The Itinerant Musician

Posted on 3.03.2014 by Gillian Stewart

Over the past month, I've had a brief taste of the life of an itinerant musician, and it's been an eye-opener. Seven cities, no more than six nights in the same bed, five styles of dancing, four modes of transportation, three pairs of trousers, two close encounters with the law, and one running theme: collaborative musical experiences.

On the Road

I spent the first weekend of February in Western Mass, doing percussive dance with a friend who specializes in Southern work songs. In theory, we're preparing for a class that we're teaching in combining song and percussive dance – in reality, we're thrilled to have an excuse to have a lot fun making music. From there, I went to the New York Sword Ale, where the highlight was watching a group from California perform a dance my longsword team had written, combining traditional sword dance from the north of England with a jazz tune from the '50s.

Continuing down the coast, I had the pleasure of spending a week with Dovetail, a DC based collaborative musical ensemble that pulls together an Appalachian ballad singer and fiddler, a blues harmonica player, a classical cellist, an Irish and American guitarist, a Norwegian fiddler, a tap dancer, and an American based, Celtic influenced percussive dancer. After a residency in DC, which included two days in public school music classrooms, we went on tour in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. My final stop, Philadelphia, has me teaching morris dancing to a group of experienced English Country dancers.

Home for FRINGE

After all these adventures, where to go next? Home, of course – to my very own backyard. The Revels Fringe concert on Friday, March 7th, will be at the Somerville Armory – home of my local winter farmers market. When the bandleader, Hanneke Cassel, and I were trying to schedule a meeting to pick some tunes for the show, we discovered we live on the same street – so she came over and we rehearsed in my living room. Some of the performers in the show are people I've known for twenty years – and some I won't meet until the day before the show. I can't imagine a more perfect ending for a month of cross-cultural, collaborative musical excitement than a show that pulls together so many fabulous musicians from different backgrounds and asks them to identify the traditional thread that binds them together – and then take it with them to the edges of their musical exploration.

These are, for me, the fundamental joys of being a folk dancer, performer, and teacher: the chance to mix my tradition with new ones, to travel far and encounter new people and music, to have a wealth of talent in my home town, and to be able, wherever I go, to explore the differences between traditions and revel in their similarities.