Dudley Laufman's "Calling":
By Janet Farrar-Royce
It was 1945 and Dudley had just turned fifteen when he traveled from Arlington, Massachusetts, to begin work on the Mistwold Dairy Farm in Fremont, New Hampshire. It only took one summer of this labor for the young man to know that this was not the career for him, but he did find the passion of his life on that farm. On an early fall Sunday the family invited several of their relatives and neighbors over for a corn roast. After lunch the group sang hymns and then the farmer pulled out his fiddle. His wife sat down at the piano. Soon music and dancing filled the house and lasted until late that night.
His voice is wistful as he remembers the evening that became a turning point in his life. He makes an arch over his head as he describes the rugged low-ceilinged, wood-hewed house filled with the mingling smells of wood smoke, pies and clothes damp with perspiration. His eyes twinkle and we all smile as he describes how the glow of the fireplace light shone on a young girl's yellow hair. To keep the memories and images of such good times and close community alive would become a driving force of this romantic young man. Thus Dudley Laufman began a fifty-five-year agenda to perpetuate authentic New England contra dance figures and tunes so that others could feel the same resonance, the same sense of community that he still feels.
His Mentor: Ralph Page
The next decade of Dudley's life began by following Ralph Page, the caller credited by many people in New Hampshire as the man responsible for the renewed interest in New England country dancing. Although he attended a few other callers' dances, Dudley didn't like seeing beginners, adults and children being left out of the more complicated dances of other callers. He agreed with Ralph Page's manner of choosing music and dances that allowed everyone to participate most of the time. To this day Dudley is swift to express his respect for Ralph Page and he is proud to participate annually in the "Ralph Page Legacy Weekend" at the University of New Hampshire.
In order to play in the band and thereby take on a more active learning role, Dudley taught himself to play first the harmonica and accordion and then the fiddle. He sought out musicians who could teach him not only the tunes that Ralph was using, but ones that went back to sources from the British Isles and French Canada. Tunes like "Prince William" and "La Grondeuse" were among his favorite "new" old tunes in those early years. Dudley began to call a few dances himself and then he taught himself to play accordion or fiddle and call at the same time.
But as the years went by, Ralph Page wasn't moving with the dance community that he had created. As they became more experienced, Ralph's audiences wanted more complicated dances and more than just the same few well-known pieces at every dance. Dudley's innate talent was soon to be put to use. He was a quick learner and a dedicated student. The young man was ready and the timing was right. Dudley was naturally gathering a following of his own.
The Mystique of Dudley Laufman
The word most often associated with Dudley is "charismatic." He is an independent thinker, an attractive man and a leader. He has always written poetry and still wears his hair in a boyish, unkempt look that is long enough to hang over the turtlenecks that he loves. He is also rugged enough to have built the cabin that he heats with wood that he chops himself.
His return to this more primitive life was in accordance with the free-spirited ideals that were prevalent during his youth. Many other young people drove long distances from their homes and schools to attend his dances because they, too, were searching for a more idyllic way of life. By just being himself and following his own star, Dudley became a guide in a movement that brought country dancing back to the grange halls and church basements of small-town New England.
As Jim Collins said in his article in the December 1995 edition of Yankee Magazine, "He took the torch of a dying oral tradition from the hands of a few old-timers and fired up an entire generation of young people. He took contra dancing out of the history books and made it part of a living lifestyle." By the late 1970s, Dudley became the caller in New England. "Dudley Dances" developed a following that cut across socioeconomic groups throughout the state. The movement of renewed interest in contra and square dancing was firmly established.
David Millstone is a teacher, caller, leader of the band Northern Spy, and producer of the film Paid to Eat Ice Cream. He explains: "In the same way that his mentor, Ralph Page, popularized contra dances for a previous generation, Dudley Laufman was the single individual most responsible for the resurgence of contra dance in the years that followed. Dudley is not just another caller; he is one of a rare breed, a contemporary Dancing Master, an authority on dancing."
A major component of Dudley's success is that he understands that simpler dances are legitimate dances in their own right that are fun for everyone and don't need to be just a prelude to learning intricate contras. Dudley has always been emphatic declaring that dancing is for relaxing and should not resemble work.
Kevin Gardner is a juror for the artists' roster of the New Hampshire Commission on the Arts and a longtime avid dancer. He described Dudley's calling style for me: "Dudley doesn't spend much time teaching a dance. He gives clean, brief instructions and then just plays the music and just gets people dancing. He allows the dance to organize itself as it proceeds. I know of no caller more adept at sizing up a crowd and getting people moving to the music with simple figures. Every Dudley dance is both comfortingly familiar and surprisingly different."
During the 1960s, Dudley traveled throughout New England, bringing contra dancing to large numbers of new dancers. He called thousands of parties, kitchen junkets and events, sharing traditional music and dance with uncounted numbers of people each year. At the now famous 1965 Newport Folk Festival, 16,000 people were clear in their appreciation of Dudley and his country orchestra. One newspaper that covered the event called him "the Pied Piper of Canterbury." By the early 1970s, Dudley was at the height of his popularity and his revival was in full swing. Dancers and musicians arrived at his events, in Dudley's own words, "spilling into the hall like a tipped-over basket of many colored balls of yarn."
Consistent with his inclusive philosophy, Dudley also sought out more traditional contra dance music and dances from the greater New England area. It gave more variety to his dances without forsaking his principals and mission. One of his many publications, Brandy: Seventeen Traditional Québécois Contredanses is an example of Dudley's efforts to keep the traditional New England contra dance repertoire vital and comprehensive. Included in the text are dance directions and historical notes on contra dances that are almost exclusively from eastern Québec. Bob McQuillen, known as the "Dean of New England Contra Dance Musicians," was another mentor and fellow contra dance musician. He credits Dudley as the individual most responsible for researching and expanding the traditional repertoire.
Becoming the Mentor
Dudley became known throughout New England contra dance circles as "The Source," "The Original," "The Last of the Real Thing" and "The Father of New England Contra Dance Fiddling." Dudley willingly shared his tunes and knowledge with scores of musicians who worked with him. His collection of tunes came from diverse sources, and included both centuries-old English country dances, as well as new compositions, a few of his own among them. Soon hundreds of would-be callers and all kinds of musicians came to learn from Dudley. Because of his support and leadership by not just allowing but encouraging sit-ins, there developed a large collection of increasingly excellent musicians that played at Dudley's dances.
In 1998, Greg Boardman, well-known fiddler and caller from Maine, compiled twelve tunes composed by Dudley and a piece each by Haydn, Handel and Mozart adapted by Dudley for dancing into a book entitled, Here's to Every Country Dancer: The Music of Dudley Laufman. It is still a widely used source.
To this day, people still seek Dudley out as he continues to encourage more young people to continue the music and dance traditions he holds dear. It is greatly due to this advocacy that his movement continues to grow. Dudley told this writer that he never views his students as "competition." Instead, he sees them as the best way to further his ability to continue the national revival of traditional social dancing.
Dudley’s students also remain uncommonly loyal to their mentor and close to their teacher’s society of callers and musicians. It is often said that every caller, dancer and contra dance musician in New Hampshire has learned something directly or indirectly from him.
The continually changing collection of musicians working with Dudley made up an extraordinarily large, but close knit, dance band that had the advantage of a diversity of sound unique to contra dances and that could create extraordinary impromptu orchestrations of the tunes they played. Dudley began to refer to this group as the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra and in 1971 CCDO was the first dance orchestra to cut an LP recording, using the jigs and reels most often used for New Hampshire barn and square dancing. These were pivotal offerings in the development of contra dance music, and showcased tunes in a wall of music known as "The Canterbury Sound."
In the early 1970’s, The Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra made four LPs: Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra (1972), Canterbury Orchestra Meets the F& W Sting Band (1973), and Mistwold (1974) on the F&W label, and Swinging on a Gate (1974) with Front Hall Records. Contra Dances, also recorded in 1974, was a 45 rpm. But the group’s apex project, Belle of the Contra Dance, was not recorded until a reunion of the ensemble in 1986.
In the l980s, Dudley worked solo or with one or two other musicians. He formed Canterbury Folk. In 1980 they cut two cassettes: Canterbury Folk at the Belknap Mill and Canterbury Fair: Morris Dancing at the Canterbury Fair. The next year they made an LP, Shake a Leg: Canterbury Folk at the Marble Palace. The cassette Canterbury Revels with RP Hale followed in 1985.
Finally, the popularity of these unedited live recordings prompted the creation of the now classic The Way It Really Sounds at a Barn Dance in 1999, a compilation of fifteen well-known tunes recorded at "Wind in the Timothy" dances. This recording is still listed on Dudley’s website and is a strong seller because it is so aptly named. If you have ever been to a New England barn dance, or even if you haven’t, this recording makes you feel as if you are right there! You can hear the students and sit-ins along with the dancers’ thumping and whooping as they follow his calls. The Two Fiddles first solo release, Jacket Trimmed in Blue, was produced in 1989 and broke new ground in that it included not only instrumental performances, but Dudley telling stories elaborated by his playing of several instruments and tunes.
This is the log
that comes from a tree
that is felled to the ground
and hauled to the mill
sawed into boards
that makes the fiddle
that makes feet thump
the floor that is made of wood.
This is the sheep
who gives of her wool
and this is the fleece
that lines the case
where lies the fiddle
that is made of wood.
And this selfsame sheep
has the guts that cross the bridge
to bring out music
that lies in the wood.
Here is the horse
who has the tail
that provides the hair
that spans the bow
that touches the gut
that makes the music
that comes from the wood.
There is the tree
that secretes its sap
which then becomes rosin
to rub on the bow
which then grabs the strings
making them vibrate with music
that comes from the wood.
This is the hand
that draws the bow
across the strings
that sing of maple and spruce
and these are the fingers
that press the strings
against the ebony
for a night of dancing.
And all the time
the feet are tapping
feet are thumping
all the time these feet are thumping
on the floor that is made of wood.
At around the same time Dudley appeared prominently in the video tribute to dance musician and composer Bob McQuillen, Paid to Eat Ice Cream. And he co-authored a book with Corinne Nash that told the story of and documented much of the music of her father, famous old-time fiddler, Dick Richardson.
Continuing to educate the younger generations, Dudley and his partner Jacqueline have most recently produced White Mountain Reel, a wonderful resource of directions for eleven traditional dances with printed music of eleven tunes to use with them. An accompanying CD includes two cuts of each tune played several times, once with Dudley calling the dance and once with only the music. This text is already being used in many schools by teachers who are learning to call dances for their students and by the students themselves who are learning to dance, play the tunes and call their own dances!
Another expression of the persona of Dudley Laufman is in his talent at storytelling and writing poetry. The same fluency of communication and sense of inclusion that is present in his music and dance calling is evident in his collection of seventeen poems in Mouth Music: Poems & Prose. Titles like "My Fiddle," "After the Square Dance," "Dancing in County Clare," and "I Hope this is a Real Contra Dance" make it clear that this is the poetry of a musician.
Since 1986, Dudley and Jacqueline have been playing dances as Two Fiddles. They occasionally combine the earthy sound of their playing with percussion instruments or clogging that accompanies Dudley’s calling of figures for jigs and reels (including Virginia), circle and contra dances and dances from the colonial period to the present. Jacqueline enthusiastically shares Dudley’s vision that puts emphasis on the fact that even inexperienced dancers can join in and have fun.
They average 300 engagements a year and are often booked the better part of a year in advance. Keeping the authentic ambience alive, they play in barns, private homes, town halls, grange halls, church basements and parish halls. They play for school classes and programs, fairs, festivals, weddings, camps, elder hostels and regional folk festivals. Two Fiddles has toured widely throughout the northeast United States and into Canada. They also have been hired in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Kansas and Minnesota. They were selected to represent traditional dancing at the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.
Dudley and Jacqueline still live in the rustic house he built on the edge of the Canterbury woods. The small structure has one main room with a loft overhead, a bedroom to one side, and a ballroom for dancing. The house is still heated with wood and has no television or refrigerator. A big garden provides much of their food. They live this way by choice, because it is fun and an adventure. They call their home, as well as the dances they give there on the fifth Saturday in the month, "Wind in the Timothy."
Bouncing beams from flashlights and the distant sound of laughter help you find your way down the winding, dirt road to the Laufman’s house. The clearing around the homestead already overflows with musicians and dancers. These friends are a community that verges on family and yet they are all on a continuous mission to seek out and welcome fresh stocks of new recruits. Just minutes into your first visit here, you feel as if you have come home.
Each fall the Laufmans also host a Gathering of Fiddlers at the grange near their home. Musicians and dancers spanning a range of abilities travel from a wide area and pass up paying gigs to attend this dance. It is an annual induction of new dancers and players, a nurturing of the roots that will support all the musicians and dancers in their own performing throughout the upcoming winter dance season, and a homage to their leader.
Dudley continues to make inclusion and continuation of traditional contra dancing a major thrust of his work. He now refers to himself as a "Caller of Barn Dances" and continues to present the simpler, more traditional dances that have always been at the core of his repertoire. As Jacqueline teaches her fiddling students, Dudley continues to tutor his calling apprentices by the oral tradition. As a result there are generally ten to twelve instruments playing behind them at most of the dances they play, which always have more people than room. Dudley and Jacqueline have also spent the last ten years working in schools, often spending all 180 days of a school year in residency.
Still Dudley denies the idea that getting others to follow in his footsteps is a life mission. "The fact that so many have taken to playing, calling and dancing traditional dances is a great thing, but not something I set out to achieve. I just happened to be Johnny-on-the-spot. Playing and calling is the major thrust of my life."
It is often said that every caller dancer and contra dance
musician in New Hampshire has learned something directly
or indirectly from [Dudley].
The 2001 New Hampshire Governor’s Folk Heritage Award
Last fall, Dudley achieved a new level of recognition, not only for his own work, but for the dancing and music that he has dedicated his life to, by receiving the 2001 New Hampshire Governor’s Award in the Arts for Life Achievement and Folk Heritage. Letters of support for Dudley’s nomination, written by Jack Beard and David Millstone, were endorsements of a man — and a value.
"In addition to teaching the traditional contras to avid dancers," David wrote, "Dudley also played a key role teaching dancing to non-dancers. For fifty years he has played a vital role in bringing the joy of traditional music and dance to tens of thousands of people." Jack Beard summarized it simply: "No individual alive today has done as much for the preservation of traditional New England dancing as Dudley has."
But it was when Dudley walked up onto the stage to receive his prize at the sophisticated reception that the audience provided the most tangible proof of the influence of this man. Their loud and sustained cheering only increased when a slide of the Canterbury Country Orchestra appeared as a backdrop and the yelling grew louder still as Governor Shaheen presented Dudley Laufman with his plaque.
Jim Collins, in his article about Dudley in the December 1995 issue of Yankee Magazine still says it best: "What he is preserving and passing on is a tricky thing. Oral traditions, like communities, continually evolve. What is lost over time if they aren’t preserved — is the continuity of those traditions and their foundations. History owes Dudley Laufman a great debt... For as long as Dudley plays the fiddle and calls dances, he will not let us forget. And 50 or 100 years from now, when the true measure of his life is taken, few of us will have touched as many people and left as great a legacy."
Which came first,
the fern or the fiddle?
Must have been the fiddle
poking up out of the ground
in a woodsy place. No?
The fern came first and they
called it a fiddlehead. No?
If they made the scroll on
the fiddle, why didn’t they
call it a fern head fiddle? No.
The fern came first with no
name growing out there
all alone, no name all those
years, then someone scrolled
the head of a fiddle, fern
gets a name. Ever eat them,
the fern, not the fiddle
although it must look like
the fiddler is going to eat
the thing butt first, not I,
hold fiddle on my chest
play from my heart. No really,
ever eat them? Place over
in Cape Elizabeth sells them
side the road. Have enough
patience remove the fuzz
cooked up with butter taste
just like asparagus.
For bookings and information on Dudley’s books and recordings, please contact him at P.O. Box 61, Canterbury, NH 03224; www.laufman.org; firstname.lastname@example.org [Please see reviews of Dudley’s books White Mountain Reel and Mouth Music, Poems & Prose Poems]
[Janet Farrar-Royce is a professional classical musician and teacher, as well as the fiddler of The Reel Thing, an ensemble that, with caller Patricia Campbell, continues Dudley's work in the southeast Connecticut area.]
Wind in the Timothy: The Laufmans' home and home to dances every fifth Saturday.
-- Watercolor by Bob Hubbach
White Mountain Reel, Book & Music CD of Eleven Dances With and Without Calls; Dudley Laufman, Caller
[Two Fiddles, Jacqueline and Dudley Laufman, P.O. Box 61, Canterbury, New Hampshire 03224; www.laufman.org
This combination book and CD features Two Fiddles (Jacqueline and Dudley Laufman) and the Sugar River String Band. It is geared to dancers of all ages and is full of good information about dances and dancing. The introduction explains their aim with this project. Then they quickly go on to address the dances and the music. All of the tunes are in the public domain. Interestingly, they point out that children can play this music as well as adults. This book is very encouraging to its audience, be they dancers or musicians. There is an interesting history of the dance and the music. Many party songs we all grew up with (at least in the States) are old tunes known by other names. Contra dancing goes back to 1650, so there is a lot of history to this music. There are quite good instructions on setting up a dance. Since the CD includes the tunes with and without calls, you can either all dance to the CD or someone can call the dances. There are notes on all of the rules of etiquette and some notes as to how to handle children’s concerns. Each dance is set in an easy to read tabular format with the calls in the left column and what the dancers should be doing in the right. The facing page has the name of the dance and the title for the music and a musical notation for the tune.
There are lots of pictures and some poems by Dudley Laufman placed throughout the book. There is a glossary, called a vocabulary here, and a list of resources at the end. This book is a good introduction to contra dancing and would be of great usefulness to those wanting to teach young folks about contra dancing or even to organize a small group of friends at a party.
— Bob Buckingham
Mouth Music, Poems & Prose Poems, by Dudley Laufman
P.O. Box 61, Canterbury, New Hampshire 03224; www.laufman.org
Dudley Laufman catches the sensuality of the dance and the lilt of the music and much more in these poems. He looks deeply into old friends and situations. His words frame thoughts much larger than the obvious. Often, the fewer words used, the more said. While many know Laufman for his fiddling, dance and other musical exploits, it is his words here that let us know much more about the man.
From tractors lost in sink holes in West Virginia, to an imagined conversation between Tommy Jarrell and G. Frideric Handel, there is a lot of territory covered here. If you are a poetry buff, this volume will please you. If you like writings about contra dancing, fiddle and things country, especially North Country, you will find much enjoyment among these pages.
— Bob Buckingham
Copyright © 2002 Fiddler Magazine
P.O. Box 101
North Sydney, Nova Scotia
Canada B2A 3M1
Editor & Publisher: Mary Larson, email: email@example.com
Music Editor: Jack Tuttle, email jack@Jacktuttle.com
Michael Simmons, email Grimmons@aol.com