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NGI Recipient: Tavi Merrill

Session Attended: CDS Boston Centre - Labor Day Weekend (2012)

To the fine folk of Folk Arts CenterONE, CDS Boston, and Pinewoods Camp Inc.,

The opportunity to attend camp this Labor Day was quite unexpected. Despite a glorious time at American Week 2011, I had resigned myself to being unable to attend Pinewoods this year. When Marcie asked if i’d be interested to apprentice on sound, it was your generosity which allowed me to take that opportunity. As the grateful recipient of an NGI scholarship, I write to relay how this opportunity has enriched my experience and more deeply anchored me to the music and dance communities I love. First, a bit of backstory:

Being involved in traditional music and dance wasn’t, at first, something I consciously chose. It began a dozen years ago when, as a violin student, friends dragged me first to Scottish Country and then to contra. John McIntire and Nancy Rosalie, with whom I first experienced contra, became friends and then mentors; they brought me to my first Ralph Page Legacy Weekend. That was 2007, the Ted Sanella retrospective weekend; our lodgings were with Marianne Taylor. (Nancy and John also led a tiny English Country dance in the grange in Thorndike, Maine, and I used to sit in with the band there.) Now, this might all seem a bit off topic, but it has everything to do with the Labor Day experience.

The chance to learn and do sound in C# was truly valuable. For years I’d guessed my way through sound; thanks to Jeff Kaufman, Audrey Knuth, and Julie Vallimont of BIDA I had recently gained a deeper theoretical and technical grasp of the art. Working alongside Charlie to mix sound for workshops and dances at Pinewoods allowed me to apply it in practice, and to rapidly gain experience working with a variety of musicians. International folk sessions were particularly challenging and rewarding, as musicians switched between instrumentals and vocals on a single microphone and merged their voices in soul-stirring harmony. There was a steep learning curve involved, but when at last I heard those harmonies emerge from the speakers in all their subtlety, the feeling was a very nice one indeed. (And there’s still a LOT to learn…)

Sound wasn’t the only way in which Labor Day helped to develop me professionally. The opportunity to observe David Millstone and Marcie Van Cleave at work and to collect dances from them underscored one of my growing edges as a caller: the ability to work with crowds of mixed levels, and select dances which are simple yet enjoyable. Sunday night the elementary of some of the dances surprised me, “but this is Pinewoods!” I thought, yet I watched dancers of all ages join in joyous interaction. I got to dance “Levi Jackson Rag” with Malka: she’s what, 7 years old?

One thing which set Labor Day apart from the American Week experience was the room for write-in sessions. Playing music for a family dance let me watch David Millstone work in a different format, fostered an emerging musical friendship with Audrey Knuth, and let out an inner pianist that’s been dormant for several years. Mixing sound for Ridge Kennedy’s singing square session exposed me to some great squares i’d never heard. Attending Labor Day Weekend helped me make some new contacts, but beyond all the professional(?) growth opportunities, in mealtimes and off-hours, it also offered time to invest in developing new friendships and renewing a precious old one.

If there was a theme to the experience, i’d have to say it was integration. English, international, contra, singing squares, each formation, each different relation of music to dance, musicians to caller, dancers to each other, each made the others shine more. Like Ralph Page Weekends, it left me with a deeper appreciation and desire to participate in all those forms, old and new alike. And here’s where the backstory comes full-circle: Sunday night, at one of the tables of eight, I began talking with a few unfamiliar fellow campers. It turned out one of them was Ted Sanella’s daughter.

Later at that meal as I stood to be recognized with the staff members, I felt that on this second visit, in some small way i’d forged a lasting link to this evanescent yet enduring Pinewoods, the Brigadoon where these connections are made, where our traditions live, where this kind of magic happens. That is no small feeling, and I thank you for making it possible.