Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Interview with Caller Chris Ricciotti

What is your background in Contra Dance? When did you start? Did you grow up doing it?

Started dancing a 6 yrs old in Coventry, RI. Coventry, RI at that time had a great, very vibrant dancing community. As a kid, I didn't take well to sports, but when I first heard the music of square dancing and discovered square dancing I was immediately drawn to it. I Started off dancing in competition, and eventually they ask me to call at the competitions. in old time style square dancing.
Started calling in competition. I did a lot of dancing when I was in 4H, and when I got kicked out of 4H, because I was of coarse too old, I wanted to continue dancing

What about the Gender Free Contra Dance?The Community behind it?

I discovered contra dance in 1984, and took to contra dancing in Rhode Island back when there was a dance community in Providence. When I got out of college he wanted to continue in contra dance, I discovered that I wanted to bring together two things about my self, my journey of discovery of being a gay man and contra dance. The Gender Free Contra Dance started in 1987, but it started out as Ladies and Gents. I began it in Providence and then it extended to Hartford. Eventually, the community were dissatisfied with the name of it (Ladies and Gents) and wanted something that would be more encompassing, something that everyone could identify with. That's why it is now called Gender Free. The community really wanted to take hold of how the dance was being defined to better represent themselves.

So is Gender Free Contra Dance only in Jamaica Plain?

No its everywhere, Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, North Carolina...

Is this all the result of your started of Gender Free Contra Dance?

No, people would always get together and dance. What I did was development a consistent series where we would get together and dance every other week.

Why is Contra Dance important to the community (lgbt)? What draws people to contra dance?

Contra Dance attracts like minded people. It tends to attract people “outside of the mainstream.” It's a subculture, it attracts people within subcultures. a same subculture. It attracts people who put more importance on feeling good from being together rather than feeling good from what you buy for yourself. It's a group participatory event where you can actually touch each other, and its important because in the outside world it's not always safe to do that.

What about the Brown University Contra Dance? History With it?

The Brown University contra dance started with a group of young people who use to participate in the Providence contra dance when it was still running and decided to get together and start one at the university. When the Providence contra dance stopped running, people Started attending the Providence contra dance. I started sometime in the mid ninties. I believe Andy Grover (fiddler with white squall) was one of the students who helped start it. People would come in around 9:15. The more experienced older dancers would come in to dance early on, and as the night progressed the younger crowd would come in. The dance now has really changed. It's grown to be more consistent.

What about NEFFA?

NEFFA, New England Folk Festival, is a free form networking group that networks the different folk dance communities around New England. There are a number of different dance groups around. Boston has a very vibrant history of dance and dance community. Here there is Contra dance, traditional English and Scottish dancing , Scandinavian style dancing they all exist around the boston area. NEFFA happens every year, and it allows the dancing group to market and network with each other. Callers speak with other callers, dancers speak with other dancers, and musicians speak with each other.

For me, I do this, because it is a way for me to connect with people. It builds a community. It allows me to Network and be with people of like mind. Contra dance shows us the values of generations before us, Making own music, your own dancing, providing your own entertainment without needing it to come from somewhere else. In 1993, I got in my car and traveled across the country, and during that time, when I was away from home, what sustained me was meeting up with dancing communities across the country. Everywhere I would stop and meet up with a different group of dancers, and that allowed me to meet new people which has led to me being able to build bridges from across the country.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Feld discusses the "Africanization" of American music as parallel to the Afro-Americanization of African Music. Right off the bat, I would have to disagree with the notion of American music being "africanized" seeing as how most music genres considered American (rock, RnB, blues, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, soul) are simply rooted in African American culture, they were not original musics that increasingly became "africanized." He focuses on Paul Simon's album Graceland and the politics that surrounded is formation. While Paul Simon contributed greatly to exposing South African music to the west (the U.S. in particular), Feld had a problem with the power structure Simon had over the South African musicians. He felt as though Simon's work bordered on exploitation. Racial, social hegemony is obviously transcendent in the arts as it relates to industry. Feld presents a sort or back handed complement by praising Simon's contribution to South African music in monetary support but condemning him for handling the business aspect of the music (holding the copyrights). Feld did not provide a lot of detail outlining this situation, but I wonder if Simon's holding of the copyright was completely out of malice. Did the pros outweigh the cons in this situation?


Titon discusses the problems of character and plot representation in documentary film which is suppose to be a "real" and "accurate" representation of the subject at hand but often time follows and caters to the filmakers own agenda. He discusses modern non-fiction film as being a misrepresentation of reality through the actions of editing the material to fit a certain perspective, whether it is one of scorn, love, or nostalgia. Does this phenomenon of "altering" reality blur the genre of non-fiction? Should placing the label of "documentary" on a film automatically attribute everything the movie presents as fact?

Moore and Manuel

Moore and Manuel discuss Cuban music from the time of the Cuban revolution until now. Moore focus of the devolopment of music in Cuban. Directly after the Cuban revolution and introduction of Communism, Cuban artists and musicians had unlimited creative freedom, but this period soon came to an end with the destruction of major capitalist businesses like the casinos and the infiltration of government into all things artistic. Although artist were well-supported, their work was solely composed for the government. Provision by the government were reduced to none at all with the fall of the soviet union. This led Cuba into regaining some capitalist characteristics for money. Manuel discusses the development of salsa in the U.S. (Cuban reaction was timbales). Wrongful copyright practices were numerous during this period with the cut-off of Cuban artists from the U.S. Aren't these practices exemplary of many wrongful copyright crimes against minorities in the U.S. music industry during this period, both African Americans and Cuban Americans?


Waxer discusses Cuban musics that were pervasive in the 20th century up until the Cuban revolution in the late 1950's. He begins by talking about the roots of Cuban music and noting that's it's style is representative of a transcendent style across the entire carribean (Haiti, the D.R., etc.) This is particularly true due to the immense presence of African culture in Carribean music due to the slave trade. Although Afro-cuban culuture is pervasive in most Cuban music including danzon, rumba, son (use of clave and montuno), and the bata rhythm, Afro-Cuban identity is often rejected. Is this a direct result of assimilation and colonialization of Cuban by American and European (Spain) culture?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Challenge Question

Jeff Titon writes that "The problem with being a participant observer is that you sometimes know too much. It is like not knowing the forest for the trees: the closer you are to a situation, the less of an overall view you have, and in order to address your project to an outside reader, you will need to imagine yourself an outsider, too" (2002. Worlds of Music. New York: Schirmer). Titon focuses on the study's audience, but what style of ethnography is most beneficial to the musical culture itself? Is the final product of ethnography really just a written project aimed at an "outside reader"?

I believe that efficiency in producing ethnographic research that benefits the culture of study itself is rooted in authenticity and ethics. In Kofi Agawu's article Representing African Music, he discusses the ethics of representation. In short, Agawu concludes that maintaining an ethical outlook while conducting research is one step to presenting ethnography that is “honest” to the culture of study. The definition of what is ethical is circumstantial, because it changes depending on the culture, atmosphere, and context of study. Agawu does site that “deception” can be somewhat of a necessary evil in ethnography when it comes obtaining certain materials of study crucial to the project, but the use of “deception” in research is just as circumstantial as considering ethics. In chapter 10 of IN: Worlds of Music, Jeff Titon discusses ethics as an important aspect of ethnography. He states, “...think carefully about the impact of what you propose to do. Always ask permission. Understand that people have legal rights to privacy and to how they look, what they say, and what they sing... be honest with yourself and with the people you study...” The importance of respecting the culture of study is clear in Titon's statement. First and foremost, a person's image and privacy must be respected and not exploited against their will. Ethics is one step toward benefiting a culture while conducting ethnography.

Titon uses the oxymoron participant-observer to denote a helpful way for producing research that is more authentic. In Gregory Barz's article Confronting the Fieldnote in and Out of the Field, he explores the act of being a participant-observer and how this practice should be documented in research. A researcher must conduct his/her studies both while immersed in the culture and on the sidelines. Efficiently recording research as a participant is linked to the phenomenon of epoche'. Epoche', the act of releasing oneself totally to the moment without inhibition, allows one to really absorb their experiences in a culture. Recording one's feelings and actions in moments of epoche' relays a side to the research unable to be obtained by mere observation. Becoming a participant-observer is one step toward producing research that is more authentic.

The audience of ethnography/ ethnomusicology can most readily be separated into two groups, ethnographers/ ethnomusicologist and “other.” In most cases, people who belong to the culture of study are grouped into the “other” category and regarded as such. Regardless of how ethically one interacts with the culture of study or how authentically the study is portrayed , the relaying of research materials to an audience all comes down to the writing. Who is the reader? Like most research, ethnographic and ethnomusicology studies cater to the esoteric. Without a doubt, writing style and terminology will be most relatable to researchers in the same nook. Whether or not this phenomenon is beneficial to the culture of study depends on the circumstances. Titon talks about providing a copy and explanation of the research to people involved in the study. He suggests that this is an ethical way to inform the culture itself regardless for whom the research was intended.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interview with Ned Quist of Brown University Contra Dance and the band White Squall

David: What is your musical background? What bands or ensembles have you been apart of?

Ned: Well, I started playing guitar in high school, and I played in a rock band like almost everyone did at that time. I also played saxophone in my high school band. I taught myself guitar for the first five years before I received classical training while I was in college. Most of my training has been classical oriented, so I'm probably one of those people who wouldn't be considered authentic (laughs). I started playing this kind of music (folk) when I got here (Brown University) and joined Jeff Titon's Old Time String Band. He knew I played guitar and asked me to join. That's where I met a lot of other people who played at the Contra Dance dances. They asked me to try it so I did. I also met Andy Grover, a recent Brown Graduate (2001), who played fiddle, and we ended up playing gigs together at Contra Dance.

D: So is guitar your main instrument?

N: Well, also I play a lot of saxophone. I used to take sax lessons from an eighty year old nun who was one heck of a sax player. In college I took lessons with David Starobin the founder of Bridge Records. I also took lessons with Ray Chester who was at Peabody where I worked at the time.

D: So how did White Squall come about, and how did you guys get involved in Contra Dance?

N: It came about with me (guitar), my wife Alice (percussion), and Andy (fiddle). Alice were actually both dancers; we had been dancing at the Contra Dance since we had been dating. We met Andy at the dances through a member of the Old Time String Band.

D: So has Contra Dance always been with the Brown Community?

N: Contra Dance is a bit of a movement? You should see a movie called Paid To Eat Ice Cream which is about the history of Contra Dance which has been around for the longest. It goes back to English contra dancing, and it was very much a rural thing here in New England. It has spread all over the world now. I remember a while back when I was in England, I went to a country *edit* dance, and it was completely different from what we do here. It was much more stylized versus contra dance here in New England which is much more athletic and “flirtatious.” The English musicians also tended to use more sheet music in their performance than we do here.

D: I noticed that your wife used a lot of different instruments in the performance. Can you tell me about those?

N: I don't know if the instruments we use are considered authentic contra dance instruments or not. Around here you can utilize pretty much anything in performance. The frame drum she used is an Irish instrument called a Bodhran. It's pretty authentic for playing gigues and reels which is mostly what we play. We play gigues, reels, marches, and a few waltzes. Her Bodhran is actually made by a man in Cumberland, RI who makes the instruments and teaches lessons which is how she learned. You can see and hear the same music played at sessions down at Ri Ra.

D: What style of dances are typical here at the Contra Dance on campus? What is the Cajun Waltz in particular?

N: The Cajun waltz tends to be more shuffling. Depending on whose dancing, people who know the dance shuffle in a straight line and turn in corners rather than a circle like a more Viennese style waltz. They turn in right angles and make a square.

D: Who are the artists that the caller calls out before a dance? Are they the composer?

N: No, they are actually calling out the choreographer of the dance not who wrote the music. He names the choreographer and the name of the dance. The caller tells us what style of music he wants (reels, gigues, etc.) for the dance. Chris Ricciotti is an interesting caller because he actually dances while he calls and does so very successfully. Callers are very particular about naming the choreographer. Tony Parks is one of the well known choreographers in this area. Boston has one of the most well-run contra dances I've ever seen which is the Gay and Lesbian Contra Dance at Jamaica Plain. Many Boston contra dances often have a fund-raising approach where people actually sponsor dances.

D: So is there an umbrella organization over contra dance in New England?

N: Not particularly, but there is NEFFA (New England Folk Festival Association). NEFFA is coming up in April, and there will be tons of contra dancing as well as many of the bands like Wild Asparagus and Nightingale which are two famous bands in the area, but each individual dance throughout New England is its own association which does its own booking and organizing.

D: So do people come far for the Brown Contra Dance?

N: Yes, people come from all over, but it is mostly students. Brown of course is a “crunchy-granola” type of place, and there are a lot of contra dancers here. A lot of kids come with their parents for contra dancing and a lot of students here grew up contra dancing especially those from New England.

D: What is Contra Dancing for you? Is it a hobby? Is it a side gig?

N: Well, its definitely not a vocation or a job for me, but it's fun. It's not a lot of money, but you do it because you like it and you get enough money to pay your expenses for it (instrument costs, travel and what not). It's also good to hear people enjoy themselves and to have fun.