Any musical tradition has a core repertoire which experienced players are expected to know. This recording presents a selection of tunes often heard at New England contra and barn dances, the common language of dance musicians throughout this region and beyond. As teachers and veteran players, we are often asked by neophytes what are the tunes that are important to learn and add to their repertoires. We hope we have provided, in part, an answer.
During the first August session of the 2007 Maine Fiddle Camp, held each summer in Montville, Maine, George, Fred and Art presented a workshop on “essential dance tune repertoire”. We were heartened by the very positive reception to our efforts and received a number of requests to record a collection of standard tunes. Thus was born The Montville Project. Piano is the traditional driving rhythmic force used at New England dances, and we were delighted when Surya agreed to join us.
There is no right or wrong way to play these tunes as long as you can dance to the music. At Fiddle Camp we were fascinated to see and hear talented young musicians playing these traditional tunes to reggae and groove beats. Our settings are not strictly traditional either, but they lean in that direction.
Working on the project we quickly developed a list of over two hundred core tunes we considered common in the repertoire, not counting the many contemporary tunes that are currently popular on the dance scene. The only recently composed tune we selected for this CD was Bob McQuillen’s beautiful waltz, “Amelia”, an instant classic so widely known and played that we felt it needed to be included.
Our goal in making this album was to present a selection of dance tunes with a variety of rhythms and meters that represent rock-solid basic repertoire of the New England dance tradition. There are dozens and dozens more tunes that arguably could or should have been included, but these were the ones that rose to the top of our barrel. They have stood the test of time; their first publication dates average almost 150 years old. Many have been echoing in our dance halls for a century or more and continue to remain popular among contradance musicians. A newcomer to this music - aspiring to become conversant in a core of tunes that others know and play - would be well served by learning some or all of them.
These melodies settled into New England from a variety of places, most notably French Canada and the Canadian Maritimes, Ireland, Scotland and England as well as other regions of the United States. While some are now associated almost exclusively with the New England dance tradition, others remain very popular where they originated or, like Soldier’s Joy or Miss McLeod’s, enjoy widespread popularity amongst fiddlers from many traditions. Certain musicians and dance leaders from the contradance revival of the 1960s and 1970s deserve much credit for maintaining and popularizing these tunes; among them are Ralph Page, Dudley Laufman, Bob McQuillen, Rodney & Randy Miller, and Omer Marcoux.
Written music for almost all our selections can be readily found in a variety of tune books, and now also appears on-line. Two collections we would recommend as printed references for these tunes are New England Fiddler’s Repertoire (Fiddlecase Books) and The Fiddler’s Fakebook (Oak Productions). Notes on a page, however, are only a faint shadow of what these tunes become in the hands of dance musicians. We invite you to listen, learn some of these great standards, and then join the fun.
ART BRYAN(tenor banjo, melody banjo, 5-string banjo, mandolin and guitar)
Art has been playing contra dance, Celtic and old time string band music since 1964 and has performed and recorded with many groups including the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra, Strathspey, String Theory and the Bound to Have a Little Fun Stringband. In January of 2007 Art lost the index and middle fingers of his left hand in a workshop accident and on this CD plays with only the ring finger and pinky on his left hand. Never shrinking from a challenge he is currently learning to play fiddle, guitar, mandolin and tenor banjo left handed. A retired Library Director, he and his wife Laurie are maple sugar farmers in Hancock, NH.
George studied classical violin as a youngster but started fiddling in the late 1970s, learning tunes from lobsterman & dance fiddler Albert Collins of South Blue Hill, Maine. In 1981 he became a founding member of Oakum Bay String Band which anchors the first-Saturday dance in Blue Hill (est. 1975), the longest-running contradance in Maine. George has a strong interest in Irish traditional music, plays with the Maine trio Feckless, and is host and programmer of "New Potatoes", a Celtic music show heard weekly on WERU-FM (www.weru.org). A happily retired pharmacist, he and wife Pat live in Brooklin, ME.
SURYA MITCHELL(piano, shakers)
Descended from a New England, silent-movie pianist grandmother, Surya started playing piano on the old upright stashed in the basement with less than the 88 keys in good working order. She developed her contradance chops playing for dances with the Oakum Bay String Band when she lived in Blue Hill, Maine. She is now one-fourth of the Maine women’s folk quartet Ladies of the Lake (www.ladiesofthelake.com). Surya holds a degree in music education and teaches piano and preschool music classes in Bangor where she lives with her family.
FRED WHITE(guitar, percussion)
Fred's musical debut occurred on the floor of his parents' kitchen, surrounded by pots and pans, long before he ever heard of Ginger Baker or Gene Krupa. For the most recent 30 years he has been performing and recording oldtime, string band, hillbilly, rockabilly, blues, bluegrass, jazz, swing, minstrels, ragtime and Americana music. His trio, Waxlips, made award winning waves in NC in the mid-80's and he was a founding member the popular PA-based contradance band, Dr. Twamley's Audio Snakes, and the Celtic band Culture Clash. He presently works with Maine conflagrations Frigate, Catharsis, Hay 44, Bondeaux Redux and Improvox. Fred is a clinical psychologist who lives with his family in Augusta, Maine.