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NGI Recipient: Jonathan Magee

Session Attended: Country Dance and Song Society - English & American Week (AM) (2011)

Dear Pinewoods NGI,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to attend English and American Week at Pinewoods.

Being in the American Dance Musicians course, I had the opportunity to play and discuss music all week long. The group of musicians encompassed various levels of skill and experience, yet everyone was open and willing to share and play out together. The course teachers, Eden MacAdam-Somer and Larry Unger, encouraged us all to forget being bashful and dig in. Given that we had such a short time together, we were all happy to do just that–disregard our inhibitions and use the opportunity to play as an ensemble.

The climax of the course was breaking into a few small bands to play sets for an evening contra dance. It was fun finding common musical ground with my bandmates: we each had our own distinct repertoire, which required us to learn new tunes from each other. I found myself encouraging the others not to be shy–after all, none of us would be in the course if we could play perfectly–and we enjoyed shaping the sound of our little band with dynamics and all sorts of variations. This dance was the first I’ve ever played for, and it was a novel experience for me: actively communicating with my fellow players, keeping an ear to our overall sound, and watching the dancers work with our playing.

Eden and Larry offered plenty of ideas on home practice, as well, and I am finding renewed energy for trying harmonizing and improvisation. It’s nice to feel a fresh sense of direction even at home.

English & American week had an excellent community of dancers, naturally, and I enjoyed the many lively English classes and evening dances. It’s always a pleasure to dance with friends new and old, especially when the dances called are so subtle, clever, and well-pulled-off. Joanna Reiner’s calling was impeccable and, to me, a new treat.

Beyond the music and the dance, however, I can now appreciate why so many of my friends and acquaintances are enamored with the Pinewoods experience. There is a wonderful, friendly community which convenes there in Plymouth, meeting full of goodwill and cooperation. I’m happy to be ushered into their number, and I’m happy to recognize the ties that bind together the community even when all have returned to their respective homes.

Now that I’m back home in Western Massachusetts, I look forward to playing for more dances and becoming more attuned to ensemble performance. Playing for that little dance in the camphouse suggested that, however nervous I might be to play for a crowd, there is great fun to be had as a musician, being a small part of a much bigger whole. That is, my own playing had greater meaning when paired with that of other musicians, and even more working with a crowd of dancers. Thus I’m inspired to develop further the skills of playing in an ensemble–listening, communicating, quickly learning tunes, and playing to match the dance itself–and hope to find more opportunities to play outside of my home.

So thank you again, Pinewoods and CDSS, for this chance to take part in English and American Week. I feel that I have been offered much, with few demands in return, so I remain at your service. Hope to see you all at a dance sometime soon.