The Monadnock area is well-known as being the home to many celebrated professional musicians in the New England Fiddle and dance music genre. But what really makes our region rich are the numbers of folk who play, largely for their own pleasure, out of sheer love for the tunes. In any given week there are numerous gatherings, often in private homes, with fiddles, guitars, mandolins, flutes, banjos, and – well just about anything goes. Many of these gatherings are semi private – that is to say, if you know someone who goes regularly, you might get invited, but the event is not highly publicized, largely because of space considerations.
Among the more public sessions: on Monday night there is the “Baby Band”, where a dozen or so musicians of varying skill gather for an hour before the contra dance in the Nelson Town Hall. The repertoire is based on an ever-expanding photo-copied hand out, the Portland Collection, The New England Fiddler’s Repertoire, and the Waltz books. It’s a round robin affair, with each player requesting a specific tune (and sometimes introducing “new” ones). Hilliare Wilder is fixed at the piano (to provide consistent accompaniment). Lisa Sieverts “moderates” the session, making sure newcomers feel welcome, and generally keeping things on track.
Down at DelRossi’s Trattoria in Dublin, every Wednesday is a gathering, officially called a “Celtic Fiddle Session”, but with known lapses into New England dance tunes, and even bluegrass! Owners Dave and Elaina DelRossi also run the long-established Fiddler’s Choice music store (upstairs ), so if you happen to break a string or run short of rosin, you’re in luck.
Back in September Randy Miller wrote a piece for this website about Putney’s Irish Music Session at J.D. McCilment’s Pub. This is a Wednesday night gathering, which attracts some star power, but is welcoming to all.
There are no doubt other gatherings that we are not yet aware of. To this end, we’ve started a new page on this web site called Sessions, where we will be adding new information as it comes in. Check it out periodically to see where the playing (or listening) opportunities are, and please let us know about any sessions that should be added to the list.
For folks wanting to get their hands (or perhaps fingers) around the New England repertoire, there is now The Montville Project ~ Volume 2 – 55 More Essential New England Dance Tunes.
Montville One was reviewed here about a year ago. The project came out of a workshop at the Maine Fiddle Camp, and the purpose is to provide simple renderings of tunes that are “intended primarily as an audio repertory for neophyte dance musicians, but it’s equally satisfying as a toe-tapping listening experience for anyone who enjoys this wonderful American music and dance form.” It totally works – aspiring musicians will not be intimidated by fancy embellishments, yet the album is rewarding to listen to by virtue of the rich melodies and steadfast accompaniment. This album contains some of my personal favorites, including Mackilmoyle, Morpeth Rant, Fisher’s Hornpipe, and ending with Jerry Holland’s My Cape Breton Home – a lovely waltz which has warmly worked its way onto the dance floor in recent years (it is also the only “composed” tune on the album, all the others being “traditional.”
There are lots of avenues to learning how to play traditional New England Music. In 2001, at the request of Bob McQuillen, the Monadnock Folklore Society established the Johnny Trombly Memorial Scholarship, which provides funding for lessons, mentoring, or attending music and dance camp. This is open to young people under the age of 18, and is awarded annually. The application period for 2009 is open now (deadline March 15th). Read more about this scholarship, and pass the link along to anyone you know who might be interested.
As always, please write contact us.with your thoughts and ideas about music and dance in the Monadnock Region.