Music Writing by Carson Arnold

 

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CALLING DUDLEY LAUFMAN (The Interview)

 

Dudley Laufman is the real deal. Every time you hear a fiddle weep, ride and bow, every time you hear the floor creak in some old Town Hall, and every time you run into some fallen, unmarked gravestone in the middle of the forest- were they a fiddler?, a lover?, a friend? -"that's Dudley ma, he's there". He's the eye of the contra-dancing shadow. The reflection of all old voices and yokel fiddlers before him. Living the Hello, Hooray of four strings, ten hands, and echoing the calls of time into the great dance of it all. He's one of the few stones that will forever remain in the woods so as long as the woods remain with the stone. Bow to your partner, join hands.

1948 was a damn good year to be alive. Yessir, to be dressed in the middle of the 20th Century rush knowing that'd you'd eventually see it all crash into a tale to tell must've been a fine breath to speak. Dudley at this time was a young 'un learning the magnolia of the country Call throughout the rolling hills and mountains of southern New Hampshire. And he learned from the best. The voice of the McCoy; its land, its wisdom, and the overall heritage, culture and belief that tuned its fiddle to the dirt and sky and left the strings to soak through the open airs around.

Dudley has spent a near lifetime living and feeding this grain. Now 72, living in Canterbury, New Hampshire, he and his wife Jacqueline under the name Two Fiddles, perform an overwhelming amount of shows a year -close to three hundred- and have released a few recordings of a native soil traveling along the way.

The man has a schedule. He's toured about many parts of the world (not to mention the first Newport Folk Festival), been awarded numerously, written books of poetry, including MOUTH MUSIC and I WAS A FIDDLER BEFORE I CAME HERE, but has most importantly kept the New England leaf blowing along with the primordial spirit of the traditional dance, all before it disappears and vanishes into a myth somewhere into a forgotten wind.

Will this happen soon? Will the crust of this rhythm surely fade away? Not while Dudley's here. No way. So relax, holler and call, hear inside the world of a living sound-hole, the man and many, Dudley Laufman.

 

(This interview was conducted by the use of email between the days and nights of March 23 and March 27, 2003, shortly after Dudley and Jacqueline traveled out here to visit us under a treacherous experience of muddy roads.)

 

...Any questions concerning Dudley or Jacqueline Laufman -purchasing, events or general information- please refer to http://www.laufman.org or contact them at laufman@totalnetnh.net

 

C.A: There's a very interesting story behind one of your latest releases, THE RIDE, tell us about it.

 

D.L: About 27 years ago we formed a Morris dance team here in Canterbury, NH. It started with a kids team, and then some of the parents got interested, and then the group grew until at one point we had 60 people; kids and adults, dancing the Morris. We were a motley crew...most of us couldn't dance worth a fiddler's fart. But we had a great time, and at that time, we were the largest Morris team from one town in the whole world. I was the leader-teacher-musician. We seldom left town to dance. Once in a while we got invited to dance for $ at local fairs, and after much coaxing I could get enough dancers to have a go at it. But usually we just danced at home....a tour of the town in May, visiting 4 or 5 homes to dance on their lawns and drink beer. The big day was the last Saturday in July when we danced at the Canterbury Fair. (This all came about because in past years myself and some other musicians would play tunes to entertain folks at the chicken barbecue. I do not enjoy doing background music...would rather play for a dance...so I arranged for several Morris teams to come perform, including the Concord based Phenix team I was leader of. When the Phenix disbanded, I formed the Canterbury Morris.) We invited other teams from around New England to take part in the Canterbury Faire with us. In '82, Arnold Woodley's Bampton Morris from Bampton, Oxfordshire, England, was touring in the states, and we persuaded them to come to Canterbury. This Bampton team has a tradition that goes back 800 years. They're well known and word got out. Just about every Morris dancer in the northeast crashed the party. All you could hear was the jingle of bells. Like a mini Woodstock.

 

Wow. What happened later?

 

Well the next year the faire committee told us we could only invite five teams, and they were not allowed to pass the hat. The day always started with a massed processional down the hill into the village, followed by some massed dancing done by all the teams together. Then everyone would retreat to the rear of the Parish House to party, drink beer and perform for the chicken barbecue crowd. Good time. Exposing the Canterbury Morris to other teams was part of the beginning of the end for our team. All other teams are very rigid...they practice once a week year round, and stick to the English traditions. Most of them are very polished. Our team on the other hand practiced once a week in June and July. We were very sloppy. But some of the members, on seeing the other teams, wanted to be like them, and wanted me to bring that about. First of all, I wasn't capable of doing that, being a sloppy dancer myself. Most of them were not capable either. Those that were, did not really understand the commitment necessary to become a good Morris dancer. The other teams were/are made up of folks who mostly are single, live in the city, are well educated, and highly skilled and talented. Our skilled dancers? own land, have families, do yoga, PTA, have a dozen things going on. Said they wanted to learn more and be better Morris dancers, but of course they couldn't and didn't. In a very short period of time we had eleven divorces (including my own) and ten families moved out of the town. The demise was slow, but now we have no adult team and no one to host visiting teams (beer). There's a kids team...they only dance at the Faire for 20 minute, and that's it. The Faire is also in its last throes. Too many black top driveways. Anyway, one of the things we used to do back in the good old days beside dancing around town in May, or at the fair, was to do a sword dance with the kids on Halloween, and with the adults at winter solstice time. The sword dance is done, in our case, w/ six dancers, each carrying a flexible steel sword. In the process of the dance, the swords end up linked and raised in a star of David. Well, the kids could do it, but the adults couldn't. They made a fiasco of it, and laughed through the whole thing. I am a very easy going fellow, but I had difficulty dealing with the travesty that they were making of it. Too many black top driveways. So I put it to rest. But I missed going out in the dark time of the year to visit with folks in their homes to make merry. So after a year or two I arranged for some of the musicians in town to go with us around town playing music, singing wassail songs and getting the company to dancing reels. I invited some of the old Morris dancers...they said no, not if we are not doing the sword dance, so I said hell wiv ye, and with the new folks we set forth. Call it THE RIDE. The name came from my reading about a tradition in Louisiana during the Mardi Gras, folks will RIDE about the countryside on horseback doing revel.

 

That'd be great to see. I wonder if folks still do that today? Are you aware of any other cultures that follow this same sort of interesting style?

 

I am not sure about what they do in Louisiana these days. I cannot even remember where I read about that. I will try to find out. They still do the Mummers in Newfy. There is a kids book, The MUMMER'S SONG by Bud Davidge, illus. by Ian Wallace. Orchard Books, NY. There are mummers plays on the streets in many parts of England...most of them revival, but some have a long standing.

 

Arnold Woodley's Bampton Morris. You said they had a tradition that went back 800 hundred years. That's amazing. Basically what kind of tradition would this be?

 

Morris dancing is an English ritual dance going back into the deepest past. Its purpose was to welcome in the summer and drive away the evil spirits of winter. It slowly evolved from being a ritual into a street show and competition. There was and is Morris dancing all over England but the most highly developed was/is in the Cotswolds. After the industrial revolution, folks knew the sun was coming back and they no longer needed to do the quaint customs. Morris dancing almost died out. But Cecil Sharpe discovered it one Christmas in Headington. It had been a cold winter with no work for many. The bell ringers were out and the mummers were out, so the Morris decided to go out too an make some money. Cecil took down their dances and music and found other villages to do the same, and the current revival began...this would have been in the early 1900's, maybe earlier. There are six dancers to a team (in England they are called "sides".) It is traditionally a mens dance. No women. (Today, in this country, there are women's teams and even some mixed sides. The Canterbury, NH team was mixed. There are even some womens and mixed sides in England now.) The dancers wear all white with brightly colored sashes and ribbons. They flail about waving hankies and bashing sticks together. Lots of energy. The music is supplied by fiddle, whistle and accordion, usually only one musician at a time. The tunes are jigs and hornpipes, played slower than we use them for square dances. Eventually it came over here during the folk revival of the 70s, and it is going strong. They have a big gathering in Marlboro in May...called the Marlboro Ale. The Bampton Morris has an unbroken tradition of dancing the Morris on the streets of Bampton on the Monday of Spring Bank Holiday which more or less coincides with our Memorial Day. When I was there in '75, the day started early in the morning with children going door to door in the village leaving baskets of flowers on the stoops. Then the dancers would take to the streets. There were and are three teams in Bampton, and they are not always on speaking terms with each other. They dance on the streets and in different places in the town. Soon as the pubs open, they're inside for a drink, then soon back to the dance. They do it all day, in the streets and in local gardens. In the evening they open it up for visiting sides from other towns. What a great time. In Bampton, the old side is the Shergold Bros. They are gone now, but the side still dances. Francis Shergold was in his eighties when I was there, and still dancing up a storm. The middle team was/is Arnold Woodley's. He is gone now too, but his side still carries on. It was his team that came over here and he stayed here at this house. He was their fiddler. The other side is the "new" side. Upstarts. It is an ongoing tradition. They are still at it. They are getting ready as we speak. When I was there, the Shergold side danced the Highland Mary to "Yellow Submarine", rather than to its own tune. Some scholar said to Francis, "I say, that is the wrong tune for that dance". Francis replied, "why don't ye go piss in yer 'at".

 

It's weird, music of New England as of late is usually very glitzy. Recorded in a studio, you know. Very boring. In other words, no Maple tree heard anywhere. Though you've already partly answered this, years back when you were a younger fiddler, what kind of things do you remember the music communities to be historically like?

 

Nelson, NH is one of the most famous of towns with a music/dance tradition. Much of this is due to the Tolman and Page families who were all musicians and dancers, and with the help of the summer folks and their $, were and still are able to keep this tradition alive. Most of the towns in the Monadnock Region had some sort of dance tradition going for them one way or another. Much of this was due to the isolation the region is noted for...there are no major highways leading in or out of the area. Winters are harsh. No farming to speak of except in Walpole and Westmoreland. Nothing to do in the winter except dance and fiddle. Lots of Irish and French settlers didn't hinder anything either. But I also danced in Sherbune and Bridgewater Corners, Vt. These were working class people...farmers, loggers, pulpwood cutters. Funky music...piano, sax, banjo, drums. The caller sang all his calls to songs like Comin Round The Mountain, Jingle Bells, etc. Great dance. I loved it. Have danced in Montreal, Quebec and Chicopee, MA at French dances, and in Brookline, MA at downeast Cape Breton style dances.

 

Yeah, Cape Breton has great music. Lot of old timers still kickin' around here?

 

Most of the real old timers are gone. There is one old feller up in Lancaster, NH...pretty good fiddler. And there is Harold Luce up in Chelsea, VT. He is still going strong. Milt Appleby, dairy farmer in Dover, NH. But I is it. The next line. With Fred Breunig close behind.

 

Did you ever know Mary McCaslin back in the 70's?

 

No. Who is she?

 

She's a great folk singer, somewhat situated in Vermont in the early seventies. I wrote a piece about her a few issues back, thought you might've once run into her at some point. How 'bout barn dances? Were there a lot back then?

 

In western Mass. and all of VT, people danced in barns more than they did/do in NH. Smitty's band out of Vernon used to play a barn dance on the other side of Marlboro. Most barn dances were held in the summer. Only a few were heated for winter use. The first part of THE RIDE,...the talking part, was taken from the sound track of a video that was filmed at a CHRISTMAS FROM MANY LANDS concert in Manchester three years ago. We took some Canterbury people down to take part in that show....sort of brought THE RIDE to them. The rest of THE RIDE was recorded in four different Canterbury kitchen/living rooms that same winter, by Fred Portnoy, fiddler from just up the road here. He toted a cassette recorder in his pocket. Another neighbor, Tim Meeh, has some up to date equipment in his house, and he edited the stuff and cleaned it up.

 

Some musicians are very strict on what traditions they approach, what are they traditions you play?

 

American Morris teams, for the most part, dance English traditions. Most American teams are composing their own dances and building their own traditions, but styled after one of the English. There are many English traditions, but the most common ones are Bampton, Headington, Bucknell, Adderbury, Winster, to name a few. Bampton is a very laid back style. Fun to do and fun to watch. Most of the men on that team today are gardeners and farmers. Some teachers. Canterbury did a mixture of several traditions, none of it very noteworthy. What we lacked in style and perfection we made up for in noise and foolishness. We really celebrated the coming of spring/summer and we really believed we helped to drive away winter. We believe in the Morris luck. When we go out on the RIDE we truly believe in celebrating the dark time of year and know that the longest night has passed and spring is on its way.

 

 

When I talked to you recently about THE RIDE you said you didn't necessarily care about promoting or distributing it to the public. In fact, the album itself is pretty much anonymous, the Cd being covered all in black. What are your reasons for this?

 

In parts of England, some Morris dancers blacken their faces to be anonymous, which heightens the Morris magic. In Newfoundland, the Mummers usually wear masks of some sort for the same reasons. Everyone knows they are going to show up sooner or later, but no schedule. They arrive unannounced at each home where they carry on and revel. Of course in 21st century Canterbury with all its blacktop driveways, that cannot be done...everyone has so much to do, meetings to go to etc., that our RIDE visit must be scheduled along with everything else. Because they know we are coming, there's not much sense in wearing masks, although we have thought about it. So the anonymous bit is taken care of on the blank and black cd.

 

Are the Mummers still around?

 

Try contacting Tonya Kearley. She is a folklorist and her husband is Kelley Russell, fiddler. They operate a B&B at Trinity Bay. You might look for them under B&Bs and find an email there. She might be able to bring you up to date if they still do the mummers there. I am under the impression they do.

 

I will. Also, it's unfortunate you have to schedule your arrival at these homes. It takes away from the spirit!

 

Yup. But we are thinking of doing an unscheduled one.

 

WHITE MOUNTAIN REEL is designed for the listener to first hear the music, and next, the music with your Calls. For those who don't know, what are Calls? And lastly, what is the tradition and origin behind Calls? In other words, where do they come from?

 

Actually on WHITE MT. REEL, the bands WITH the calls are for folks, mostly school kids, to be able to dance if their teacher does not know how or is afraid of calling the changes. The bands WITHOUT the calls are for folks to try out their hand at calling, after having listened to the bands w/ calls. The bands w/out calls can also be used as a learning tool for musicians who want to learn some tunes. And of course they can be listened to for pleasure. The Calls are what tell the dancer what to do next. Years ago the fiddler was also caller, playing and calling at the same time, the way Jacqueline and I do. Most of today's callers do not play anything, some exceptions being Fred Breunig, Any Davis and Peter Amidon.

 

So basically calls roughly compose the dancers and the audience. Do you remember any real odd or interesting calls back then? Almost- not words- but Sounds that the caller would make and the dancers would respond to?

 

Most New England callers, just plain prompted the calls...in fact, they were not referred to as callers, but rather as "prompters". "Balance and swing the one below/Balance and swing in the center/Down the center/Ladies chain". Ralph Page said the same thing, but he would chant the calls in a sing-song kind of way. Happy Hale, the black caller from Bernardston, MA, would sing chant his calls thusly: "Balance and swing the one below, hurry up boys and don't be slow/Now swing your own she's the one you know/ Down the middle two by two, come right back that's what you do/cast off and ladies chain, and chain those ladies back again". Page sometimes would do it that way.

 

Are there any books of yours that are concerned with calls, the lineage, different types, old faces?

 

I have some books that are oldish. Have the calls and music same page... Oh, I thought you were referring to old books/manuscripts. I forgot to mention seven books I have written. LET'S TRY A CONTRA. A DANCING MASTER'S. DIARY. DUDLEY'S BOOK OF CALLS. THE WHOLE SET CATALOG. BRANDY. WHITE MOUNTAIN REEL. HERE'S TO EVERY COUNTRY DANCER

 

How could you forget?! No, I should have probably made it a little more clear. Who was Arthur Hanson?

 

Art Hanson is the narrator in the narrative poem I WAS A FIDDLER BEFORE I CAME HERE. He was a patient of mine when I was Director of Recreation at NH State Hospital back in the 50s. In the poem I am the young sprat who comes by with a beat up old fiddle. I indeed do have Art's fiddle and gold watch.

 

I noticed that you've toured over in Greece and Turkey. What was the music scene like over there?

 

I went to Greece & Turkey in '85 as musician and chaperone for a dozen or so kids from Essex Junction Vt, to attend a children's folk festival in Ankara. That was an experience and a half in itself. Because I was working and presenting these kids as American country dancers, most of my time was spent doing that. There were 15 other nations involved...kids...from Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland, Ireland, etc. Watching them and mingling with them took all our time, but I did get to see and hear some Turks doing their thing, which was exciting.

 

The Turks. That area of the world has wonderful, wonderful music. What about New England. How has the New England contra-dancing scene changed in the last fifty years?

 

When I was a kid fifty years ago going to dances in the Monadnock Region of southwestern NH, and beginning to play and call for some of those dances, the venues were town halls, church halls and grange halls. The music was always live...couple of fiddles, piano, sometimes accordion, string bass and flute. Ralph Page was my favorite caller. I would follow him wherever, and if a Saturday night rolled around and he wasn't working anywhere, I would try to get up a dance of my own and do it my own self. The dancers were all ages and came from all backgrounds...ministers, teachers, lawyers, farmers, loggers, factory workers, all mingled together. I loved it. Today, the same venues are used, but sometimes gyms are used. The music is still live and with much of the same combos. But the music itself has changed...more jazzy, faster. For any one dance, instead of one tune for that particular figure, they switch into other tunes, three times during each figure...what they call medleys. J and I do not do this, being old farts. If a tune is good enough to start a dance, it's good enough to stay with it. None of the modern callers do the old dances anymore...Contras like Lady of the Lake, Mountain Ranger, Petronella, Money Musk. They are all doing very complicated, fast moving, cerebral dances that they compose as they go along. All these dances must be taught and walked through beforehand, which, to me, spoils the party atmosphere. J and I do not do these either, being old farts. The dancers do not come from varied walks of life now. Almost all of them are well educated...many of them have $. Most of them are computer programmers. They all have a great time...better they do Contras than watch the tele. J and I choose to do simpler easier dances...hands on and user friendly, so that everyone of all ages and abilities can do them with no teaching or walk through. This means that much of the time we cannot do even our favorite old Contras, which, though easy enough, are sometimes too difficult for kids or preppies, so we do other dances that are just as much fun, saving the dances like Money Musk for the once a year get together in Nelson.

 

Are the working class still active with fiddling and dancing?

 

In the south...N. Carolina, Kentucky, etc, there are still some working class fiddlers. Only a handful in New England. Cape Breton is loaded with them.

 

Right. How has your poetry affected your music? The contribution of both together?

 

I would say that for the most part my poetry and music/dance are separate from each other. I find that some of my poems have a rhythm to them, but that is more a speech thing than musical. When I give readings, sometime Jacqueline will back me up on the fiddle. Like on I WAS A FIDDLER, she will quietly play Jacket Trimmed in Blue in the background. That book I gave your dad, MOUTH MUSIC hangs on the images from the music/dance, as do a few pieces I have done since then, not to mention my first little effort back in 62.

 

Uh-huh. You mentioned earlier how you have no adult team or even hosts, this must be rather sad. I can't help but wonder where contra-dancing and calls will go in this 21st Century of blacktop driveways. Have you found it difficult to perform today with all what seems like a demise?

 

"Contra" dancing in the modern sense of the word, is probably not on the demise. But neither is it a big deal with a large portion of the population. For instance, here in Canterbury, pop. 1800, there are only 2 (two) count em, people who dance the contra on a fairly regular basis, and they are not us. Next town north Belmont, there are none, zilch. In Concord, state capitol, there might be 20. Not a big item on the roster of things to do. But that doesn't bother us. We are not involved with that crowd anyway, being as how we don't do many if any Contras. We do user friendly reels and circle dances...what one might call Old Time NH square dances or barn dances, and our clientele are mostly school kids, weddings, private house parties etc. There certainly is plenty of demand for what we do...290 gigs a year. And we have a stable of students and apprentices in the wings ready to carry on.

-Carson Arnold April 2, 2003

copyright 2003 Carson Arnold


Other Interviews ~

RUSS TOLMAN SHOOTS SOME GLORY HOLES

MATTHEW YOUNG REVISITED

AFTER THE REHEARSAL (A Scott Rosenberg Interview)

RAINBOW SPLASH (An Interview with Essra Mohawk)

MIDNIGHT ANGEL (An Interview With Joshua)

Sunday At One-Thirty ~ An Interview with Peter Siegel

Monday High Noon - An Interview with Dredd Foole

 

H(ear) Reviews and Essays

 

H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews, articles, and investigations written by Carson Arnold. As a freelance writer for various magazines and liner notes, living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at poetry@sover.net

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