Played at an English Country Dance

The Harvard
Square English Country Dance
has open band several times a
year, where anyone who’d like to play for dancing can join in.

I’ve been three times in the last year. The first time was a
bit intimidating — the band leader clearly thought she was
offering constructive criticism when she said I was playing on the
back of the beat, but I couldn’t even hear what she was talking
about, let alone figure out what to do about it. But the playing
was fun when I wasn’t feeling criticised, and the tune list worked
well on recorder. I brought both serpent and recorder, but ended
up playing mostly recorder, since even I can hear some rhythm
problems when I’m playing serpent.

The second time I was just invited to sit in when it wasn’t an
official open band. The good part about that was that I danced
for the first half of the evening, and then just sat in on the
second half. I was surprised that they wanted the serpent to play
the tunes, which I hadn’t practiced. They were happier with the
serpent than the first leader had been, but still made cryptic
comments about how my recorder playing could stand to sacrifice artistry
for rhythm. (This was during the
dance — during the rehearsal I’d specifically asked if they
wanted me to change anything and had been told it was fine.) The
playlist was mostly pretty good for C recorder, but there was one
piece that just plain didn’t work for C recorder. The recorder
player in the band played it pretty well on his alto recorder, so
I was embarrassed that I hadn’t brought mine. This is part of why
I spent the summer playing dance music on the G alto.

Last night I had practiced the tunes on both serpent and
recorder, and carefully marked on the tune list which ones would
work on G recorder. But I noticed that it was really not as
recorder-friendly a tune list as the previous two. It turned out
that this band was really excited about having the serpent play
drones. There was a good bass player, so the oom-pah rhythm bass
was covered, and several of the tunes did work over a drone, which
is a lot more fun on serpent than it is on most instruments. It
was a pretty big band with lots of other melody instruments, so I
ended up not playing much recorder, although nobody complained
about it when I did play. But the G alto as country dance
instrument is still fairly untested. The serpent did feel a lot
better about it than about the two previous experiences. The bass
player took one dance off to dance, and complimented me when he
came back to play.

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