CDSS News, Fall 2021

calvesCalves by Clara Byom.

Born in a Barn

By Clara Byom

I didn’t learn about contra and English country dance until I lived in the big city for a couple of years and was invited to join a band. I quickly found myself at home in the genre, but not because any of the tunes were familiar or because I had ever seen this type of dancing before… I could never really explain why I quickly felt at home playing dance music. In the years to come, I played in quite a few bands and became a board member of the New Mexico Folk Music and Dance Society. Every once in a while, I dwelled on why I felt so drawn to this style of music and dance, but could never really identify the reason beyond my love of playing for dancing and my community of wonderful people. Of course, that is reason enough, but I knew there was something even beyond that. I even started writing tunes—not something I had felt comfortable doing in any other genre.

As we all know, in early 2020, the pandemic set in, and in-person dance gigs disappeared. The inspiration I previously had for writing dozens of new tunes felt like it was vanishing. In August, with all my work going virtual, I decided to go back to my family’s organic dairy farm in Wisconsin. Back in Wisconsin, I woke up every morning at 5:20 a.m. and headed out to help my dad, Roger, milk the 40 cows on the home farm. While back on the farm, I began a series of YouTube videos with my dairy farming brother, Seth, to show all my city friends about farming. Most of my city friends didn’t have a good sense of what farming entails, and as small organic family farmers, my family has a particular lens through which to present the information. I figured that any good YouTube video usually has music at some point, so why not use my own tunes?

Two people playing accordion in a field with cowsPhoto by Sue Byom. I began filming scenes from around the farm and noticed that happy cows practically dance in the pasture. Now, I’m not about to say that there's a clear correlation between my childhood farm life and contra dancing, but it’s hard to argue that nature doesn’t dance. Have you watched the river dance? When did you last dance by a river? Or mimic a bird’s flight? I know the cows aren’t really dancing in the same way we are though, so it must be something else that makes the contra dancing so familiar. I think it’s the joy. To see the cows frolic out onto pasture for the first time in the summer is the most joyful experience on the farm. Maybe they’re feeling the same thing we do when we come out of a swing and slide right into long lines forward and back seamlessly. It’s pure, exuberant bliss.

In making the farm videos, I found myself with a need for my tunes again: to accompany cows! I took the opportunity to record a bunch of my original tunes. Most of these tunes were written with fiddle in mind, so I had to re-envision them without the fiddle and develop them by recording myself on piano, clarinet, and accordion. Twenty or more tunes later, we’ve got a series of nine full episodes, plus a teaser and Q&A session filled with farming information. You can find all the episodes via the Born In A Barn page on my website to learn about milking cows, feeding cows and calves, fieldwork, farm equipment, bovine digestion, FFA, the birth of a calf, and spring planting. While I mostly recorded tunes that I wrote before getting back to the farm, I’ve included a new waltz here named after our cow, Rizzo. It’s a short, simple, and charming little tune that captures the essence of that good ol’ Holstein.

On May 1 this year, I released my first solo album of original folk music featured in the series, and then I jumped in my car to head back to Albuquerque. I plan on adding more episodes to the YouTube series whenever I’m back in Wisconsin, so stay tuned for more! I am hopeful we will be able to dance again before too long, but until then I’ll be writing tunes for the cows in Wisconsin, the hot air balloons above the Rio Grande, and anything I spot that moves like it could be dancing for just a moment.

Rizzo’s Waltz

Rizzo's Waltz sheet music

To purchase or stream my solo folk album, Born In A Barn Collection, or purchase my tune book, On The Brighter Side, please visit (The tune book includes many of the tunes from Born In A Barn.) Album and tune book cover art are by my ma, Sue Byom. Oh, and remember to buy local organic dairy products whenever possible!

Have you been learning something new during the pandemic? We’d love to hear about it! Wendy Graham is curating a year-long project to feature more of these kinds of stories in the CDSS News. Write to her via, and we might put you in this spot in our next issue!

Peg DuthiePhoto by Jack Koch, Jr.

Stories from the CDSS Legacy of Joy Society: Peg Duthie

“ECD captivates me because it speaks to both my head and heart—its blend of patterns, precision, and haunting, heart-rending melodies are immensely satisfying to practice, study, and improvise on. It’s led to both sublime moments of connection on the dance floor and extraordinary friendships beyond it.

As someone whose parents both died before the age of 65 and someone who has witnessed problematic outcomes thanks to nonexistent wills, outdated beneficiary designations, and the like, I am a fervent believer in estate planning and maintenance. (Knowing that wills are supposed to be revisited and revised periodically got me past the mental barrier of trying to make the document perfect for Future Me.) No matter how young or healthy you are, and no matter your income level or extent of savings, documenting your wishes is important. Your loved ones and legal representatives cannot read your mind (or act freely on what they think you had in mind) when you are no longer here.

I’m grateful to CDSS for supporting the musicians and teachers and communities that have enriched my life, and it’s a pleasure to anticipate paying a measure of it forward.”


-Peg Duthie

Why not share the joy? You can fill out the easy online form like Peg did, or you can email Robin Hayden at And if you’re considering including CDSS in your estate plans but don’t know where to begin, fill out the “Expression of Interest” form on the website, and we’ll help you figure out your options.


ISSN: 1070-8251

Copy Editor—Ben Williams
Layout & Design—Anna Gilbert-Duveneck
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President: Gaye Fifer, Pittsburgh, PA
Vice President: Nikki Herbst, Amana, IA
Secretary: Pam Paulson, Waukesha, WI
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At Large Members

Peter Baker, Ann Arbor, MI
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Susie Lorand, Ann Arbor, MI
Robbin Marcus, Lithonia, GA
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About CDSS

The Country Dance & Song Society connects and supports people in building and sustaining vibrant communities through participatory dance, music, and song traditions that have roots in English and North American culture. Membership is open to all. Direct benefits include this magazine, a 10% discount from the CDSS store, priority registration for our summer camp programs, and more. Indirect benefits include the satisfaction of knowing that your support will enhance CDSS’s ability to spread the traditions you love. CDSS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; membership dues and donations are tax deductible. For more information, visit

This magazine is published quarterly by the Country Dance & Song Society. The views expressed within represent the authors and are not necessarily those of CDSS. All material is published by permission.

Balance and Sing: Online Store

New This Fall!

The very best in music, dance, and song are available from the CDSS store. Check out all our wonderful offerings—complete your collection!

David Kaynor book coverDavid A. Kaynor: Living Music and Dance
Edited by Susan Songer

This extraordinary, spiral-bound volume encompasses and celebrates the many contributions David made to the world of contra dance. The book contains over 70 tunes that David composed, his harmonies and his stories about the tunes, over 50 dances that he choreographed and his stories about these dances, David’s essays on tune composition and harmony, his previous book, Calling for Beginners by Beginners, and his complete autobiography with tributes from family members and friends.

CDSS stickers and magnetsMagic Stickers and Magnets

Check out our collection of CDSS stickers and magnets! High quality vinyl stickers for your water bottle, laptop, windows, and anything in between! The 3x5” CDSS sticker is also available as a car magnet, perfect for showing off your CDSS pride everywhere you go! The 3” round stickers read “Magic Awaits,” “Singing together is Magic,” and “Dancing Together is Magic.” Get yours today!

Turning of the Hour coverTurning of the Hour
By Alchemy

The debut album from the extraordinary Alchemy—Eric Martin (violin, viola, foot percussion), Rachel Bell (accordion), and Karen Axelrod (piano)—truly spins music into ECD gold. Their improvisatory style brings a contemporary and innovative feel to traditional tunes, as well as modern ones from Rachel Bell and Dave Wiesler. The heartfelt performances on this album evoke both powerful energy and spacious beauty. A must-have for any lover of English country dance music! Check out a new dance written to a tune on this album on page 24.

The Green Jay CollectionThe Green Jay Collection
By Joseph Pimentel

The latest from celebrated choreographer and author of The Cardinal and Goldcrest Collection Joseph Pimentel, The Green Jay Collection contains 14 brand new English country dances and two contra dances, complete with tunes and notation. The book also includes teaching notes for each of the dances, as well as an index to all three volumes. A perfect time to complete your collection!

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