When Sue Songer started learning contra dance tunes in 1989, she had no idea of the forces she would set in motion in Portland—and beyond. She only knew that she found it personally useful to transcribe tunes that she had learned in order to keep them in her head. Before long, others started asking her for her transcriptions. As word spread of her growing collection of tunes, she was approached frequently by strangers asking for copies of her collection. From this, the Portland Collection music products were born, with Clyde Curley as her collaborator. The three books and four CDs have become staple resources for contra dance musicians around the world. Sue never would have imagined in 1989 that her transcriptions would travel as far as Australia!
In 1996, Sue—inspired by the large contra dance band Rum and Onions—decided to try leading a large contra dance band in Portland. She thought that maybe it would last a year or two. 25 people signed up the first year, and they liked it so much they asked to do it again. The Portland Megaband now has about 75 members, a wide variety of levels and instrumentation, and plays for an annual dance for 500 dancers. The dance raises money for a scholarship fund for community members to continue their music and dance education. Sue’s positive leadership has made the Megaband a community favorite. Furthermore, the Megaband dance in March gave rise to a 5-day long event known as the Cascade Promenade, capped by an all-day contra dance featuring regional bands and callers on the Sunday after the Megaband dance. People come from far and wide for this annual celebration of music and dance—all sparked by Sue’s idea in 1996.
Sue is also active as a dance musician and teacher. She currently plays with two contra dance bands, Joyride and The Stage Crew, plus she collaborates with many other musicians for contra and English dances. She has led large contra dance bands in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Coos Bay, Oregon, and was a teacher and musician in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for CDSS’s Centennial Tour. She has tutored piano numerous times at the American Festival of Fiddle Tunes, and she teaches every July for Contra Dance Musicians Week at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.
Furthermore, Sue has been active on boards and committees of many organizations, including Northwest Folklife Festival, Portland Country Dance Community, CDSS, and Northwest Passage Dance Weekend.
Sue approaches all of her work with dedication, passion and—most of all—kindness. She is always supportive of musicians, no matter what their playing ability is. She has inspired so many, more than she could ever imagine. She graciously thanks the members of the Megaband every year for their hard work and dedication, and tells them how proud she is of them. In return, everyone who has worked with Sue is proud of her achievements and appreciative of her invaluable contributions to music and dance.