The Kennedy Grant Library at Halsway Manor by Cynthia and Bonnie Sartin

This week we are delighted to have guest bloggers Cynthia and Bonnie Sartin talking about the work that goes on behind the scenes in our Kennedy Grant Library At Halsway Manor which houses a huge collection of mixed media folk treasures – over to the Sartins…

HalswayManorLibrary (9 of 13)After 15 years of slogging away the 4,000 books and 2,000 records, CDs and tapes in the collection are catalogued, listed and key worded on the computer and accessible. We still have a couple of hundred LPs, about 100 CDs and the archives to sort but we’ll get there. Having said that we are continually receiving donations of CDs and other material from generous performers and visitors to the Manor so the work will carry on even when the final recordings from the Peter Kennedy collection have been added. We are happy to accept any folk related books etc. on the understanding that if we have copies already we will sell any extra ones to raise money for the library. Back copies of EFDSS Journals and Magazines regularly crop up in boxes left for us so we have a good supply of these for sale. By re-cycling these items the library is self-financing. Recently these funds have enabled us to purchase a new computer, a wonderful oak table to put it on and a top quality CD player.  

A lot of interest has been shown recently by people wanting to do research, which is very gratifying. At the ‘Give Voice’ weekend in October we were able to show the residents around the library stock and how to use the computer to find songs etc. This worked well and we were able to help in finding new material for people to sing.

HalswayManorLibrary (3 of 13)The library has provided material for several publications. The William Winter Tune Book and Songs & Stories of Ruth Tongue. Both were local characters; William a fine fiddle player from the 19th century and Ruth a self-styled folklorist and song writer who used to come to Halsway soon after it opened in the mid 1960s. We have also assisted authors writing books about John Short (Yankee Jack the shanty man from Watchet), Charles Marson (who helped Cecil Sharp with his song collecting in Somerset) and the tradition of the Ashen Faggot. Mary Rhodes is now Halsway’s official archivist and she and Cynthia are searching for material to include in a publication that celebrates the activities at the Manor since it opened as a Folk Centre in 1965.

HalswayManorLibrary (8 of 13)The collection covers a wide spectrum of folk-related material. Song, dance, music folklore and storytelling and tutors for many instruments as well as clog, sword and morris dancing. We have noticed that people come in and immediately panic when they see a library but it is very easy to use if you keep a cool head. There are printed catalogues for people who aren’t up to speed with computers but for those who are happy with modern technology a simplified catalogue is also available on the web at www.halswaymanor.org 

HalswayManorLibrary (4 of 13)If you would like more information on the library or would like to make an appointment to book some time in for doing some research, then please contact Viv on office@halswaymanor.org.uk

Cynthia & Bonny Sartin

In anticipation of a marvellous Playford weekend!

PLF_Jul12_another fine picWhen John Playford published the collection of tunes and dances in the Complete Dancing Master in 1651 from his shop close to St Paul’s Church in London, he would be astonished to know it would still be in print in the 21st century. Like all publishers he was trying to make money. To do so he brought together all the top tunes and dances of the time into one popular edition and hit on a winner! Although the tunes are anonymous it’s likely that popular composers of the day, such as Henry Purcell, contributed tunes for some ready cash. It sold out and there were many subsequent editions being published into the beginning of the next century, which is no surprise. Even now, in a world full of every conceivable type of music freely available 24 hours a day in every home, the book still stands out as being packed with great tunes. Tunes that are memorable, hummable, and which work  very well for dancing. There are a handful of duds but surprisingly few. When Paul Hutchinson and I came up with the idea for the Playford Liberation front in 2011, we got together with guitarist Chris Green, Clarinettist Karen Wimhurst, fiddle player Liv Dunne and bass player Wayne Lewis and played through the 1651 edition and we were all impressed by the high hit rate of great melodies.

pasted-file-2The idea of the PLF is to have some fun with the music and the dances. It’s not an original thought and many people have done it before us, but we did feel that, for a number of reasons, Playford wasn’t being taken up by younger musicians and dancers. From a musical point of view we’re keen to experiment with the music by seeing what we can do with the arrangements to make it sound fresh to modern ears. Like all great music it can handle a lot of different approaches. From the dance point of view, the PLF weekend is a great opportunity to get people who go to ceilidhs/barn dances and who don’t normally tackle Playford, to give it a a go!

For a sneak preview and a slice of playford, here is a video when the PLF played Portsmouth! Doesn’t it look fun?

The Halsway Manor Playford Liberation Weekend is 19th to 21st July 2013. For further information on this wonderful weekend of dancing please come and have a look at our website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk/portal/alias__Halsway/lang__en/tabid__4461/eventid__328/default.aspx

Follow the PLF on Facebook too! https://www.facebook.com/playfordliberationfront

“A contra dance is like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves.” –Unknown

One of the things I love about my job is that I often learn about things I never thought I would ever even come across or have the opportunity to know about – or know that I already know a bit about…(this could get confusing!) One of these things is American Contra Dance, but as we will very soon be welcoming some real Americans (yes, you heard me correctly, REAL Americans) to Halsway Manor for the American Contra Dance Weekend, I thought I had better brush up on my skills – not so much my skills, but more my knowledge of contra-dance. It won’t do to know nothing and whilst I am brushing up on my knowledge, I thought you might like to know a bit about it as well… Most of it has been gained from various parts of the internet, including but not exclusively Wikipedia  so please feel free to correct me if I have got something wrong. I will remove erroneous content immediately, or better still, hope that it might generate some fresh discussion.

My favourite definition of American Contra Dance is this: ‘Contra dancing is social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music‘. I could very well end this blog right here, after all, what more could we possibly want? That definition came from the Santa Barbara Contra Dance Society where they encourage you to simply find a place that does Contra Dancing, go there, see what they do, join in, have fun, meet new people, and then come back and read the rest of their definition as they warn that there is danger in simply reading the definition and making up your mind from that, about whether you will enjoy it or not! I think it is a great definition as in the same way, that is exactly what a Ceilidh or folk dance is. It is all about the dancing and making new friends and about family, community and connecting.

For a more in depth definition of Contra Dance I have come up with this, taken from a variety of sites. Let’s start with the history of Contra  Dance. At the end of the 17th century, English country dances were taken up by French dancers creating a mix of choreographies from around this period that use both English country dance steps and French court dance steps. The French called these dances contra-dance or contredanse. Over time the English hybrid dances spread to far away colonies and took the French form of the name  which later came to be associated mostly with American folk dances, especially in New England now often referred to as either Contra Dance or New England Folk dance.

Contra dances were fashionable in the United States until the early to mid-19th century, until the square dances took over, though these apparently only lasted til the late 19th century when they became passée and were no longer de riguer(lots of french going on here today!), though the tradition was kept up in some rural areas. It was not until around 1930’s and 40’s  that Contra Dances appeared in small towns and widely scattered parts of North east North America such as Ohio and northern New England, though the tradition was not revived properly until the 50’s and 60’s – according to Wiki!

So what actually happens at a Contra Dance? This is for all you guys out there that could, would, maybe could, might like (and should definitely) give it ago at some point, so that when you do, you might feel a little more at ease about what will happen…

According to the Boise Contra Dance Society, Contra uses many of the same traditional moves found in square dancing and sometimes if you go to a Contra Dance, you might even get to do a bit of square dancing too. There are about 8 basic moves, and 10 advanced moves. So with only 12 basic moves, learning contra dance is as simple as walking and smiling; Yet the near-infinite arrangements provide challenge and variety for even the most experienced of dancers. Additionally, the caller walks through each dance prior to starting up the music, and then provides helpful prompts while the band is playing. I am not sure if this youtube will help or hinder – all I can say is they look like they are having a lot of fun!

According to the Santa Barbara Contra Dance Society: ‘The caller, usually working with a group of live musicians, guides new and experienced dancers alike through a variety of dances. A dancer and his or her partner dance a series of figures, or moves, with each other and with another couple for a short time. They then repeat the same figures with another couple, and so on. The caller teaches each dance before it is actually done to the music. This gives everyone an idea of what to expect so the movements can be easily executed. The caller leads the dances while they are being done to music, so dancers are able to perform each movement to the music. Once the dancers appear (I like the choice of the word APPEAR, here, as I for one, might not even APPEAR) to have mastered a particular dance, the caller may stop calling, leaving the dancers to enjoy the movement with music alone’.

What I have deemed from my research is that people of all ages and lifestyles, including children, are welcome to the dances. There doesn’t seem to be any discrimination and people from all walks of life are encouraged to come together and make friends. There is no alcohol or smoking allowed at most places as it is all about the music, the socialising and the dancing and often children as young as 7 can join in.

There seems to be quite a few names for the Contra Dance and including the following: Contra Dance, an Old-Time Contra Dance, an Old-Time Country Dance, a Barn Dance, or similar. Most contra dance events will include a few dances of other kinds: traditional squares, waltz, polka, swing and other types of couple dances as well. When I think of Contra or a Barn Dance I always think of the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the barn dance they had in that… it did not end that well, but the choreography was incredible!

And just because I can’t resist, here is the youtube video of that dance from one of my most favourite films…– don’t worry though you will not be expected to be able to perform like this! There is not much Contra Dance going on here!

One of the most amusing things I have learnt is that Contra Dancers make eye contact whenever possible, as it adds to the connecting between people and that of the dance and also helps to reduce dizziness during the swing! Some people may find it a little uncomfortable, but here is a good piece of advice from Santa Barbara on why you should give eye contact a try:You might get used to it and even like it. Remember: they’re gazing into your eyes not because they love you but because they want to make the connection, and they don’t want to throw up on you!’. Wise words indeed. 

I mustn’t of course leave out the musical aspect…

The most common contra dance repertoire is rooted in the Anglo-Celtic tradition as it developed in North America. IrishScottish,French Canadian, and Old-time tunes are common. I have also heard that some sometimes the musicians play Bluegrass. Tunes used for a contra dance are nearly always “square” 64-beat tunes and until the 1970s it was traditional to play a single tune for the duration of a contra dance (about 5 to 10 minutes). Since then, contra dance musicians have typically played tunes in sets of two or three related (and sometimes contrasting) tunes.

And here’s a bit of interesting Wiki fact for you – ‘In recent years, younger contra dancers have begun establishing “crossover contra” or “techno contra” – contra dancing to techno, hip-hop, and other modern forms of music. While challenging for DJs and callers, the fusion of contra patterns with moves from hip-hop, tango, and other forms of dance has made this form of contra dance a rising trend since 2008; it has become especially prevalent in Asheville, NC, but regular techno contra dance series are spreading up the East Coast to locales such as Charlottesville, VA, Washington, DC, Amherst, MA, and Greenfield, MA, with one-time or annual events cropping up in locations further West, including California and Washington state.’

I wonder if that will ever spread to Halsway Manor, Somerset…I’m already liking the idea of a techno-ceilidh or techno-contra fusion… very 21st Century!! In the meantime, we are very much looking forward to a wonderful week of contra dancing with an all-star line-up from the USA of caller Sue Rosen with Bruce Rosen on piano and George Wilson on fiddle, from 20th to 25th May 2013. The week is hosted by Meg Winters who helps everyone to feel at home, the mornings are for dance and music workshops, the afternoons are free to explore West Somerset and the Quantocks, the evenings are for dancing!

Don’t forget that this is a very popular event and not one that happens very often, so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment!

Christina At Halsway

See now, see now… A wee selection of hothouse festival photos 2013.

A small selection of images from the day! it was such fun! Apologies (of sorts) to Sam Brookes for catching him unawares towards the end of a long day, mid yawn! Couldn’t help but post it! He worked very hard as some of the other photos will show! Enjoy!

 

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Welcome to Halsway Manor, Somerset

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Welcome to the new Halsway Manor Blog. Halsway Manor is a creative organisation that provides courses, events and activities for everyone interested in traditional folk music, dance and song, storytelling, folklore, arts and crafts. We are located in the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the South West of England.

We are very excited to be able to use this blog to tell you all about the wonderful things that are happening at Halsway, both before and after the events. We would love to hear from you, so please come and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest as soon as they are all up and running – which won’t be very long!  Don’t forget to check out our website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk too and please feel free to comment on our posts. We look forward to connecting with you!