Folknotes: July

As I set out to write this month’s Folknotes, there is a convergence of information about some members of the music and dance community who are bravely facing health problems. Though it is a more solemn topic than we generally address here, I hope that this will help to focus energy and prayerful thoughts in the lives of these individuals.

Marianne Taylor has been a central figure on the New England contra dance scene for decades. Her recent struggle with cancer has not diminished her spirits, but she is no longer able to be active. Her dear friend Sylvia Miskoe has written the following words about her:

I first met Marianne in 1955 at a dance workshop in Exeter, NH. I don’t remember if it was Scottish Country Dance or square/contra. She was 24, married to Conny Taylor (Cornell), and pregnant with their first child. A beautiful dancer, a confident woman, just the perfect role model for me, a college junior. They lived in Lexington, MA, taught dancing, ran an international folk dance evening at the Cambridge YWCA, and were budding leaders of the dance community. Marianne is a talented pianist and was the resident musician for the Boston Branch Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. She played solo piano for the first half of the evening, which was a mixed level class. The second half was for the advanced dancers and they danced to records. Besides leading and teaching various dance evenings, she and Conny sponsored many international workshops. She also taught classes at the Boston Conservatory. NOTE, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY TAUGHT AND AM PRETTY SURE IT WAS BOSTON, NOT NEW ENGLAND, CONSERVATORY.

Fast forward to 1986. Marianne had moved to Deerfield, NH, to be with her partner, Don Gorman. She continued to travel to Boston to teach and run her dances including an international evening. She maintaned her involvement in Folk Arts Center of New England, an umbrella organization that she had helped found. She began calling local contra dances and teaching school residencies. In 1988, she was a founding member of the Strathspey & Reel Society of NH, an organization devoted to playing Scottish music. She was an original member of the Ralph Page Legacy Committee which sponsors an annual dance weekend showcasing both the contemporary and the earlier squares and contra dances. In her role as teacher she has traveled much of the world teaching international, or Scottish Country Dance; in her role as musician she has played from Deerfield to Scotland and New Brunswick and parts in between. In 2006 she was presented with The Scroll, an award by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society given to persons who had made contributions to Scottish Country Dancing. Marianne was unable to travel to Edinburgh to receive the award; she was playing for a Scottish Dance Ball in the US. The Boston Dance Community celebrated the award with a dance party and she received it there.

Nothing stops her, few things slow her down. The first Saturday of March is the Deerfield Dance which she organizes and often calls, or plays. This March she was planning to call to Old New England’s music. She had just had surgery on her leg to relieve what was believed to be a large hemaetoma. This subsequently was diagnosed as sarcoma. Marianne was not about to pass up an opportunity to work with Old New England in her Town Hall. She sat down for the evening, propped her leg on a chair, took an extra pain killer and called the dance.

More information about Marianne can be found at:

Jerry Holland, who has graced the Nelson Town Hall many times over the years, continues his struggle with cancer as well. Jerry is perhaps the pre-eminent Cape Breton fiddler, as well as the composer of a number of tunes “in the tradition” that have enjoyed world-wide acclaim. He played a wonderful concert for us in April (read Dave Eisenstadter’s article), and we very much hope that his health enables yet another concert. Go to Jerry’s Web site for updates, and also to buy into a fund-raising raffle for Jerry’s benefit.

Back in 1985 I met fiddler Kerry Elkin, who was already getting a name on the dance scene. I had the good fortune to work with him over the next decade in the band Fresh Fish. We were fortunate to be able to play throughout the United States at dances, festivals, and music camps. He was an extraordinary fiddler who was able to choose tunes that seemed customized for each dance. He also played with other musical configurations, including Wild Asparagus, and was widely regarded as one of the best contra dance fiddlers on the scene.

In January of 2007 Kerry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The disease has progressed rapidly, and Kerry is now no longer able to play music. Bob Childs (a violin maker from Cambridge who has made fiddles for many prominent contra dance musicians) is organizing two contra dance benefits for Kerry: September 13 in Greenfield, and September 19th in Cambridge. Musicians and callers from all over will be participating. Bob is also spearheading the re-issue of Kerry’s two recordings: Soire et Matin (with Peter Barnes and Danny Noveck), and Turning of the Tide, with Fresh Fish. Kerry had resisted reissuing these long out-of-print recordings (his high standards did not allow him to look favorably on these efforts, which he hoped to surpass), but he is now realizing that they are excellent recordings, and, sadly, the only mark of his musical legacy. More information will be available soon through this Web site.

We know there must be other musicians within our central New England focus who are in need of good thoughts, and possibly assistance of various kinds; please write to us if you have information that should be considered for publication here on this Web site.

On Wednesday, July 2, MFS presents a concert with the a ccapella group Colman’s Well. Read more about this in our calendar listing, and also look ahead to July 27th, when we present a concert of Scottish music with the incredible Troy MacGillvary.

And browse the calendar for other interesting events, including our regular dances in Peterborough and Nelson, and a sure-to-be interesting lecture in the Nelson Library Lecture Series from dance caller and film maker David Millstone, called “Is Nelson the Contra Dance Capital of the Universe?”

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