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Repertoire Size

September 18th, 2013
contra, music, calling

When I go to call I bring 29 contra dances. I usually call around 12 slots at a night, and 15 of these 29 are almost all I ever call. This means that at a given night I'm going to be calling mostly the same dances I would call any other night. This works because I rarely call a venue I've called within the last six months, and people have a short memory for dances.

The advantage of keeping my primary repertoire compact is that I really know these dances. I know what works in teaching them and what doesn't. I know the parts that flow well and don't need much calling and the parts that I'll need to stay in just a bit longer for. I know what range of music they work with. I know where I need to watch closely, prepared to jump in and disambiguate a circle vs long-lines. I need the cards but can call nearly from memory.

This also goes for playing with the Free Raisins. This summer on tour we played a different city each evening, so a repertoire of ten favorites and ten alternates worked well. This is a luxury that we're going to have to give up: we're starting to get booked for events where we'll need to play closer to 35 sets over a weekend.

This clearly requires working up new sets, and we've been doing that. (At the Scout House this Thursday we'll be premiering two of them.) But a set on its own isn't enough, it needs to age a little. We need to play it many times, get into it, really figure out what it can do. Some ideas come at practice, but playing live is when we do our best work.

This is the real difficulty in expanding our repertoire: we can't just play our best sets. To have three dozen sets that we're proud of we need to give them all time to develop at dances. This means intentionally rotating through and not always playing the set that's the best fit for the moment and dance. In the long run this means we'll have more good options when the caller shows us a dance card, but for now it's difficult.

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