Contra Pulse

Welcome to the Contra Pulse Project, a series of interviews with contra musicians about contra music.

As you walk up the steps to the dance hall, you can already hear the strains of the piano and fiddle slipping out into the night. Then you open the doors; see the roomful of dancers and hear that glorious music in full – propelling everyone on the dance floor. It’s uplifting, it’s energetic, it’s fun, it makes us move, it brings us together.

Where does contra music come from? Why does it sound the way it does? How has it changed over time? In this project, we will be attempting to take the pulse of contra music today through a series of conversations between host Julie Vallimont and prominent contra musicians from all corners.  Join us in this journey through music, dance, time, space, and community.

Contra Pulse Panel – Mentors and Inspirations

In October 2021, Contra Pulse hosted an online panel discussion as a part of the CDSS series common time. In this special event, Julie spoke with four of the contra dance greats – Becky Tracy, Pete Sutherland, Rodney Miller, and Kate Barnes—about who their mentors and inspirations were, and how they’re mentoring and inspiring the next generation of contra...

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Contra Pulse Episode 42 – Bill Tomczak

This episode, Julie sits down with clarinetist, saxophonist, and arranger Bill Tomczak. Bill plays for contra and English country dancing with The Latter Day Lizards, Campaign for Real Time and Fine Companions. Bill and Julie talk about his time studying clarinet at Northwestern University and how he forged his way as a clarinet player in...

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Contra Pulse Episode 41 – Keith Murphy

This episode, Julie speaks with renowned guitarist, pianist, mandolinist, and singer Keith Murphy. In their conversation, Keith explains how his early influences of Scottish music impacted the precision of his rhythmic approach, how Nightingale formed and arranged music, as well as the ways that Keith’s song arranging has changed over the years. We also get to...

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Contra Pulse Episode 40 – Dave Langford

This episode, Dave tells us all about his early years and how his journey as a fiddle player began on a spur of the moment whim. We explore his identity as a New England Style Fiddler, and get to hear Dave demonstrate his unique fiddle strum, and a few beautiful tunes on the guitar. Dave leaves us with a...

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Contra Pulse Episode 39 – Becky Tracy

This episode, Julie sits down with fiddler Becky Tracy. Becky has been a defining presence in some of the most popular and innovative contra dance from New England —Wild Asparagus, and Nightingale. They discuss her trajectory from math teacher to full-time traditional musician, her approach to musical creativity, her musical partnership with Keith, the ways that community builds upon...

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Contra Pulse Episode 38 – Dave Bartley

This episode Julie sits down with Seattle musician Dave Bartley. They explore the myriad influences that have woven their way into Dave’s musical style and repertoire, and in his numerous bands – KGB, Contra Sutra and Bag o'Tricks, and ECD groups Tricky Brits and Roguery. He shares his perspective on the Pacific Northwest dance and music community and even...

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