Olivia's Brainstorm

Submitted by Olivia M. Smith on Thursday, 12/22/2022, at 3:23 PM

1. Theodore's Booze Blues & BBQ is a restaurant and Blues bar located in Springfield. On Fridays and Saturdays they feature regional artists and have open mic nights where keyboard, drums, mics and amplifiers are provided for whoever wants to perform. 

2. Matt Lorenz is a one man band called The Suitcase Junket. He uses "junk" that he finds to construct most of his instruments. While he is incredibly interesting just as a musician, he also offers lessons in overtone/throat singing, beginner guitar, violin, and piano lessons by focusing on learning basic technical skills through ear-training and improvisation. Additionally he leads workshops in Junk Instrument construction and songwriting.   

3.  Whirl is a band that formed out of Amherst High School and continues to perform in local venues. They recorded and self-distributed their first CD, "Whirlwind", and describe themselves as a 'three piece, post punk inspired garage rock band'. 

4. Mystery Train Records is an independently owned record store in Amherst. Additionally, it is the home of Mystra Records which has released several albums. 

5. St. James Episcopal Church is lead by the Reverend Dr. John Cerrato and is located in Greenfield. The church holds regular folk and acoustic coffeehouses with local artists. This season, which is their 11th, has already had three dates, and is scheduled to have four more. 

6. Flywheel Arts is a 'non-profit, volunteer-run community arts space' in Easthampton that has regular live music along with other types of art exhibits and screenings. It is run by the Flywheel collective which is made up of the local artists, musicians, and community members that volunteer and use the space to practice or perform.

7.  The Bunker is interesting because while it not very noisy, there is constantly noise. The industrial atmosphere lends to a persistent white noise that I think is interesting.

8.  WRNX 100.9: The Valley's Quality Rock is a local station located in Springfield which delivers news about the valley and follows UMass's athletics. 

9. WAMH 89.3 is Amherst College's radio station. I'm interested in how students are able to make a community that is based solely on the enjoyment and distribution of music that they like. 


Submitted by (inactive) on Tuesday, 4/12/2011, at 12:05 PM

Storyboard: “Peter and Then Some: They Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra”

Current runtime: approximately 20 minutes

Helvetica font for text, over black screens. Minimal editing during scenes, no fancy transitions


-First scene: Bike up to building (approximately 1 minute)

15 seconds no music, then add audio of Felinni song from rehearsal

-allusion to the trip that the members of the orchestra make to come to rehearsal


-Shot of “Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra” poster, hold for approximately 5 seconds


-Show title: “Peter and Then Some: The Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra” Black screen, white text (5 seconds)



-Shot walking down hallway of rehearsal building, audio of rehearsal in background (approximately 45 seconds)



-Text screen : “This is the Happy Valley Orchestra. They rehearse in Northampton, Massachusetts. The group is led by Peter Blanchette. They are rehearsing for their concert in May.” Black screen, white text



-Cut to people walking in, setting up for rehearsal, audio from this, talking, etc. (2 minutes)



-Cut to Peter interview, discussing the origin of the orchestra, why it is the way it is, his goals with it (approximately 2-3 minutes)

-allusion to community based nature of group, as discernibly shown with group members arriving in prior scene

-first he talks about why Northampton is musically rich

-leads into ideas about community

-anecdote about his kid, end of “this would be a great town to have a guitar orchestra.”



-Cut to earlier rehearsal of Kashmir, different angles, highlighting different people, (approximately 2


Text: 3/9/11


-Close shot of Peter during Kashmir rehearsal (approximately 1 minute)



-Lady gaga footage, different angles, including tall shot of Peter in door during their best take (3 minutes)

Text: 4/6/11


-Back to Peter interview, (approximately 2 minutes)

-”No man, a big group of guitars...” About how he leads the group

-Speaks more about nature of group, amateur musicians coming together, differences in people in the group, the dedication to the group


-Text screen: “Peter performs a concert of Bach and other material solo and in a trio. Many members of Happy Valley come to watch him.”


-Bach footage (3 minutes)

-Bits of solo, and bits from trio


-More rehearsal (Approximately 3 minutes, yet to be filmed)


-Ending TBD (perhaps shot of the outside of Northampton Center for the Arts Building in which they will play their concert, or a conclusive line from Peter interview)


Submitted by Ian A. Stahl on Wednesday, 4/6/2011, at 8:30 PM

Finnegan/Flywheel response

Submitted by Olivia M. Smith on Tuesday, 4/5/2011, at 12:37 PM

Flywheel is undoubtedly a community that is focused on music. Concerts and shows make up a large part of the calendar of events, though exhibitions and screenings do add variety. Finnegan places a large amount of focus on the musicians that make up various scenes with good reason. As Ian points out, it is the music that brings people together, allows them to share a common interest, and create a musical community. However, I think she does the community as a whole a disservice by focusing so closely on the topic of musicians. Whether a musician is a professional or an amateur is an interesting question, but ultimately inconsequential within the community that is enjoying their music.

The Flywheel community is diverse in age, occupations, and talent. The volunteers who man the door and run the coffee bar become just as essential as the bands that are drawing the audience. Everyone who enters the doors of the Flywheel go towards defining what Flywheel is. I feel that Finnegan does not pay enough attention to communities as a whole. Flywheel can definitely be broken down into a list of names of local bands that frequent the space and statistics of the frequency and kinds of different performances, but to do that would be to do a great disservice to both the space and the community. D.I.Y. culture plays a colossal role in the formation of the community. The people who have invested interest in Flywheel are people who are curious to see what they can create on their own and want to find a way to present it to an audience. The audiences that come are there in order to open themselves to something new and to support those that Finnegan would consider “amateurs”. Volunteers give their time and energy because they support something more than just the music that is played at Flywheel. They come because they see the need for a place where people have the opportunity to use their space to create local art and culture in the form of music and visual arts.

This mindset extends into other aspects of Flywheel culture and the community as a whole. The bar serves only snacks, soda, and coffee. There are no age restrictions, which allows teenagers that would be banned from bars and clubs that have 18+ rules, and lends itself to a straight edge air. People may be seen standing outside smoking cigarettes or leaving for a moment to grab a beer from a nearby store, but this is not a main aspect of the space. In fact, the general absence of alcohol and other substances are a much larger part of Flywheel culture. A formidable and organized collection of zines sits in a bookcase in the back, and this points as much to the community as the type of music that is played. The space is constantly reminding visitors that their opinion, artistic taste, values are important and, more importantly, they have every right and every tool they need to display their values to the world.  

finnegan blog

Submitted by (inactive) on Tuesday, 4/5/2011, at 11:07 AM

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A key thematic point for the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra is the somewhat belabored Finnegan concept of the amateur vs. professional musician, and the idea of what it means to be a “musician.” Like any other social, private or public, gathering point, the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra brings together people to do a thing. These people are highly dedicated to what they come to do, and reserve a very particular place within the rest of their lives for it. The story is familiar. Perhaps the attractiveness and particular interest of the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra is precisely the knotty nature of the amateur vs. professional relationship that Finnegan outlines so well.

In the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, Peter Blanchatte as musical director has very intentionally brought together a diverse group of music players, and has done so within a very intentionally geographical location. This intentionality is important. Peter knew what he wanted to tap into and it has played out exactly this way. Finnegan discusses music happenings in Milton Keynes as a very large picture, i.e. here is this person acting like a professional musician and getting paid and taking music as their job, and here is this other person who occasionally pays for money but really plays mostly for the love of the music, etc. These stories likely ntersect, but often exist outside of one another. In the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, we see all of these stories coming together. Not only coming together, but coming together in a undersized, dinky room in a building somewhat removed from the center of Northampton. It's the opposite of showy, and the trek the members of the orchestra take, to come to practice, lugging their equipment, seems to illustrate the collective dedication. The members of the group, again, vary in musicianship and who they are. There are students, older folks, men and women (though far more men), a full time photographer, someone who identifies as a professional musician, etc. What is important though is that this is not a something these people are getting paid to do. So when they come to practice every Wednesday and Sunday evening, they come together adopting what is undoubtedly a more “amateur musician” aesthetic. This is not the majority of what their lives are, though it is incredibly important, if not vital for many or all. It is in some ways, professional, amateur, and the many grey areas in between, meeting to adopt a new musical personality that represents another grey area.

The exception is Peter. Peter is and speaks of himself as a professional musician. Happy Valley, in large part, is his life, in addition to other musical endeavors in which he survives on and lives for. When he comes to Happy Valley practice though, he is the groups leader, but he does it because he loves it. It's part of his life as a professional musician, but part of it in a way different from what Finnegan outlines as a professional musician.

My Response

Submitted by Devon M. Geary on Sunday, 4/3/2011, at 2:13 PM

Although contradance is an expensive activity for the avid dancers, many of whom dance three or more times a week, they continue to dance. And they love it. For some perspective, here are the figures: Non-students typically pay between ten and fifteen dollars at every dance, while students can usually snag one-to-three-dollar deductions at highly populated dances. Driving to Greenfield, Massachusetts from Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, or farther is not uncommon; many dancers come to the Pioneer Valley for a weekend just to attend dances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. To people outside the community, the cost of entrance fees, gas, and mileage seem astronomical–like frivolous luxuries that aren’t necessary, especially in our less-than-wonderful economic climate. But to the dancers, contra fees are normal monthly expenses, like rent, electricity, and groceries, for which they must budget. This begs the question: Why? Although fifteen people would likely answer the question fifteen different ways, the answer boils down to two things. The avid dancers attend as many dances as they can because they love the music and the dancing, and because they love the friendly and welcoming community of people who treat them like family.

The contradance community is composed mostly of extremely liberal people who do not discriminate or ask questions. The atmosphere is kind, non-judgmental, and welcoming. The regular dancers (those who attend most every dance) behave like a large extended family, and they treat every new person who shows up like a long-lost relative. This intimidates some people, many of whom never return for another dance, but others say they felt they had finally come home when they entered the contra scene, either as musicians or as dancers. 

It is important to note that contradances are about the community of people and the social aspects of dancing, not the music. The musicians readily admit this, and they know that they are not the stars of the show. The dances and the dancers are. In this particular musical scene, dance and music are interrelated, and every person who attends a contradance in the Pioneer Valley is part of the music-making process. Dancers in Greenfield, for example, frequently clap eighth notes between beats three and four or seven and eight so they feel more involved with the music-making processes, and they call out high-pitched “yee-haw” types of sounds when they enjoy the music.

According to Ralph Sweet, a celebrity contra caller, this behavior is not typical outside the Pioneer Valley. Inside the Valley, the dancers have some sense of control over the dances. They improvise at will by adding turns, twirls, claps, and swing-inspired movements. They place more importance on having fun than on executing the steps perfectly. At contradances outside the Valley, the caller’s word is gospel, and nobody is allowed to add individual flair to the movements. Male dancers in Glen Echo, Maryland, for example, tend not to wear skirts or to improvise during the dances, two things that are very common in the Valley. In Glen Echo, there are no dips or extra twirls, and nobody claps or tap dances extra percussion. Though I can speak only of dances in the Valley and in Glen Echo, I would not hesitate to say that dances and dancers outside the Valley are less liberal and less tolerant than dancers in the Valley. This is likely because the Valley is populated by liberal college students who enjoy having fun.

Last night, one dancer told me that when I “walked into the contradance world, [I] walked into a world filled with polyamory and other questionable sexual preferences and behaviors” in which “some of the men wear skirts so they can be male and female at the same time. It’s a way of exploring both sides of themselves and figuring out who they are. We’re a liberal group of people, so this is the perfect place to do it.” If this is true, it means that people feel comfortable experimenting at contradances in the Valley because the masses of people are liberal and tolerant. Again, this begs the question: Why? Why has a group of such liberal people congregated in the contradance world? 

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Some scholars argue that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan’s no-tolerance policy for liberalism left the liberals with nowhere to go in the 1970s and 1980s, which is when the second contradance movement began. Will Loving, organizer of the Downtown Amherst Contradance, argues that contradancing became popular again partly because the dances were fun, but mostly because “people like to be touched.” Others argue that Dudley Laufman’s enthusiasm for contra dance and music injected a youthful exuberance into the then-sleepy contra community. I’m inclined to agree with the first explanation. The world changed under Thatcher and Reagan, and people who didn’t agree with the conservative policies had to go somewhere to escape. In New England, they went to the Granges. 

At the end of the night, it’s the community of people–not the history of contradance, the music, nor the individual dances– that matters. 

Finnegan blog post

Submitted by Ian A. Stahl on Friday, 4/1/2011, at 11:42 AM

            Yesterday’s discussion of Finnegan’s work still has me riled up so allow me to beat a dead horse and continue from where we left off yesterday. 

            I understand that in many ways, these communities that we are studying are not specific to music.  Essentially everything can be boiled down to societal interactions and nothing really is unique.  Even the differences between communities begin to look the same.  Just like every other over-arching category we described, music has its subdivisions and the subdivisions have more subdivisions, etc.   Due to human nature, inevitably our interactions will be similar, no matter they be through sports, music, or group therapy.  Everyone is getting together to celebrate a common hobby/interest.  The rules of society provide the frame work for our interactions and all the little details just fall into place.  In theory, it seems fine to have zoomed out this far so that at this cosmic level everything and everyone seem the same.  However, I’m asking everyone to suspend their disbelief for a moment and follow my train of thought for 350 more words.

            Every community we are studying is specific to music.   If you take away the music, that community no longer exists.  Zoom in, back down to the level where human beings are people instead of statistics.  Josh, I know that you hate it when people say “I love so and so (insert Contra dance/Flywheel/Happy Valley), it’s my life, it’s the best thing ever!  LOLZ!” but why would they say that if they didn’t mean it?  Something specific is happening in these communities that make individuals pick them over another.  So while we can easily sit back in our theorizing chairs and say “Well, they could have just as easily picked this instead of that,” they didn’t, and I want to know why.

            So far Devon and I have officially interviewed two people and have talked to countless other contra dancers.  I’m beginning to notice a common thread in many of their stories.  Ralph Sturgeon and many others started dancing not contra but square dancing and then later defected (or converted as some like to say) to contra dancing.  I have experience with both these styles and could tell you that only at a very detailed, specific level do these styles differ.  Both are still folk dancing, both cater to all ages, they typically attract friendly crowds, the music is very similar with only a few variations in fiddle style and the amount of instruments, even the dance steps are practically the same.  If these styles are so similar, then it has to be something other than the dancing and music that draws people away from square dancing to contra.  I’d like to believe that it’s the community that attracts these people.  You’ll have to take my word for it; this is a very unique community.  The individuals and personalities that attend these dances are so quirky that you never really know what your dance partner will be like until you give ‘em a whirl (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist).  I’m sure that there are plenty of quirky people in other communities, but it’s this particular one that people are attracted to.  It’s the reason why people go to the Greenfield Grange all the way from New Hampshire and why it’s one of the most desired gigs for contra musicians.  It’s the reason why they contra dance instead of square dance.  It’s the reason why they’re there every Saturday night instead of somewhere else.

Contra music history from ye olden tymes to ye new ones

Submitted by Ian A. Stahl on Friday, 3/25/2011, at 12:14 PM

The evolution of contra dancing has stemmed not only from the participants who dance during the songs, but particularly from the musicians who play the songs and which instruments are available and used.  Bagpipes, normally associated with Scottish culture, were actually used across Europe.  The English used bagpipes in their dances because the sound carried and was easily heard outdoors.  As English Country Dancing moved indoors, the violin, the dulcimer, the guitar, and the tabor (a snare drum) gradually replaced the Scottish bagpipes.  The music and dances traveled to France, and eventually to French Canada. It was in Canada that contradance truly evolved.

            French Canadians played the violin faster than the English, in the style we now call fiddling, and they often performed “crooked” tunes, which were played in triple meter. In Quebec and the North Eastern United States, traditional tunes blended with Irish music and Latin rhythms to produce modern contra music.  There, the German accordion and a mixture of percussive instruments, including bongos, spoons, and sticks, were added into the mixture.   

As the music evolved, so, too, did the dances. English Country Dancing, practiced mainly in the wealthy plantations of Virginia, came to be seen as an elite dance, whereas contra dancing, practiced mainly in New England, became the dance of the common man. During this time, contra dance forms changed from the original square forms into the now-standard lines. The tempo of the music was faster than that of the English Country Dance, usually between 110 and 120 beats per minute, but the dances were still friendly to aging joints, a fact that encouraged many elderly people to participate.

Contradance lost popularity in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as people became more industrialized and focused on technology, but it resurfaced in the 1960s during the’ back-to-the land movement. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan’s lack of tolerance for liberals and liberalism also encouraged the regrowth of contradance. Young people flocked to the contra dance halls to escape the increasingly-conservative world. There, Dudley Laufman, contra caller extraordinaire, shook up the contra world with his unique focus on improvisation.

            Improvisation eventually became a technique of the trade. This was a defiant departure from the English Country Dance style, which was heavily influenced by Baroque and later Classical music in which musicians have little, if any, room for improvisation. Musicians who improvise in contra music do not improvise melodic lines. Rather, they restructure the beat of the song to add acoustic interest. The melody is one of the most important pieces of contra music; callers and dancers use it to find their places and know when to switch partners.  Musicians restructure rhythm at the quarter-note and eighth-note levels while continuing to play the same melody, thereby providing the dancers with all relevant information. This type of improvisation allows musicians and dancers alike to express their originality and individuality. 




happy valley history

Submitted by (inactive) on Thursday, 3/24/2011, at 11:52 PM

Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra is very much an idea from the mind of Peter Blanchette. The full realization of it however, is both from Peter and other influences. Peter Blanchette has been a musician, and more specifically a guitarists for many years. He went to music conservatory, yet soon after became a “professional” street musician. Peter made his living being a street musician for around fifteen years, until he moved to Northampton about ten years ago. Peter and Madeline are married, and Peter has a couple children. The origin of Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra lies in a conversation between Peter and one of his children. Peter was speaking about the need for being community active, and was subsequently asked by his kid what he was actually do for his community. Peter didn't really have an answer, and began to think of something he could do. He began to think up an idea about the myriad amateur musicians living around the Northampton area. The base idea was that there are so many amateur musicians who don't really have a place to go and play. In the Northampton area. Peter thought it was a particularly appropriate place to create a space in which musicians from different backgrounds could gather for the specific purpose of playing music. The original plan was to create a mandolin orchestra, but Peter soon realized there are so many different kinds of amateur guitar players that a guitar orchestra would be even better.

The first version of the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra was drawn from around 90 applications and brought down to around 20 that made the cut. Peter and Madeline made a conscious effort to achieve a certain level of diversity in the group, both in skill level and personal background.The group started out not really know what it was. Soon though, the set of musicians came to know each other better and know how to play and sound together. They additionally began to put a great deal of trust in Peter as their musical director and leader, realizing his ability to really mold the diverse group into a workable music project. Peter was really able to focus on the music side of the orchestra because Madeline, a lawyer deeply involved with community work, offered to manage the business side of the operation. She still does, and this team makes for an extremely functional unit. The group continues to morph and progress, losing and gaining members. The dedication to the group and the community it has created however, remains unwavering.


Flywheel History/Scene

Submitted by (inactive) on Wednesday, 3/23/2011, at 6:18 PM

To begin this post, I'd like to direct the class to the Flywheel's website, where their ABOUT page gives the official history as well as some FAQs.

My personal history with Flywheel began in 2006. Growing up in Pittsfield, my friends and I would have to often travel to see live punk and hardcore performances. We would venture East only as far as Westfield and Easthampton, and when the Westfield Women's Club stopped booking hardcore shows Flywheel became the only place we'd leave town for. The last show I saw in the old Flywheel space- a little storefront/gallery styled nook, replete with a little coffee bar and a library of zines- was with Pittsfield's Guilt Lust and one of my favorite Western Mass bands of all time, Sick and Tired. The little dance floor had a glitter curtain hung behind it; no stage. The effort to relocate the space to the town hall began in 2007 and ended in April of 2010. I helped paint some primer in 2009 when the building was still gutted and bare. The opening was a gala event, with a three-day festival celebrating the return of Flywheel. The town promoted the event as much as an Easthampton event as it was a Flywheel event. Since it's opening I have been lucky to perform in the space twice, once supporting Vaccine and Natural Law and once to celebrate the release of my discography tape for my Limbs Bin project.



The Greenfield Grange was hoppin' on 3-5

Submitted by Ian A. Stahl on Wednesday, 3/9/2011, at 4:42 PM

Josh's Live Footage - From a show in Holyoke

Submitted by (inactive) on Wednesday, 3/9/2011, at 2:33 PM

Devon and Ian Preliminary Fieldwork Report

Submitted by Devon M. Geary on Monday, 3/7/2011, at 7:05 PM


1. Devon: 

Downtown Amherst: I attended one dance at the Downtown Amherst Contradance series in February. I spoke with Will Loving, the coordinator, for roughly 20 minutes. He explained that Perpetual e-Motion is a really “big deal” band in the contradance world, and he told me that the morris dancers who performed during the between-sets break are traditional English folk dancers whose movements are rooted in pagan traditions. He also mentioned that the English folk dancers are seen frequently during contradances because the two styles come from the same traditions. Ian and I have not yet investigated this link, but I found it to be fascinating.


Greenfield: I attended a dance in Greenfield last Saturday (26 February). I met the Kenney family–Stuart, Alice, Matt, and a daughter whose name I do not yet know. I accidentally arrived one-and-a-half hours before the dance started, so I sat awkwardly while the family prepared the stage for the show. Finally, I was able to help them set up. I grabbed a few folding chairs and carried them to the stage. After that, the family was very warm and receptive to my presence. Alice told me that I should grab my camera and set up on stage, but that we would have to ask Stuart where I could put the equipment. Next time, I will take a Marantz so I can plug it directly into their mixing board. Alice was very enthusiastic about my (our) project, and she invited me to attend the Family Friendly contradance, which includes traditional activities for the itty bitties, next Sunday in Leyden. Unfortunately, both Ian and I will be out of the state, so we won’t be able to attend. I think, though, that we will attend next month’s venue.


I also attended a charity dance on Sunday, 6 March. Caitlin, a girl who is very involved in the local contradance scene, and her boyfriend lost their home and all of their possessions in a fire last month. Her friends organized the contradance so they could raise money to help Caitlin and her boyfriend replace some of the things they lost in the fire. I only danced at this event; I did not film. I danced with Ralph Sturgen again, and I will be calling him today (Monday, 7 March) to set up a meeting. He does live in Easthampton, and I told him that I would drive to him for the interview. I also danced with three men who had never before asked me to dance. This was good because it allowed me to talk about the documentary with new people and to get new perspectives. I learned about another documentary title I should watch, but I cannot remember the name. When I started Googling to find it, I ran across a documentary called “Paid to Eat Ice Cream,” which is also about contradance.

Two of them men with whom I danced had attended a charity benefit dance in Peterborough, NH on Saturday evening. Perhaps Ian and I will be able to attend (and film?) a dance in Peterborough. We could use this to compare and contrast the specific contradance traditions in and around the Valley.


Red Barn at Hampshire College: I attended a dance at Hampshire last weekend as well. The quality of the music, the caller, and the dances did not compare to that of the other dances I have attended. That being said, the evening was very productive because I met two men who seem to be very knowledgable about the contradance community and its history: Ralph Sturgen, and a man named Chang (I do not yet know his last name). The caller’s father also gave me his email address and encouraged me to email him and ask for the contact information for Dudley Laufman (a very important caller) and a few other “big names” in the Valley’s contra scene. After this dance, I googled the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra, Dudley Laufman, and Ralph Sweet to do a little bit of reading. We have also asked Professor Engelhardt to ask the library to purchase the Dudley Laufman documentary DVD (by David Millstone, who is the official documenter of the contradance community). I have also borrowed three films and three books from the AC library.




Greenfield and Amherst: I've gone to the Greenfield Guiding Star Grange once as a preliminary trip.  I wanted to see what the typical contra dance experience was like at this venue and compare it to my initial encounter with techno-contra at the Amherst Masonic Lodge.  Essentially, Greenfield was my first real, traditional contra dance.  The music was different and so was the audience, but not in the way I had anticipated.  I suspected the techno contra would drive away the traditionalists who grew up with the contra dance in its original form: fiddle, guitar, banjo, and occasionally woodwinds.  The techno contra had many young people along with the older generation.  They seemed very happy to be there with this new type of contra.  At this contra in Greenfield, the demographics leaned towards an older audience (35+ vs. the high school/college student age group at techno).  However, it was not devoid of youngsters.  The instruments were traditional: fiddle and piano or fiddle and guitar.  There I met Mary Shonk, a woman with considerable knowledge and experience with contra dancing and its history.  She introduced me to her cousin, Renn Tolman, a flute player from the contra bands of the 30's to 50's.  Hopefully I will be able to re-establish contact with these two and interview Renn.  I would also like to hear him play and her the musician's side of the story from that era.  Shonk also enlightened me to the amount of other documentaries filmed about contra dancing.  A prominent one is by David Millstone called The Other Way Back: Dancing with Dudley.  This highlights a prominent caller from the 60's and 70's, Dudley Laufman.  We are going to watch this documentary so we do not repeat any of the material in our project.  This will be done hopefully with the help of Matt Kenney.


2. Renn Tolman is from Nelson, NH and has been involved in contra dancing since the 30's.  I have met him only once but I hope to meet him again at the Greenfield contra dances.  I met him through Mary Shonk but did not get his personal contact information.  I did, however, get a bit of his story.  Although he must now be in his 80's and is partially deaf, Tolman must have been quite a riot.  From speaking with him for a short while, I could sense his enthusiasm for contra dancing.  He told me how he was a flute player for contra bands.  He also offered "when we meet up" to bring his flute and play some tunes for me.  That's quite a feat to still remember those songs all these years (almost 6 decades) later.  


Matt Kenney is a thirteen-year-old drummer who lives in Leyden. He plays with his father and whatever other contra bands perform at the Guiding Star Greenfield Grange on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month. He looks very young for his age, and his talent is very impressive, especially because he has never taken formal percussion lessons. More impressive than his musical abilities is his attitude. Matt is a professional musician who carries himself as such when he is onstage. However, before the shows and during the breaks, he is very much a thirteen-year-old boy. He is involved with a local sports team (I assume a soccer team) and he attends a local school. His father plays the upright bass, and Alice said Stuart has always made Matt feel included in the musical world. The family frequently hosts or attends (I am not sure) in-home jam sessions, and Matt usually plays. He is a kind and helpful kid who doesn’t seem to complain much, and he does not seem to have any sort of ego or overly-inflated sense of self. He simply enjoys playing music. I think working with him would be a joy. I am also very aware of the fact that I think he is an adorably precocious kid and that he probably isn’t a “big” as I am making him out to be. (This is one of many reasons I’m glad to be working with Ian. I don’t think he will let me run too far with the idea to include Matt in the film.) Matt’s mother, Alice Kenney, has also said that she would like us to film him and give her any material we do not use so she can add it to his portfolio. I have his mother’s email address, so I can use that to make contact with the family.


3. Musical moment: After each song ended on 26 February, Matt and Stuart Kenney would touch hands, as if to say, “Yeah! That was awesome. Good job!” I noticed this for the first time after Donna had left the stage for a bathroom break. She came back onstage in the middle of a tune, and she faced Matt while she played. The two of them seemed to be playing with/against each other, and Stuart smiled when he listened. Donna and Matt seemed to be playing jazz for a few minutes; she would start a phrase and he would end it, or vice versa. At this moment, I forgot that Matt is a thirteen-year-old kid, and I saw him solely as a professional musician. After this moment was over, Matt leaned forward, reached out his hand, and clasped his Dad’s hand.


  1. See our earlier blog post!


  1. Devon

Though I introduced myself and explained my purpose before I started filming at the Greenfield Grange, I did not do so at the Red Barn. In Greenfield, people were excited to know that I was filming for a documentary, and they wanted to talk to me and share their stories. At the Red Barn, people seemed unsure about the camera, and I got a few “evil eye” types of looks. One woman looked at her fiance who was kissing her and said, “There’s a camera! Stop!” I wasn’t filming at that point, but I could understand her panic. Ian and I will not be using footage from the Red Barn in our final documentary. We’ll consider the footage I took as a trial run of sorts, and we repeat some of the shots once we have gotten informed consent. In the future, I will make sure to introduce myself before the dance and explain why I will be filming. I will also make sure that I (or Ian if we are there together) dance up and down each line at least once so I can interact, albeit very briefly, with most of the attendees. This would allow anyone who does not want to be filmed to tell me so in a discreet way. 

The differences in atmospheres and attitudes between Greenfield and the Red Barn were like night and day. This was a good experience for me to have at this early stage, I think, because it has made me more conscious of my presence and involvement, and it has made me determined to stand up on stage and ask for informed consent.


Ian:  Overall, doing fieldwork on contra dancing is a pleasure. The people are very enthusiastic and are eager to share their knowledge about it.  As soon as I say I am a college student working on a documentary, their faces light up and they draw me aside as soon as the dance ends to share some gem of information.  


6. I can see us spending a lot of time focusing on Matt Kenney, as well as some of the older and more seasoned contradance musicians and/or callers. I’m realizing that making a documentary about “contradance in the Valley” is far too broad of a topic. I would like to explore contradance with Matt Kenney at the center. Perhaps another option would be to focus on two or three musicians, including Renn Tollman, Donna Hébert, and Matt Kenney. If we do focus on Matt Kenney, or at least include him in a substantial portion of the documentary, we could potentially help him get in to a performing arts high school. I will most likely strongly suggest that we include (feature) Matt Kenney in our documentary. I enjoyed meeting him, interacting with him, and filming him, and I would love to help advance his career. (caveat: I realize that this is likely not a good idea.)

That being said, we will not be focusing solely on Matt Kenney right now. We will continue to interact with him and his family and to film him, but he will not be our only focus. We will request interviews Dudley Laufman and David Kaynor, two influential names in the contradance world, and we will drive to New Hampshire to film Renn Tollman either in late March or early April. We will also drive to Easthampton to interview and film Ralph Sturgen. We will continue to attend multiple contradances at multiple locations, and we will mostly likely continue to “divide and conquer.” Because we do not yet have enough information to start streamlining our project, we don’t know how we will let our ideas shape our work. We will continue to be present and to interact with the attendees; we will allow our conversations to shape our projects.


7. Devon: If we work with Matt Kenney, we will have to make sure we get his parents’ informed consent. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is something that concerns me. I am most worried that Ian and I will try to tackle and document too much and that our story will be lost in the middle of too much information. People at every venue have told me that Ian and I are not the first to make a documentary about contradance in the Valley. Perhaps I am being slightly snotty here, but I don’t want to make the same film fifteen other people have. Rather, I would like to explore one aspect or part of contradance that has never before been documented. 

I haven’t yet called to set up meetings or interviews because I do not yet know where Ian and I want to focus. I am also worried about the fact that neither of us will be around for Spring Break.


(Ian) So far I have not met Stuart and Matt Kenney.  I am keenly interested in this duo, not only in their relationship as musicians but in the age difference between the two.  How would this affect their dynamics as business partners but also relatives?  I fear that pursuing this line of questioning might also be too intrusive.  Outside of that, I'm worried we will get too side-tracked with trying to go to all the contra dances and then not really have meaningful relations with the people we meet.  I think I would rather have a few meaningful contacts rather than a contact at every contra dance venue