My first time at an English country dance music jam

Relatively recently, a new English country dance music jam in the Pittsburgh area has been organized by Maro Avakian, whom I first met through joining in playing for the Holiday Ball two years ago. I was unable to make it to the first couple of meetings, but finally, on a nasty snowy Saturday, my schedule happened to be open, so I went.

I’m not completely new to English country dance music. It was almost two years ago when I first encountered it, as a dancer. As has happened several times now in my life, becoming familiar with the dance got me interested in the music and in the idea of actually playing the music.

It turns out that I’d already played some of this kind of music for myself as a result of my study of the Baroque flute, because method books I have for the instrument include a good amount of dance music from the era. In any case, the book we use for many tunes is the volume by Peter Barnes, “The Barnes Book of English Country Dance Tunes”, a fine anthology. Actually, I ordered my copy only last week and was lucky it arrived in the mail just in time!


We had a pretty good turnout given the weather. Apart from Maro on piano, we had people playing flute, Baroque flute, recorders, ukulele, mandolin, percussion.

I’d brought my flute, Baroque flute, and soprano, alto, tenor recorders, but since there were already two others on modern flute and soprano recorder, I ended up playing just the Baroque flute, alto recorder, and tenor recorder. The Baroque flute is pretty hard to play in some of the keys, and also is kind of soft, so I mostly played the alto and tenor recorders. I gradually gravitated toward improvising inner voices with the tenor recorder. I think I will do that in the future also. In addition, I should bring my bass recorder, to add a yet lower instrument to our group.


We had great discussions about tips and tricks for improvising lines and filling out chords. Needless to say, I was botching up a lot of stuff as I experimented, but you can’t learn if you don’t try!


It looks like I have a new musical outlet, English country dance music. I hope to continue participating in it. As with French traditional dance music, I like the improvisational nature of working with a tune with repetition.

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