Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's Nice Up North

Just a few weeks now until we fly into Bozeman for the 2007 Wintergreen Dance Weekend. The Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture is a great site for music and dance and we fully expect to have even more fun than we did in 2003 on our first visit. Seth Tepfer from Atlanta will be calling and we're looking forward to meeting and hearing the folks in Out of the Wood as well. Hopefully we'll get to share some tunes over the course of the weekend with them and some of the other excellent players in the Bozeman area.

It's not too late to catch our own Pat O'Loughlin playing with an All Star band at Tapestry on New Year's Eve. We've all played at this event, together and in various groupings, over the years and it's always a very good way to start the new year.

Contratopia is very pleased to announce that we've added a dance to our calendar for this winter. We'll be playing in lovely Northfield, MN on friday evening, Feb. 23 with our good friend Robin Nelson calling. This will be our first-ever public dance in Northfield and we're expecting it to be really fun. We'll have more details later.

Have a Happy New Year's Eve and remember, if you drink (even a little) let somebody else drive.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Festivities

'Tis the season and there's music aplenty.

Patrice is busy, I'm sure, helping to prepare music for the Winter Festival of St. Thomas Beckett church in Eagan, MN. This occurs tomorrow (Sunday) at 4:00 p.m. and is bound to be a memorable event.

I'm confident that Pat O'Loughlin is putting in long hours learning new tunes (maybe even writing some new tunes?) in preparation for the New Year's Eve dance party at Tapestry with a stellar band that includes Becka Schafer, David Kirchner, and David Edminster.

Erik and I are occupied this weekend (last night and this afternoon) with the 10th annual Burning Bright holiday season concert here in Decorah. Along with accompanying a variety of songs we are priviliged to have a little spot of our own in the program. We're being joined this year by our friend Beth Hoven Rotto from Decorah's own Foot-Notes.

While known primarily as a fiddler, Beth is playing piano with us on a newly composed waltz written in honor of our friend Gordy MacMasters (master musical saw and chromatic harmonica player) who passed away this year titled "G for Gordy". She is then joining us on lap dulcimer while Erik and I play an uptempo "Cold Frosty Morning" on fiddle and mandolin.

While Contratopia doesn't get to play together for another month or so (Jan. 20th at Tapestry) we're all looking forward to the new year and, especially, our upcoming visit to Bozeman. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Mandotopia is a site I've created to bring together a bunch of different mandolin-related projects that I've created over the last few years. It includes links to pages with free sheet music which, while arranged for mandolin, is playable by most treble clef instruments. There are also a few home recordings of me playing some of the music.

There are complete collections of 18th century music composed for "guittar" (a wire-strung fretted instrument most often referred to these days as the English Guitar, although several scholars prefer different terms) including two sets of divertimenti by the wonderful Scottish composer James Oswald. You can also find several pieces by J.S. Bach and G.P. Telemann arranged for mandolins, sometimes with guitar.

You can view, and copy, quite a few of my own pieces as well. My set of Deer Tracks for solo mandolin features both the sheet music and home recordings of the pieces. If you are a mandolin orchestra member you might be interested in my compositions in that genre. My goal here is to corner the market on recently-composed free music for mandolin orchestra so I intend to add more pieces over time. In fact there are several categories waiting for me to add content. I'll get around to this someday.

Finally I've included links to a few articles that I've written that have been published in the Mandolin Journal, the newsletter of the Classical Mandolin Society of America.

Feel free to play and listen to this music and share it with your friends. The old music is in the public domain and I'm making my stuff available using a Creative Commons license. This basically means that any non-commercial use is OK with me. Just drop me a line if you have something commercial in mind.

The photo is a shot of my recenty acquired Pomeroy mandolin. It was brand new when it's creator, Don Paine, took the picture. It's a fabulous instrument and I strongly encourage anyone in the market for a new mandolin (at a very reasonable price for a handmade instrument) to check out the Pomeroy website and contact Don.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Live from the Spanish Ballroom

Contratopia loves to play couples' dances, especially waltzes. We felt particularly honored the first time that the Waltz Time organization invited us to play for the Sunday afternoon dance at Glen Echo and even more honored when they invited us back. To see all those couples twirling around the beautiful Spanish Ballroom is always inspiring. Our waltz CD, Ballroom Echoes, takes its title from a tune I wrote that tries to capture some of that feeling.

Last Sunday was our third (or fourth) time playing for the Sunday afternoon dance and master sound man Jamie Platt ( was kind enough to record the band and give us a copy. Here are links to two of the tunes from that dance.

First is a recently composed waltz, "Aubrey & Andrew's Wedding", that the band has only performed two or three times. This is live and unedited so there might be the occasional mistake but the feeling is good and the dancers were definitely with us on this one.

The pattern for the Sunday afternoon dance is three waltzes followed by some other kind of couples' dance. We only know one tango and we always play it at this dance. Here's a warts and all version of the "Tango Argentino" by Arthur Green with Patrice laying down a solid groove on piano and Pat adding just the right percussive spice.

Feel free to download these mp3s (I hope they're not too big) and share them with friends. Consider the recordings to be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. Meaning they can be used freely for non-commercial purposes but you should ask us for permission for commercial use.

Let us know if you enjoy these tunes. I'm hoping at a future date we can add some of the contra dance tunes that Jamie recorded for us last weekend also.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Glen Echo Friday Tailgate

There's a fine tradition where a small group of dancers get together after the Friday Night Dance at Glen Echo for a little tailgate party, just down the hill from the lovely Spanish Ballroom. Even in November it's not too cold to hang out for a while and talk music, share home improvement stories and/or jokes. (Like the one about the turkish wedding band drummer who goes off to study jazz in New York.)

Contratopia has been able to attend a couple of these events and last Friday night we had a really nice time. I met two "persons of interest" there:

Robert Cox is the creator of a fine series of podcasts that feature contra dance music. Here's the link:

These are half hour collections of excellent music from a wide variety of fine musicians along with some tasteful announcing. Robert was kind enough to feature one of our tracks on his soundcast from 10/20/2006. It's nice to be able to just click on one of these shows and hear some good music, carefully chosen and presented with full credits and links to where you can go to purchase the recordings.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Orrin Star, a master of mandolin and guitar who's especially well-known in the bluegrass world. The tailgate meeting led to Orrin sitting in with us for a dance during the Sunday night contra where I had the benefit of a close-up lesson watching him play my Rigel mando on a medley of "Nail That Catfish to a Tree" and "St. Anne's Reel". His right hand precision and economy of motion gave me plenty to work on for months to come.

I saw today at the Mandolin Cafe that Orrin has announced a series of mandolin workshops from November through February 2007. I'd strongly recommend any mandolin players in the DC region, no matter what style you play, to consider attending these workshops. I know if I lived in the area I'd be signing up.

(Thanks to Pat for the photo of the band+Ted with Fala, FDR's dog.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

DC Pictures and others

If you want to see a few more pictures (more to come later), go to This is the nifty gallery in the corner of a larger gallery of the vocal quintet, Five by Design, which my close and personal friend Al is associated with. Check out their website to meet one of the finest performing groups doing swing and big band music.

While you're wasting your precious time on this nonsense, why not see more pictures of the group taken last January at Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis, MN.

Glen Echo - Purcellville (Bluemont)

Just returned from the Patch Weekend (briarpatch?, pumpkin patch?), a saturday night Bluemont dance (in Purcellville, VA) punctuated by a series of dances at Glen Echo Park. Much music, merriment and spirited dancing with our good pal Ted Hodapp calling and playing button box with us on the hambos.

Too many highlights to list them all in this short missive but we had some memorable moments. The friday night tailgate party, the late saturday diner with the awesome waitress and the sunday night sandwhich shop fiasco will all be remembered for years to come.

Special thanks to Jamie Pratt for his great work with the sound at all three Glen Echo dances and to Peter in Purcellville for working with us in a slighty scrunched environment. Jamie recorded a bunch of stuff and I'm hoping we can share some of that later on.

Can't wait for the next time. The Spanish Ballroom never disappoints.

(Thanks to Ted for the photos too.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fries with that Fiddle Tune?

Erik and I had a unique opportunity to play some tunes in preparation for next weekend's tour this morning at a local fast food establishment. As part of a weekend of events celebrating 20 years of fries, hot apple pies, chicken nuggets, even yogurt and salads in our little town, we were hired to play jigs, reels, waltzes and hornpipes from 11:00 until noon for the folks who stopped in for their coffee or burgers, etc.

We, of course, realize that many people who enjoy contra and couples dancing to Contratopia's music rarely consume fast food. (Erik fits that bill. I, on the other hand, eat way too much of the stuff.) Nonetheless we could hardly resist the chance to play acoustic instrumental music in such an unlikely venue. We only wish that Pat and Patrice could have joined us!

Biggest surprise? The acoustics were excellent! I expected that it would be really noisy but the managers turned all the TVs and video games off and we could hear each other great. The sound was actually much better than many coffee houses and bars that feature music. Smoke-free, no alcohol too! Whoda thunk it?

(Thanks to Jim Skurdall for the photo and for joining us on guitar for the gig's only vocal, "Little Georgia Rose.")

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Another Season - So Many Tunes ...

Contratopia officially kicked off our 2006-2007 season on Oct. 28 at a wedding dance held in the Town Hall at Marine on St. Croix, MN. And what a dance it was! Sir Markus and Lady Rebecca held court surrounded by dozens of the finest lords and ladies.

Robin Nelson called wonderful dances and the band members enjoyed each others' company while playing several sets of either all new tunes or new combinations of old and new. We played "Aubrey and Andrew's Wedding" for the first time in public as a band and it was a particularly sweet performance. You can download a PDF file of the sheet music for this tune at this address:

This was sort of our shakedown cruise to prepare for our visit to Glen Echo and Bluemont in November (17th-19th) and I would say that we are definitely ready for the Spanish Ballroom.

You can find our 2006-2007 schedule over on the "dances and news" page of the Contratopia website. Stop and say hello if you make it to one of our dances.

(Photo courtesy of Pat O'Loughlin)

Monday, October 23, 2006

CMSA 2006

I just returned from the annual convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America in Louisville, Kentucky. Four days and nights of total mando immersion.

One of the many highlights was getting to play with the Atlanta Mandolin Orchestra as they performed my mandolin orchestra arrangement of "Smitten". They did a great job and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. The AMO was kind enough to sell Contratopia's Smitten CD alongside their own new recording after the concert and we sold several that way.

If you want to see some pictures and hear some sound clips from the convention you can go to the CMSA website ( and click on "virtual tour". You'll find me on the page of pictures from Friday leading my workshop on "18th Century English and Scottish Music for Mandolin."

Here's a link to the handout from that session with links to the actual music that we played that morning (

I had a good group of 40-50 players and it was a lot of fun.

(Thanks to David Betts for the photo.)


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pat & I just got done playing with fiddler Linda Breitag for the Friday night dance at the 25th Annual October Dance Weekend in St. Paul. More tomorrow night for me, Pat, Ken and David E. Joseph Pimenthal who we've met in Ames is the caller. Great fun. TTFN

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sample for the band

Here's a sample post. We can add links and images to our friendly and witty prose and poetry if we want. Here's the link to the Contratopia website.