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Sun Jun 17 13:04:34 PDT 2012


long as I've been attending Pennsics (P19), except for the last 3
years when it's been pulling out.  I see the dance band -- which is a
very hazy concept -- as a very fragile culture.  It would take very
little for the trend to reverse again, and for attendence (and skill)
to crash.

If I could impress any one thing upon you, is "go extremely
carefully".  Be careful of your assumptions.

For instance: You seem to be making a (not un-warranted) assumption
about the job being organizing a pick-up band.  However, in the last
few years we've been, more and more, experimenting with fixed/stable
bands, in addition to an open pick-up band.  A Master of Bands and
Musicians should not think of his job as "organizing musicians into
bands", but "organizing bands, some or all of which may be open
pick-up bands" (and he may wish to *ALSO* volunteer to direct the
pick-up band on certain occasions, but that is an obvious and choice
candidate for delegation).

Katriana writes:
> Well, just to offer my two cents:
> 
> --- Octavio <octavio at istal.com> wrote:
> > 
> > My thoughts on the responsibilities of a "music
> > coordinator:"
> > 
> > A.  Receives from the dance coordinator a list of
> > all events for which a
> > band is needed. (Balls, parties, practices,
> > workshops, and nightly dancing)
> 
> The balls and nightly dancing are the big things the
> pickup band needs to be concerned with.  One huge
> point that may get missed in all this "organization"
> is that there are many people who play music in the
> SCA, many of which are available for hire/request at
> Pennsic.  The "professionals" often don't show up to
> play every night for free (Mauggy being the prime
> exception) but would be more than happy to play for a
> private party (possibly for a fee.)  Music could be
> gotten to them in advance if they don't have some.
> "Private" parties in particular, I think, would have a
> much more appropriate feel if the musicians were
> "hired"  The quality of the music might be appreciably
> higher also :-)  BTW, paying musicians/groups could
> allow them to buy books and better instruments
> eventually.

I both agree and disagree with this.  I think the basic issue is
right, but I don't think it breaks down along paid vs. unpaid,
"professional" vs. "unprofessional".  I think it's stable bands and
skilled musicians With A Good Thing Going vs. random unaffiliated
musicians just looking for *someone* to play with.

There's lots of musical talent at Pennsic we don't tap, because of the
intersection of open-pickup-band-ness and lack of
organization/outreach.  Many would probably happily do it for the
fame, without any pay.  All we need to do is make a place for them,
and seek them out.

Some issues both pro and con for you to consider in making the
decision of how and when to use established bands:

* If the random pick-up band musicians can't tell in advance which
nights they're welcome to play in, rather than schlep their stuff over
to the Barn/Tent to see *if* they're welcome, they'll punt, and go out
drinking or shopping or dancing instead.  And erratic and (from the
perspective of pick-up players) unpredictable play-in schedule will
result in a drop of pick-up musicians.

* Established bands can be brittle.  (Says the woman who had *two*
bands back out of KWDS on her, three weeks before the event.)
Especially at Pennsic.  It can be *immensely* hard to book a group for
anything at Pennsic.  What happens when their director's car breaks
down?  Or the bass player can't make it?  Pennsic planning can be so
dicey, and established bands tend to *require* all their members.

* Established bands can have faster turn around between dances
(esp. useful for Caroso Balls).

* Established bands can use their own music.  This means you may get
new, enjoyable sounds, and musicians you otherwise wouldn't.  e.g. Vox
Neves has much of their music arranged for harp, because they have a
bunch.  Their harpers *can't* use standard SATB arrangements.

* Pick-up bands are a primary way how new musicians are brought into
the dance-music fold.  The tradition of having a pick-up band at
Pennsic is a great goodness, if we can make it work, because it will
increase the number of people in the Knowne World who think playing
for dancing is great fun, and maybe go home and start their own bands.
If we fail to make it work, people who try it at Pennsic may instead
bring back the message "Playing for dancing sucks.  I'll never do that
again, and I'll tell all my friends not to bother trying it either."

> Classes are beyond the scope of volunteer musicians. 
> If an individual teacher wants/needs live music (a
> class on working with live musicians for example) they
> will be better advised to choose their musician(s)
> wisely, rather than take random volunteers.  

Right.  It's the randomness which is the problem, not the
volunteerness.  

However, Octavio, if you truly find the job insufficient work, you
might want to be a conduit for dance instructors looking for
musicians. :)

> > B.  Receives notice of interest and keeps track of
> > all musicians interested
> > in directing the band and/or playing in the band.
> 
> Having a general email list and a note on the webpage
> of where to send requests to, fine.  Maintaining a
> list of everyone who stops by the barn at the right
> time to get their name on the list, not so fine.  

?? Katriana is what you are saying here: "Keeping in touch outside of
Pennsic, good; trying to track who shows up at which night, bad?"

> It's the "keeping track" part that I worry about.  I
> tend to like things where interested parties can
> request things or subscribe themselves more than
> arrangments where "someone" is keeping a mailing list.
>  Even on a shire level these quickly become outdated
> and unwieldy.  

Sure.  But we can *also* have a Head Evangelist, to tell people who
show up that the list exists, and he'd be happy to subscribe them if
they'd like.  Expecting people to remember and subscribe themselves
post-Pennsic will be Attrition City.

(We have this problem in the East with our Order of High Merit email
lists (virtual Order meetings).  They were announced when created, but
no one has the job of telling the new award recipients that they
exist, so new award recipients tend not to know about them. *sigh*)

> > C.  Receives a list of dances to be played at the
> > various events from the
> > dance coordinator as far in advance as possible.
> 
> Fine for things like the main ball, not so workable
> for a party or Caroso ball where the dances are
> requested.

Not so -- Caroso Balls have restricted play lists.  They may not be
ordered, and not everything on them may be used, but they're the
pieces you need for that gig.  Same can be done for parties,
especially ones with themes.  

The idea of kicking around a list of "the dances we'll be using for
the pre-1603 party" (e.g.) in advance might have provided opportunity
for "Gloria d'Amore" to make it on the list.

(For those who missed it, Judith kept getting requests for it -- it's
all the rage in Carolingia -- and there was this commedy of errors
trying to get the music for it. )

There is a utility to having a reduced play list.  In those
circumstances in which you're trying to have musicians actually be on
top of the material, and not just reading (e.g. Caroso Balls, or
working with musicians who are poor readers), saying "these 40 are the
ones you need to worry about, just study these" makes the project more
managable.  In increases the quality of the music the dancers get, and
in increases the likelihood of getting a sense of success, on the part
of the musicians.  

> > D.  Coordinates (in consultation with the dance
> > coordiantor) the appointment
> > of a band leader for each event itemized under (A).
> 
> With the reservations I expressed under A.  In years
> past it has worked well (sometimes <g>) to encourage
> other musicians to lead/start/set tempo for an
> occasional number, much as the dancers encourage more
> than one leader per night (not during the ball.)  It
> really does take practice to encourage new people,
> discourage bad practice, figure out what the dancers
> want, keep everyone together (dancers & musicians),
> keep things going and somewhat focused.

Directing a band is a considerable craft.  I strongly agree there
should be a band-leader-in-charge at any given moment, and it
shouldn't be the same person at all moments. :)

(Personally, I dislike having to commit in advance to being at any
specific evening of dance at the War, but I certainly recognize it as
a social good.  Figuring out who is directing *in advance* would
probably solve some problems.)

Also, it's not just coordinating who will be the band leader at each
function, it coordinating with them in whatever ways need happening.
Does the band leader know where the Piles are or from whom to get
them?  Which Piles people can take home?  

We will probably want to use evening band leaders as messengers from
the organizers to the musicians.  Remember the discussion we had about
cups for water at the dance meeting, where we decided the right
solution was for dance masters to promote the bringing of cups by
dancers?  Well, we probably want the band leaders to remind musicians
to bring cups.  There probably will be other, similar sorts of
"pass-it-ons" more specific to the musicians.  The Master of Musicians
and Bands is the logical person to take responsibility for telling his
staff -- the band leaders -- what pass-it-ons they should pass on.

Similarly, musician suggestions and requests might wind up getting
passed up to him, if evening band leaders can't resolve them and think
them pertinent.  e.g. "At 11pm, one of the last lights over the
bandstand blew out, can you figure out whom to talk to to get it
fixed?"

> > E.  Recruits band members in appropriate numbers for
> > each of the events.
> 
> Good luck.  This was a fantastic year for number and
> quality of musicians.  We've had lows, we've had
> highs.  That's why I think that encouraging smaller
> events to arrange for the music themselves (while
> specifying that recorded music is NOT appropriate
> outside a class) is the best option.  Sort of like a
> private battle arranging their own waterbearers/list.

Oh, I definitely think the Master of Musicians and Bands should be
evangelical about playing on the bandstand, and should definitely seek
out bands in proportion with available gigs (and (need it be said?)
never, EVER, just promise every band you meet a gig, with the cavalier
attitude "If they all say yes, well, we'll find *some* time slot for
them to play"; double-booking time slots, or shorting time slots, is
Very, Very Bad Musician Karma.)

However, an important point of protocol: Whomever is running a party
is entitled to book a band, themselves.  The Master of Musicians and
Bands can *offer* his services to find them a band, but they can do it
themselves if they want.

> > F.  Receives, well in advance, the approved Pennsic
> > Pile of arrangements to
> > be used in playing for dance at Pennsic.
> 
> Believe it or not, this year was better than past
> years, we weren't dependent on my old piles for the
> entire time :-)  I think Elspeth has a good
> understanding of the time limits involved and will get
> the pile out early.  Dividing up the work so that one
> person isn't responsible for EVERYTHING will help
> alot.  

A Pile People Question: Elspeth, are you in charge of publication and
distribution?  
 
> > G.  Conducts several rehearsals or classes based on
> > the dances identified in
> > (C).  These classes need to be included in the
> > general Pennsic class
> > schedule.  The music arrangements for these classes
> > must be based on the
> > approved Pennsic pile.
> 
> We have done this on and off in years past.  I've
> shown up, a few others, but for the most part, the
> people who can show up to practice aren't the ones who
> will show up every night at the Barn.  The people who
> play in the barn are often busy during the day.  

Amen, truly and verily.

> Most
> years I try to treat the evening dancing as ball
> rehearsal for the dancers AND the musicians.  While
> they are teaching the dance, we usually have time to
> look over the music, discuss tempo changes, and
> practice (and depending on how long they take to
> teach, get a card game going)  Pickup bands will NEVER
> have the cohesiveness of a group that practices
> together outside of the war.  

Right.  We must be careful to make sure, though, that we don't become
so accustomed to doing it that way on non-ball nights, that we do that
during the ball.  At balls, we need to be more, er, on
the.... right. :)

> What I do see a need for is a "soft band" meeting. 
> Many people who don't have a particular interest in
> dance music want to play their recorder and we're the
> only thing for them at the war.  A general daily
> class/meeting like the loud band has might draw an
> amazing crowd.  And some of the dance music could be
> used as well as other music :-)

A very interesting idea.  This year Anne was busy with the KW Chorus;
in past years, she has done something like this.  It's right up her
ally; maybe she'd be interested.  But Not Our Problem.

> > There was at least one person who was reluctant to
> > participate in an
> > activity to better organize the musicians.  I don't
> > know if it was just a
> > personal (or personality) issue, or if there is a
> > real reason not to assign
> > such responsibilities.
> 
> That was probably me.  I worry about demanding too
> much "organization" of a group that varies depending
> on how people feel at the end of a day of other
> activities.  I've been playing in the barn since
> Pennsic .um.(whenever the first Calontir bus was, two
> Pennsics before we were a Kingdom) with the
> encouragement of Elizabeth of Dendermond in the early
> years.  The involvement of musicians has varied
> widely, depending on the individuals who are present
> and their overall activity level at the war.  
> 
> Leaders and music we can provide.  Musicians we CANNOT
> guarantee.  

I pretty much agree, in that, I see the wrong sort of organizing being
toxic to the enterprise (and it being very easy to slip into the wrong
sort of organizing).

But I strongly feel that participation of musicians is *dramatically*
effected by how (and how well, or not) things are run.  Musicians who
have a good experience on the bandstand come back.  Those who don't,
don't.  Insofar as we can improve musicians' experience -- increase
their fun, their easy of participating, their chance of feeling
successful; and decrease the pressure on them and their fustrations --
we can grow the band.

What we need is not so much to herd musicians around like cattle, as
for them to be "bee-kept": take care of the hive, provide access to
flowers, and they'll just show up in swarms and make honey for you.
(Analogy stolen from Orson Scott Card. :)

In other words, it's not the musicians who need to be organized quite
so much as *musician resources* that need to be organized *for* the
musicians.

(Katriana, am I reading you aright in thinking this is what you're
worried about?  That an attempt to "organize" the musicians will turn
into trying to "nail down" musicians with commitments?)

Some of what I lump into "musician resources" is obvious as such,
e.g. the Pile, and the proposed cubbies for musician-stuff, but other
things I think may be less obvious.  

Time is one such.  Allocating who gets to play when.  If a bunch of
pick-up musicians show up eagar to play and are told "go away, we
don't need you, we have a band tonight" they will feel cheated and
spurned; this can be avoided by managing expectations, and getting
word out in advance when who is doing what, and, of course, making
sure there still *is* time for pick-up bands and that organized bands
don't accidentally edge them out.  Similarly bands should not be
scheduled such that they step on one another's toes.

Directors are another such.  I see directors (aka band leaders) as
musician resources.  From the point of view of someone who just shows
up to play, the director is the person who can tell them what is going
on, who makes sure the musicians' interests are looked out for
(breaks, goodies, etc.), who provides them with Pile copies and clues
("Yes, we really are in that key."), and generally makes sure the
music keeps happening.  Without direction, things get discombobulated
("How many repeats are we doing of the A section?"  "Why are we
playing this like a dirge?"), chaotic ("Did he say 'Black Alman' or
'Black Nag?'"  "Wait, did Cassandra come before Charlotte or the other
way around?"), boring ("Are we going to start or what?"), and
generally fustrating.

So I'm of the opinion, that, like dance masters, band leaders for
pick-up bands should be organized and divy up the nights that need
coverage, in advance ideally, and that pick-up band members, like
dancers, can be free to come and go as please themselves.  

(Mostly.  This is a first approximation.  There is a third category of
musician that I won't go into now.)

(And while rehearsals for dance musicians may be an exercise in
futility, an instructional program for dance band leaders increasingly
seems to me to be a plausibly useful thing.)

Making music is hard enough, and we can make it only so much easier.
But there's all this other... stuff.... *around* making music, that
*makes making music harder*.  *That* we should make easier.  It should
be easy for someone who shows up to play to figure out who is in
charge, what's going on, what line they should play.  where a copy of
the Pile is, whether or not they can take it home, which repeat
structure variant we're using on the next piece, etc.  It should be
easy to get a copy of the Pile.  It should be easy to find something
to sit on, and it should be easy to figure out where to stow your case
so people won't step on it.  There should be sufficient light that
it's easy to read by, there should be sufficient shelter its easy to
keep your instrument dry, or wet, as appropriate.  It should be easy to
find the right version of the piece in the Pile, and it should be easy
to read the notes and follow the line breaks.  It should be easy to
get a drink of water, and it would be wonderful if it were easy to get
to the munchies, when there's munchies.  It should be easy to get on
to and off of the Barn bandstand (physically!).

That's just off the top of my head; there's probably a zillion things
besides, and I didn't even get into Pile details ("it should be easy
to figure out what the melody is... what key we're in... what the
repeat structure is... etc.")

When these sorts of things are easy, musicians come out of the
woodwork.  As the little barriers to getting down to the work of
making music fall, it becomes more fun and more satisfying to show up,
to play, so more people do it.  

I think the reason things have been improving on the bandstand has
been becase these barriers have been falling.  It's obvious what the
numerical argument is (the easier to get to make music, the more
people will do it.)  Less obvious is that this improves the average
*quality* of musicians, too.  The better a musician you are, the more
venues you have to play at the War, the more alternatives you have to
playing on the bandstand.  If playing on the bandstand is too
irritating for them, the better musicians have even less reason to put
up with the irritation.

So, the point of all this being, I advise that, rather than organizing
the bulk of pick-up musicians like employees, more useful is
organizing a great music-making experience for them to have, if they
want it, and then we'll have lots of great musicians, not just at
Pennsic, but going out into the Knowne World, carrying dance music
with them.

All of which you may have already known, in which case I apologize for
belaboring the obvious (I can never figure out what is obvious and
what isn't!)

-- Tibicen



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