Formation & Early Days of the Band
In the early 1980's there were several of us who were playing New England fiddle tunes who were looking for a chance to play with others. I’d heard about a group in Concord who got together to play music and thought we could do the same. So several of us started to get together once each week to play dance music. After a couple years of this we had a good time, but remained a small group.
At the time the main local dance was in Newmarket. It was a nice hall and a nice dance, but attendance was rather low, which sometimes caused financial problems. One day I proposed to the Music Night group that we play a dance in Newmarket as a benefit to help out the dance series. Everyone agreed it was a good idea, and so we arranged with Claire, who was the dance organizer, to play for one of the July dances.
So in late June 1983 we started explicitly practicing for the dance. Once the word got out, musicians appeared out of the woodwork, and by July we had about a dozen or so musicians playing. This was good as we had no sound system, and was also consistent with my vision of a band modeled after the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra and the Maine Country Dance Orchestra. Somewhat inconsistent with that vision was the fact that most of the musicians were only somewhat familiar with the music and weren’t really dancers.
Our first dance was on Friday July 29, 1983. Rick Barkhuff called the dance. The dance was a tremendous success. We certainly weren’t polished, and were rather stiff in our playing. However, we had a big sound and everyone loved it. The dance was also one of the biggest we’d had in Newmarket in quite a while.
As a result we decided to keep going as a band. We played a few more times over the next several months, with Ken Wilson and Steve Zakon calling with us too. It should be noted that both of them did their first full dance with us (see later discussion of callers). The band became quite well established and quite popular; our dances tended to be the biggest ones around other than Swallowtail dances.
By 1985 Sarah Mason and I decided to learn to call. That’s a big enough topic that it gets its own web page. Once we learned to call, we started to call most of our dances, hiring outside callers only on special occasions.
Band Membership Over the Years
Let's take a look at who has been in the band. This section is based on band phone lists, as well as other band records, memory and information from the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter. The first phone list was from the summer of 1983, before we had become a band; it's just labeled Music Phone List. There were 26 phone lists, of which 22 were from 1983–1998.
When the band first started we had about a dozen members. Over time we lost more than we gained new members. By 1988 we had 10 members, by 1995 we were down to 8 members. Ever since we’ve remained at 6 or 7 members. During much of that time the piano player wasn’t officially a member and wasn’t counted. Including sit-in musicians we’ve probably had a dozen or more people playing at the majority of our dances over the years.
There have been 28 people listed as members over the years. Two were on the first phone list but dropped out within several months; and five more joined between the first and second phone list. About 20 were in the band for at least a year, and about 11 for over five years.
A couple years into the band’s existence we bought a sound system. It was fairly expensive, and we decided to have the band rather than any individual own it. We defined membership as owning a share in the sound system, so any new member would play without pay for a while until the share was paid off. That has made membership very clearly defined.
Throughout that time there has been a core of four people who have been members since the beginning: Sarah Hydorn (flute, whistle), Sarah Mason (whistle, calling), Steve Panish (fiddle) and Peter Yarensky (hammered dulcimer, caller, occasionally piano; that’s me).
There were a couple others who were band members for most of the band’s existence. Dave Cousineau (bass) joined the band in 1987 and remained active until about 2010 when he retired and started spending winters in Florida. We didn’t let him get away with retiring completely, and he was a fairly regular sit-in during the summers. He joined us for the last time on August 1, 2019, after which he moved to Florida year round.
At the beginning I was the one who started the band, wrote out all the music for the band, designed medleys, kept band records, and in general was the leader of the band. After Dave joined the band he began doing a lot of organizing, keeping track of medleys, and he was the one who made sure we had tunes chosen and ready for the next dance.
Burt Feintuch (fiddle) joined the band in 1989, shortly after he started as the Director of the Center for Humanities at UNH, and remained in the band until he got sick in the summer of 2018 and died a few months later. Besides being the lead fiddler (and an excellent fiddler), Burt also took on a leadership role musically. He became the main person to bring in new tunes, he was important in choosing tunes, and as a strong musician he had a huge effect on the band’s overall sound.
Rick McAulay (guitar and mandolin) was here from the beginning. In the early days of the band he undoubtedly had more experience with playing for dances than all the rest of us combined. He’d played for Phil Johnson’s square dances and backed up Milt Appleby for many years. He split his time between here and California where his family was from, and eventually moved back. But he was a regular band member up to 1995, joined by his partner Anita Baldwin (piano) in 1991. We later found out that Rick had played with Jerry Garcia for a while in a pre-Grateful Dead band. Rick and Anita still come back for a few weeks each year and generally join us while they’re here.
Throughout much of the band’s history we haven’t had an official member to play piano. Anita played during the first half of the 1990s, and Terry Traub played in the late 1990s. R. P. Hale and Susan Janssen played for shorter periods. But we did have someone playing piano most of the time. Although not an official member much of the time, Bill Zecker probably played longer than anyone else. He took over after Anita left. Marianne Taylor took over for a couple years until Terry Traub joined the band in 1998. She continued playing after Terry left the band until she died in 2008. Since then Bill has been the primary piano/keyboard player.
In the first three or four years of the band we had Rick Wiley, Ken Rice, and Rebecca Harvey, later Rebecca Rice playing fiddle. Dave Stone also played guitar and Emily Goss played mandolin and did a little bit of calling. Avram Primack played whistle at that time.
There are a couple surprises in the band membership list. David Surette joined us for a while in the late 1980s, and Jeremiah McLane played piano at a series we played for in Atlantic Hall, Kennebunkport (at the time, the only place we played with a usable piano in the days before keyboards good enough to use at dances).
Interestingly our membership has been sufficiently stable that ever since Anita joined the band in about 1990, we haven’t added any new members until after Burt died in 2018. At that time Emeline Dehn-Reynolds started playing, at first as a substitute but then as an official member. She is a strong fiddler and has, like Burt, reshaped the band’s sound and repertoire substantially. Whereas Burt favored Cape Breton and Irish tunes much of his time in the band, Emeline plays much more New England and Maritime fiddle tunes.
The Thursday Night Dance
In turning ourselves from an informal music session into a band, we wanted to make sure not to lose track of our original purpose. Thus fairly early we started having one open practice each month where anyone could show up and play. This was quite popular. At some point I got the idea of turning it into an open dance at which anyone could play or call. So on Thursday October 2, 1986 we started a new series in the Madbury Town Hall. We advertised it as an informal dance open to guest callers and musicians. We charged only $2 admission, which was the same as the admission for the Monday night dance in Nelson which provided a loose model for our dance.
Another important influence for me was the Maine Country Dance Orchestra's dance in Bowdoinham, Maine on the first Saturday of each month; I write about it elsewhere on this website. They did the dance with no amplification. It was a pretty large and exuberant dance, but between having several people to share the calling, not doing really complicated dances, and having multiple accordions they were able to do it. We didn't have all the callers and accordions, but we didn’t use any sound system except for a small amplifier for the caller. There was no stage in Madbury, but we had a small stage for the caller, complete with two footprints to show us where to stand!
At first we barely got enough dancers to pay for the hall. But it gradually grew and for many years was the largest dance in the Seacoast area. In addition to dancers, we have attracted from only a few to sometimes as many as 20 sit-in musicians at our dances, including many excellent and even well-known musicians such as April Limber, Pete Colby and Dudley Laufman. For quite some time we averaged about 10 sit-in musicians, and we had to put a cap at three guest callers per dance. Quite a few people have gotten started at the dance; probably the most well-known at this time would be Chrissy Fowler.
The Madbury town hall was an excellent place to dance and to play. But the people who worked in the town hall never liked having us there. Eventually we got kicked out. I think there was going to be a kindergarten or day care there but it was just a matter of time before they found some reason to get rid of us.
The Lamprey River Tunebook
When we first got started many of the musicians, including all the fiddlers, had classical backgrounds and read music very well. They didn’t have strong backgrounds in traditional New England music. So for the first dance I prepared a set of sheet music. In those days before personal computers and the Internet I copied tunes from various sources to create a tunebook for the first dance. There were 16 pages with 53 tunes, plenty for the first dance.
I discovered that, although people read very well the lack of familiarity with the music led people to play exactly what was in the book. So after that I learned how to write out music, and pretty much all tunes after that I wrote out as my preferred version. That was the beginning of the Lamprey River Band Tunebook. Over the next several years I wrote out quite a number of tunes for the band, at first by hand and later using various music notation software. The LRB Tunebook grew to about 150 pages with about 315 tunes; all but a few were tunes that I wrote out.
Later on after Burt joined the band he started to bring in quite a few tunes and we moved away from having a repertoire clearly defined by the contents of the book.
Over a period of a couple years (2017–2018) I reviewed and revised the music, wrote out some other tunes and updated some tunes from a previous version of the website. The revised LRB tunebook along with the other tunes are all now online in the Fiddle Tunes branch of this website. The tunes are all marked as being from the LRB Tunebook but are integrated with a number of other tunes.
Working With Callers & Musicians
I mentioned that a couple of our early dances were with Rick Barkhuff, Ken Wilson and Steve Zakon. Rick was a local caller who was fun to play for but only called now and then. Ken and Steve are still calling dances, and both got to be well known. Together with Mary DesRosiers they got started sharing the calling for the Nelson Monday Night Dance in the early 1980s (plus or minus a few years). Both did their first full dance with us.
Ken was rather informal and had no real interest in becoming known nationally. He later went through a nasty divorce and left the area; I lost track of him after that. He showed up at the celebration/service for Bob McQuilllen after he died, but I didn’t really get to talk to him so I still don’t know anything about what happened later on. According to the Contradance Links website he calls regularly for a dance in Chagrin Falls Ohio.
Steve became one of the top contradance callers nationally for a while. He has called in Peterborough regularly for years. Although Sarah Mason and I learned to call in 1985 and we called most Lamprey River Band dances since, we have played for a number of callers. I believe we played for Mary at least once or twice. We also played for Dudley Laufman and Tod Whittemore and at least a couple others.
We’ve also had quite a few callers show up from all over the place at the Thursday night dance. One year we played for the well-known California caller Charlie Fenton at NEFFA. For several years after that he showed up at the dance on his way to NEFFA. One time Roger Diggle from Wisconsin (well known as a caller and for writing the dance Roll in the Hey which Sarah Mason calls fairly frequently) showed up and called a couple dances.
Steve and Ken are known for starting in Nelson even if their first full dances were with us. But some people explicitly got started calling as guest callers at our Thursday night dance. One is Chrissy Fowler. I remember her expressing interest in the idea of calling and thinking that she was a combination of outgoing and friendly that would work well for a caller. I encouraged her to do it, and it didn’t take too much before she started calling in Dover. She has become a well-known caller as well, and calls in Maine regularly as well as elsewhere. Gale Wood is another regular at our dance who got his start calling there, and there were others as well.
We also have had quite a few excellent musicians sit in with us. Most notably, April Limber and Pete Colby used to play with Bob McQuillen as New England Tradition. April was one of the best (and in my opinion defining) fiddlers in the New England tradition and Pete really defined New England banjo style so the name was justified. On occasion Sarah and I had to miss a dance. The band often hired April and sometimes Pete to replace us. But they often showed up at the Thursday night dance as sit-in musicians. Unfortunately they died not too long after that. Dudley is the caller who kept the tradition alive when virtually no one else was doing this kind of dancing to live music. For various reasons dating back to the 1970s Pete and April didn’t get along with Dudley. But on at least one occasion we had all of them playing together on in Madbury. That was an amazing experience!