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Jane HersheyApril 10, 2016

How did I get here? My experiences playing for historical dance

by Jane Hershey

My first experience playing for historical dance was at the idyllic Crane Estate in Ipswich, Mass., during the Castle Hill Early Music and Dance Workshop, directed by Tom Kelly.  Recently back in the US after my studies in Holland in the late 70’s, I was re-introducing myself to Boston’s early music scene.  What an amazing opportunity the summer weeks at Castle Hill turned out to be!  In classes held all over the estate, a group of eager musicians were farmed out the various dance instructors, who had to put up with whatever we could muster in terms of music performance for their classes.  Baroque classes were taught by Wendy Hilton, 15th century by Ingrid Brainard,16th c. Italian by Charles Garth and Elizabeth Aldrich, and 19th c. by Elizabeth. 

My memory of who all the Castle Hill musicians were fails me.  John Tyson, Jane Starkman and Francie Fitch must have been there, because the experience there inspired the creation of a full-time ensemble, including me, made up of these players. We dedicated ourselves to bringing small scale performances of Baroque music and dance to a variety of audiences with Margaret Daniels as our dancer.  Somewhat on the fringes of the Castle Hill dance program, Margaret had a different interpretation of the historical sources from Ms. Hilton’s, (principally based on the historical pendulum markings indicating tempo, and a measure of intuition) leading her to a faster and more fluid style of dance.  This group, called ‘Les Fetes Galantes’ reached deeper into process of collaboration between musician and dancer in French Baroque music through regular rehearsals, and performances in the Boston area.  Augmented by dancer Carol Pharo, the ensemble did a tour in the early 80’s to the Baltimore/Washington area, which included performances in public schools in Baltimore’s suburbs and was sponsored by Rosa Crocker (in whose beautiful old farmhouse we spent part of the week.)  As a result of our work in ‘Les Fetes Galantes,’ Margaret and Francie and I designed a course at Longy called “Baroque Dance for Musicians,” which ran until Margaret’s untimely death in in the late 80’s.  My clear picture of Margaret’s dancing still gives me pleasure, remembering her talent and her heartfelt, honest work.  Having an intimate view of Baroque dance through Margaret was a privilege.

Charles Garth invited some Boston area musicians, lead by John Tyson, to provide music for his dance company, the Court Dance Company of New York, for performances of 16th century Italian dances.  It was there that I first met Ken Pierce, and saw him dance.  Impressed by his beautiful style, knowledge, and integrity, I was very pleased when Ken agreed to take over Margaret’s role in the Longy course that Francie Fitch, Margaret and I had created.  Since that time, Ken has contributed to the understanding of Baroque music and dance by singers and instrumentalists at Longy with his patient and inspired coaching, as well as further developing his formidable talent as a performer.

Experiencing the connection between music and dance in both Renaissance and Baroque music has had a profound influence on my own music-making.  It is fascinating to have a window on the social and aesthetic world of historical dance. The challenge of supporting dancers moving through space, as they calibrate their expressive gesture and elaborate ornamentation to music being created in the moment, is both sublime and terrifying.  Keeping track of the ‘routes’ alone (the repetition of phrases required by the choreography) is enough to humble most musicians, without even taking the risk of looking up to see if the dancer is still alive and kicking on the dance floor! Having a truly satisfying instance where both musician and dancer in any style share this with each other, and with an audience, is a rare and treasured experience.


Recent posts:

EMW 2019:
Dances of Love and War, by Ken Pierce

EMW 2018:
Transformative Dance, by Ken Pierce

Transformation, by Larry Wallach

Music: A Transformative Art, by Pamela Dellal

EMW 2017:
Music and nature, by Larry Wallach

Images of Nature in Dance, by Ken Pierce

EMW 2016:
Dancing to music, by Ken Pierce

Playing for historical dance, by Jane Hershey

EMW 2015:
Language, by Pamela Dellal

Genre, by Larry Wallach

Legacy, by Larry Wallach

EMW 2014:
The Spanish Golden Age in the Netherlands,
by Anne Legêne

Sephardic Music, by Jay Rosenberg

Ensalada by Salomé Sandoval