August 12-18, 2024 // Schwenksville, PA

Take your playing to the next level!

During Cascade of Music & Dance at Kweebec

It’s such a great feeling in contra dance when a whole hall is dancing together to the music. How do we accompany amazing dance music? Join Elvie Miller and friends to find out!

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Program Description

This intensive class will focus on learning to accompany dance music in a way that is simultaneously supportive and exciting for dancers, and interesting and fun for the musicians. Some things we will focus on are:

  • Being able to lock into various rhythmic grooves
  • Chord progressions, key changes and techniques to introduce musical variety into an intrinsically repetitive musical experience
  • Being responsive to other musicians and the dancers themselves

We will focus specifically on accompanying contra dance music, drawing on Irish, Scottish, New England, French Canadian and Old Time musical traditions. Some skills learned in this class will be transferable to other types of dance accompaniment.

To improve our mastery of dance accompaniment, we will do quite a lot of playing, with melody playing provided for us by staff musicians in both sessions. There will be exercises that expand our understanding of what it means to play rhythmically, trial and error to explore how to mold our playing to the dancers’ choreography, discussion of different types of arranging, and experimentation with improvisation.

Come expecting to listen a lot—to each other, to your own playing, to live music during the week, and to recordings from a variety of contra dance bands. It is our goal that through listening and experimenting with new skills and ideas, every participant will be able to approach the tunes they love with more confidence, breadth and joy.

Cascade Musicians
Photo by Joel Bluestein

Course Details and Participation Requirements

This course is intended for intermediate to advanced musicians on chordal accompaniment instruments; participants should already be able to accompany several tunes at contra dance tempo, and should be able to read simple chord charts in common major and minor keys.

We’ll meet for two hour-long periods each day. The rest of the day and evening, you’ll have full access to the Cascade of Music & Dance programming.

Participation is limited to 12. Participants will be chosen based on the criteria above and on their answers to a pre-admission survey.

Survey Questions:
  1. What instrument(s) are you planning to play for the class?
  2. If you plan to play piano, can you bring a keyboard to camp?
  3. What is your range of comfortable keys with this instrument? (e.g. 2 flats to 3 sharps)
  4. What other instruments, if any, do you play?
  5. Describe any experience you have playing for folk dancing in general or contra in particular (number of years, type of band, etc.)
  6. How much contra dancing (dancing, not playing for dance) do you do?
  7. List/describe other dancing styles you do or know (dancing, not playing for dance)
  8. What would you like to get out of this course? (This course is planned around accompanying dance music, so put your answers in this context.) Some possibilities…Setting a groove. Shaping tune sets. Improvisation. Keeping the tempos steady. Varying the mood. Finding good alternate chords/progressions. Responding musically to dancers and other musicians. Increasing your awareness while playing. Getting more comfortable with some subset of tunes (styles, meters, feels, etc.).

Course Leader

The course is taught by Elvie Miller

Elvie Miller

Elvie Miller grew up immersed in the New England music and dance community and attended Family Week at Pinewoods many times as a camper. A recipient of the Watson Fellowship in 2005, she studied traditional dance music in northern Europe, and subsequently moved to music-rich County Clare, Ireland, where she now lives with her husband, fiddler Denis Liddy, and their eight-year old twin daughters. She enjoys teaching, playing music, and exploring children’s literature.

Registration and Fees

The fee for the course is $1,000.

Camp fees cover all accommodation, meals from dinner on the arrival day to breakfast on the departure day, and all of the various dance, music, and song events in the program.

You can find more information about the registration process here. If you need financial assistance in order to attend, please go to our scholarships page.