Andy's Notes - An Intermittent Article Series

Playing Contra Dances

by Andy May
Allan Block, ca. 1967.

There was a strong interest in traditional American country dance music in New England when I arrived in the 1970’s. There were wonderful old social clubs and community halls throughout the region where dances were held, friendly dancers, great callers,  and some fine old-time players like the Kaynor family, Peter Temple, and Allan Block – one of my all-time favorite fiddlers.

I was lucky enough to be asked to play in some of these groups for a number of years, and as a result, I learned a lot of traditional tunes from the rich variety of musical heritages in New England: French, Irish, English and Scottish. I played mostly lead mandolin in those settings – or back-up guitar if Allan Block was fiddling – and I got to play for some great callers, including Ted Sanella. It was a fun learning experience.

When I recorded my album, Dance of Life- a Mandolin Celebration, I included some of that repertoire and  many of those players – and so some of the “feel” of those New England dances – on the project.

Here’s a taste for you:

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