The late Warren Argo, a much-beloved Seattle old-time musician who worked with the Northwest Folklife Festival, Centrum’s Festival of Fiddle Tunes, and the Seattle Folklore Society, was honored in Fall 2015 by the Country Dance and Song Society. He died in 2010 and is the recipient of CDSS’s first Posthumous Lifetime Contribution Award. The article below is adapted from a tribute written by fellow musician and Seattleite Mike Richardson shortly after Warren’s death.
Warren Argo (1942-2010) cast a long shadow over the Northwest and national folk scene for several decades. I’ve personally run into him staffing the Northwest Folklife Festival, Wannadance, the NW New Year’s Camp, the Lady of the Lake Camp, the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, the Alaska Folk Festival, and several of CDSS’s Pinewoods camps. That’s a lot of landscape that will seem a lot emptier without Warren around.
A tune played at a dance shortly after his death was Argo’s Reel, by Bob McQuillen. Bob’s inscription for that tune sums up a lot about Warren: “Warren Argo, sound man, caller, musician, indefatigable spark plug of the West Coast music and dance scene, is a great friend of the entire contradance community. I am so glad this tune came through with your name on it, Warren!’”
Warren was trained as an engineer, but no mere job description can adequately describe a man of such protean interests. A conversation with him might ramble through topics as diverse as quantum mechanics, Malthusian genetics, or the care and feeding of a skin banjo head. You could often get a clue as what he was reading and what was buzzing in his brain by the snippets of speech that would pop up in his dance calling.
In Warren-speak, a long lines forward and back became, “Smash, Bash, Crash, Bang!” A partner swing might be signaled by “Swing, you devils!,” and one particular dance move was taught at Folklife by, “…the ladies now wander down the center of the set, like an errant photon…”. Other tasty Warrenisms can be gleaned from “So What Is It About This Contra Dancing Anyway?”, an article he wrote for the May 2002 issue of Victory Music Review.
I first met Warren in 1985, during the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, in Port Townsend, WA. I had recently moved to the Upper North Left, after wrapping up a zillion years of medical training. Fiddle Tunes was a Technicolor orgy of music, dance, late night jams, and bear hugs—lots different from the tight-sphinctered academic world I had just left. At the end of the week, just as we were all getting a little blue at the thought of leaving, these little flyers started popping up that said, “Have a good time at Fiddle Tunes this week?” Yeah, I sure did! “If so, come to the New Melody Tavern Monday night for Warren Argo and the Dregs of Fiddle Tunes, for one more night!” Wow, what a great idea! So, my wife and I showed up at the dance, where, as advertised, Warren and all of the other folks who couldn’t quite give up Brigadoon back into the mists carried on for several more hours of goodness.
At the end of the evening, I went up to Warren and gushed, “Gosh, Warren. It was awesome having one more night of Fiddle Tunes. Wouldn’t it be great if every day were like Fiddle Tunes?” His answer: “Yes, it would. You know, Mike, personally, I’m up to about three or four days a week!”
A fine philosophy, and one that I’ve spent the last twenty-five years trying to emulate.
A celebration of Warren Argo was held on October 10, 2015 at Littlefield Farm, Arlington, Washington; Sandy Bradley was emcee. Our thanks to Mike Richardson for allowing us to reprint his 2010 tribute to Warren.
written by himself, November 2014
I gained a habit early on of suspending my artistic and critical biases in the presence of someone with any amount of multi-generational musical or dance culture. I have likewise always deferred to the tradition bearers of English ritual dance when it comes to the best way to do their dances and the best way to preserve them. Customs are not modular, each aspect is interrelated, and to extricate one piece of a musical tradition without the others, from a single moment without the before or after, and give it a different function in a new place is not preserving anything.
Over the centuries popular culture has always raided traditional culture for the next thing. Traditional culture is mostly a survival of the popular culture of old. Though symbiotic in this way, popular and traditional culture serve very different functions. The popular needs change, thrives on novelty, and has a commercial intent. The traditional nurtures a physical community and accommodates all generations and inclinations. It changes as it needs to, but doesn’t change for the sake of change.
I bring up these issues at the beginning of this biographical sketch because I ruminate over these issues all the time, and I have come to realize that most people have other things to think about. I hope it helps make some sense out of the choices I have made over the years, such as the traditional fiddlers, cloggers, shape note singers that I have championed at dance camps, and teaching sword dances in their entirety with their songs, marches, other ancillary bits. Throughout a long career I have watched for and tried to preserve the part of our material that has passed through many hands, and view this as the great treasure of old music and dance. It is not a sequence of notes, a particular step, or a rousing chorus. Rather it is the spirit, intent, unique groove, and the knowledge that it has worked its magic before and will work again.
I found that there were more topics to address than there was time to write, and my initial intent of writing down what happened and why is a better topic for a book. So I describe below some of the things that happened.
I was raised in a dark hollow in the California coastal mountains, a chasm deep enough to stop the fire the day Oakland burned. When I was ten we moved to a hillside where I could race to school in under four minutes, but it took 15 to get back up. I still like vertical landscapes best.
My family had considerable musical inclination in former generations, particularly on my mother’s side. In my home there was a residual music appreciation which included going to the Oakland Symphony, my grandmother playing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Kitten on the Keys on piano, my dad playing Benny Goodman on the phonograph. My mother and her two brothers played piano and knew the lyrics to all the songs of their day. My parents liked to dance, but left us at home when they went dancing. I have learned in later years that my great grandfather played for mining camp square dances on guitar and harmonica, and I remember him showing me his elaborately inlaid old Washburn guitar and harmonica holder.
At the same time, I started listening to unapproved music on my neighbor Jon Benner’s basement radio. Everly Brothers, Elvis, Chuck Berry were our favorites. My mother interrogated me to determine if I liked Elvis for his music or his appearance. At that time I had no idea what Elvis or any of them looked like. I took guitar lessons when I was 11 from Mr. Meecham at Montclair Music Center, who taught me classical and flamenco guitar fundamentals. He took the master classes when Segovia came to town, but also played at a strip club in San Francisco some evenings, which, when realized by my parents, brought my formal music education to a close.
For the next few years I sought out anything involving an acoustic guitar, played Hard, ain’t it Hard with friends at the Joaquin Miller Elementary School assembly to mixed reviews, learned songs from the Limelighters, Kingston Trio and Burl Ives.
Then in 1963 the 1960s finally arrived, including the Beatles, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the civil rights movement, starting high school the year Oakland integrated the schools, and especially Bob Dylan. Hearing Dylan sent me looking for more in his vein, and I found what seemed even better in the Berkeley folk scene: Merritt Herring’s guitar/singing classes at the Live Oak Center, John Lundberg’s guitar shop on Dwight, concerts at the Jabberwock, and Freight and Salvage, and especially the Berkeley Folk Festival. I heard and met many of the people that would be important to me later: Jean Ritchie, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger, Hank Bradley, Doc Watson, Sam Hinton, Frank Warner and others.
Mississippi Fred McDowell appeared at the Berkeley Folk Festival in 1965 and I was transfixed. I went to all of his sessions and performances, and later heard him at the Berkeley Blues Festival, Jabberwock, and Freight and Salvage clubs. The intensity of his performance made anything else I had heard seem tame. In hindsight, I would say that Fred McDowell’s incredible traditional blues groove was what turned me into a lifelong traditional dance music aficionado. I only tried to play blues for a few years, but kept looking for Fred’s spirit in other genres.
Meanwhile, I was still a high school student, sailboat racer, rock climber, and, surprisingly, chairman of the student race relations committee. I bring this up because the one hugely successful thing our committee did was to put on soul dance lessons in a room of the Skyline High School gym. I think I got the idea then that putting on a dance was easy and that I could do it.
I left California for Dartmouth College in the fall of 1966. A string band whose name I can’t recall played in Hanover in 1967 and I invited them back to the commons room of my dorm, Cutter Hall (now El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), after the show. I had been wishing I could be in a band with a fiddle and that night somehow decided I would have to be the fiddler myself. I knocked on Fred Breunig’s door and asked if I could borrow his violin. He was asleep when I knocked, but managed to ask if I could play the violin, and then loaned it to me anyway. A few days later I borrowed another violin on a more permanent basis and secreted myself in the room the janitors used for garbage, emerging eight hours later slightly able to play Crow Black Chicken and Boil the Cabbage Down.
Later that year I walked into that same commons room and saw two tall men standing there, looking lost. They told me that a student had arranged for there to be a dance that evening. I knew the student, and knew that he had left the college at the end of the last term. Dartmouth was still all male, but I enlisted help from friends to knock on doors in both our dorm and the nearby one that housed exchange students from Mt. Holyoke. We had a good dance with eight or ten couples, I joined in on guitar, and I learned about the ongoing dance at the Nelson, NH town hall. Have you guessed? These guys were Dudley Laufman and Dave Fuller, a great accordionist who has had very little recognition due to falling off a ladder just as the contra dance scene took off in the early 70s. So I didn’t discover contra dancing; it discovered me.
Dartmouth’s Tucker Foundation started a program in 1968 that placed students as teachers in disadvantaged communities and the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC and Murphy High School hosted the pilot program. George Ainley and I were the first students. I arranged to work at the Folk School the summer ahead, and so arrived the day the June dance week began. I was looking for mountain fiddlers, and had no clue about the Folk School’s long history of dance and music programs. All at the same moment I encountered Phil Merrill, Gathering Peascods, Otto and Marguerite Wood, Genny and Jack Shimer, Totur, George and Marguerite Bidstrup, Johanna Kulbach, and tried to play the recorder. John Ramsay was both Folk School director and chief dance instructor. It was from him that I learned my first morris and sword. Standing out in the field a few evenings after my arrival I could hear a banjo ringing out across the landscape. Following the sound, I discovered that Carl Green had music sessions in his garage/service station in the middle of Brasstown, so I had begun finding mountain fiddlers too.
At the end of our residency both George Ainley and I attended Berea College’s Christmas Country Dance School. Here I met fiddler Lewis Lamb, Genny Shimer, Gene Murrow, and many others. It felt as if I had discovered a way of life formerly unknown. I wanted my life to be like Christmas school all the time. Be careful what you wish for!
Back in Hanover, NH, George and I, along with Fred Breunig and others, tried to get a morris team started (we danced Headington, made bell pads, and practiced in the basement of the fraternity on which the movie “Animal House” was based). More successful was our contra/country dance, which started in the commons room of the women’s dormitory, moved to the Catholic Student Center, and finally (under Fred’s leadership, and after I had graduated) moved to the White Church. I went to the dance in Nelson on a regular basis, meeting Allan Block, Bob McQuillen, Newt Tolman, Pete Colby, Ted Levin, and many others. We generally had a full car from Hanover, often John Wheeler’s pickup truck, and weren’t ready to go home when the dance ended, so went on to someone’s house (mostly Debbie and Loring Puffer’s, neighbors of Dudley Laufman) and stayed up all night playing and carrying on, arriving back in Hanover as the sun made an appearance in the rear window.
I graduated in the summer of 1970 without any plan whatsoever. At John Wheeler’s suggestion I spent the rest of that year as a summer camp counselor and tutor in Lynchburg, VA. We went to many fiddle contests, and also to Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts.
New York City
Other things were going on including a war, a draft, and a lottery for the draft which I lost (#13). I applied for and received conscientious objector status, and needed to arrange for a public service job as alternative service. I remembered a conversation with May Gadd in New York when she had told me “what CDSS needs is a young person like you.” Amazingly, my draft board agreed to my working for CDSS as my public alternative service. I subsequently was determined unsuitable to serve at my physical exam, but I decided to go ahead and work for CDSS as planned anyway.
May Gadd immediately promoted me as a square dance caller, an under-emphasized aspect of the organization’s purview at the time, and square dances were held in some of NYC’s most obscure locations. One public school in the East Village required a guide to find the hall. After several months I was allowed to teach morris dancing in the regular weekly classes at Metropolitan-Duane Hall, and after a year or two English country dance. In each instance I got May Gadd’s evaluation the next morning in the office. This was my primary apprenticeship in dance leadership.
I found curious things around the CDSS office, such as the recordings made of Cecil Sharp’s ballad informants, by Maud Karpeles and Evelyn Wells in 1955, tucked away in a corner and apparently never played. Or the book American Country Dances as Danced by the British Soldiers in their Winter Quarters, gift of Bessie Osgood of Cambridge, MA, likewise undisturbed. Or the 78 rpm records of Jinky Wells of Bampton playing the morris tunes.
My responsibilities in the office consisted of fulfilling orders and purchasing merchandise for the sales program. I replaced Paul Skrobela in this role. At the time I arrived (in the very last bit of 1970) our biggest seller was Irish linen tea towels with heraldic themes. Of course we also sold morris dance paraphernalia, tune and dance books, vinyl recordings, and tin whistles.
In those days there were fairly frequent public performances by New York country dancers; English country dancing was the main focus, but morris, sword and American contras were also included. We danced at street fairs and hospitals, and had particularly good receptions in mental wards. May Gadd directed these as long as she remained director. There were also the Spring and Christmas festivals that were held at Barnard College’s beautiful hall and which drew hundreds. Here there were fairly elaborate performances that were rehearsed and slightly costumed. (In the 1930s-1950s these events took place at the Armory in New York’s upper east side and drew thousands of participants and observers.)
The CDSS office at 55 Christopher Street was the whole second floor of an old brownstone next door to the Stonewall Inn. It had two rooms, front and back, a small storage closet on the stair landing where I found various treasures, and a larger back storage space that also served as kitchen. Ed Durham and Frank Edwards turned the back room into more of a proper office as the staff grew in the mid-70s. Throughout my tenure the secretary sat next to the window on the street side, and had the only view. Which was a great view of all that went through Sheridan Square, including the subway entrance. The rest of us were more or less in the back. There were two electric typewriters, a mimeograph machine, costumes, dance equipment, file drawers, and a desk for each employee. These employees numbered three in the beginning, but grew a little as the years went on. Here is a synopsis of my office mates:
Director of CDSS from its inception, inspirational dance leader, protective of territory, old when I met her but once a dynamo, she devoted her life to CDSS and asked little back. She started dancing in England as an adult, quickly becoming part of Cecil Sharp’s demonstration group and then EFDS regional coordinator based in Newcastle. She retired in 1973.
CDSS music director for life but not an employee. By far the best English country dance player I have been privileged to dance to and work with. Phil was a great dancer in his younger days, and had studied to be a concert pianist at Eastman before stage fright sent him our way. His music actually did tell you what to do.
Inspirational dance teacher and organizer. Though not an employee at first, Genny held an important leadership position even before becoming director in 1973, and was critical to many endeavors including the American Country Dance Ensemble (the Bicentennial performance wing of CDSS), family weeks, and the purchase of Pinewoods Camp. She and her husband Jack were also close friends despite our generational gap.
Became a key assistant to three directors – Genny Shimer, myself and Nancy White Kurzman and provided crucial continuity during the late 70s and early 80s. Joan, Kate Charles, Marney and I all lived in the same apartment building.
Secretary for many years, retired weeks after I started. She was followed in this position by Bob Dalsemer (1971), Joanne Childress (later Joanne Davis, 1971-1972), Jane Ross (later Jane Leibert, 1972-1973), Kate Charles (1974-1976), Jody Evans (1977-78)
Ed Durham came on staff as coordinator of the American Country Dance Ensemble in about 1975 and added many modern touches to the office including a multi-line phone system, which I viewed as a miracle of sorts.
Elizabeth Hodgkin (membership secretary) and Frances Houghton were regular office volunteers
Changing CDSS Directorship
By the time I arrived at CDSS headquarters, May Gadd had been at the job for about 42 years, and was 79 years old. She had built up what currently existed, not just once, but again after World War II. She understood and implemented Douglas Kennedy’s populist reorientation of country dance, and had seen CDSS thrive in the new non-elitist guise. But she was uncomfortable when activities spread beyond her control, and, for example, took the formation of the Village Morris Men as a challenge to CDSS rather than as the natural outcome of a job well done. I think she recognized the need for new leadership; certainly everyone else did.
Genny Shimer took on the directorship in 1973 at a time when many things were in transition. The Conant family needed a break after decades of operating Pinewoods Camp; morris teams and contra dances were poised to spring up all over the country, as were local dance festivals. During Genny’s leadership Pinewoods Camp was purchased by the several user groups (including CDSS), the American Country Dance Ensemble was started, regional leadership conferences were started, and the Family Week at Pinewoods was inaugurated. Genny’s stature as a dance teacher and her level-headedness made the transition from May Gadd’s leadership widely acceptable within the Society, and her many years within the organization helped her navigate the various personal and group agendas existing at the time.
Genny had only agreed to a two year term and did not intend to sign up for another, so in mid-1975 I became director at the age of 27. My strengths were my direct involvement in the morris and contra scenes, my waxing dance leadership skills, an expanding understanding of how dance history fit together to create the present, enthusiasm, and wanting to do everything. My weaknesses were same list differently viewed: I took on too much, both for myself and others, I used enthusiasm to cover what I hadn’t yet thought through or understood, I made early American dance seem too fussy because I confused an evening of social dancing with historic recreation, and I was too busy calling dances, morris dancing and going to meetings to know what was going on in the office. Fortunately, I had a very good team in the office who graciously picked up the slack. Joan Carr and Kate Charles started during Genny’s tenure and already knew what to do. Joan was also an outstanding diplomat.
The purchase of Pinewoods Camp by the newly-formed Pinewoods Camp Inc. created more opportunity for CDSS and the other users. Genny had rightly put Family Week at the top of the list for CDSS expansion (the first Family Week was in August of 1975, just after I had become national director; Genny was program director of the week). But there were more weeks available in the summer, and I made American Week the next priority. The first American Week at Pinewoods was 1977, and as program director I put primary effort into bringing tradition bearers to the party. Even back then, I was more interested in the origins and local perpetuation of music and dance traditions than I was in disseminating bits and pieces of these traditions to a new audience. At the time there was an audience for both the wonderful, uninterpreted music, and also for the inter-cultural social scene created by reaching out to important tradition bearers. Perhaps that day will come again.
Marney and I were contemplating the future, and among other things thought raising a family in New York would be hard. I proposed moving the headquarters, and we looked at a number of possibilities. In the end the board decided to stay in New York and look for a new director. I still had a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and was made Artistic Director as a half time employee for the next three years, returning monthly for meetings. In June of 1977 Marney and I moved to Charlottesville, VA and have been there ever since.
Historic Dance Performance
My own curiosity about dance history, CDSS’s proclivity for public display, and the public funding surrounding the Bicentennial of American Independence were on a collision course that would lead me into show business, musty libraries in distant cities, costume balls and dance history conferences. I applied for and received three successive grants from the NEH to study early American social dance. CDSS created the American Country Dance Ensemble of which I was made director. I published a few of the dances I had uncovered in Twenty-Four American Country Dances, 1976.
The American Country Dance Ensemble was a major effort during the mid-1970s; dozens of volunteers sewed costumes under the direction of Honey Hastings for many months. We originally planned two shows, one depicting American social dance in the second half of the 18th century and the other a retrospective of the 18th and 19th centuries. Bookings were harder to get than we had imagined, the all-18th century show proved more popular and required fewer costumes. So to consolidate our efforts and cut our losses the second show was abandoned. One thing that has stayed with me from practicing for this second show was Genny Shimer’s careful teaching of the Viennese waltz. Though the dancers were all volunteers, musicians Phil Merrill (harpsichord), Marshall Barron (violin), Julie White (flute), Iris Hiskey (soprano), and narrator Alex Blachly were paid. Margaret Ann Martin later replaced Phil Merrill, who didn’t like wearing a costume very much.
A similar effort was undertaken in Boston; my own connection with the Boston show was limited to a couple of workshops on material as yet unpublished. What was the impact of these projects? No doubt more costume balls than otherwise would have occurred. Some living history locations, including Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg, added dance to their interpretation. Certainly a few dance groups started focusing on early American dance. Probably CDSS was stretched too thin for its own good. I personally gained an ideal platform to try out reconstructed dances and dance style with good dancers in historic clothing.
November 28th,1973 (the note on my calendar says “2:30 pm at Gay’s, bring fiddle”) May Gadd invited me to her apartment on Bleeker Street to meet her longtime friend, Agnes deMille, whose ballets and Broadway musical choreography changed the course of theatrical dance in the mid-20th century. She was a ballerina as well, and danced the lead role in her best remembered ballet, Rodeo. But before she was famous, she came to morris and country dance classes sponsored by CDSS. Phil Merrill reported that her “split capers” in morris were unequaled and gravity-defying. Miss deMille often used elements of traditional social dance in her creations, and when she needed material, she came to May Gadd (or Phil Merrill in the instance of Brigadoon). So this meeting was one with a history for the two of them, of which I was naturally ignorant at the time. The first tune I played for her was June Apple, and she never wanted to hear another one.
Agnes deMille was putting together a company to perform a number of her ballets on tour, and she wanted square dance and flatfoot material for an introduction to her latest creation, Texas Fourth. But she also wanted me to be in the production as fiddler, dancer and caller. And I agreed to do it! (I later figured out how Agnes cast dancers – whether their face could be distinguished from the back of an auditorium. Apparently my cheekbones were up to the task.) The show included interludes by ballad singer Jean Ritchie and tap dance legend Honi Coles. The Agnes deMille Heritage Dance Theater started rehearsals in mid-January, worked intensely for six weeks in various venues including Carnegie Hall rehearsal studios, and then toured in the northeastern United States for the month of March in 1974. I also performed my segment of the ballet in Agnes deMille’s “Conversations on the Dance” a number of times over the next decade, and was frequently her waltz partner on these occasions. I couldn’t do a second tour later in 1974, and Fred Breunig learned my role and toured with the company. I also reprised the role in 1983 when Miss deMille was given a Broadway tribute at the Shubert Theater; we were on last, and Isaac Stern opened for us.
I went to England for the first time in July of 1971 at the invitation of Ron Smedley. Ron had seen Wayne Henderson of Brasstown buck dance one evening at the Berea Christmas dance week, and also met me. He put together a month long tour of performances and festivals for the two of us that was breathtaking. Mostly I played fiddle and Wayne danced when we performed, but when we had a fiddler who could play a mountain hoedown available I also danced and we had a routine worked up. At the Loughborough festival we saw Bampton morris, danced English celidh dances to the Rakes, listened to Steeleye Span, John Kirkpatrick, and Packy Byrne. In Sheffield both the Grenoside and Handsworth sword dancers put on performances just for us. We met Northumbrian clog dance legend Johnson Ellwood, and actually got in the set and danced with Monkseaton Rapper (in the back yard of the Browns’ house, not in public). We opened at the High Level Pub for Sean McGuire, Irish fiddle virtuoso, and I started to learn wooden shoe clog from Peter Brown. We met Pat Shaw and attended one of his Another Look at Playford sessions and taught American clogging to London Folk, EFDSS’s performance troupe directed by Ron Smedley. Our final performance was at the Royal Festival Hall at the EFDSS 60th anniversary; I played for Wayne to dance and then we both danced to Brian Jackson’s fiddle. We were in august company: Loftus Sword, Monkseaton Rapper, Headington Quarry, Bampton, the Copper Family, the Watersons. There were more, but that is enough.
Wayne returned home and I went to a weeklong dance leadership seminar led by Nibs Mathews, EFDSS director, and Ken and Sybil Clarke. It was the best course of its type I have seen; particularly effective were the evening sessions arranged for uninitiated dancers with a post mortem discussion scheduled the next morning. I got back to New York and left a few hours later for Pinewoods Camp.
From that first trip to England I had developed many good friends, a revised impression of English folk customs, and a near desperate passion for morris dancing. I returned to England almost every summer for the next decade, then more infrequently after the children started to arrive. Back in New York I collaborated with John Dexter, Karl Rodgers and Howard Seidel, all former Village Morris Men (1968-69), in trying to start a new New York morris group, which, however, never really got very far.
John left NYC to join a string quartet in Ithaca and quickly succeeded in starting Binghamton Morris, whom he brought to a Greenwich Village morris tour sponsored by the Pinewoods Morris Men in the Spring of 1974. Some of the Cooper Union students who had been holding square dance weekends with me as caller were inspired by the morris generally and the spirit and quick progress of Binghampton, and wanted to morris dance themselves. This finally provided critical mass to start the Greenwich Morris Men, who first danced in public in June of 1974.
Karl Rodgers was our only Village Morris alumnus, and he very quickly left us due to the choices I was making for the group. Single tradition (we danced Fieldtown) and a more expansive style of movement were the main contentions, but I also think Karl and I were on opposite sides of a dichotomy created by Cecil Sharp many years before. Sharp presented morris to refined society in a form that could be accepted, though it made it into a cricket match in appearance. He also admired the regularity of the Headington Quarry dancers and tended to “Headingtonize” the other traditions. I had recently been to both Headington and Bampton for Spring Bank Holiday and was completely enchanted with both, and disillusioned with the Morris Ring style of dance. Now I am sad that we didn’t find a way to compromise. And I am glad that Greenwich had the fine run that it did.
Greenwich Rapper started about a year later when Tony Poile moved from London to Connecticut. Tony had a burning passion for rapper, having danced with Chingford Lads and London Folk, and soon also started Greenwich Guard rapper at the high school near his home in Connecticut. Everyone in Greenwich rapper was also a Greenwich Morris Man, but we had different practice nights and worked very hard on our stepping. Greenwich Rapper folded about the time I moved to Virginia in 1977, but Greenwich Morris continued and thrived.
The Greenwich Morris Men rented a Winnebago and traveled to Knoxville, TN for the first Knoxville Dance Festival in February of 1978, stopping in Charlottesville on the way. Local dancers saw them dance and liked it, and we were able to start the Albemarle Morris Men a few months later. Excepting Ralph Compton, a former Berea dancer, no one had danced morris before so they danced what I told them to without complaint. Workshops with Roy Dommett over the next few years modified our style considerably, and for the better. And we are still going strong today, many of the men being in the their fourth and best decade of dancing.
Collecting Dances and Music
Since my time as a student in Brasstown, NC, I have tried to attend as many traditional community dances as I could. The majority of these events were in the southeastern states of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, but also included dances in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. I also interviewed people who had been callers and dancers about what they remembered from times past.
My method at a dance was to be as innocuous as possible, aware from folklore classes of the danger of changing what one hopes to observe unchanged. I wrote down what had happened at the event as soon as possible afterwards, including both dance and non-dance details. When I could I described the figures and calls, and in one case transcribed a tape recording of a whole dance, all 50 pages worth. When I had a tape recorder I would carry it in small bag and just leave it running under a bench or in a corner so as not to draw attention. Today these are some of my most cherished recordings.
After my second child arrived I did much less traveling to collect dances, but playing in local country bands brought me in contact with lots of local culture, including dance culture. I mostly stopped notating what happened by this time. Virtually all of the teaching I do of American traditional dance comes from the material gleaned in these years.
Since I plan to publish the original notations with some explanation I will only add here that the dancing at the best of the traditional community dances was by far the best dancing that I have encountered. The fire hall at New Creek, WV, the Woodhill Community Center in Union County, TN, the monthly dances of the Ed Larkin Dancers near Sharon, VT, Bill’s Roller Rink in Blairsville, GA, the Stella, VA Ruritan Club in my mind epitomize what the local dance can be.
What was different from the average revival contra or country dance? At interest-based events we dance with other dance enthusiasts, while traditional dance communities dance with the neighborhood. Another major difference in traditional dance communities is the educational content, of which there is none; there is no teaching, and it is not missed or needed, the dance is a party, the dances are the same every week or month, as are the caller and band in most cases, and variety is not a virtue. Which leaves room for good dancing in a social setting with the same folks who cut your hair, service your tractor, or teach your kids.
I have most always been in dance bands, and rarely other kinds.
Cottey Light Orchestra might have begun the day in the early 70s that Tom Kruskal and I came across a band stand on the shore of Oakland’s Lake Merritt where we gave a concert for ducks. Or perhaps it started the night that Tom, Tony Barrand, myself and maybe another culprit decided that a midnight strolling serenade was needed by folks at Pinewoods Camp. The band was named at Pinewoods a few years later when John Dexter, John Roberts, Tom and myself were housed for the week at Cottey House. Several nights, Tom, John Roberts and I went back to Cottey House to play lumpy English traditional tunes, morris tunes, historic tunes, anything that could be slow and emphatic. John Dexter, single at the time, came in later, Coleman lantern in hand, and announced “the search goes on.” The he joined in the music. Soon we heard the Old Swan Band and realized we weren’t the only ones who thought this kind of band was a good idea. Tom and I did a number of dances and short tours and together with Tony recorded Round Pond Relics in 1980. A second album, Over the Water, was made in 1994 and featured John Dexter, Tom and myself.
In New York I played old time music with groups made up for the moment, drawing from Bill Garbus, Pete Lissman, Jerry Schieber, David Spilkia, Jim Miller, Paul Brown, Jeff Woodring, and others. We also had a contra and square dance band named Urban Felicity that consisted of myself on fiddle and calling, Margaret Ann Martin (piano), Karl Rodgers (accordion, calling) and Betsy Blachly (percussion).
After moving to Charlottesville I had a few years when I played with Freyda Epstein (fiddle), Sue Read (piano and guitar) and me playing steel guitar and fiddle. Starting in the mid 80s, and continuing for more than a decade, we had a band named UFO consisting of Laura Light (fiddle), Pete Vigour (guitar and fiddle), Kim Cary (bass), and Jimbo Cary (drums), and myself playing steel, fiddle, guitar and calling. We played some western swing and country along with the jigs and reels.
In the mid-1990s our local middle school had a good band program. My oldest son Will played drums in the concert and marching bands, while Owen, who had taken seven years of violin and then quit, didn’t participate in band at all. But he did take an introductory guitar class the Winter he turned 14. He took off with the guitar, playing his black Fender Stratocaster or my Gibson J-45 non-stop, day and night, in bed, on the telephone, all the time.
I needed allies with whom to play dances, and it soon was apparent my sons could be them. For the boys, the chance to make $50 or $60 in an evening seemed great, but I think they liked playing, too. The instrumentation was already chosen for us. The sound was sparse and rhythm heavy. As Owen’s prowess as a lead player burgeoned, I started putting down the fiddle and picking up the guitar to add rhythm behind Owen’s leads.
The name of the band, Morrison Brothers, was sort of a joke, as I was obviously not a brother to anyone else in the band, but was sort of not a joke, in that I hoped from the start that the brothers would have the major input into the direction the band took. This is still my favorite playing experience.
I now also have a band with T. J. Crow (aka T. J. Johnson, mandolin) and Sue Read (piano) in a band that is local by design and called “In Wildness…”
In the mid-1980s I was thinking about ways to stay closer to home with my young and growing family (which now included my daughter Claire), still heard the siren call of the steel guitar from my youth, and learned that one of the great players, Buddy Charlton, was living nearby and giving lessons. I found a used steel for sale (a ShoBud double neck with hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs marking the frets) and started lessons. I eventually upgraded to an Emmons La Grande model and played with several local country bands. I also tried to incorporate the steel into contra and square dance bands, notably in UFO. I ultimately found bars and fraternity parties too loud, degrading, and hard on gear (but not Moose, Elk, and VFW clubs—I liked playing at them) and rededicated myself to traditional fiddle. I also was frustrated with my own progress on the steel and realized that I loved the sound of the instrument a lot more when it was being played by one of the leading geniuses but not so much when played by lesser practitioners, myself included.
I acquired my first fiddle at Dartmouth, but I don’t remember how. I went into Israel Young’s Folklore Center in New York on my way to Brasstown the very first time. There I met a fiddler who offered to set up my fiddle and find me a better bow, and I just gave it to him there and then with a forwarding address of John C. Campbell Folk School. This was risky, in hindsight, but my trust was validated when the fiddle came three months later, much improved, and with a nice Otto Hoyer bow I wish I still had.
I traded that fiddle later in the year to Randall Collins who had a music store in Murphy, NC. I don’t know anything about that fiddle, but it is the one I played for the next ten years. It was stolen from my car during a CDSS executive committee meeting along with the Hoyer bow. Randall Collins left Murphy a few years later to join the Pinnacle Boys of Knoxville, TN, a bluegrass band with a great twin and triple fiddle sound. Today he is back in the music store business in Blairsville, GA.
To replace it I bought a good German factory instrument from Tom Hosmer (who wrote a regular violin column for Strings Magazine) in Rochester, NY and a strong Pfretzschner workshop bow. After a violin maintenance and repair session he led at Buffalo Gap Family Week in 1991, I asked Rodney Miller to make me a violin. That is the 1993 instrument that I have played ever since. Violin and bow geekdom have gradually permeated my consciousness.
Though I almost always play my Miller violin in public, I have also have:
A 19th century factory fiddle with painted grain that belonged to Pug Allen, fiddle and banjo player from Stuarts Draft, VA that I mostly play cross-tuned. It is the one on the cover photo of Round Pond Relics and I recorded Betty Anne with it on the Morrison Brothers Band’s second album;
A 1910 violin by Ole Bryant of Boston that has the remarkable quality of sounding better in the presence of an accordion or concertina;
And my other lifetime achievement award—a nice German Guarneri copy from about 1900 that was John Ashby’s main instrument in the 1940s and 1950s. It was first bought by an Olinger, neighbors to the Ashbys, given (or sold?) to John Ashby by Charlie Olinger, and given to me by John’s son Skip Ashby in 2012.
Irish Set Dancing
At one early Charlottesville Dance Festival a session in Kerry set dancing was offered by Michael Denny and Linda Hickman. The dance taught was the North Kerry Set and we had great music from members of the Washington, DC band Celtic Thunder. I soon learned a modest repertoire of polkas and slides, listened to recordings of several Cork and Kerry musicians, and taught the North Kerry set at late night sessions at dance camps, morris ales, and parties. I had no awareness of any other sets, and basically thought this one dance was “the” Kerry Set. The dance worked great in the right social situation. A style of dancing emerged that was exuberant, heavy footed—just right for the occasion, but not close to the tradition. On one occasion I was asked to call with the Boys of the Lough at the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo Park. The ballroom was packed beyond capacity, around 600 people, and the Boys of the Lough were great players but so used to speeding up in their stage performances that I was struggling to make the contra dances work. So I called different dances, first a southern square dance to jigs, which was better. Then I remembered the North Kerry set and taught it, hornpipe figure and all. Finally the Boys, the dancers and I were all happy, me in particular because Michael Denny was there to watch the whole thing and see what he had started.
Decades and hundreds of North Kerry sets later (about 2002), Timmy “the Brit” McCarthy was brought to Charlottesville by the Blue Ridge Irish Music School to teach the sets of Cork and Kerry, at which he is a master. He came back for the next five or six years, and I went to his weekend of dance in Ballyvourny. I was captivated by both the music and the dances and have been increasingly asked to present them at workshops and festivals. I have limited myself to the sets of Cork and Kerry because this is what Timmy does, and because life is short.
Having written far more than I had ever intended, I will not say anything about the following:
Pinewoods, Mendocino and Buffalo Gap dance camps, Albemarle Morris Men’s week resident in Bledington, Gigs from hell, Fiddlers who have changed me, Gibson Guitars, the first American Dance Week, Douglas Kennedy, Pat Shaw, Shetland in 1976, sound reinforcement for dances, clogging lessons, Steve Hickman, what happened after the curtain fell at the Shubert Theater, Chuck Ward, Laurie Andres, workshops for various morris and sword groups, the Free State Ramblers, the Virginia Vagabonds, Brad Foster, Napoleon Bonaparte Chisholm, Cecil Sharp in central Virginia, dance history research, Minstrelsy, the minuet or Jimi Hendrix. And definitely nothing about the night I was licked by a skunk.
The Lifetime Contribution Award was presented to Jim Morrison on November 22, 2014, in Charlottesville, VA.
“Delightfully Consumed”—How Music and Dance Took over Glen and Judi Morningstar
as told to Caroline Batson, CDSS News Editor
Glen and Judi Morningstar, an integral part of Michigan’s folk dance and music community for this past thirty-five years, are this year’s CDSS Lifetime Contribution Awardees. They have played and written music, called and written dances, taught music and dance, published music and dance books, led international music and dance exchanges, and facilitated leadership workshops—in short, they have accomplished much and inspired many (and been inspired by many, Glen and Judi will tell you). The article below is based on email correspondence with them, July-August 2013. ~ C. B.
The Beginning of Music and Dance
The multi-talented Glen and Judi Morningstar are musicians (fiddle and five-string banjo, Glen; dulcimer and piano, Judi; and bass and mandolin, both), dance band leaders (both), dance leader and organizer (Glen), tune author (Judi), and they are dancers (contra and English country dancing, eighteenth and nineteenth century historical dancing, square dancing, recreational dancing), AND they are singers (shapenote singing, folk song), dance researchers and educators. They are busy people.
Music has always been around them. Judi’s dad, Adrian “John” Emery, was a guitar player and grew up joining in the house party dances of the day; her granddad, Henry Emery, was a harmonica player; and her mom, Eva, was a stride piano player. Her other granddad, Herbert Smith, was a fiddler and played with his brothers in their family band. A lot of music was played in their home while she was growing up.
Glen’s parents were grange members and dancers, traveling the polka and grange hall circuits in Saginaw and Bay Counties, Michigan. Both sets of grandparents, the Crellers and the Morningstars, were grange members and dancers too. Glen’s parents, Glen Sr. and Ruth, met at a grange dance. Glen and his sister, Sue, joined in as youngsters. The music of his uncles, Bill and Norman Creller, guitar and mandolin, was always around the house. Uncle Bill was in a country western band (now he plays Hawaiian guitar…builds them too). Uncle George Lukezic played bass in a polka band out of Saginaw… he was “spot on,” Glen says.
Into these musical households, Glen and Judi were born, three days apart and across the street from each other, in Saginaw. Their families moved to different neighborhoods when they were very young, so they didn’t officially meet until teenagers, at neighborhood baseball games, and then at the same high school, where they started going steady. I’m not sure if they courted each other with music, but Glen used to ride his horse to meet Judi when she was visiting friends near his home. Upgrading to a car helped their relationship, they say.
The Folk Community
Music, dance and song became a larger part of their lives when they moved to Rochester, Michigan in 1975, with Glen’s transfer to Chevrolet Manufacturing R&D. There they discovered the Rochester Folk Workshop, and from there were connected to the traditional music and dance community in southeast Michigan. Paint Creek Folklore Society, led by Vince Sadovsky and John Carter, was just forming, as well as the Detroit Country Dance Society, led by Burton Schwartz and Paul Tyler. These connections broadened quickly to include rising Michigan dance communities in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Holland, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Midland and Traverse City. Glen and Judi were “on fire,” they said, learning to play additional instruments through other Paint Creek members, and honing their traditional dance skills. In 1979, encouraged by Burt Schwartz, they traveled southward to Berea Christmas Country Dance School and that REALLY got them hooked. They returned to Berea CCDS in 1981 to join the staff leaders for many enjoyable years.
Organizing—the Start of Many Things
They still have the plaque on the wall. Judi and Glen, along with music pal Tom Radcliffe, played their first gig for the Fenton Cub Scouts, in Fenton, Michigan on February 14, 1977. Judi played Appalachian dulcimer, Glen played banjo and Tom played guitar, and they sang the popular folk songs of the day. They had met Tom at PCFS, and Tom and Glen were the President and Vice President by then. Judi, too, served as both, and she and Glen each had terms as the newsletter editor. Judi, a.k.a. Aunt Lu, wrote a nearly-monthly article, “Ask Aunt Lu,” for Paint Creek Folklore Society’s newsletter, Keepin’ Tabs.
“Dear Aunt Lu… My husband recently took up the fiddle. It’s awful listening to him practice, it sounds like he’s torturing our cat and the neighbor called the ASPCA. I hate to discourage him but he’s driving me MAD! Signed, Raving & Ranting
(Aunt Lu’s response) “Dear Raving… This is a common problem among couples where only one decides to learn an instrument. Here are a few hints: Take up the fiddle with him (this will give you empathy). Buy him a mute (it works wonders for your nerves). Banish him to the basement. Encourage him to practice the same time every day and find something else to do, preferably in another city.”
Along with Tom, Glen and Judi organized the Paint Creek annual concert in 1977 as a society fundraiser…Tin Whistle Coffeehouse it was called, and it still runs today. A year later they organized the Olde Michigan Ruffwater Stringband from members of the folklore society who had either been playing for concerts and dances or were looking to be a part of that fun. With other members of Paint Creek, they organized annual music, song and dance picnics. The picnics grew into a Zing into Spring weekend (cohosted with the Detroit Folklore Society), and then an annual May Play Day, a mini-festival, with traditional music, song and dance workshops, a Maypole dance, an early evening contra and square dance, and evening concert. Paint Creek officers Gene Menton and Rick Ott worked with them to organize the first one, and it was held at Detroit Country Day School where gene was teaching. From the dancing fun at the May Play Days, came the annual Starry Night for a Ramble Contra and Square Dance, launched in 1984, organized with Jan Boonstra Pavlinak and Susan Grace Stoltz, and it, too, continues. Judi has been the annual band leader for the Paint Creek Country Dance orchestra for many years, along with JoAnn Shulte and others; they gather annually, practicing that year’s tunes for the Starry Night dance.
In the 1980s, Glen and Judi were “delightfully consumed” with organizing music, song and dance events. Ruffwater had been playing in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, as part of the offerings of the original Dulcimer Player’s Club, and Glen started leading impromptu dancing in front of Henry Ford’s family home and the Village Town Hall. They caught the eye and ear of Bob Eliason at the Village and started the monthly Lovett Hall dances in October 1981, with Glen leading the dances and Ruffwater playing the music; guest callers and groups performed as well, right up until the dance was retired in 2005. Meanwhile, Judi helped organize a women’s band called Just Friends, with Lori (Thompson) Cleland, Cecelia (Horodko) Webster, and Rosemary Kornacki, with a focus on concert presentations in the traditional and folk styles. Their reputation grew and they performed at a number of national festivals including the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the old Songs Festival.
The Danish-American Exchange and Michigan Dance Heritage
At Berea Christmas School in 1982, Dr. John Ramsay asked Glen to organize a music, song and dance exchange with a group of musicians, singers and dancers from Denmark. Away they went! Conversation began among Thy Folkedanserslaug (folk dance group) and Thy Spillemandslaug (music group) in Denmark, Paint Creek Folklore Society in Michigan, and the Frankfort Country Dancers in Kentucky. A year and a half later, twenty-five musicians, singers and dancers came from the Thy region in Denmark to stay for a week in Michigan and a week in Kentucky, presenting their music, songs and dance. They stayed in local homes, including Glen and Judi’s. “It was phenomenal!,” Glen and Judi said. The following year (1985), the Kentuckians and Michiganders traveled to Denmark to perform there, and then to Sweden with their host families. The exchanges were repeated in 1987 and 1989, opening Glen and Judi even further to the power of connection among a community’s musicians, singers and dancers.
Also in 1982, Don Coffey and “T” Auxier launched Kentucky Summer Dance School, and the Morningstars were thrilled to be a part of the staff in its early years, learning a ton of practical information about working with organizers and other musicians, callers and dancers. Four years later, at Berea Christmas School, Peter Baker, Jonathan Robie, Jean Gal and Glen, four of the Michigan dancers who were there, put their heads together— it was time to have a week or weekend of similar music, song and dance back in Michigan. The four brought the idea to the Michigan folk community, and, with their support, Michigan Dance Heritage Fall Dance Camp was launched in September 1987. Bob Dalsemer, Joel Mabus and Bud Pierce were the first headliners…“perfect.” An MDH Spring Dance Camp, called Trillium Twirl, was added by the dance community in 1992 to fulfill the large demand for this grand fun…both are weekend camps and, yes, they, too, continue to this day.
Ambassadors of Music and Dance
In 1976, Glen and Judi’s involvement with Paint Creek Folklore Society opened the door to sharing traditional music, song and dance at a variety of venues in Michigan. They enjoyed being ambassadors for the traditional arts at shopping malls, town festivals, weddings, barn dances, birthday celebrations, family reunions and, ultimately, to their community. They saw the membership of PCFS grow from twelve to seventy over five years. Their good fortune in being connected to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village for almost twenty-four years allowed them to host over two hundred contra dances in the hall that Henry Ford built specifically for traditional dance…sprung floor, crystal chandeliers, winding staircase, panorama of second floor windows, bandshell. They met many people from across North America and Europe at those dances, they said, and believe they left a positive feeling of good music and fun dancing (and a great museum) with them. The Danish Exchanges were very influential on the global perspective of traditional music, song and dance for the Michigan and Kentucky dance leaders. Participating in launching Michigan Dance Heritage’s two weekends are a real boost to keep the energy in the traditional arts at a high level for their local dance community.
One special highlight happened in 2005 when they were hired by Don and Rhonda Cardwell of Dearborn to lead the dancing for their Cape Breton Summer Dance School at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s on Cape Breton Island. They were immersed in dance workshops and Cape Breton culture presentations each day there. In the evening Glen led dancing in Baddeck for the many styles of dance sets found around the island. The musicians…“wow!” Jerry Holland, Buddy MacMaster, Roberta Head, Bara MacNeils, Mac Morin and more. A photo of Judi playing with Buddy is priceless. Over the years, their band’s core of hammered dulcimers, has kept Glen and Judi involved with the dulcimer festivals in Michigan and the Midwest—leading instrument workshops, shapenote singing, and performing for concerts and dances. This year marks thirty-five consecutive years at the Evart Dulcimer Funfest. It’s like a big family reunion, they say: singing, dancing, concerts, workshops, jamming, eating, camping. “Yay!!” they say.
Who has inspired you musically, I asked. Bands like Bill Spence and Fennig’s All Stars, they said. The Highwoods Stringband, the Red Clay Ramblers, Hillbillies from Mars, and Bare Necessities. Instrumentalists Dudley Laufman, Randy and Rodney Miller, Laurie Andres, Shane Cook, Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, Bud Pierce, Jay Round, Bob Spinner, Bob Hubbach and Les Raber.
Dancewise? Glen’s biggest inspirations came from Burt Schwartz in Michigan for his historical dance work, Bill Alkire for his fun squares out of ohio, Carole Howard from Central Michigan University for her recreational dance leadership skills, Bob Dalsemer, Tony Parkes and Ted Sannella for their contras and squares. Don Armstrong from Colorado stands out for his contras, his personal skills with people, and his promotion of our traditional dances worldwide.
And organizationally? There are so many, Glen and Judi told me. Notably, Don Hays and Debbie Jackson from Paint Creek Folklore Society, John ramsay, Joe and Patty Tarter from Berea Christmas School, Peter Baker and Jerry Hickman from Midland Folksong Society, David Baur from Trillium Twirl, Don Armstrong from the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, Don Coffey from Kentucky Summer Dance School, Svend Hamborg from Thisted, Denmark, Bob Dalsemer from everywhere good, Ted Sannella from Maine, Don Theyken the personable collaborator from Michigan, and a host of skillful organizers from AACTMAD (Ann Arbor Council for Traditional Music and Dance), the Ten Pound Fiddle (East Lansing), and the Oakland County Traditional Dance Society—“What they accomplish each year is astounding!”
Not content to continue to lead dances, form bands, organize events, support their local dance and music societies, and perform, Glen and Judi… and I don’t know how they do it, but they do…record (both); compose, lead bands and write music books (Judi); and teach music and dance in elementary schools and homeschool communities (Glen).
Their first Ruffwater Stringband recording was in 1981—“Michigan Winter” and was a 33-1/3 LP on vinyl. DgA Productions brought their portable recording studio to Lawnridge Hall in Rochester which was the home base for Paint Creek Folklore Society. They were all in one big room together, thirteen of them, with their individual microphones. The band had practiced hard for the seventeen cuts and they recorded it all in two sessions. It mixed easy and had a great live sound. The second recording was “Michigan Spring,” produced in 1992 at Numark Studio in Utica on audio cassettes and leading edge CD, and, again, recorded in one big room with individual microphones. But this time sound “fences” were added for this recording to allow more separation of the fiddles from the dulcimers from the piano etc. It, too, mixed pretty well and still had a good live sound. They also did a number of small diameter 33-1/3 instructional records for the Lloyd Shaw Foundation from this collection of tunes. The third recording was “Michigan Summer” and was a CD in 2002. They stepped into the digital age with this recording—no longer in one big room, but rather recording the bass and rhythm tracks first, then the melody tracks separately, then the vocal tracks. It was a techie geek’s dream. Michael King Studio in Birmingham coordinated all of this recording, and it was substantially more work to mix, but turned out well. Judi has enjoyed recording two cassettes, “A Dulcimer Holiday” and “Here’s to Song” with Just Friends. Although they never made the digital crossover, they’re proud of both recordings. She also is heard in two CDs, playing piano for Bob Hubbach in “Up North, Down East,” and more recently in “Out the Buckhorn Way.”
When they began leading youth dances in 1986 they were delighted that a group of about two dozen homeschoolers wanted to partake in traditional music and dance. This first group grew rapidly each year, spawning a new group of homeschoolers that then began their own annual dance. Both groups continued to grow and by 1996, attendances of one hundred eighty young people were common. A third homeschool dancing group spawned from the second group in 2002 and this group grew VERY quickly through the support of the Center family out of Royal Oak. In 2010, the Center family group moved to a new dance club facility in Madison Heights and attendances of four hundred and five hundred young people have amazed them. In the past year, Glen has received requests to lead these dances for homeschool groups in Memphis and Hart, Michigan, whose members had attended the dances in southeast Michigan. The Memphis group was organized by an energetic fifteen-year old young lady named Hannah. The first dance there saw one hundred forty teenagers attending. The expansion is underway!! Glen and Judi see the next two generations of traditional dancers, musicians and singers coming in part from these homeschool groups and the elementary schools, where Glen is leading his Dance Your Way Through History program. The Morningstars’ goal is to provide a fun, significant social experience for these young people so it becomes an instinctive part of their lives. They know that someday soon these students will be playing the music, leading the dancing, singing the songs, and organizing the events for their generation.
Over the Years
I asked Glen and Judi if their perception of traditional dance, music and song has changed over the last thirty-eight years. “YES!!,” they said. It had become increasingly clear to them, they told me, that the necessary things for a healthy lifestyle are found in traditional music, song and dance. The benefits of discipline, working together, exercise for a healthy body and mind, self-confidence, organization skills, shared respect, social skills and much more, are all to be had in the traditional music, song and dance world we live in. Now, how do we engage even more people to join us and realize these benefits, and share the fun?,” they ask each other. And us, the readers.
Glen is retired from General Motors and Electronic Data Systems where he held many positions in Manufacturing Engineering and Information Technology. His profession has shifted to leading dance programs in schools, historical settings, for dance communities around Michigan and dance weekends across the country. He also does community volunteer work as an Advanced Master Gardener. Judi taught Appalachian and hammered dulcimers and piano for many years, and still takes the occasional student. She is a prolific tune writer and book publisher, as well as an avid reader who volunteers at Highland Township Library, and she designs and constructs her own jewelry when it’s time to relax a bit. Her immediate goal is to update the music notation in her Ruffwater Fakebook to take advantage of the crisp and clear notation in more modern music applications. Nothing has changed—they’re still busy people.
From Music and Dance, Into Music and Dance
Over the years, occasionally, not too often, but from time to time, I hear or read concerns about the lessening of the traditional music, song and dance community. But with folks like Glen and Judi Morningstar, their friends and fellow organizers in Michigan and elsewhere, strong folk communities have been and are being built. To throw oneself so enthusiastically, over so many years, with so many accomplishments to your name and still keep going, may be unusual to some, but the Morningstars of our world keep me feeling that the traditions we love are in superb hands as they pass from generation to generation.
“What are the most valuable thoughts you’ve taken away from your activities so far?” I asked at the end of the interview. “The memories of caring, dedicated, forthright people around us,” they said. “They have made our activities a true delight. What a joy to work with people in all the aspects of traditional music, song and dance, who lean forward and pour their hearts into making this community click.” I can’t say anything better about these two people myself. So, on behalf of the Country Dance and Song Society, I say thank you, Glen and Judi Morningstar—you have leaned forward and poured your hearts into our community, making it stronger and longer lasting by your gifts of music, song, dance, friendship, organization, and the ability to inspire. It’s a joy to honor you with this year’s Lifetime Contribution Award. Long may you thrive.
George Fogg, of Boston, MA, was the recipient of CDSS’s Lifetime Contribution Award for 2012. A teacher of country dance since 1968, he is an expert at getting beginners out onto the dance floor, is endlessly enthusiastic about dancing and dancers, and full of good humor that quickly makes everyone around him smile. A volunteer extraordinaire, he has put in an astonishing amount of hours organizing, promoting, archiving, and doing committee work for many dance organizations, some of which he helped found. His five books (the popular Neal Book, co-authored with Rich Jackson; his own Country Dances from Colonial New York, a.k.a. the “Alexander Notebook;” and three books co-authored with Kate Van Winkle Keller) are invaluable. The award was presented on Sunday, October 14, 2012, in Belmont, MA.
Bob Dalsemer, recipient of the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award, specializes in calling traditional American contra, square, and circle dances. He has composed a number of new dances in traditional style and published two collections of square dances (Smoke on the Water and When the Work’s All Done), and the book/recording West Virginia Square Dances (available for free in our online Library), about old time square dancing in several West Virginia communities. Raised in Baltimore, he cofounded the Baltimore Folk Music Society and helped start the dance program for the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.
Bob has been an integral part of CDSS for many years: a member of the National Council in the 1980s, vice president (1988–1990), and president (1990–1996), and has been on staff or served as program director for a number of our summer programs. He became Coordinator of Music and Dance Programs at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and moved to Brasstown, North Carolina in 1991.
For photos of Bob’s award ceremony held in December 2011 in Brasstown, NC, see the album posted by Keather Weidman.
Interview by Brad Foster
Interview by phone on November 13 and 28, 2011, by Brad Foster, CDSS Executive and Artistic Director Emeritus [with additional notes by Brad].
BRAD: When and where did you first start dancing or playing music?
BOB: Well, I started playing music when I was fourteen. I went to a summer camp where there was a counselor who played guitar and got a bunch of us interested in singing. We learned a lot of songs, took a canoe trip, and sang all the way down the river. When we got back we wrote a little musical show using tunes from a lot of the songs we’d learned. I got interested in that, bought some records, and my parents gave me some records by The Weavers for Christmas. I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar, and took a few lessons, but I didn’t really like it so I continued on my own. When I got to high school I got a banjo, and started to teach myself with Pete Seeger’s book [How to Play Five String Banjo]. From the banjo, I got interested in bluegrass. I played in a bluegrass and jug band through at least three years of college.
I didn’t really get into dancing until I came back to Baltimore after college. I met some folks who worked for the American Friends Service Committee who had been to Berea [the Christmas Country Dance School at Berea College in Kentucky], and they got me interested and took me down to Berea in 1969. While I was there I met some people from the Baltimore/Washington area who had a very small dance group in Baltimore. That was Mary Harrell and John Owen, and I joined their group. The Hardings [Barbara and Mart Harding] were in that group, also Joe and Gwynne Blundon. When Mary left town, I decided to keep the group going on my own.
That first time I was at Berea, in 1969, I met a number of people. [Future CDSS director] Jim Morrison was my roommate. We were standing next to each other when they were handing out the roommate assignments, he had a fiddle and I had a banjo, so we said “Hey, do you want to room together” and said “Okay.” Gene Murrow was there. I think I met John Wheeler around that time, and some other folks.
John [Owen] and Mary [Harrell] also took me to Pinewoods the first time, probably in 1970. Then things really got started! I met Marshall [Barron] and Phil [Merrill] and had a great time. Marguerite and Otto Wood [who played for the John C. Campbell Folk School for many years] were also on staff.
I got very involved pretty quickly. I guess I was 26 in 1969. I started calling in 1971 or 1972. When Mary left town, I found a church hall that was near where I lived in downtown Baltimore and we started a group there. When we first started up, John Owen taught a session of morris before the main dance. Shortly after we started John’s work forced him to move away. We had that hall for a couple of years. We were dancing two Wednesday nights a month. It got popular enough that at one point I found a second hall, and we were having dances every Wednesday night, but in different locations. I think about 1975 I found the Lovely Lane Church hall, where they are still dancing today.
About that time too I was running a series of monthly folk concerts in Baltimore with a friend of mine named Michael Quitt. The series was called “Sweeney Todd Presents.” We had been bemoaning the fact that all the coffee houses in Baltimore had gone out of business, and there wasn’t any folk music. In 1975 we decided it was getting to be too much work for just the two of us, so we got a group of friends together and founded the Baltimore Folk Music Society.
BRAD: Didn’t you work for CDSS at some point?
BOB: I did, just a few months. Jim [Morrison] and I got to be pretty good friends. He was working for CDSS in New York. This would have been in 1971. He got me a job as an office assistant. I went up in the late spring, worked through end of summer, and I was at Pinewoods for a few weeks. The CDSS office was on Christopher Street. Jim and I had an apartment close to Eighth Avenue.
BRAD: What was [longtime CDSS director] May Gadd like? What was it like working for her?
BOB: She was great; she was a character, and she had her little peculiarities. She didn’t always like what Jim and I were doing, but most of the time she let us do it. The big thing that I remember was–we organized a dance with Dudley Laufman. We made a publicity flyer for it, and put it all over the place in New York. I don’t think she was happy about spending the money to publicize it, but she did let us do it. She had her particular vision and we had to work around her a bit. She was always complaining to me because Jim liked to sleep late, and never quite got into the office on time. She used to complain to me about that, and I told her that there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I grew to really love her a lot. I thought she was a remarkable teacher. It was very difficult to watch her get to a point where she really couldn’t teach any more [late in her life]. I remember spending a couple of summers at Pinewoods where it was heartrending to see that she couldn’t remember things anymore. I was really sad when she died. I owe her a lot, as I do you.
BRAD: I think I first met you at Pinewoods, and you were calling and playing accordion. When did you start playing accordion?
BOB: I started playing accordion right after my first time at Berea, in 1969. I’d taken the beginning English country dance class with Bicky McLain. Her son, Bun McClain, the middle Raymond and the dad of the McLain Family Band, played accordion for that class. I suddenly realized, whoa, there is an instrument you can have at a dance and be the whole band. You’ve got everything you need: you’ve got bass, you’ve got melody, and you can carry it around. I talked to Bun a lot that week. The family band had just started, and they were playing a lot of bluegrass, which is something I’d been involved in. We’d get together and play music. [Bun’s son] young Raymond was still in high school, I guess Alice [White] was maybe 15 or 16, Ruthie [McLain Smith] was probably 12 or 13. I don’t know what their age differences are, but they were pretty young. They were very impressive even then. I asked Bun to show me how the accordion worked. When I got back to Baltimore. I took some lessons from a Mr. Tedesco who had an accordion studio. I took about a month’s worth of lessons from him mostly to figure out how the bass section worked and I bought an old Excelsior accordion from him. When I went up to New York and lived with Jim, that was probably most of what I was doing, working on the accordion, trying to figure out how to play the thing.
BRAD: When did you start playing fiddle?
BOB: I started fiddle a little before accordion but I didn’t get into fiddling very seriously until I moved to West Virginia for a year in 1978-79. I had a lot of time to myself, and hung out with a great fiddler named Woody Simmons. It was a severe winter. I was supposed to be doing school programs, but schools were closed a lot. I’d stay home and play the fiddle.
BRAD: Was this when you did your fieldwork collecting dances?
BOB: I was hired by the Randolph County Arts Council to be artist in residence in West Virginia that year. I helped to organize dancing in Elkins, and I did both music and dance programs in probably every school in Randolph County at one time or another. I had a weekly program for the Sheltered Workshop for mentally handicapped folks. And while I was there that year I made it my business to go and visit old time square dances in West Virginia. That is when I started writing my book [West Virginia Squares, published by CDSS]. As you can see I had way too much free time that year. I visited a lot of traditional musicians in Randolph County. I wrote a little article for CDSS about Currence and Minnie Hammons who were ballad singers in Randolph County [in Country Dance and Song, volume 10, 1979, pp. 30-38].
BRAD: Were the Augusta Heritage camps there then, or did they come later?
BOB: They were, but they were not run by the college [Davis & Elkins College] yet. It was still under the auspices of the Randolph County Arts Council. The summer following the year I was there I was on staff at Augusta. And then I ran the dance week for them the first year it [was run by] the college, in 1979 or 1980.
BRAD: Do you remember when you were first on staff with CDSS?
BOB: According to my list, I was on staff in 1976 for the first time. Jim Morrison hired me to be the American caller for one of the two Dance Weeks. In the afternoon, they would have two sessions of American dancing. One would be at the same time as rapper sword, and the other would be opposite longsword. I called mostly squares from Maryland Line [a small rural town between Baltimore and York, Pennsylvania]. All the young folks at Pinewoods thought it was great, but some of the older folks didn’t like it at all. I won’t mention names, but I remember one older Pinewoods attendee of many years said to me “Oh, those stupid simple squares, we used to do those years ago.”
I was co-chair [Program Director] for Family Week with Meg Lippert [then Durham] in 1978. Looking at my list, I was on staff at Pinewoods [in] 1976-1980, and then 1982-87, 1990, 1993-95, and then 2000 and I think that was the last time. So I was on staff during the ’80s almost every year except for one or two.
BRAD: And you ran American Week for a while.
BOB: I know I ran English & American Week a couple of times, but I may have run American Week too. [CDSS records show Bob first ran American Dance Week in 1984.]
Brad. In 1978-79 you were doing the Arts Council work and that lead to the publication of West Virginia Squares. Can you tell me more about that project?
BOB: I started out just going to dances the year that I was in residence there. I made recordings and wrote extensive notes, and when I got back to Baltimore I continued working on it. I don’t know how many drafts I did, all hunt and peck on a little portable typewriter. I ended up getting a little grant from NEA─not much, really, a few hundred bucks─so that I could go to a few more dances in West Virginia as part of that project. They paid for my transportation plus some blank tape. I shot a little bit of super-8 film at a dance in Independence, Pennsylvania, which is right on the West Virginia line.
BRAD: When did you come to CDSS with the project?
BOB: Jim encouraged me. After I showed him what I was doing, he passed it along and they agreed to publish it. Jim and Bertha Hatvary [then CDSS director] were the editors.
BRAD: The finished product arrived in 1983, in February or March, soon after I started working for CDSS. I was very impressed with the material you had there, and very pleased to have that out. Later on you published New England Quadrilles─is that right?
BOB: I did a little booklet that I put together. I think CDSS carried it for a while. The idea was to show contra dance callers how to call New England style squares.
BRAD: I’m going over the publication history I can remember. Sometime later you did your paired “Smoke on the Water” and “When the Works All Done This Fall.”
BOB: That was in the ’80s, and another example of having too much time on my hands. I don’t remember exactly the years. That was a lot of fun, really. Especially with the musicians who I got to do it. We ended up recording it in the Boston area because Peter [Barnes] knew a guy who was a good recording engineer up there. Peter and Bill [Tomczak] were both there. Steve [Hickman] and I went up there, and we got together and did it. I don’t think we spent more than two days in the recording studio, knocking those things out. It was really a lot of fun. You can still get everything on Do-Sa-Do.com. You can get individual dances with or without calls in mp3 format and the book is in pdf format. It’s a Western square dance site.
BRAD: I love those books; they had a big impact on me. Did you do any other publications? Those are the ones I can remember.
BOB: We did one here at the Folk School, which is unfortunately out of print, a project called Folk Dance Fun for Schools and Families. Nanette Davidson, Marsha Owen, and myself started with the third grade at Martins Creek School. We worked with them when they were in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Martins Creek is the little elementary school that is closest to Brasstown. That’s where [the dance] “Sasha” came from.
BRAD: Did you introduce “Sasha” to us?
BOB: We were introduced to it at the Folk School by one of our Danish hosts, Hanne Jørgensen, who learned it at her folk school in Denmark. She taught it to us, and in turn I taught it to a whole bunch of people. Steve Hickman probably spread it around as much as anybody. I asked Hanne to find out where her teacher had learned it, and we learned it had come from a book by a Danish folk dance teacher named Klaus Jørgensen [no relation to Hanne], and it turned out I knew Klaus Jørgensen, I’d met him on my first trip to Denmark. At that time he’d given me several folk dance books he’d written, but not the one that had “Sasha.” After we’d traced it back to one of his books, I wrote to him and he wrote back giving me more background about where he had learned it.
BRAD: I have a vague memory that before you left [Baltimore] you started a callers collective or a callers group.
BOB: Yes, we did that. A group of callers in the Baltimore, Washington, Northern Virginia, Annapolis area, and we started getting together monthly I think, discussing things, calling dances for each other. I think it may still continue to this day. I know a number of the callers in that area, particularly Ann Fallon from Annapolis, and Susan Taylor in Baltimore; I think Robbin Marcus who is now in Atlanta was involved in it. I think some of the gals who are doing the square dance in the DC area now─four or five women callers─may have been involved. I think we started just before I left for here [North Carolina], so it was probably around 1990. I moved here in 1991.
BRAD: When you started [at the Folk School], I felt like you were rebuilding it all.
BOB: Yes, we definitely were. I think when I started we were running about fifteen music classes a year. Now I’m running some fifty music classes a year. Maybe eight or so dance classes a year, of which Winter Dance Week is really the only weeklong one. We have a Dance Musicians Week and I have my Callers’ Week. Everything else is just weekends.
BRAD: You were President of CDSS, 1990-1996, and on the National Council before that?
BOB: Yes, that’s right. I was Vice President a number of years before I became President, under Genny [Shimer, who was President from 1984-1990]. And before you came on board [in 1983] and we reorganized everything, I was on the Executive Committee.
BRAD: Any memorable things, memories you have of those days, being on the Exec or being on the board?
BOB: There was a fair amount of tension, generational tension, between older and younger folks, and between people who wanted more American dance and people who really didn’t care for it. Certainly the most difficult [years were] the transition between May Gadd [National Director until 1974] and you [Brad became National Director in 1983]. I didn’t experience much of that because I wasn’t on the Exec much in those days. I definitely remember when we discovered that you were interested in being director. That was very exciting. I can remember several of us who were very much in favor of that, and other folks who weren’t so sure. I can remember that very clearly, that kind of tension. And of course there was the question of moving out of New York [City], both before and after you became director. Jim [Morrison] kind of pressed for that too, but it didn’t go anywhere.
BRAD: I remember talking to some people who adamantly rejected the idea of moving. I valued and respected them, and didn’t want to hurt them, and thought maybe I should resign and let things be as they were. Then I talked to you, and to Genny [Shimer], and both of you said you thought the move was a good idea. That encouraged me to stay, to wait and see what happened.
BOB: I felt the move had to happen, because I felt things in New York were just way too entrenched. We needed the break. And I think we’ve all been proven right, and that it was the best thing we did. I think CDSS has a lot to be thankful to you for. Getting us out of New York was certainly a big one.
BRAD: It was a different era, looking back at it for me. CDSS has changed so much since then.
BOB: So much, yeah. It is totally different. And it probably will be different in the future. It will probably be good, I mean, change is good.
BRAD: I know you toured [as a caller]. I know you went to Denmark. But I don’t know much about your touring. Are there any highlights of your touring either in the U.S. or outside?
BOB: Gosh, I think some of the most exciting dances for me have been ones that were actually largely for non-dancers. I can remember once I was invited to call a square dance in Washington, DC. I think it was when they had just finished L’Enfant Plaza, and they were having a big street celebration on a Saturday. I went over with Bob Paisley’s bluegrass band, Southern Grass. We had this huge square dance with a couple hundred people of all ages, half of them black, just the people that were out there. And having it all work, you know, and just having all of those people having a great time and kicking up their heels. That is probably one of the most memorable dances I can remember.
I guess another one was calling a square dance for Maryland Bar Association Convention, of all things, with another bluegrass band, the Johnson Mountain Boys, and looking out on the floor and seeing the Comptroller, which is what they call the Treasurer of the State of Maryland, and two or three Maryland supreme court justices. All the lawyers out there whooping it up on the dance floor! Stuff like that, you know, I think I remember stuff like that more than calling at NEFFA, which is certainly an amazing experience too.
And I think CDSS actually got me this one gig I can remember doing. They had a series of dances outside Lincoln Center, in New York City, in the summer time with just whoever showed up. I did one of those with Chip Hendrickson, which was a great experience. I can remember the last dance we did. He got everybody in this huge Sicilian Circle, and he said “Let’s just trade off calling rounds of this.” Which we did, and we just improvised each round as we went along. I think we were on our way up to Pinewoods when I did that. It was probably the mid 1980s.
BRAD: Is there anything else you can think of, that would be interesting to add to this?
BOB: Well, I’ll tell you. One of the great, recent experiences was just a couple of weeks ago, the Dare to be Square weekend that we had here [at the Folk School]. That was amazing! I got an email from Tony Parkes today in which he said that one of the best things as far as he was concerned was getting to dance to all of these great callers. I’ve got to second that!
BRAD: I was jealous, I wanted to be there so much. It was an amazing gathering of people.
BOB: It was indeed. The great thing is that we got it documented [led by David Millstone, and with a grant from CDSS]. People will be able to see the dances. Seeing the dances is going to be interesting because there was probably a two to one ratio of women to men. Seventy-five to eighty percent of the people there were callers. It was pretty darn fun just having all those folks around. [100 videos from that weekend are available at Vidcaster and YouTube (the same material is on both sites), and on the Square Dance History Project, David’s bigger project, of which Bob is a consultant.]
BRAD: And back in the 1970s and ’80s, I would have said there were more men than women who called.
BOB: Yes, it was the reverse. Before Sandy Bradley, there were hardly any women callers, for American anyway. Most of the English callers were women I guess. Sandy’s inspiration really changed all that and now there are way more women than men.
I just want to say how much I appreciate all the opportunities you’ve given me over the years and everything you’ve done for CDSS. You have just an outstanding legacy, and gosh, if anyone deserves this award it’s certainly you.
BRAD: Thank you, Bob.
BOB: I think that should come up sometime, soon. Of course, you aren’t old enough yet!
A Tribute and a Chronological Look at Tom’s Dance and Music Accomplishments
by Deborah Kruskal
Tom is known mostly among the dance community for his fifteen plus years of work with Great Meadows Morris and Sword. For those who don’t know GMMS, it is a high school group consisting of several rapper teams, most of which exist for only three, four, or five years (such as the original Velocirapper). There is one team, Candyrapper, which has continued on for eleven years, changing members as seniors leave and freshman arrive. In addition the entire group practices morris together. Tom has also run Hop Brook Morris for twenty-one years, since our daughter, Lily, was ten.
But there are many other ways that Tom has contributed – some short lived, others still in existence. Here is a chronology of his various contributions, the events and initiatives that he has started in his desire to “give back” and to share his love of traditional music and dance. I have witnessed the birth of all but the first two of these endeavors. In writing about them, I find I cannot hide my total admiration for what he has done over all these years.
Tom organized and ran the first Pinewood’s Morris Tour when he was a sophomore at Harvard (1965). He had just come back from England where he met and toured with the Chingford Lads and was totally enthralled with “the Morris”. He was determined to dance out here in Cambridge. So he gathered men from the Wednesday night morris class (which later led to the creation of an active side of the Pinewoods Morris Men) and danced throughout Harvard Yard. This is possibly the first public tour in this country, although Tom thinks a team called the Village Morris Men may have had a tour in New York City at about the same time. He had to go to Harvard’s Board of Overseers to petition for a permit to dance. As it was the beginning of the Vietnam riots, he somehow had to convince them that their group would be civilized. (He did not tell them that they danced with very large sticks!) The Harvard Tour has continued annually every fall since that date.
After college, he moved to California. He knew Chuck Ward from Berea. Chuck and Nora Hughes wanted to start an English dance, so the three of them collaborated in starting the Bay Area Country Dance Society. Nora was the administrator, Chuck the musician, and Tom the caller. When he moved back east six years later, he urged the group to hire Brad Foster as his replacement.
In 1975, having moved back to Cambridge, Tom became a Director on the original Board of Pinewoods Camp and acted as chair of the Management Committee for six years.
After leaving his position on the PCI Board, he joined the CDSS Board as Treasurer, for a term of nine years. He remained on their finance committee for several years after that.
In 1979, Tom and I found ourselves buying a very large house in Nantucket (it wasn’t our original intention – we wanted a tiny cottage, which we found, but it came along with a fourteen-room house!). Nantucket was quickly seen, by Tom, as a perfect venue for a morris tour. So a year or two later we began Daffodil Weekend, though it wasn’t on that date to begin with. The weekend was a family affair with the Pinewoods Morris Men, their wives (or girlfriends), and children all staying at our house (with a few in guest houses). It has been a favorite event of the team ever since, with children taking care of toddlers, who grew up to take care of the next round of toddlers. Each year PMM dances through the crowded streets of the town, followed by dancing in S’conset at the tailgate picnic of antique cars.
In the early 1980s, Tom and Gerda Conant, who was the Pinewoods Camp Manager at the time, came up with the idea of Labor Day Weekend as a way to extend the season. The concept of camper-run activities in order to keep expenses down was so successful that it was used as a model for Camper’s Week and First Weekend.
In 1988, Lily was in the Christmas Revels. She loved it so much that Tom decided to start teaching morris at our Unitarian church, First Parish of Sudbury. It was a step to his real mission, which was to bring a Revels-type production by the children to a Sunday service in December. Complete with a longsword dance, Abbot’s Bromley, and a mummer’s play it was an outstanding success. This has continued as an annual event at First Parish and is thoroughly enjoyed year after year. The morris dancing continued as Hop Brook Morris and is a youth program of the church.
Tom and I attended Family Week at Pinewoods annually from the time Lily was four. We felt the community created by dancing together was so special that we ran a monthly family dance in Lincoln for three years, with the help of Boston caller Rich Jackson. We arranged for childcare for the youngest, dances for the kids, a potluck dinner, and activities afterwards so the grownups could dance. It involved bringing over games, a TV, and videos, i.e. a lot of work!
In 1994, when one of the Hop Brook kids (David Fleischmann-Rose) insisted that Tom continue teaching after the eighth grade level, Tom decided to start teaching rapper. Our son, Peter, joined this group the following year when he started high school. The seven kids (six boys and one girl) became Velocirapper and wowed the community with its youthful energy. Their signature move was the forward unassisted flip. It was the first of many exciting rapper performances to come from GMMS.
In 1995, Tom once again became a director on the Pinewoods Camp Inc. Board and served as Treasurer for nine years. He still is on its Finance Committee.
In 1997, there were several youth teams practicing in the area. There was Banbury Cross in Brookline, for instance, which had been in existence since before Hop Brook. Tom and Peggy Marcus (whose two sons, Andrew and Aaron, danced on Velocirapper) decided to organize a morris ale for youth teams. Someone, I’m not sure who, came up with the brilliant name of the Ginger Ale. This is still an annual event, and is hosted by the various teams in rotation. In the spring of 2000, Tom decided to bring Velocirapper to the Sword Spectacular in Whitby, England, an event which occurred every four years. The youth team made a stunning impression on the Brits. Four years earlier Orion had raised eyebrows. And before that, New York City’s Half Moon Sword. Now the States were definitely being looked at with respect by the sword community.
One of Tom’s major gifts is his ability to see opportunity. When Christmas Revels had their Appalachian performance in 2000, there was a sizable group of teens who did longsword dancing and clogging in the show (taught by Judy Erickson). The teens excited so many of the younger children and friends of the dancers that Tom decide to make a real push for recruitment. Hop Brook gained many members, while Great Meadows grew to five teams, with over forty kids. His approach was, and still is, to teach them the basics but then let them create their own dances. His guidance is minimal, but ready to step in when needed. When the kids first come into the group they think they are in charge and in control. By the time they graduate they realize that they could never have done it without Tom.
Tom fell in love with the concertina when he first heard it on his trip to England in 1965. He became a master of playing for morris. Many had asked him for a lesson, so in 2002 he decided he would give a class. He bought four concertinas from the Button Box [in Sunderland, Massachusetts] and rented them out to the participants. This endeavor was not long-lived, but did have long lasting effects on some of the students.
Spurred by the continuing enthusiasm of the teens in Great Meadows, Tom decided to undertake the Herculean task of bringing three teams – Beside the Point, Candy Rapper, and Slightly Green – to Whitby, England for the 2004 Sword Spectacular. This took a tremendous amount of planning: fundraising, transportation, hospitality, chaperones, and money accounting. To say nothing of convincing the parents that spending so much money for a weekend was completely worth it. The work that went into the endeavor was definitely worth it. Everyone came back excited about dancing and couldn’t wait to go back.
When the kids found out there was a competition every year called DERT (Dancing England Rapper Tournament), they insisted on going. Despite Tom’s reluctance that this was not perhaps going to be as rewarding an experience, they persisted. They went, learned new figures, got recharged, and their enthusiasm and skill grew once again. In 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010, Tom took one or more teams to DERT. One year, Beside the Point won the award for Greatest Buzz Factor. And in 2009, Candyrapper came first in their division.
The teams have performed in this country as well – at NEFFA, the Marlboro Ale, and the New York Sword Ale. All these events did not fall in his lap. He pushed, convinced, and nagged until the various organizers agreed to accept underage participants. And then he found chaperones, drivers, and musicians…and dealt with all the consequences.
At the end of every year Tom has a huge party where all the kids and their parents from age nine to eighteen come, play games, dance on the lawn, play music, and sometime clear out our barn for a contra dance. It is a great event to celebrate the dancers and for the kids and parents to thank Tom. He honors the seniors by giving each of them one of his silver rapper pins.
Tom also spends the same amount of energy hosting other visiting teams. We have had many teams from England stay at our home with us and tour with Pinewoods Morris Men and whoever else is available. But one time stands out in particular because it was more than just housing a group of morris men. In 2006, NIFTY, a large dance performance team of kids from England, came over. It was mid-August, and they needed some place in this country to dance. They were already scheduled for Berea, but wanted another venue. They had a lead in Cleveland, but Tom thought they had to dance in the Boston area. He put together a four-day tour – complete with hospitality, transportation, meals, and venues to dance at, including dancing at Plimoth Plantation and an afternoon performance for English week at Pinewoods. (Again, through considerable persuasion he got permission to bring them to camp for a non- program event – the most memorable part of their trip was swimming in Long Pond after their performance). And this was all at an impossible time of year, when most people were on vacation.
In Tom’s last year on the Pinewoods Board he came up with another brilliant concept. Pinewoods [PCI] and CDSS were becoming increasingly aware of how difficult it was to attract young people to camp. With Tom’s knowledge of their lifestyle, he realized that filling out an application months in advance and paying $800 plus for a week that they were unsure they would like was a large hindrance to them. He wondered why scholarships couldn’t be given to under-subscribed weeks at camp at the last minute. This eventually led to the Next Generation Initiative, a scholarship program that would offer a free week on behalf of both CDSS and Pinewoods. The recipient would need to be someone under 30 and new to camp, ideally with leadership potential. This was tried out in 2007 and with modifications has been adopted by all the User Groups at Pinewoods. Each year, up to twenty or so young people are now introduced to camp.
Also in 2007, Tom decided to create a day of multiple sword workshops. He called it the Sword Workshop Extraordinaire. He had the idea of a one-day event with seven or eight teachers, each doing two or three workshops simultaneously. He found a place, recruited the best teachers, publicized it extensively, and received sponsorship from CDS-Boston Centre. The event was repeated in 2008.
And finally, DART – Dancing America Rapper Tournament. After so many years of bringing teams to England, the powers that be on that side of the pond convinced Tom to hold an event in the States. Over a year of planning with a committee of nine produced an exciting weekend of rapper dancing in Kendall Square, Cambridge. We had fourteen teams competing in four pubs, followed by a feast and more dancing. There were workshops on the following day. Three teams from the United Kingdom thoroughly enjoyed the celebratory feel of the weekend. Next year’s DART is now in the planning stage.
For thirty-three years, I have watched ideas hatch, seen them evolve – sometimes quickly, sometimes after simmering for years. Tom has always said, “Anyone can have ideas… it’s making them happen which is hard.” That seems to be his amazing skill – to figure out how to make an idea a reality. He finds the right people to share his enthusiasm and momentum. He also says, “Half the battle is just showing up” – which he does, every Sunday. His schedule runs like this: 9:00 am church choir; 10:00-11:00 am, the service; 11:45 am-1:00 pm Hop Brook; 2:00- 5:00 pm (every other week) Pinewoods Morris Men; 4:45-7:00 pm, Great Meadows. Sometimes he comes home groaning, questioning why. Sometimes he’s completely elated. But he continues on in a never-failing drive to create, develop, and sustain ways to share his love of traditional music and dance. I have been enlisted, I have joined in, but it has been his remarkable vision, energy, and ability to make things happen that has enabled all these ideas to come to fruition. When his kids perform, or when they leave for college – those are the only times I have seen him really moved – almost to tears. It is so rewarding for him to see the joy that he has known to be felt by them. It is, indeed, his ministry.
Tom playing his concertina: Two Ampleforth sword dance tunes
“The Old Wife of Coverdale:”
Tune “Tom Kruskal’s,” by Amelia Mason & Emily Troll
As recorded by Elixir on their latest album, Rampant, which is available from the CDSS store:
Tom Kruskal Interviewed by Pat MacPherson
Tom has had a very full life apart from English music and dance: running a successful jewelry business Tom Kruskal Designs, working with sculptor Dimitri Hadzi, designing stone fountains for fifteen years, visiting rock quarries, singing, and cooking.
To elicit the following interview, Pat MacPherson spent a wonderful evening talking and eating dinner with Tom Kruskal and his wife Deborah, who has been his sounding board and helpmate for his many projects. Two of Tom and Deborah’s young friends, Erika Roderick and David Fleischmann-Rose, stopped by at dinner time to add their voices to the conversation. Their freeform talk ranged from Tom’s youth to the present, circling around and eventually answering the question of what drives him to create as much as he has.
TOM: I went to the first University of Chicago Folk Festival in 1961.
PAT: Why did you go?
TOM: That’s a good question. I was interested in folk music already. The first instrument I bought was a banjo; I used Pete Seeger’s classic banjo book. I think it was the Kingston Trio or something that inspired me. This was before I was a freshman in high school, I think.
I made a mountain dulcimer, in high school. I went to the University of Chicago Laboratory School, which is kindergarten through high school and was started by Dr. Hutchins, and he had a lot of interesting ideas about education. It was a pretty rich environment. [Traditional singer and musician] Frank Profitt visited my school and gave a concert; I didn’t actually see him. And the shop teacher decided to make a project of making a dulcimer. So he took Frank Profitt’s dulcimer and modified it; and when I was thirteen I made a copy of his dulcimer in this shop project.
PAT: Nobody in your family had played folk music?
TOM: No folkies in my family, although my mother was a very gifted amateur classical musician and was very supportive. I was in a children’s choir that was very successful, which is an interesting story all onto itself. When I started in third grade, eight years old, I went to the first meeting of this choir. We had a new assistant minister at our church and he’d been in the Harvard Glee Club and he took it as his mission to start a children’s choir. So I came to the first meeting and it became a big thing. It turned into something called the Chicago Children’s Choir and de-affiliated from the church. Jody, my younger brother, was in it too. We sang with the Lyric Opera, with the Chicago Symphony, and hosted the Vienna Choir Boys. Chris Moore, the choral director, was a visionary and he would talk to us about what we were going to do and his eyes would bulge and he would get really excited. He didn’t talk down to us. He talked to us like we were important and we were going to do these things. He didn’t get along with adults too well; my mother thought he was nuts. I would come home and say we’re going to sing with the Lyric Opera, and she didn’t believe me.
That musical experience was really important to my life and also to my working with kids, I would say, the fact that I got so much from this guy. It’s a lot of why I’ve been willing to keep doing stuff with kids when my kids were no longer doing it.
PAT: So, you were in the choir and you bought a banjo, you went to this folk festival, and you heard what?
TOM: I heard old time music and Southern American music. I loved all this authentic stuff and it just got me. Doc Watson came to the second University of Chicago Folk Festival and nobody knew anything about him; he just came up with one of the invited bands. And then my grandmother, Lillian Oppenheimer, invited me to go to Christmas Country Dance School at Berea College in Kentucky. My grandmother was the founder of the Origami Society of America. She had some small connection to CDSS people because she went to Brasstown [John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina] a bunch of years and did origami with them. She was a real personality and she was a person who sponsored and attracted odd, talented people of all kinds into her life. There was this one guy, Alfonso the Great, a friend of my grandmothers, and he came and visited us at her house in Chicago. That made a big impression on me. I didn’t see his act because he threw knives around his assistant, but he did sleight of hand and magic. I was very impressed.
DEBORAH: I think that’s a funny story of how your grandmother took you to Berea.
TOM: My parents were going to a square dance. I had done some square dances in grade school, you know, when the recreation guy came with parties for kids, with a record player. I loved it. And my parents were going to this square dance at the faculty club. My father was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I grew up around there. And I wanted to go; I was maybe twelve. And I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t go. I was really upset that I couldn’t go. And my grandmother was either there at the time or heard about it and that’s why she invited me to go to Berea the next year. I was probably thirteen. And that was in 1962 or so. I graduated from high school in 1964. At Berea that first time, I took a morris class from John Ramsay, who was a student at the University of Iowa in Ames.
I was playing music with a group of friends in Chicago, because I did have my dulcimer at that point and we were playing in a little band with guitar, banjo, and dulcimer playing bluegrass, and when they heard I was going to Berea, they wanted to go too, so I had two friends with me. We came back home and I went and bought an accordion at Maxwell Street flea market for $25 bucks, because I wanted to do morris dancing. Because I was the only one who could play this thing and could play the morris tunes, my friend did Nutting Girl morris jig and we went and performed places. And I went to Berea every year through college.
The first year I was at Berea, Bicky [Beatrice] McLain was the bigwig there, and had brought back a tape recording from England that had just been made of William Kimber playing concertina and talking about meeting Cecil Sharp. I heard this and I totally fell in love with that sound. At Berea, I met May Gadd, Genny Shimer, and Chuck Ward; the New York crowd was there. Not so many Boston people.
The Pinewoods Morris Men was formed at Pinewoods Camp in 1963 when Nibs Matthews was over from England for a couple of years. And he said you guys dance fine; we should make you a team. So, PMM joined the Morris Ring and formed a team that didn’t really exist.
The first fall of my freshman year at Harvard was 1964 [class of ’68], and I started going to English Wednesday nights and there was nobody my age. I started going to the morris class, which was held after country dancing, taught by Arthur Cornelius. They were very welcoming and they were glad to see someone young. And I struck up a really close friendship with Cajy [Renauld Cajolet] and we would go out drinking afterwards and stay up late talking and he would get in trouble with his wife. I was sixteen.
I went to Pinewoods for the first time on a Bolles scholarship, a full scholarship, to go to CDS- Boston’s July 4th weekend at Pinewoods Camp in 1965. It made a big impression on me, getting that scholarship. Parenthetically, that is one of the reasons why I am fixated on giving these full scholarships [New Generation Initiative scholarships] one time, to people. Not just needs-based, because there is something about getting a full scholarship to come and do something that is different.
After that first time at camp, of course, I loved it. And then I went to the CDSS weeks; I don’t know how I afforded it. There were two dance weeks and I went to both of them. I got hired on staff pretty early, probably the next year, to play accordion, and to do dulcimer for Folk Music Week. I was hired to play accordion because Phil Merrill, then CDSS’s musical director, wanted accordion players and especially wanted to encourage young musicians. I wasn’t really good. It wasn’t like it is now; now we’re lousy with great musicians. There were no musicians then; there were no young people; nobody! Well, maybe Gene Murrow.
So, I went to England that summer of 1965 with one of my friends from Chicago and Nibs gave me names and things to do. I was given an introduction to the Beaux of London City, one of the old morris teams in London, who took me around on their Thames Valley tour, with all the Thames Valley clubs. It was an epiphany for me. I said this is it! This is what morris dancing really is, clearly. It was a gas.
PAT: The thing that was a gas – what was that?
TOM: Just dancing out on the street in public, like that. The whole thing that morris dancing is; I loved it. I already liked the physicality of morris dancing and I liked the tunes, but then adding on this whole thing of the public theatre part of it was a revelation. The public theatre part of morris was totally missing in the U.S. at that point. It was done at the World’s Fair or as a performance on stage, but not out as public street theatre, where you are just out there, passing the hat.
When I came back to Harvard my sophomore year, that’s what I wanted to do. So I went to Art Cornelius and I said, I want to start a Harvard Morris Team and we’re going to do this tour. And he said, OK. So, I got my house, Dudley House at Harvard, to sponsor this, the Dudley House Morris Team. I had a flyer I had done and we had to get permission. It went all the way to the Harvard Board of Overseers, because this was 1965 and there were already problems with campus anti-war demonstrations; it was already an issue. So, of course, they were all Anglophiles, so I wrote about the English traditions, passing the hat, and I was told later by Archie Epps, the Dean of Students, that they all were amused by it; they gave us the permission. So we did the morris tour; it was a big success and we had a good time. The Dudley House Morris team never happened; no students were interested. I didn’t know how to organize something then. The tour itself was the Pinewoods Morris Men, who were the people from the Boston Centre class and a long time after that the Pinewoods Morris Men became a Boston-area team. It was maybe after I’d come back from California, maybe late ’70s.
DEBORAH: When you came back from California you joined Black Jokers.
TOM: Pinewoods Morris team didn’t exist as a team; I joined Black Jokers in 1974. By 1975 or 1976, Pinewoods Morris Men had started trying to be a team. Other things had happened while I was in California. There was a huge folk revival and I was in California when that happened. I graduated in 1968, was in Madison, Wisconsin for a year while my first wife finished college, and then we went to California. And there may have been a folk revival in California but I wasn’t part of it. But here in Boston, there were hundreds of people coming to the English dance and whole contra dance scene, and there was lots of going on.
While I was in California, I co-started what became Bay Area folk dancing. You know that from the Chuck Ward article in the CDSS News. Chuck left Berea and got out to California a year before I did, and he got in with Madeline Green, who was the international dance leader, who then died, and Nora Hughes was her sidekick. Chuck wanted to start an English dance and he convinced Nora to help and he asked me if I would teach because I had just arrived from Boston. So, he had a deal with Stewart Smith, who was a Scottish country dance teacher, to use his studio in exchange for Chuck playing for his class. So we did an English country dance thing for a year or two there, then we danced at another spot and eventually moved to Berkeley. And when I left California in 1974 I turned it over to Brad Foster. So, Chuck and Nora did the work of getting the place to dance, and the organizing, and I taught and was the front person.
I would teach from books; pretty much just flying on my own. I’d gone to Pinewoods every year and bought the books – the Country Dance Book and Fallibroome and Apted. There was enough material, but not so much all the new stuff that there is now. I tried starting a rapper team but it didn’t ever fly. I taught some community dances at adult centers.
It wasn’t like the East coast, there wasn’t the same scene. I was also getting my jewelry business, which I started in 1969 in Madison, Wisconsin, going. I decided to do jewelry instead of getting a job. And I just went and bought a bunch of stuff.
DEBORAH: His major at Harvard was visual arts, and he was all signed up to start his Masters in Architecture.
TOM: I was about to go to the Graduate School of Design at Harvard and then I read the course catalog and I said I don’t want to do this. I dropped out before I started. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, ever since I was a little kid. When I was a really little kid, I decided I was going to have a circus, I was like five or six and so I went out in the streets and handed out tickets to people and one guy came and I did my circus. We tried raising hamsters; we got a breeding pair of hamsters and tried to raise them and sell them. These are all experiences that mold you. My grandfather’s business – Kruskal & Kruskal Furs – was the largest wholesale furrier in the ’20s in New York. He was just the classic Jewish entrepreneur, starting with a pushcart and I used to love going there, see all the furs, and the business stuff.
PAT: The first thing I wrote down when I was thinking about what to ask you is “entrepreneurial spirit” and it just seems to be blasting out of everything you’ve done.
TOM: I get ideas and I like starting things; I like seeing where it will go. It’s usually nothing about making money, like the concertina lessons.
DEBORAH: Tell about the concertina lessons.
TOM: Well, it just struck me that that was a symbol of things I get myself into. For some reason, I get asked on and off if I can teach concertina. I’ve tried to give a few private lessons and I found that unsatisfactory so I’ve taken to saying no pretty much. I don’t like doing it. No one practices; they’re not serious. So I decided it was my duty, or something, that I should try to teach concertina to fill this need. People want to learn, they see the instrument, they like it, but the instruments are very expensive. So I came up with a plan: a six-lesson package deal, every two weeks, we’d meet, and I had five or six people, a class, and they would get an instrument to rent and six lessons. And then at the end, if they wanted, they could buy the instrument, or not.
DEBORAH: The concertinas were from The Button Box, in Sunderland, Massachusetts.
TOM: I put a lot of work into it, doing the lesson plan, and creating a book of tablature, and writing out tunes for people. I ended up with a CG and a GD class.
DEBORAH: Whenever Tom goes into these things, he goes in whole hog, a hundred percent. And he gets totally absorbed by the organizational part of it and his way of processing is by talking out loud, and bouncing it off people and I’m the “bouncee.” He is just intense and thorough. Lots of people have ideas but he makes them happen, which is what makes him unusual.
PAT: You have to be persistent, but you also have to have an analytical mind because you are creating a new system and you are asking, what is the system going to look like and what will make it successful.
TOM: That’s right. Organizing any of these things that we do, it is almost mathematical. You try to think of what it’s going to be like, plan it right, brainstorm ideas; there’s all the detail part which is important. There’s a lot to it.
PAT: So what happened with the concertina class?
TOM: Well, I did the two classes and they were semi-successful, but I didn’t repeat them. I was thinking I would, but I fueled most of the need of most of the people who had asked me. The classes were both full but I didn’t have a lot of people pounding on the door for more. And I didn’t find them as satisfying as I thought I would. People would skip a lesson; and it was way too good a deal, I wasn’t charging enough.
PAT: Another really good quality of an entrepreneur is knowing when to move on.
TOM: So a lot of these things don’t keep going. And in fact, things don’t have to keep going forever. A lot of things do but they don’t have to. I mean the sword workshops that I did a few years ago, those were successful. We decided not to do anymore. The third one coincided with Tony Barrand’s celebration day and so it was clear that we weren’t going to get anybody to come. And it did seem like there were no other opportune dates. And then I wanted to do DART too.
PAT: Do you want to talk about that process?
TOM: Well, I had been going to the English DERT, which stands for Dancing English Rapper Tournament, which has been going on for maybe twenty years now. It came out of an effort to raise the standard of rapper sword dancing and Phil Heaton was one of the main organizers. I had been going to the competition for the last four or five years, with my Great Meadows teams. They wanted to do it, so I went and helped them do it. I had to organize the trips, the plane fares, etc. which was an unbelievable task to try to get a bunch of teenagers and their parents to plan a trip and get the money, the permission slips, and all that. I like doing that kind of stuff, basically. It’s a thankless task; you just do it.
So Phil had been saying we should do DERT in America. I was saying, OK, I’ll do that. So he polled the English teams. DERT travels around a different town every time and so it would be in Boston, instead of in England. He thought he might charter planes and fly everyone over. But that wasn’t going to happen, so I just decided to do it anyway and we called it DART – Dancing America Rapper Tournament.
We started planning at least a year before the event, which just happened in October 2010. I formed a committee of a lot of Great Meadows people and representatives from every Boston area team that I could get. It was a really good committee. Deborah did the t-shirts with Rhett Krause. We had a treasurer; it was cosponsored by Great Meadows Morris and Sword and Boston Centre-CDS. CDSS gave us a grant, which we gave back because we did really well.
I was out there banging the bushes to get teams to come: we got three English teams – Thrales, Sallyport, and Mons Meg from Scotland, and altogether we had fourteen teams. There was a lot of undercurrent anti-competition feeling, although it was a competition. At DERT there are awards, prizes, judges, and stuff. We tried to really play that down; make it be a fun and supportive event, and I would say we succeeded. Everyone who came had a really great time with universally positive response from the dancers.
The English teams loved it; they thought it was much more celebratory than the one in England. We picked up on the format from DERT of dancing in pubs, so we got four pubs right close to Kendall Square [in Cambridge Massachusetts] to agree to this. So there are two judges in each pub and each team goes around and does the same dance at each of the four pubs and they’re scored. Friday night we had registration and a contra dance with Rodney Miller, and Bruce and Sue Rosen, which was nice. We had warm-up dances at MIT, dancing in pubs, and Saturday night we had a nice dinner and show dances.
DEBORAH: There was a great spirit at the pubs. The community came. People from CDS- Boston, parents, and friends would be piling through. It was a party in each pub and they would go pub hopping to see the teams. Have you seen so-and-so; they’re going to be at this pub; you should go over there and see them. It was really fun.
PAT: How did the people who normally frequented the pubs react?
TOM: We were there in the afternoon; we ended at 5-5:30 pm so it didn’t really interfere. It couldn’t have gone better. It was a great event. I was the instigator and I was the chairman of the committee. I had to crack the whip; for me too, of course. I think I’m more guilt-driven than most people.
DEBORAH: At the same time, one of the teams, Sallyport from England needed housing, so Tom said let’s host them all. So we had twelve people staying here while we were running the event.
TOM: That was a gas. They were really fun.
DEBORAH: When you told me I had to sleep twelve people here! We just had mattresses on the floor.
TOM: They were great guests. They cooked us dinner on Sunday night.
DEBORAH: You got a lot of satisfaction because it was so successful.
TOM: Almost everyone on the committee agreed to do it again next year.
DEBORAH: At our local church, where Tom first started teaching kids, he does this Revels-like ceremony; he started when Lily was ten years old, so it’s been twenty-one years. I remember that year when you did that first one; you put so much energy into it. He had little kids dancing morris and the St. George and the dragon mummer’s play, the sword dance, and Abbot’s Bromley. Every year since then he has somehow managed to get them to dance and participate. And in order for everyone to do a sword dance, he has two sword teams and makes it like a competition.
TOM: This year we had seventeen kids and we have a new play every year.
DEBORAH: He just keeps doing it. And he puts energy into taking the kids to the New York Ale, and the Marlboro Ale, and to England, and he just keeps on putting it out.
TOM: Why do I do that? I really don’t know.
DEBORAH: At the end of the year, we have this big party and we say goodbye to the kids and Tom’s saying goodbye to them and it’s the only time I’ve every seen Tom come close to tears – when he sees how the kids have grown.
TOM: A lot of times, I just feel great after the church Christmas show. I remember one time after that show, maybe ten years ago, and I had to drive to a Revels performance at Sanders Theatre right after. And I had this feeling – this may sound odd – that I could die now and I would be satisfied with my life. It was a funny thing – it was a good feeling. It came from loving the kids and how it had gone. So maybe that’s why I do it. That’s enough of a reason really, to give back to all those people who taught me – Chris Moore and others.
One year I had a whole group of kids from Christmas Revels join my Hop Brook group. That was a big change for me, that group. I had just done church kids and their friends up till then.
DEBORAH: This is where your entrepreneurial stuff comes out, Tom. Here we were at this Christmas Revels show and there were teenagers doing a sword dance that were just hot, you know, and Tom said here is a goldmine. So he quickly came home and made a flyer, with my help, and passed it out to all the Revels kids and their parents and they all came to Hop Brook.
TOM: Hop Brook was about to die out; I only had six kids to dance. I had had waves of church kids come through and create groups, but there was a lull in the demographic and in the church too. It got below critical mass and the kids weren’t having fun. And I said to the kids, I’m going to have to go outside and get more people to keep this going. Most of them stopped when I did that, actually, because it turned out they weren’t that into it.
The first era of the Hop Brook kids was my daughter, Lily and her friends. That was a really nice group, maybe eight to nine kids; they went through four years of doing Hop Brook together and they were great. And then I had a wave of boys that was basically David Fleischmann-Rose and his friends, and Peter [Kruskal], who was a year younger; and then I had another wave that was girls, including Erika Roderick and then I had a dry spot. With Lily’s friends, once they got to high school, one girl wanted to continue but it didn’t happen at all. They couldn’t do it on their own – they had no music; they needed an adult. So when David Fleischmann-Rose and his friends got to that age they wanted to keep dancing.
DEBORAH: He said you have to keep teaching me! You’re not allowed to just stop.
TOM: So, I decided they should do rapper because I remember doing rapper when I was that age at the CDSS weeks at Pinewoods Camp. I remember as a teenager being in a set of people and it was dancing really fast and impressing the old people. So, I said, we better do rapper. Sunday afternoon was the only time they could make it. So we had a core group of six and we would meet every week and do it no matter who came. I would dance and one of the parents would dance, even with only three kids. And we did some morris and longsword too, because they did those things and liked them. The second year was when it became Velocirapper. So we went to England, to the Sword Spectacular; we went to Cambridge Revels, the New York Sword Ale, and the Marlboro Ale in Vermont.
PAT: Was this one of the first teen teams doing rapper?
TOM: There was Greenwich Guard, of course. They were dancing back when Rhett [Krause] was in high school.
PAT: Did this really start something?
TOM: It took about ten years. When Velocirapper went to the New York Sword Ale [sponsored by Half Moon Sword in New York City] those people saw that we were doing a teen team and eventually New Moon Sword, a teen team was started. The younger siblings of the Velocirapper kids wanted to join Velocirapper, who didn’t want them on the team. And so I said, well, I’m going to start a bigger team and I want you guys to be part of it. But I want to have everybody who wants to do rapper, do it. It will be a different team; we’ll meet at the same time and I’ll be there.
DEBORAH: And the whole group was called Team X because they couldn’t come up with a name.
TOM: So Deborah did the flyer and I convinced Tim Radford to come and teach us morris and Joe Kynoch to teach us rapper. We set the time and place and we had twenty-five kids come – some I’d seen, some I hadn’t. I sent the flyer to all the morris teams, the Revels world, the folk/international, and Folk Arts Center world. I was gathering in the chits with the second generation. A lot of these kids had seen Velocirapper at NEFFA [New England Folk Festival]. I got a lot of people from that and I got a lot from the home schoolers. Great Meadows Morris and Sword [the high school group], which came out of Velocirapper, came from a need I saw which was clearly expressed by those Hop Brook siblings who wanted to keep dancing. I knew how to make it happen by that point – you do it by blanket publicity and listing everywhere, make phone calls to parents, push flyers on people; you push it.
DEBORAH: And when Candyrapper formed, the following year, that was mostly the girls. That was a really hot group which made a tremendous impression. They all went to the Sword Spectacular, Marlboro, New York Sword Ale, and Whitby [England]. We needed a huge fundraiser for that – the parents raised $8,000.
PAT: There are so many teams who don’t do that – who don’t go to England, who don’t have that experience. What effect do you think that has had on these kids, who are now adults?
TOM: Huge effect.
DEBORAH: Because Whitby was only four days, the parents said you gotta be kidding me, you want me to spend $1,000 for a long weekend and Tom kept saying, it will be a formative experience and they all agreed afterwards that it was. The parents agreed.
PAT: How did the kids talk about it?
DEBORAH: They loved being out in this huge scene.
TOM: My idea is that the kids run this; they’re in charge. I’m their mentor, not their teacher, and I’m not their policeman for better or worse. They own it. It has pretty much worked but not always.
PAT: Who’s teaching the dances?
TOM: They teach each other now. But I’ve also had people come in. For a couple of years, I had Rick Mohr come in for rapper. They learn a lot of figures at CDSS weeks at Pinewoods Camp, and from when they were in England. Margaret Keller came and taught us a bunch of figures. I can’t teach what they’re doing now. It’s gone beyond me. It worries me a little about losing the new figures so I’m trying to videotape what they’ve come up with or popularized or used a lot, then you can run it slow motion and you can see what’s happening easily enough.
I’ve had this in mind for two or three years as a critical project. I convinced [local Boston dancer] John Browne to video it for me and we had one session with Candyrapper. It’s a project I want to do, but I just haven’t had the time to do all the follow-through it takes to get it down.
DEBORAH: And then there was that wonderful fool dance. It was Velocirapper that did this dance at the New York Sword Ale and they had Jim Klimek, a very talented kid, who was in Revels from the time he was a baby, who is a clown and juggler and is in Los Angeles now trying to make it. He worked on the Ellen DeGeneres show. He and Aidin [Carey] worked up this fooling skit that was just the cleverest and funniest that I’ve ever seen in my whole life. I said, we’ve got to video this and we tried, but getting the kids together in the summer was impossible. Everyone went off to college, so it wasn’t possible.
TOM: Half Moon has a video of it.
PAT: So a lot of kids have graduated and moved on to other things.
DEBORAH: Or try to start teams at their colleges.
TOM: Muddy River and Newtowne have taken all these kids from my group, Great Meadows, which is great for those teams. It’s gotten to the point now where I get the credit for any kid’s team. Everyone thinks they’re mine – it’s pretty funny. Once Great Meadows really started going, we would go to NEFFA and we would have twenty-five kids up morris dancing. I had nothing to do with that other than showing them it could be done. But then the kids see other kids doing it and then they want to do it. It’s about getting a critical mass.
PAT: What are the other teams?
TOM: Snicker Snack, Pocket Flyers, Candyrapper, Rapport D’Or, which doesn’t mean anything, but it sounds like rapper – rapport.
DEBORAH: Other teams retired – Fresh Blood, Slightly Green, Beside the Point (that was a really good team), and Scrambled Six.
Erika Roderick, a longtime dancer and participant in Tom’s teams, arrived and we sat and talked.
PAT: Erika, tell me your story.
ERIKA: Both my parents were involved with folk dancing in Boston since they were in college; my father is Steve and my mom is Michelle. They met on [Boston international folk dance ensemble] Mandala. My dad found morris dancing and was on Black Jokers and then joined Pinewoods Morris Men, and my mom was also on [Northwest team] Rose Galliard for a time when I was little.
TOM: Steve started to teach Hop Brook with me when Erika was around six. He came and played and helped with it.
PAT: Was joining the team your idea or what it because of your dad?
ERIKA: I knew I was going to. We turned into Unitarians [the church where the Great Meadow Morris practices are held], partly because of belief things, but also because we’d been doing the morris. I wanted to do it; I had watched my dad. I had been one of the morris kids of all the Pinewoods Morris Men for years. I was friends with [Tom’s children] Peter and Lily and knew about the Hop Brook kids’ team. And Daffodil Weekend [in the spring] was a huge part of the friend/morris kid/feeling group.
DEBORAH: When we bought our house in Nantucket in 1979, it didn’t take Tom long before he decided that we should have the Pinewoods Morris Men out to Nantucket. So that started in 1982; I did everything with Peter on my hip. So, we had the team and all their families, and there were a lot of kids. It was a family event. Succeeding generations of kids took care of the younger ones.
TOM: It’s one of the things which have kept the Pinewoods Morris Men together all these years.
ERIKA: It’s a tradition and it brings the kids back. All the things that happen are fun. It was this band of kids that you could go off with on your own. It was the first time that I was able to say, “OK, I’m going off with Peter and Lily, Mom!!” It’s the feeling you can run free like at Pinewoods.
PAT: Did the children’s teams dance during Daffodil Weekend?
DEBORAH: No just PMM. If it gets more than thirty-five to forty people, it gets hard to manage. And we would have to house everyone.
TOM: On Nantucket, there are thousands of people on the island and it’s the ultimate morris tour; there are tons of kids and families watching. We would dance and we would attract these mobs of people. It’s great.
ERIKA: I went to Daffodil Weekend every year and started morris with my best friend Emma [Kynoch] and of course we wanted to do that together. We danced on Hop Brook from 1994 when I was in fourth grade until 1998. I had known Tom since I was a baby. My younger sister insisted on joining the team too, her name is Molly, so she was on it too. In my generation, there was a bunch of boys from the church too, who were younger brothers of the first generation of boys who had been on it. There was an interesting grouping of people who were morris kids and people who were church kids. I joined Great Meadows in high school and it was Team X and Velocirapper.
TOM: Velocirapper didn’t really accept you guys.
ERIKA: We were siblings, and younger. They were all about, this is our thing and we’re teenagers and we don’t want you to do it. And now we’re all fine; we’re all dancing with [Boston longsword team] Orion. We were doing morris all together and we formed Candyrapper, in the second year, in the spring. The first year of Team X was 1999. And we were in Appalachian Revels in 2000, as Candyrapper.
TOM: Do you remember driving back in the car from Lilac Sunday and we were having the idea of a team; we were talking and Deborah came up with the name.
ERIKA: I do remember that. We went to the Ginger Ale.
TOM: That’s another thing we started – the Ginger Ale.
At this point, David Fleischmann-Rose arrived at Tom and Deborah’s and joined the conversation.
TOM: David has learned the concertina without any help from me at all, other than being a role model.
DAVID: A big inspiration.
TOM: But he’s been teaching a couple of my kids, which is great. David and his family were in the church when Deborah and I joined.
DAVID: We joined the church in 1987 or 1988 and at that point I was six. I thought Hop Brook was really cool, because I was a little kid and didn’t know any better… and it is cool. I started dancing through church and I remember really wanting to start dancing in fourth grade, but at course I couldn’t because Tom wouldn’t let people dance until fifth grade. So, I started with fifth grade when I was eleven and the thing that really made it, I think, stick for me was that there were a few of us that were about the same age that all did morris dancing together and we were also all in the same school, and the same church, and we became good friends.
PAT: Boys that age don’t usually dance.
DAVID: But you’re jumping onto a stage…
ERIKA: You’re hitting sticks together…
DAVID: It was fun, exciting, and energetic and it was all boys. I did a little tap earlier and that was all girls and they drove me out of that. But this was very different. But also if you have a critical mass of peers that are all doing it, you want to be where your friends are, so that really brings you in. And that’s how I got to know Tom, because he was running Hop Brook with Steve [Roderick]. I remember looking up to the whole older group dancing.
One thing that I will mention is that we were crazy enough, and didn’t really think about the social implications, but we decided that we should do sword dancing at the middle school talent show when we were in seventh grade.
ERIKA: I was on that too and I did an Irish step dance.
PAT: How’d that go?
DAVID: I think it was actually OK. We just did simple Ampleforth and our principal was cool enough to say OK, I’ll dress up as St. George and you can kill me. But of course we didn’t have the time to do the whole play, so people didn’t understand it. So he just came out dressed in the crusader outfit…
TOM: They had a cafeteria tray, with a cross on it.
DAVID: ..and we killed him on the first night and there were huge complaints. Six swords happened to make a star that looked the Star of David. And he just came out in this crusader outfit, with the cross on it. So, someone complained that what we were saying was that the Jews killed Christ. Nothing at all to do with it!
TOM: Interestingly enough, Christmas Revels has had this problem already and they had something written up about this issue, all ready to go. I was able to hand this over, and explain the sword dance, and say we’re sorry.
DAVID: It was quite a political stir.
PAT: David, maybe you want to talk about the role that Tom has played in your life. Tom, you can go in the other room.
ERIKA: Tom, get used to it; on your celebration day there’s going to be a whole night of this.
DAVID: Well, that’s a big question because Tom been an integral part of my life for a long, long time. He got me started in morris dancing, introduced me to the folk community in general, from Marlboro to Pinewoods Morris Men. It started with Hop Brook, then to Velocirapper, then Pinewoods, and now I’m dancing with Orion as well. So really all of the sword and morris dancing I do, is really all Tom’s fault.
If you hadn’t happened to have started a team for Lily, and we hadn’t happened to have moved to Sudbury, and go to the same church, my life would be totally different and I would say that it would not be as good because I really enjoy all the things that I do and all the people that I’ve met. It’s such a wonderfully supportive community. I certainly wouldn’t have picked up the concertina, which I’ve been playing now for about twelve years, which is kind of embarrassing because I should really be a lot better after twelve years of playing the concertina, but it’s really something I enjoy and something that’s a pretty big part of my identity and I think, um, when I look at Tom, it’s not that he’s necessarily the best dancer, I’ve really haven’t seen Tom dance all that much…
TOM: I used to dance…
DAVID: That was before my time, but it’s really just his ability to create warm and welcoming and nurturing environments, whether it be for very small kids who need one approach, or high school who need another approach. At this point, I think what enabled a lot of that is not just who Tom is, and how Tom is, but how he approached life in general – ninety-nine percent of the time, friendly, happy, cheerful, willing to work with a wide range of people to get things done, but also pulling people together and buckling down when things really need to happen. And I think one of the things that has really enabled a lot of this is simply his musical ability. I mean, he has such amazing musicianship – if you can find a group of people who are willing to dance, the biggest issue is finding someone who is able to teach and someone who is able to play and Tom can do both of those things at such a high level that he’s sort of a walking folkdance tutorial! [laughter]
ERIKA: You should make a Wii thing.
DAVID: So that’s really what it is. If he were lacking either as a teacher or musician, a lot of this wouldn’t have been possible. But he’s also got a really good approach for kids… I think it’s tough, especially for/with high schoolers, because you have a lot of different personalities, people at very difficult times in their lives, and you somehow make it work that they do a lot of self-direction yet you are still the sun around which they all orbit. They all know that you are the authority, and the person that they go to if they have any questions or issues or things that they can’t resolve themselves. But because you set the tone and the stage for it, people can come into that and make it work, by and large.
TOM: Aw, David. (hugs)
PAT: You met David when he was little and now he’s here able to say that to you. That’s incredible.
TOM: Erika has been helping this year with Great Meadows. You’ve seen some of it from my side this year.
ERIKA: It has been very interesting, now I can be this person who has been in Hop Brook and Candyrapper and now I can help Tom.
PAT: You’re behind the curtain.
ERIKA: And kind of stepping through. They don’t see me like Tom, but I’m kind of the person who’s helping. I think I always had a window into what you did, Tom, even when I was on the team. I had talked to you about some things and found out what you thought about them. And definitely it is true, what David said, Tom does a lot of behind the scenes thinking about teams before they’ve even been formed, thinking about new kids before they’re even there, where they would be good, etc. Getting opinions and respecting their opinions, but yet he is deciding and helping them have the best outcome that they could without seeming like deciding everything as the dance teacher and you are my class. It doesn’t feel like that at all.
PAT: Especially with high school students who want to develop their own things and you don’t want this person saying, you have to do this or that.
ERIKA: And that’s exactly why it works. And I don’t think half of them would be there if it was just a dance class, or someone telling you exactly what to do. And that’s why they love it and they’re given an art form that they think is neat and start to get the coolness of it because they go to events and they see the world of it, which is a very neat world, and then they are given a lot of freedom in what they can do. Here’s a team, doing some kind of weird stuff, and here’s Tom going “that’s interesting.” You let them do things, but also suggest things, slightly on the side and sometimes those things make it in.
DEBORAH: Like Candyrapper’s first kit.
ERIKA: So Candyrapper formed in the fall of 2000 and took a few new members and started practicing every week and we had to come up with a kit for our first gig. So two of our members went to the mall and called everyone, we have the best outfit and they came on Sunday, back from the mall, and they had bought these powder blue, pleated mini-skirts, cheerleaderish-style, and these purple, tank-toppy things that had low, low back ties. We went, oh, that’s kind of cute. It was kind of nice from a girl standpoint, but we were having some mixed feelings. Then they tried on the outfit for us and Tom was saying, no. That was one of those times when he laid down the law and then afterward, we were like, oh no, Tom doesn’t like it.
TOM: I didn’t say it on the spot; I wrote an email…
ERIKA: And then we were all really embarrassed and felt bad. And I’m still embarrassed. He was totally right.
TOM: I didn’t want men to see you dancing in them. I probably agonized about that email; I made Deborah read it a million times. I didn’t want to dampen your enthusiasm.
DAVID: As much as credit Tom should get, I do think we have to get a little bit of credit for starting the whole thing, because really after eighth grade, at that time, there was nothing. Mike, Mark, and I were the same age and we wanted to keep dancing and we went to Tom and said, Tom! We really want to keep dancing and he said, oh, alright. I’m kind of tired of morris though, why don’t you try rapper, and we said, what’s rapper? Because we had no idea! So, then we said, alright, we’ll try this rapper thing, whatever it is and when I first starting talking about it, we only had three people and that’s not enough for a rapper set, and went up to friend and I said, do you want to do rapper dancing with us, and he said, no, I’m not interested in rap, because that’s what he thought it was. But that first year, the only reason it even worked was because I knew another kid, Andrew Marcus, through German school and we find out his family also goes to UU Church in Newton where they also do morris dancing for some strange reason [Banbury Cross Morris and Sword]; so then I said, well, do you guys want to do rapper dancing. And he brought in Miranda Egelston, so those were the first five and we barely had enough to practice, starting in 1996.
TOM: We would make the parents dance.
ERIKA: And that got us all doing rapper.
DAVID: Then other young people in Banbury Cross saw us and said, let’s do that next. And I also, in a negative way, am responsible for the creation of Candyrapper because I didn’t want my sister to be on my team.
ERIKA: It was a good thing… I forgive you for it.
DAVID: She’s never forgiven me for it. And it was a good thing because you guys were amazing and really much better known than Velocirapper ever was. And now we all dance together on Orion.
David had to leave, but Erika, Deborah, Tom and I enjoyed Tom’s wonderful cooking and we continued talking to Erika about Tom’s effect on her life. I brought up the tune “Tom Kruskal’s,” written by Amelia Mason and Emily Troll, and recently recorded by Elixir.
ERIKA: The Elixir recording is good, but I have a recording that Amelia, Natty [Smith] and Emily did at Pinewoods. I bet Amelia and Emily wrote the tune at Pinewoods together, that’s my memory, because they were at Pinewoods working and volunteering together, and that’s when they started playing and writing tunes. Now they’re in a band, Anadama, with Bethany [Waickman]. They’re both Tom Kruskal people and they named the tune for Tom because Tom was important to them. I remember so well when they played it for July 4th skit night. I remember you, Tom, and Frank [Attanasio] were giving your inspirational speech to raise money so young people who enjoy Pinewoods could keep on enjoying it and then Amelia, Natty, and Emily came out and played the tune and dedicated it to you and it was perfect.
TOM: I was thinking about highlights of dancing – remember that Harrisville women’s tour that I took Candyrapper up to?
ERIKA: That was an early thing. It was really fun. My biggest memory of that was driving in the car and saying, Tom’s a crazy driver and it was snowing.
TOM: We were driving up to Harrisville, New Hampshire; we just went and danced morris a bunch up there. We stayed in a little cabin.
ERIKA: That was really fun – it was one of the things we did as a team. We really bonded with Tom and everyone else. We listened to the Rankin Family CD in the car.
PAT: Erika, do you know how special this has been in your life?
ERIKA: Yes. Tom is a huge reason why it all happened. For me it was a natural thing that became my whole life, in my own way. All my best and truest friends have come from these activities. That and Revels – they are very much intertwined and that’s always fed into it. Candyrapper is the strongest connection because we started as this team the same year that most of us were also dancing as a group of teen dancers in Appalachian Revels in 2000.
DEBORAH: That was a real pivotal year – the kids that were in Revels coming over to our house after the performance and Peter would drag them over to the contra dance. That’s when they all started going to the contras at the Concord Scout House. They would stay in the corner and they were just dancing by themselves over there.
ERIKA: Thursday nights at the VFW we did that too. Me and Peter started carpooling, going together. There were just five of us, the only young people there. And now, I don’t go to contra much anymore because of Orion rehearsals on Thursday nights, but I went once recently and every time I go now, it’s huge! It’s awesome.
DEBORAH: It’s interesting that one of our dancers, who moved out to the West coast, said young people aren’t doing anything out there. There are no young people contra dancing, or English dancing, rapper, or morris. He’s convinced that it’s because of Tom activity here, that it’s different on the East coast. But this whole process has taken years and it’s a rich environment. It’s inoculating a very fertile ground.
TOM: I think I’m the result of something, not the cause. It’s because it was there; I found rich ground. I was forced to do it by the need. I’ve used other people as much as I can because I needed help.
ERIKA: There are pockets of interest in Revels, the church community, the small morris kids community, NEFFA, and dance and Revels families in the area, and Tom was the one to do this at the right time when there were a lot of kids around and then have it get big enough that it survived past that catalyst time.
PAT: What part did the CDSS weeks at Pinewoods Camp play?
ERIKA: I think that was just another piece of the puzzle. I grew up knowing about Pinewoods Camp by being around it, via the Pinewoods Morris Men, and having my parents rent out the Conants’ cottage [next door to the Pinewoods Camp property]. We didn’t go when I was a little kid, or go religiously every year. Actually I went to CDSS Campers’ Week with the Kynoch family as a ten year old first and went every year since. Then my family started coming to Campers’ Week and then from there I went to volunteer on crew.
DEBORAH: Remember that year at English and American when we got Candyrapper to go? We were guardians for all these fifteen year olds and we dragged them all there.
ERIKA: It was great! And that was my transition year from going as a camper with my family to going as a volunteer and then as an adult. That was a real high in my memory. Going to an adult week for the first time was a revelation.
DEBORAH: It was really interesting last summer ; it was such a funny feeling to have you guys all in Pine Needles cabin, as adults. They’re there, having cocktails parties.
ERIKA: That was a really big deal. We’ve been aspiring to that for years, to be old enough.
DEBORAH: And they had ownership. These kids that we saw from babies now are in an ownership position at Pinewoods; it was really, really cool.
ERIKA: It’s like growing up in a village in the old way of things, when you are in this place where people know you and you can go far in the small community and you have great things or drama together and it’s beautiful. I can’t imagine it being better.
TOM: Most people don’t have this.
PAT: I had the same experience in my life. I grew up in Toronto and had that whole dance community from the time I was a little girl, but then I left Toronto. So, I recreated it in Boston with Scottish dance, then English, then contra. Those dance friends from my twenties are still my friends now – they are my people.
ERIKA: My group of friends was because of Tom and Hop Brook, Candyrapper, and Revels – we were fifteen years old saying, we know that we are going to be good friends when we are fifty. You just have that model. It’s so powerful. You have your parents who had been friends with people since they were young dancing together. So you are younger than that knowing, that’s what they’ve done, so clearly that’s what I’m going to do. So, you are my friends. You kind of knew that.
PAT: Not only do you have the friends in your own peer group; but you have friends in the generations above you.
DEBORAH: They asked if they could come take cooking lessons with Tom. How many twenty- three year olds want to spend an evening with sixty year olds in an evening in the summer?
TOM: It was really fun. It was so much fun you came twice.
ERIKA: We’ve had fun with you for a long time.
DEBORAH: We all have this love of dance, the music, and we share a lot of the same positions.
ERIKA: I think there’s a similar way that people like to have fun. On New Year’s we had a bunch of folkie friends and bunch of friends from college who are not folkie friends, but the reason that it worked was because we all liked to have fun in the same way. I don’t even know what I mean to define “in the same way,” but I think we have same sense of humor and lightheartedness about things. We enjoy cooking and eating, drinking, and singing. We have similar activities but also a similar kind of attitude.
PAT: You just said a remarkable thing. Singing was in there. We’ve incorporated dance into our lives, which is unusual enough, but singing is really not something we do naturally anymore. It has become professional; you have to be in a choir, and when have you ever heard someone say, let’s have a song! What would you do?
TOM: It’s not part of my family tradition or our culture.
ERIKA: Tom hums a lot. I love that. When you dance with Tom, you have a humming partner.
DEBORAH: When I first started dancing with him, he would sing harmonies along with the country dances as we danced.
ERIKA: People who are my age know and honor Tom. There is this whole other extension into Maple Morris [a community of young morris dancers] – a lot of people are from Great Meadows or are Tom-connected people, but many aren’t. But they all still know Tom. I think it still has that sense even with people who weren’t part of the Tom teams. We counted this year and I think about half of Maple Morris were from Tom teams.
PAT: Is Candyrapper independent now?
ERIKA: No. Velocirapper was our model and they ended; they had a couple of generations and then they stopped. And then all of us in the younger group said that’s so sad they’re just ending. We didn’t really get that. When it came to the time when my friends and I were graduating from Great Meadows, we asked, should we keep the team going? I remember really analyzing what would be the different options. We just sat down and talked about it.
TOM: Now it’s a new leadership. The team dances great. They’re as good as they’ve ever been. It’s dancing to metronome and British style.
Having finished dinner, Deborah and Erika leave for Orion practice. After cleaning up, Tom and I sat down to talk again. Tom plays Ampleforth sword dance tunes: Morpeth Lasses and The Old Wife of Coverdale on his concertina.
PAT: When did you learn to play concertina?
TOM: Well, I bought my first one in 1965, which is the one sitting right over there. I just played around with it, just picking up how to play it over time. It was a slow and gradual process. Nobody around me played, so I didn’t take lessons. I mostly listened to that William Kimber recording, that Bicky McLain had. That was the main thing, and just sort of developed my own style of playing. Playing for morris dance is pretty much what I do.
When I bought my first concertina, I was staying at Sidmouth Folk Festival with the Chingford Lads, which was a young team (1964-5) in England and there was a guy there, Peter Boyce, who was running the kids team (high school boys). They were performing at Sidmouth and I roomed with them in a dorm situation, called the Scout House at Sidmouth. Nibs Matthews had set it up for me to do. One of the boys was their musician and he played concertina and he was the one who told me where to go to get one, and he showed me some things. That was the most of a lesson I got, was that.
PAT: Do you think of yourself as a musician outside of playing for morris?
TOM: No, not really. I love music; I always have done something musical in my life and I love singing although my voice is a wreck. It’s hard singing in my church choir, which I really enjoy and I like the people. I’ve got a breathing problem and paralyzed vocal chords, closed in a shut position. So, I’m just breathing in through a small hole, which is not normal. Normally the vocal chords open up and they can breathe. It makes me sound hoarse and singing is a strain.
PAT: It must make it difficult to dance as well.
TOM: It does; I can’t take in enough air. I can do English country and that’s about it. I can’t morris dance, which is shame because I loved it. But I danced for a long time; there are other parts of my body which don’t want to morris dance either! It’s alright. I teach morris to the Hop Brook kids and the Great Meadows kids as well. Morris I know more than they do and I make them do it. You can teach style without having to jump high, absolutely.
PAT: Do you know of other people who have done what you have done in this country?
TOM: There’s Banbury Cross, a kid’s team longer running than mine which was started by Lynn Beasley, when her kids were little. She was involved with Revels and she started a morris team. And she was a very organized and dynamic kind of person and she held that together for years. She always hired good people; Erika’s father Steve was one of their teachers and various other people. And then, Lynn started another team along with her daughter, Emily Beasley, that’s called Mulberry Morris and they’ve been going for quite a while. Banbury kept going under new management. They’ve been a major force. I hardly invented this idea.
PAT: But elsewhere in the country?
TOM: Berea College always had the Country Dancers performance group. Swarthmore has had college teams over the years; there’s Green Mountain Morris Dancers (boys) and Maple Leaf Morris Dancers (girls), in Norwich, Vermont led by Chris Levey with Jane Finlay, who danced with Ring o’Bells in New York City. And they were also all involved with the Dartmouth, New Hampshire Revels. Revels is a big recruitment tool for getting kids interested, because the show has a lifetime, everyone gets excited, and then it ends and people want to keep going. So, Revels is a huge incubator.
In England, from what I’ve talked to people, having a high school team was really unusual; it’s more typical that little kids would dance in an adult team, but it’s changing there too. They would get to age 12 or 13 and they wouldn’t be seen dead doing it. I don’t know about morris, but in the sword dance world, this past summer at an event with Orion in Grenoside [England], they had a whole youth longsword competition.
I think traditionally it’s been a family thing. We stayed with some people in the Newcastle [England] area, quite a long time ago, and they were describing their teams and how they did this big family event every year. All the families came; it sounded like Daffodil Weekend for us. And it was obviously very strong for them and really part of their community. And of course a lot of the traditional teams were family-based. A lot of the sword teams tended to be all of one or two families. And women did dance some when they had to, from within the families, in sword teams.
So, there is that family part which is pretty strong here too. My end of the year party is a big event for all the teams; I do it for all the kids, young, old, graduates, and we usually have eighty to a hundred people here in the summer. I do deep-fried turkey and French fries. Kid’s food. And other than that it’s a potluck. It’s pretty cool with all the little and older kids and families, parents, siblings.
PAT: It’s a very strong instinct in a family for the younger kids to want to do what the older kids are doing, and that has been incorporated into your work. It’s part of the dynamic of the family.
TOM: It’s cool. That’s powerful stuff.
PAT: Are you training new musicians?
TOM: I don’t do a lot of that. I have tried to drag some of the kids into the music, especially morris music. David’s been teaching two of my kids. Tim, who is a Hop Brook little kid, played with me at the Christmas show on the two morris dances. He’ll be able to play morris and that’s what he wants to do.
Music is personal; it’s introspective and the things that I’m dealing with, with the kids teams, is broad group dynamics. It’s very different than music.
PAT: The group dynamics stuff – you did it because it felt right to do it that way, or did you think about it?
TOM: I didn’t think about it until after the fact. It was my natural inclination and it became intentional.
PAT: How did you know to keep your hands off of it?
TOM: I don’t know. It was always a struggle; I do tend to interfere; I have a tendency to want to take over to some extent, but with them I think in that case, maybe, David didn’t want me. It was very much his thing and I respected that as much as I could. Now I just can’t be in charge of them all; they’ve got to run themselves and do their own thing.
PAT: Are they all practicing at the same time in one place?
TOM: Yeah. There are sometimes four different teams in a not huge parish hall, but it’s big enough for four rapper teams, one in each corner. The groups have always seemed a little chaotic to adults. They think it’s out of control. They say “Listen to Tom, you should listen to him.” It’s hard for the parents. Especially with the littler kids; their parents get more upset if they think their kid is misbehaving or not being respectful enough, or they’re not getting enough attention, or whatever it is. I have great parents, though.
PAT: How did you get involved with the home school community?
TOM: A few kids found me. The home schoolers around here are always looking for things for their kids to do. So, they consider morris dancing part of their education. The parents are more supportive and tend to be more active. It’s a subtle difference but it’s clearly there. And then, a couple of times some of the home school parents said, should I post your flyer at the home school place and I say, sure do that. And we get a few more. Maybe fifteen percent of the kids are home schooled. It’s interesting; it’s a different kind of kid; they seem to know better what they want and if they like the dancing, they like it in a clear cut way. It’s what they want to do.
PAT: John Ramsay has had a lot of success teaching English country dance in the St. Louis home school community.
TOM: I really could do so much more than I do. I’d have to stop my job though. The time I deal with meetings, things like DART, taking kids to the New York Sword Ale, doing registration, by the time I deal with all these things, it’s just – I could work harder I suppose but there’s a limit.
PAT: Are you grooming a lieutenant?
TOM: Erika is young still and almost too close in age to the kids. She’s twenty-five maybe. She has been working as a teacher for a couple of years now. She’s been involved with organizing Maple Morris, and maybe I can imagine cutting back a little and not having to be at the church every Sunday for the team practices.
That’s a big thing. I’m not there every week, but when I miss one I have to take an action to deal with it or cancel. It’s hard; and now we have grandkids in Ireland and stuff going on. I do as much as I can. There have been moments when I’ve wanted to be more organized about it; having a committee and more parent involvement. But I don’t think that’s what the teams want.
That’s why I brought Erika in; that’s a more likely solution. We need parents to be helpful but not to be in charge of anything. One of the parents has been our treasurer forever and [Boston dancer] Kem Stewart has been helpful in the background, getting bells made for us and doing things. But basically, that’s all behind the scene and the kids don’t have any sense of that.
PAT: Is there a connection between your profession as a jewelry designer and music and dance?
TOM: Maybe. Maybe my jewelry designs have something to do with music. They’re all very simple things, but they’ve got a movement and fluidity to them at their best, anyway. Or just a gestural quality, that might be like dance in some way. I think that’s plausible.
PAT: It’s not something that you’ve consciously done?
TOM: No. And you know my typical day at work is a constant stream of organizational tasks really, not that different from the dance teams. It’s an organizational job; I’ve got five employees and there’s designing jewelry and there’s making jewelry, which is great, but a lot of it is administration. I’m kind of in charge of things, but any kind of strategic planning which needs doing, I have to do it myself. And there is always a need for marketing. I like that stuff; I enjoy it.
PAT: So maybe that is the connection.
TOM: It is! Great Meadows is an organizational job in a lot of ways; and it’s about people. It’s certainly about dancing too.
PAT: It couldn’t happen without a certain instinct for what will work with people.
TOM: I am pretty good with people, I think. But it also takes a toll on me. I find it hard and I get upset because I want everyone to be happy. That’s my main problem; I don’t want strife and I really hate it. I hate it. So that’s hard because with the team groups there are always problems, but also at work too, inevitably. On the other hand, I’m fairly good at trying to work through it all. And I am very patient and that’s a virtue certainly with the kids.
PAT: Do you have good perseverance?
TOM: Almost to a fault.
PAT: A perfectionist?
TOM: No, I’m not. I couldn’t be and do this, actually. I mean Deborah is a real perfectionist. She will always get upset if, say, Candyrapper is not stepping together! I care about excellence and I recognize it but it’s not really what I’m trying to achieve.
PAT: What do you think you are trying to achieve?
TOM: Just to keep community going, through the dance and music. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, holding it together and not the perfection.
You want to do your best and feel good about it, and there are parts of the dancing that you don’t get unless you are doing it right or well. But that can be achieved at lots of different levels of perfection. Say with morris dancing, you can get the feeling of doing a dance well and being all together – morris dancing has this wonderful thing of being together but not holding hands; lines going forward and back and your sticks clashing. You can get that pleasure of doing that without being great morris dancers. The kids get that and I see it at all ages.
PAT: They don’t expect that probably.
TOM: No, I don’t think so. I mean, it often happens that doing morris at Marlboro Ale when the kids’ teams go, and sometimes it can click for them, they really get it or start to get it. It’s funny about the excellence part, because there are some people in all the groups I’m involved with that want it to be better and more precise. And it’s not that they’re wrong; it should be better and we’re trying, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s fine to strive to be better even if it’s never going to be achieved and you can still get some of what it means to be better.
PAT: There was a recent thread on the ECD List with some people writing about those ephemeral moments when you reach dance perfection. It happens like a spark between two people in a dance and I think we’ve all experienced it but you can’t plan for it. You can work on your style and musicality, etc. and then it will happen sometimes.
TOM: That’s right. If you obsess about it too much, it can ruin your fun of just doing what you’re doing.
PAT: There is a whole part of your life in music and dance which we haven’t talked about which is less creative, but you’ve spent a lot of time working for PCI [Pinewoods Camp] and CDSS doing management work. Do you want to say anything about that work?
TOM: Yeah. That was a large part of my life; especially before I started doing kids teams. Because I was there when Pinewoods Camp, Inc. first started and I’d just come back from California in 1975 and PCI had just been formed and I was asked to be on the board. We were just trying to figure out what we were going to do. We didn’t really have a manager, so I was chairman of the management committee, for six years. I was fairly young; in my late twenties. But then I stopped doing it; there was too much to do, with my business and a family, and everything. And I had been on the CDSS Executive Committee in New York City and then became CDSS treasurer for nine years. At that time there were no CDSS committees, and so we decided to have a finance committee and I was chairman. We met monthly and did all kinds of work on reporting. We were trying to pull things together, budgets, etc. As that ended, I became PCI treasurer at the same time, for about a year.
I’m good with numbers; I was a math major for two years in college. My family is all mathematicians; my father was a statistician; my uncles were mathematicians; my brother’s a math person. They’re all math people. I’m good with numbers, he said modestly.
PAT: Well, if you have to run a business it definitely helps.
TOM: I’m good at the financial analysis part of stuff and it’s not a question of being a professional accountant, it’s a sense of things. I can look at these reports and spreadsheets and I can see things. Not the nitpicky stuff, but I can see something doesn’t make sense or what’s really going on. It is something I can do and I care about a lot. It’s a way to help. I’ve always been on committees, and boards. I can compromise and talk to people and process; it’s a way of interacting with people that drives some people nuts or puts them to sleep. But I’ve always liked talking. And there was the recent capital campaign of PCI I was fairly involved with.
PAT: Have there been any turning points in your life, in the context of what we’ve been talking about?
TOM: I suppose getting involved with teaching those kids opened up a whole thing for me to do that I just went with. That felt like a turning point. But I’m sort of the slow plod along type; steady. I’ll get these flashes of ideas, something that I ought to do, a lot! Those are like little turning points, mini-turning points, and I usually will take them a certain ways. I’ll talk about them usually with Deborah, take a few steps, look into them, and then sometimes they’ll take on a life of their own. Usually nothing happens luckily. I mean you can’t do all those things. A lot of the things I’ve done have started that way. Just little flashes of inspiration; to me they seem like opportunities of things which should be done.
When Hop Brook first when to the Marlboro Ale, it was one of those little things. It hit me: we should go to the Marlboro Ale, you know, so I called Andy Horton, and asked, can this happen? So, we worked out a way for it to happen. Those are like mini-turning points and a lot of them are sort of obvious, but it’s all the stars being aligned just right and it becomes clear that this is what should happen now. You see it – I mean, it’s there for the taking.
PAT: It all goes to back to having an entrepreneurial way of looking at life.
TOM: That’s what I do in my work too.
PAT: Do you think there’s a “what’s next” for you?
TOM: I wonder how long I can keep doing this. The “what next” would be finding a way to cut back some but not have it end. Maybe that will work with Erika. And I don’t think I could stop doing it, but I could have some flexibility not to go every Sunday necessarily. Like what David was saying is true – I can play, and teach, and kind of have a certain rapport with the kids. So it’s a lot of things that are hard to replace, in some ways.
Having Erika come to help was a mini-flash. That’s what it was like starting the group. I feel like I took what was there, waiting to be taken. I know I did. There were all these kids around, and I saw it and I just took it.
PAT: It’s the same as seeing the pattern in the numbers.
TOM: Right! It is. It’s a lot of work once you get the idea. Ideas are cheap; doing things is really hard. Ideas seem like the creative part, but sometimes I think that the “doing” is the creative part. Solving the day-to-day, week-after-week little things and how you deal with them, the decisions you make, that’s creative as much as the initial idea.
PAT: There’s the flash and then there’s the character that takes it past the flash. Those things we’ve talked about: patience, perseverance, being comfortable with it not being perfect, and recognizing when it’s not going to work.
TOM: And there are hard parts and they are not fun at all. On the other hand, I usually come back home from performances or trips feeling energized. I often dread going, a little bit, because you’re on stage, to some extent, you’re out there. My challenge now is to figure out if there’s some way that things will continue when I am cutting back and I’m not sure there’s an answer to it. But there are more and more of these kids coming back to town after college. Natty is coming back at the end of January and I’m hoping he’ll be involved because then I’ll have a musician [Natty] and a teacher [Erika], which really could run it, if they wanted to.
PAT: And you’d be willing to pass it on.
TOM: Yes, I would be willing if they wanted to do it. They’re cheerful people so maybe they would. Erika has just been coming and helping getting a feel for it. I haven’t actually turned stuff over to her but I think it’s possible. The little kids are easier in some ways. I’m still really their teacher, more than the teens. The teens tend to rebel against authority; and I’m not that much of an authority. I know they appreciate what I do. With the little kids it’s different. They do pretty much what adults tell them. I like them to be wild. I don’t want to squelch them. I want to channel that energy into the dancing.
PAT: Do you do any non-English stuff?
TOM: I don’t think I do actually. Very occasionally we take vacations that aren’t dance activities. Otherwise it’s just committees, and dance groups, or organizing things. But I guess I must like that, because it’s what I do.