Playing for Square & Contra Dances

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1 Playing for Square & Contra Dances Fiddlin Bill Hensley, 1937, by B. Shahn Walker Creek 2017 Erik Hoffman

2 Table of Contents Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 3 Page 4 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36 Page 37 A Bit of History The differences Other Squares Musical Differences Musical Styles D Tunes Arkansas Traveler Big Liza Jane Sally Ann from the Crook Brothers Flopping Chicken Hog Keepers Julie Ann Johnson Mississippi Sawyers Needlecase G Tunes Leather Britches Nail That Catfish to a Tree Redwing Seneca Square Dance Shoes & Stockings Shove That Pig s Foot a Little Further in the Fire A Tunes George Booker Hunt the Buffalo Little Dutch Girl Waterbound Liza Jane A Modal Tunes Benton s Dream (Mixolydian) Cold Frosty Morning (Dorian) Half Past Four (Mixolydian) June Apple (Mixolydian) Mr. Banjo (Mixolydian) Tater Patch (Mixolydian) C Tunes Billy in the Lowground Katydid

3 Playing for Dances A Bit of History I learned about dances by falling in love with the dance, the music, and the calling of Traditional American dance. In 1980, when I discovered Contra Dancing, an evening of contras included: Longways sets (contras) Southern Squares (called to the beat) New England Squares (called to the phrase) Mixers (usually called to the phrase) At least two waltzes An occasional schottishe Usually one hambo (a Swedish couple dance) An occasional Sicilian Circle And other interesting and fun dances. During that time, the contra dance scene blossomed. As it did, squares lost favor, dancers didn t want to do those mixers, and other forms fell out of fashion. In other parts of the world, the traditional square dance found favor, and contras fell out of fashion. People who loved the traditional square dance, with its southern music organized festivals and taught callers. Many names come to mind: Larry Edelman, Kathy Anderson, Sylvia Miskoe all come to mind. And there are many more. In my limited knowledge, besides those listed above, there are two people who I know have worked hard to keep the tradition alive and growing: Phil Jameson and the late Bubba Bill Martin. These lovers of the tradition spread the joy of the dance, encouraged callers and musicians, and organized many events to pass the tradition along. These days there is a divide between the contra and square dance traditions. At least in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are few who go to both the local contra dances and the local traditional square dances. And there seem to be quite a few people who go to one and avoid the other. I

4 Page 2 Playing for Dances Erik Hoffman suppose I sort of understand this, as we live in a fast-paced world with precious little free time for feeding our fancies. The Dance Differences Traditional Squares and Contras share a number features. They both have callers, are taught walked through prior to the dance, share many figures, and are almost always done to live music. But there are also significant differences. Squares are done in, well, squares of eight people, four couples or, as in what s called Kentucky Running Sets, squares of two couples four people. Contras are done in a line of couples, originally (and still) called, A Longways Set for as Many as Will. Contras have a repeating set of figures. Squares are more flexible. Traditional squares are often phrased to the beat of the music. Yes, we callers like 8-beat phrases, but we don t really care where a figure falls in the phrase. We callers will often watch the dancers. One square might finish a figure faster than another, so we ll wait until everyone is ready. Thus timing is flexible and fluid. A typical Square dance includes a break figure, and a main figure. When these occur in the dance is up to the caller. Also, a caller can vary the figures thus dancers must keep their attention on the caller. We ll come back to this later. Contra dances and New England type squares almost always consist of figures set to work within the phrase of a straight fiddle tune. A straight fiddle tune has two 8-bar (16-beat) main phrases. The first is generally called the A part. The second, the B part. These tunes are played AABB. Each of these parts have palpable phrases of 4 bars, and these shorter phrases are broken into 2-bar bits. Contra dances and New England squares take advantage of these phrases, and are composed to fit tunes of this 32-bar AABB type. One time through the tune is one time through the dance.

5 Erik Hoffman Playing for Dances Page 3 Other Squares Before leaving this subject, I should mention that there are many square dance styles. New England, French-Canadian, and what s dubbed Modern Western Square Dance. The New England tradition is closely tied to the contra tradition, as mentioned above. One time through a 32-bar tune is one time though the dance. However, when called, it s traditional to do a 32-bar opening figure, twice through a 32-bar main figure, a 32-bar break figure, two more times through the 32-bar main figure, and end with a 32-bar ending figure. The opening, break, and ending figures might all be the same thing, or they might all be different. The tempo for these squares is more akin to contra dance tempo: 120. And callers welcome jigs as well as reels for these dances. Many of us are vaguely familiar with the Modern Western Square Dancers. We ve seen folk, usually older, going to the square dance in their crinoline skirts and gabardine shirts. Prior to going to these square dance events, these dancers take classes, so they know all the figures. At the event, dancers are expected to know what level of figures they ve mastered, and stick to dances at their level or below. No walk-throughs, just form a square and you re off! To up their level, dancers keep taking classes. Some of the levels are: basic, mainstream, plus, and challenge. These callers learn strict definitions of calls through an organization called Callerlab. And, they predominantly use prerecorded music. We re only scratching the surface here, but it s a start. Musical Differences Finally, let s get to playing for dances. Here I ll write about playing for contras, for traditional squares, and for other dances the Virginia Reel, and what we call one-night stand dances (ONSD). These are dances for weddings and parties where no one knows how to dance, but want to have a good time. Tempo: Contras: 112 to 120 BPM. 116 BPM is a good guide.

6 Page 4 Playing for Dances Erik Hoffman Squares:120 to 140 BPM. Fast! ONSD: varies, but 116 to 120. These tempos will work for ONS squares, but sometimes we like fast, too. The caller should set the tempo. Music: Contras: can be orchestrated: the band provides variety Squares: better un-orchestrated: the caller provides variety ONSD: The caller provides the variety, but, often, here, the band can too. Musical Styles What makes that good-old Southern music so good for calling squares? It s driving, it s got an insistent beat, it s mezmerizing. As the baseball hat says, Old-Time Music, Better Than it Sounds. Traditional square dance bands favor the fiddle, banjo, guitar combination. A bass is a welcome addition, as well as the mandolin. It s not uncommon for traditional Old-Time bands to sit in a formation as close to a circle as possible. Their idea is to get into the groove and stay there. It s much like a meditation, and it is exhilarating! That tight-knit music, watching dancers out of the corner of your eye, and letting the tune take you away. Chorally, the boom-chuck of open chords, with simple bass runs rule here. Fancy swing chords can work, but the tradition is to get into the groove with those big, ringing open chords. Modern contra bands feature a wide variety of instruments, thought they are usually fiddle/piano based or fiddle/guitar based. But you ll see bombardes, saxophones, gadulkas, bodhrans, dumbeks, and more. The world s most well-known contra band, Wild Asparagus, started as a trio: George Marshall called and played bodhran and concertina, Ann Percival played on piano, and David Cantieni played oboe and flute. No fiddle. Yes, as they ve evolved, they ve worked and now work with numerous fiddlers, now calling the fabulous Becky Tracy their fiddle, as well as bass players, percussionists, and more. But in their early years they traveled across the country as a trio, and worked hard to make their well-deserved name. Chording for contras permits a wide variety of choices. One can start with boom-chuck, go to other rhythms, move from open chords to swing

7 Erik Hoffman Playing for Dances Page 5 chords to DADGAD with fancy bass runs. Mainly, Don t Lose the Tempo! And Don t lose the phrase! Also, try to fit the music to the dance. For the One Night Stand Dance, it s often whatever you get. A bluegrass band that only knows how to take solos, not really playing together as a dance band, a cousin s band that sort of knows what to do, or a band that the caller has worked with and knows all the ins and outs of that callers dances. Some of us square dance callers like doing singing squares. These are square dance figures set to a song. It s an old tradition: make up a dance that fits the music of a song, and sing the calls. Old tunes, like Golden Slippers, or relatively newer tunes like Just Because, and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine have been used. The Modern Western Square Dance movement has put calls to everything from Merle Travis to Madonna songs Thus, a caller might ask the band to switch into Be my backup band. This makes the caller the main melody instrument. Fiddles and mandolins get to do chords and fills. It s yet another art that s worth learning.

8 Page 6 Playing for Dances Erik Hoffman D Tunes First, I write these tunes in 2/4. I have my reasons. Ask me if you want to know. What you should know is many people write these tunes in cut-time, or 2/2, or (mistakenly) 4/4. What you should know is: the 16 th notes here are usually what others write as 8 th notes. Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Arkansas Traveler Big Liza Jane Sally Ann from the Crook Brothers Flopping Chicken Hog Keepers Julie Ann Johnson Mississippi Sawyers Needlecase

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17 Erik Hoffman Playing for Dances Page 15 G Tunes Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Leather Britches Nail That Catfish to a Tree Redwing Seneca Square Dance Shoes & Stockings Shove That Pig s Foot a Little Further in the Fire

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24 Page 22 Playing for Dances Erik Hoffman A Tunes Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 George Booker Hunt the Buffalo Little Dutch Girl Waterbound Liza Jane

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30 Page 28 Playing for Dances Erik Hoffman A Modal Tunes Modal in the folk world means either: Mixolydian Mode the root chord is major but includes that flattened 7 th Dorian Mode the root chord is minor, which naturally has a flattened 7 th, but has a major 6 th Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Benton s Dream (Mixolydian) Cold Frosty Morning (Dorian) Half Past Four (Mixolydian) June Apple (Mixolydian) Mr. Banjo (Mixolydian) Tater Patch (Mixolydian)

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