Playing Northboro with Lily and Rick

April 27th, 2024
contra, kids, music
This afternoon Lily, Rick, and I ("Dandelion") played our first dance together, which was also Lily's first dance. She's sat in with Kingfisher for a set or two many times, but this was her first time being booked and playing (almost) the whole time.

Lily started playing fiddle in Fall 2022, and after about a year she had enough tunes up to dance speed that I was thinking she'd be ready to play a low-stakes dance together soon. Not right away, but given how far out dances booked it seemed about time to start writing to some folks: by the time we were actually playing the dance she'd have even more tunes and be more solid on her existing ones. She was very excited about this idea; very motivated by performing.

I wrote to a few dances, and while several (very reasonably!) said to send another sample when we had a bit more experience, the Northboro dance said yes for 2024-04-27. This gave a good amount of time to work on things.

At the time we were booked Lily had some tunes up to speed that would be a good fit for dancing (Sandy Boys, Coleman's March, ...) but had also recently been pretty excited about some notey tunes that she was still quite a while from getting up to speed (Dancing Bear, Bus Stop, ...) and so wasn't on track to end up with a set list that was going to work. We looked over my tune list and picked a few tunes to learn that weren't too hard (The Wren, Trip to Moscow, ...). These went pretty quickly: they're tunes she'd heard all her life, so it was mostly a matter of getting them into her fingers.

By the time of the gig the list we had was:

  • Mairi's Wedding
  • Coleman's March
  • The Wren
  • Berentanz
  • Trip to Moscow
  • Road to Boston
  • Angeline the Baker
  • Cripple Creek
  • Sandy Boys
  • Liza Jane
  • Lisnagun
  • Haaplevese Waltz
  • Willow Tree Waltz
  • Waterfall Waltz

If you want to play multiple tunes in a set this isn't going to work, and it's pretty skewed towards marches, but it was enough! We ended up playing (from memory):

  • Road to Boston
  • The Wren
  • Cripple Creek
  • Coleman's March
  • Berentanz
  • Sandy Boys
  • Willow Tree Waltz
  • [break]
  • Gaspe / Scully's [no Lily]
  • Trip to Moscow
  • Road to Lisdoonvarna / Maison de Glace [no Lily]
  • Angeline the Baker / Liza Jane
  • Haaplevese Waltz

Lots of one-tune sets! But I find these pretty fun, getting to think of lots of different ways to accompany them to add variety and reinterpret the tune.

This was a lot longer than she'd ever played in one sitting, and I was a bit worried she'd overplay and hurt herself. We talked about noticing how you're feeling and resting; since Rick and I can hold things down fine on our own she sat out some of the times through to rest (often ~2/3 of the way through the dance, coming back in for the last two times through). Two of Lily's friends came to support her, and she also skipped two of the second-half dances (with my encouragement) to dance with them:

I took a short video at one point when I had my left hand free:

Several people have suggested open bands, like Roaring Jelly or BIDA's, but I think these wouldn't actually work very well. Lily's learning fiddle by ear, and both doesn't have that many tunes and doesn't have most of the tunes on these groups' tune lists. When I play with her we can do specifically the tunes she's strongest on, which is going to go better and be more fun. This would go even less well if we were trying to get into ECD: I really appreciate that contra is a scene where we can show up with eleven sets prepared and know we can collaborate with the caller to put on a good dance!

Overall, it was a lot of fun, and she's already asking when we can play another dance. I hope it continues to be a strong motivation for getting better at fiddle!

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