Stringdancer History - the Beginning

By Martha Edwards

Stringdancer was born at the very last Kimmswick dance weekend held at the Lee's farm. It was a pretty wild and wonderful weekend, even by Contradance standards. Sort of like the old days, we heard.

Anyway, Pam and I were playing waltzes on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Kimmswick.

Contradancers don't usually drink very much alcohol - no one likes a stumbledrunk on the dance floor, and besides, life is good when you dance, and the need for a drink kind of goes away. BUT, it was a special weekend, and Karen and Dan had put out some champagne and strawberries in celebration of their anniversary, and Ken and Laura had spiked some tea with rum in celebration of theirs, so I suppose we could have been a little Under the Influence.

David had joined the waltz musicians, and after the waltzes were over, asked me if I knew any old-time tunes. I had been a classical musician - freelanced in Boston for many years but quit about four years before I moved to St. Louis. "Two," I said. "One of them is the Devil's Dream, and the other one isn't."

Well, after we played my only two fiddle tunes, we pulled out the Fiddler's Fake Book and played a few more. I think it was George Booker that got me, or maybe Leather Britches. Or Red Haired Boy, or After the Battle of Aughrim. Anyway, it became clear to me that playing fiddle tunes could be hot music-making.

So when David said he wanted to form a "New England Style" contradance band, I had no idea what that meant, but figured it would be fun.

And Pam. I'd always liked playing with Pam, and I like the sound of two fiddles. So we began.

We played through stacks of tunes for several months, looking for our favorites among the ones most commonly played at contradances on the East coast, listening to Uncle Gizmo, Nightingale, the String Beings, the Hillbillies from Mars, Wild Asparagus, Yankee Ingenuity, Grand Picnic. We picked some of our favorites from the tunes played at contradances here in St. Louis, too - and we listened to Rhys Jones, the Volo Bogtrotters, the Ill-Mo Boys.

When we had picked out about 60 or so tunes, we xeroxed them all, then laid them all out all over my living room in stacks: New England tunes, Irish tunes, Old-time tunes, tunes in A major, tunes in e minor.

David had posted a question on the rec.folk-dancing newsgroup about putting together dance tune medleys, and we tried to apply the (often contradictory) recommendations, but found that the only real way to tell if two tunes go well together was to try them. Breaking the rules worked just about as well as following them.

After we had assembled a dance-length group of medleys we got Childgrove to put us on the schedule on February 4, 1996. Our first gig. The crowd loved us, but then, they would have loved us no matter what we did. We were one of them, we were dancers. It's not how well the bear dances, but that the bear dances at all...

There we were. Stringdancer - Pam and Martha and David