Georgian Dance Music for Living Dancers
Blue Pearmain is an early New England variety of apple once common in the orchards around Boston, Massachusetts.
Blue Pearmain is also a historically-informed dance band for country dances, contra dances, & other types of dances from the 18th & 19th centuries.
What kind of music do you play?
We play music for dancing!
The kinds of dancing we play for can be variously described as ‘English Country Dance’, ‘Scottish Country Dance’, ‘New England Contra Dance’, ‘Regency Dance’, cotillons, quadrilles, reels, jigs, hornpipes... The genres have porous edges. They never stopped dancing minuets: why should you?
Social dancing in our place (roughly the English-speaking world) & time (roughly 1770-1830) drew tunes from lots of sources: old & new country dance tunes from England & especially Scotland, dance tunes from plays & operas, music by ‘classical composers’, anonymous music.
We are massive nerds & will find the exact right tunes for the precise decade or milieu that you specify. We love playing for Jane Austen dances & are happy to play some of the non-dance music from the Austen collections, too. We will play for your George Washington events, too—the same tunes that enslaved fiddlers played. If we do our job, that distant past will feel a little different & a little familiar all at once.
What do you mean by “historically-informed”?
Well, that's a real can of worms, but to put some terms on the table:
The instruments we use differ from modern instruments in how they're set up & therefore how they sound. Kateri's flutes are wooden, which gives the instrument a mellowness that the metal flute lacks. They also have a greater variety of timbres across their range because of the difference between an open hole & holes covered with keywork. Karen & Rebecca's violin & cello are much like their modern equivalents, but they are strung in gut, which has a warmer sound. The bows they use are also shaped differently from modern bows, which, together with the playing style they use, accentuates the contrasts between 'good' & 'bad' notes in the rhythmic hierarchy. Alastair plays reproductions of harpsichords & pianos. And sometimes an electric keyboard because it's easier to shlep. At any rate, Alastair is trained in improvised accompaniment by thoroughbass, just like 18th & 19th century keyboardists.
Hand-in-hand with the difference in instruments comes a difference in musical approach. The musicians of the eighteenth century left us many books of instructions to tell us how they thought about music & how they played their instruments. We don't have recordings, of course, but if we take an instrument that is or resembles the original instrument & a set of technical instructions (like how to bow or tongue or finger a particular passage), we can get pretty far into a new sound-world. And it's a sound that appeals to us.
So we do some creative alchemy based on our training in European baroque & classical music, Irish, Scottish, English, & American folk music, & absolutely our own imaginations. If you’ve been social dancing for a few decades, you know from your own experience how the music & the dance have changed in your own lifetime, even though electronic groove Petronella is still Petronella! Open your mind & open your ears to the ways that they have changed over the last two hundred years. We don't think we’re better than what you’re used to, but we know we’re different.
Will you play for my dance / my wedding / my eccentric aunt’s birthday party for her pet emu?
Absolutely. We're glad you asked. Drop me (Alastair) a line to get the ball [!] rolling.
We have worked with callers with a variety of styles & can recommend callers if you desire. With this sort of dancing, the footwork is variable, but the footwork does tend to dictate the groove we choose to play in. There are dances that have been danced in an unbroken “oral tradition” since the late 18th century, but “tradition” splinters in interesting ways. Take Monymusk, for example. I (Alastair) grew up dancing Monymusk as a Scottish Country Dance strathspey. It survived independently in New England as a reel with similar figures. A very different kind of fun! The tune, far from being ancient or anonymous “folk tradition” was composed for an aristocratic patron (Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk) by Daniel Dow, & published in the revolutionary year of 1776. We can't tell you exactly how Monymusk crossed the Atlantic, but we can play it like a strathspey or like a reel, whether the dancers are doing RSCDS footwork, or walking, or doing Thomas Wilson's Regency chassées, or hypothetical historical reel footwork, or running for their lives. Perhaps our most historically-informed attitude is that we are adaptable to the situation!