Folknotes: May

Old New England: Deanna Stiles, Bob McQuillen, Jane Orzechowski
Old New England: Deanna Stiles, Bob McQuillen, Jane Orzechowski


ONE IV is the newly released recording from Old New England, which is Jane Orzechowski on fiddle, Deanna Stiles on flute, piccolo and fiddle, and Bob McQuillen on piano and accordion.  As one might expect, the arrangements are fairly  straightforward, and the orchestration does not employ the rhythmical gymnastics and melodic pyrotechnics that are increasingly common with recordings of dance music. In the hands of less capable musicians that might make for tedious listening, but not only is this recording a total pleasure to listen to – I personally think it represents the best album yet from this trio.

Some of the appeal is achieved through understatement. An example of that appears in the first set. It starts with “Jack Beard’s Jig”, moves on to “Dr. Becky’s”, and then after a switch to “Martha’s Hornpipe”, I gradually realized the time signature had changed from 6/8 to 4/4. This is a common trick among contra dance musicians, but it is usually rendered with a bit of a flourish. Here it was a like a subtle but refreshing change of scenery on a drive down a winding country road.

Possibly the most “daring” device on the album is a series of key changes. It’s unusual to start a set in the key of A, as it is such a bright key and usually saved for the last piece of a set. But “Castle Hornpipe” starts in A, then you can’t help but smile when there is a half-step modulation to the key of Bb for “Mr. R. Catto”.  It ends up in C with “Chandler’s Hornpipe”.

McQuillen breaks out the accordion on “Fitzwilliam Polka”, and it’s nice to hear that he can still squeeze quite a bit of joy out of that instrument.  Given their long history together, it’s not surprising that Jane and Deanna’s playing is as tight as it is – there are moments of absolute simultaneity. Other times though you could swear they were dancing around each other as they were playing – such lovely harmonies and counter melodies come forth.  Throughout the album their musical virtuosity is manifest: there are times when I felt breathless just listening to the speed and vigor of Deanna’s flute playing.  In “John Brennan’s”  Jane is executing cuts (a Scottish embellishment involving playing a note three times in succession with machine-gun rapidity) that are at once powerful and light, adding some serious electricity.

Bob McQuillen’s waltz “Amelia”, has long been regarded not only as his most beautiful composition, but also among the most beautiful tunes in the traditional music genre. (Amelia, BTW, is Deanna’s daughter.) Enter a new contestant, a tune named (ironically) after Amelia’s daughter, “Arianna”.   This is an air, so it won’t be heard much at dances, but I predict that this will get picked up by musicians all over the world. It’s a born classic!

Indeed, about half of the tunes on ONE IV are McQuillen originals, mostly from his later books, including one that is pending publication in the forthcoming “Bookie 14.”

Though contra dance music is global, and its original influences are from older musical traditions, there is a flavor about the tunes that is often evocative of New England. Old New England is an aptly named band – as you listen to this music you can just feel the town halls, the village squares, the snow-bound winters and gentle summers that give character to this part of the world. This is Old New England, and it doesn’t get any better than this. You can order ONE IV directly from Old New England’s website.

Notes on upcoming events: The Folkway Remembered series (which is co sponsored by the Monadnock Folklore Society) continues with a concert by Tony Bird, a favorite performer from the Folkway era. Bird has been called “The Father of African Folk-Rock.” Yet, he is even more. He’s an inventive, passionate, theatrical performer who delivers the moving, searching anthems of a mature poet.  Tony plays at the Peterborough Historical Society on Saturday, May 15th. Visit the PHS web site for more details of this concert and the entire Folkway Remembered project.

jacuelineschwabNext day (May 16) in Nelson at 2:00 there is the final dance of the current series of English Country Dances. These dances have been very successful in  satisfying the interest of folks who have done English dancing before and wanted something closer to home, and also in introducing this style of dancing to people who had not experienced it before. The dance leader is Dan Popowich, with music by Mary Lea and Jacqueline Schwab. Then at 7:00 pm Jacqueline returns to the Nelson Town Hall for a concert. Though Jacqueline could be considered a “folk pianist”, the term does not adequately describe either the range of her repertoire or the brilliance of her playing.  We refer you to one of the many quotes about her playing (from the Lexington Minuteman) “… full of colors and introspection which drew the listener into a musical reverie from which it was hard to return …” And we follow with a simple recommendation – this is a concert that will be well worth attending. Click here for more information and tickets. Note also that tickets to both the English Dance and Jackie’s concert can be had for a very special “advance-only” price of $18, but tickets must be purchased online.