RSCDS 2020: The Pandemic Year So Far – Summer

Renfest Saga Continues During the Summer

The plan was to get through the AGM and then classes would resume as usual. But as spring blossomed into summer the COVID-19 caseload continued to climb, and Tapestry’s doors remained locked. Instead we “rezoomed” online meetings. Here’s a run-down of what went down.

June 1st. We looked to resume online gatherings with various kinds of content. “What content?” We shared ideas in a brainstorming session in advance of planning the upcoming classes.

June 8th. Chandi taught some SCD dances (dancing with ghosts) with post-it notes on the floor to mark out the set. New Year Jig, Bedrule, College Hornpipe, Catch the Wind.

June 14-15th.This was a real treat. We hosted a special class on a “Short History of Scottish Country Dance Music in the 20th Century” by Susie Petrov. Susie is an SCD teacher and musician based in the Boston area, who played for our Grand Ball 2016 along with Calum Pasqua.

The class was held in two parts: The main lecture (with slides, video, and audio clips!) was on Sunday, 1pm so that that SCDers world-wide could attend. That was followed up by a Q & A session at our regular branch class on Monday.

Susie showed us how Scottish country dance music has changed over the years, by playing some examples from the 19th & early 20th centuries; notably Strathspeys used to be lively jig-like dances.

When the Scottish Country Dance Society was formed in 1923, one of its founders was a director of the Glasgow music publishing house of Pattersons. He arranged for Beltona Records to record twelve sides of dance music for sale by the Society.  This was to help new branches that couldn’t afford to pay musicians, and raise funds for the Society.

Note: James Gray’s grandparents bought these records and used them when they held dances for their children in their home after WWII!

The Society expanded rapidly and so well did these acoustic records sell that in 1927 fresh recordings were made. The Society received a royalty payment for every record sold.

Note: This might be one explanation for the preponderance of recordings rather than the development of musicians over the years!

One unfortunate result of the influence of the Society would be an obsession with strict tempo that was a rather dead hand on most Scottish country dance bands. Bandleaders liked to play fast, but always slowed down if Miss Milligan was in the room. Susie posited the heretical idea that dances were modified to fit onto records: Two 2-minute quick-time dances on one side of a 45-rpm vinyl record and one 4 minute strathspey on the B-side, for which, coincidentally,  the Society received royalties.

June 22nd. Lara reviewed some setting steps and taught a couple of dances that needed “ghosts”. We started with a short and little known but traditional SCD that uses an unusual step called “cross jumps,” Miss Murray of Ochtertyre, and also danced the Garry Strathspey and the Drunken Sailor.

June 24th. News from Andi and Jeremiah that Sabine was born June 24. She was welcomed with an unparalleled, drive-by, social distance-y baby shower.

June 29th. Katie Brady taught us all about bagpipes, and addressed burning questions, including, “what exactly ARE all those bagpipers doing at the highland games?” She went over the instrument itself, some information about the music, and an explanation about bagpipe bands and competitions. This lecture was recorded. Contact Fer for a copy.

July 4th. Along the theme of “Vaguely Scottish Things in the 1700s,” we held an Independence Day weekend social hour, featuring a pub quiz. We grabbed a snack (or dinner), favorite beverage, paper and writing implement for: “Things Fer Found Interesting or Amusing While Messing Around on the Internet”

July 13th. We started an every-other-week review of the old/current performance repertoire with the 2-couple act – just in case RenFest was still on.

July 18th. Scottish Fair – the in-person highland games was canceled but we still got a taste of pieces of the Fair this year, even some parts you always missed since so many things usually happen at the same time! This year’s McCracken Pub shirt featured a Highland coo (masked). Chandi & Jacob led a dance from their backyard. And Fligmagearie performed …..in masks on a hot & humid day. As soon as the camera stopped they tore off their masks to gulp fresh air.

July 20th.  Everything you wanted to know about FODing & Fooling was presented by Bill Brown. The FOD is the Facilitator of the Day – the person in charge of running a performance. Whether or not you ever intend to FOD, it’s useful to know what’s involved so that you can help your FOD and be a source of joy rather than stress. The Fool is a master of ceremonies who introduces the dances and tells a story that connects the acts, to keep the audience’s attention while the dancers are changing over.

July 20th. We officially switched over to the new site! A HUGE thank you goes to Joe Dolson and Dan Friedman-Shedlov for working with Lara to make this happen. Joe was instrumental in getting the structure of the site set up and getting things to look how we wanted them, not to mention answering a million and one questions from Lara. Dan did almost all the work to find and set up new (free!) web hosting and to create the new online membership form that integrates payment.

July 21st. we had been waiting all year for an announcement about RenFest. Normally we would have started rehearsals the beginning of July

“Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Mid-America Festivals is pleased to make the following Royal Proclamations!

…….Mid America Festivals decided to change the dates of our 2020 Festival to September 5, 2020 thru October 4, 2020 (weekends plus Labor Day)….

And from Fud, the entertainment director:

“Entertainers – Let me assure you that no one is more aware of the fact that the Festival is scheduled to open in 39 days.  Thank you so much for your patience. I understand that the lack of communication has been frustrating; unfortunately there just hasn’t been any new and reliable information to pass along.

The covid-19 pandemic has created a variety of challenges that are compounded by the countless and complex subtleties and nuances of the Festival’s somewhat unique situation.  I have been working with management to clarify plans, especially as they pertain to entertainment and entertainers.

As soon as there is accurate information I will pass it along to you.”

July 27th. RenFest review. We used the “Retro Act” of the current performance repertoire to talk about reels of 3, reels of 4, and some strategies for envisioning how to do them when no one else is around. And then for fun, we risked set and link for 3 solo style – no one can tell which end of the line you’re on, so of course you got it right!

Aug 3rd. This Monday we had a special presentation from piper Dick Hensold! He described it as follows: Dronology: a short potted history of the bagpipes, as illustrated by several different types of pipe. And a few tunes, if desired. In lieu of any sort of monetary donation, he wanted help with some yard work. He needed people to move tiny decorative rocks from the alleyway to his backyard.

Aug 10th. We used the “3 couple act” of the current performance repertoire to wander around our living spaces and explore how lost one can get in only 12 bars while attempting a solo 3 couple rights and lefts. 

Aug 17th. Fer’s first dancing love was International Folk Dance, casual “village” dancing from around the world.  Think ceilidh dancing from places that don’t speak Gaelic.  She picked some dances from her IFD repertoire that lent themselves to warming up, cooling down, with some bouncing around to fun music in the middle. We tried out a new style of dancing in a venue where no one other than your cat could judge your “spontaneous variations”.

Aug 19th. Finally, the news we had been waiting for, Ren Fest had been cancelled! FUD, the Entertainment Director, stated that running a festival of the volume and scope of the MRF was not feasible while taking the precautions necessary to protect both the performers and patrons from Covid19. This was good news for us, as we could only raise enough dancers for one set on one or two days.

Aug 24th. We finished our review of the current performance repertoire with a look at the “interval” dance Harry Gordon.  It’s a medley of strathspey and reel with some of those fancy setting steps we worked on in the late spring.  Lara helped us to remember the fancy setting, and when we got to the figure La Baratte it really did take two to figure out what to do with your hands.

Aug 31st. Meg Newswanger hosted a Scottish vacation slide show.  We saw photos from Lara’s time as a student in Edinburgh including a “gentle walk” in the “hills”; Chandi & Jacob climbing a mountain in the rain and drinking with her cousin in the oldest pub; Fer’s dawn to dusk walk and her dream heather garden; Brian & Frances’ stunning photos from Skye; Meg & Rick’s trip to see their daughter; and Bill’s underwater photos of conger eels.

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