I just came across that. I was, you know I’ve been helping some folks up at Berea get ready for the Mountain Folk Festival which they have every March which is really a kids dance weekend, and we prepare instructions for a number of dances which go out to the leaders that they’re supposed to try to learn before they come. One of the dances was a contra called “Aw, shucks” and Jennifer emailed me and wanted to get some background information and I was looking at what I think is probably one of the best sources for any background information which is “Dance Awhile”, and, sure enough, in the Eighth Edition, “Aw, Shucks” is in there and it mentioned the fact that the (tape clicks off for a second)
BB – And we’ve had a few minutes to chat in between so, do you remember where, what we were talking about, Bob? We were in the middle of talking about the Folk School and then we got off on Bill Heyman and Peter Barnes.
BD – We did
BB – So, well, but you were saying that you use mostly live music
BD – Mostly live music.
BB – and, of course modern western doesn’t use any live music
BD – Not much
BB – to speak of but I always, all my clubs, I always talked them into having a live music dance every year and they were always the most successful dances of the year usually so it goes to show that people do want to dance to music.
BD – Well, I think we’ve been very fortunate in this latest contra dance revival I guess you’d have to call it, that it really has fostered a lot of live music to the point where most of the groups that I’m in touch with anyway, I know there are some sort of modern western type contra groups too, but for the groups that I know about hardly would even consider having a dance with recorded music. In fact, I would, to the point where I think some folks are even prejudiced against recorded music which may or may not be OK. My feeling has always been that I would rather call to good recorded music than to bad live music.
BB – Yes. I’ll agree
BD – Fortunately, there are an awful lot of very good musician out there and they’re
BB – Well, it’s interesting, here in Al
BD – getting lots of experience playing for dances.
BB – Yes, It’s interesting. Here in Albuquerque we don’t have much. We have a contra dance group that uses live music but they’re sort of pick-ups most every time and they’re not all that professional but maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Well, ah
BD – Most of the folks that I call with, you know, when you say professional I mean they’re certainly not making their living playing music.
BB – Yes. I understand.
BD – But a lot of them have been playing for a long time and can do a fine job. Now, one of the things that happens with live music if you’re a caller is that you can’t necessarily do everything that you want to do depending on who you’re calling with. So that by calling with live music sort of means by definition that you have to sort of fit your program to what the band can do because there’s a lot of difference between bands. You can get everything from
BB – Well, how many groups do you work with?
BD – Well, here at home we do have three local bands. But a lot of times when I was calling and traveling around I would meet the band you know five minutes before the dance started and, you know I may have talked to them on the phone or emailed them ahead of time just to kind of find out what their repertoire is because some bands you know you might have a band that plays predominantly old time southern Appalachian music and another band that plays mostly Irish music or, there’s quite a bit of difference.
BB – How about Canadian?
BD – The French Canadian, I love to call that. I get that I’m in heaven because I love that music as long as they’re not playing crooked tunes. A lot of the New England style contra dance bands use a lot of French Canadian type tunes in fact, most of the contra dance bands now are mixing a whole lot of different stuff. There’s a little bit of Scottish, a little bit of Irish, a little bit of French Canadian, a little bit of old time southern and making it all work for contra dancing.
BB – Right. Well, do you know
BD – A lot of these callers only call contra dances and the bands are used to playing these three tunes medleys that go on for fifteen or twenty minutes, so I have a little trouble with that. I don’t, I prefer to run the dances a little shorter. I might ask them just to play two tunes. And I like to do squares. I don’t like to do a program without doing at least a couple of sets of squares. Although, I must say I’ve run into some folks that didn’t like that very much.
BB – Yes, well when you do squares you’re talking about quadrilles?
BD – Well, again I like to do, if I have a band that I can work with it depends what the band can play. All quadrilles if it’s a New England style I’ll do more kind of patter, open patter call kind of things. If I have a southern band and if I have a band that can play some singing squares I’m in heaven.
BB – Yes. I hear you
BD – Are you familiar with any of the leaders up in the New England area? Tony Parkes?
BD – I know Tony
BB – Dudley Laufman
BD – Dudley I’ve known for years
BB – Yeah, he was at the University of Massachusetts when I was after I went to college.
BD – Of course the late Ted Sanella was a good friend. One of my mentors too.
BB – Well, Ted and I were good friends. I was on the Board of Directors of the New England Folk Festival Association for many years when I was living in Massachusetts and certainly got to know Ted and Connie Taylor and a few of those people. Well, it looks like the trouble I’m having with this tape maybe we’ve
BD – You’ve probably heard most of what I have to say. I hope it comes in handy with whatever you’re doing and you know I think it’s a terrific resource that you’ve got out there, a great idea.
BB – Thank you very much
BD – I wish somebody had started it fifteen years ago.
BB – Yeah, I know, we wish we had a live interview with people like
BD – I wondered if you’d interviewed
BB – Les Gotcher
BD – Jonesy for example?
BB – Yes, I did. Yep
BD – Ah, good
BB – Yeah. I can send you a list of the ones that are, that I’ve interviewed if you’d like.
BD – That would be great. You could email it to me if you want.
BB – From your perspective Bob where do you think square dancing is and where do you think it’s going?
BD – I’m a little bit out of the loop so to speak with modern western square dancing.
BB – Yeah, I mean in your personal bailiwick .
BD – Oh, well I think at least old time square dancing seems to be coming back to a degree. I don’t know exactly where the whole contra dance movement is kind of headed right now but I do know this. A lot of the callers who have been calling for a good while and there’s a tendency for a lot of these contra callers to do nothing but contras. That’s all they know how to call. But a lot of the more energetic ones are wanting to call squares. I do a caller’s workshop every summer here at Folk School where I take people and I usually don’t take complete beginners. All they can do is at least call a contra before they come. I’d say ninety percent of them want to learn how to call squares. You know it’s just a little bit harder for them to learn to do that. But they want to and there’s even a bunch of callers from the south and the mid-west who I know got together and actually hired a western square dance caller, I wish I could remember his name. He was from Minnesota I think named Dan, a young guy.
BB – No I don’t know who it might be.
BD – but I know they hired him to do a workshop for them over a weekend, and he covered like most of the Mainstream in a weekend. So there’s interest. There’s interest in it.
BB – Yes
BD – I don’t think those folks are going to become club square dance callers but I do know that a lot of the choreography and the ideas of modern western are starting to creep into the contra dance scene –
BB – I see
BD – to the point where you are seeing dancers at our dances now that use Star Throughs and Square Throughs – Flutter Wheels haven’t quite crept in yet –
BB – Ah ha
BD – I know in England a lot of the folks contra dancing over there know what Flutter Wheels are and Sweep a Quarter More and stuff like that.
BB – Well, there’s a movement in southern California for interjecting modern western figures like Do Paso and all kinds of things.
BD – Do Paso – laughs
BB – Yeah. But ah, well
BD – I think there is some vibrant spots there – unfortunately not locally in the clubs around here – the clubs are pretty small and not getting much bigger
BB – Yes. That’s pretty much the way it is everywhere.
BD – I understand there are kind of hot spots –
BB – Yeah
BD – from what I hear like the gay square dance clubs –
BB – Yes
BD – considered one of the big hot spots –
BB – Right
BD – and also some of the square dancing going on in other countries like Sweden and Japan and I know the Czech Republic seems to have a pretty vibrant –
BB – Yes, well most of Europe actually is quite active in modern western. OK. Well, as you say I think we’ve kind of exhausted what I was interested in getting out of you and –
BD – It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
BB – It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. I’ll get a list of those people in the mail
BD – Great
BB – and if there’s something you’d like to hear I can probably arrange to send you a copy of the tape or a transcript or something.
BD – I’ve got so much stuff here that I haven’t even listened to – I actually did an interview with Jonesy myself – went to his house out on the west coast – that’s probably been fifteen years ago.
BB – He was in Burbank
BD – This was in Glendale
BB – Glendale, yeah. No, you’re right, yes, that’s where I saw him
BD – His wife had passed away a few years before –
BB – Um hmm
BD – We sat around for most of the day – what a great guy.
BB – Yes, he was
BD – I was so pleased to have met him.
BB – Do you have that interview on tape?
BD – I do and it’s one of those things that when I retire it’s one of my first things I going to sit down and transcribe it – chuckles
BB – OK. Is it possible for you to copy the tape?
BD – Well, I really need to listen to it first.
BB – Yeah, sure
BD – There are a few things on there that I don’t think he really wanted to –
BB – Ah ha
BD – get out to the public.
BB – Right, right. He told you about the little angel on his shoulder?
BD – I don’t remember that –
BB – OK. Well, maybe that was something – his wife had passed away quite a while before I talked to him. Well, be that as it may – thank you very much Bob –
BD – Thank you Bob
BB – so we’ll call this the conclusion. We’ve been talking to Bob Dalsemer in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was certainly a pleasure And we – tape clicks off.
End of Tape