Band Lessons?

February 27th, 2024
contra, music
Music lessons for individuals are common and normal, but what about for bands? It sounds a bit unusual, but it's something I've gotten a lot out of:

  • In early 2013, when the Free Raisins had been playing for 2.5y and had played ~60 dances we had a session with Max Newman, then of Nor'easter, now of the Stringrays. He was going to be coaching another band and wanted to practice on friends first. We talked about what made good dance music, how to support contra in particular, and about being intentional about the story arc of each dance and of the evening as a whole.

  • That spring we had another coaching session, this time with Lisa Greenleaf. Now, Lisa is a caller, and not a musician, but she has a great sense of what she wants from the music. I remember her taking turns pointing at a random one of us and saying "do something interesting!" so that we wouldn't sound the same each time through.

  • A year later, in Spring 2014, Andrew VanNorstrand, then of Great Bear, now of the Faux Paws, produced our CD. While this was primarily about putting together a good album and not improving as a band, we learned a ton and did get a lot better.

  • In Fall 2019, when Kingfisher had been playing for ~1y and had played ~20 dances, we had a session with Andrew. Even though I'd worked with him a lot a few years earlier on the CD, that was with a different band. What Kingfisher needed was pretty different: my memory is we were moving through ideas too quickly, we weren't listening to each other enough, we were thinking of rhythm as just me and melody as just Cecilia, and we were a bit all over the place.

I'm really glad we did these sessions and, while playing for a lot of dances is the best way to get good at playing for dances, a bit of time working with someone who has a bunch of experience, good judgement, good communication skills, and an outside perspective, can combine well with this.

If you're looking for a coaching session, in addition to Max, Lisa, and Andrew, other people that come to mind are Audrey Jaber, Amy Englesberg, or Julie Vallimont. Note that I haven't talked with any of them about this post, and don't know anything about their current interest in coaching! I just know them and think this is something they're good at. You could also consider reaching out to most people who are playing a lot of big events.

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