David A. Kaynor by Sue Songer
The Country Dance and Song Society has selected David Kaynor to be the recipient of its annual Lifetime Contribution Award. His contributions are immense enough to fill two lifetimes. They will be impossible to capture in one blog, but hopefully this encapsulation will give an idea of David’s many accomplishments and wide influence.
Many of you know David as a beloved instructor at John C. Campbell during Dance Musicians’ Week (DMW). David was a part of the first DMW in 1994 and continued as head instructor for that week until 2019.
Over that time period, he built DMW into one of the most anticipated events of the region both through his nightly calling at the community dances (open to both area locals and Folk School students) and through the teaching program he carefully crafted for the development of dance musicians. As a co- instructor, I have been privileged to witness much of how this has happened.
Upon arrival for DMW, it was typical for David to be swarmed by locals, instructors, and students. Many students and instructors would request to teach or take a class during DMW, so they could be there to experience the magic. All of them were so happy to see David; so glad that this special week was beginning. This outpouring of affection came before David had even met the students in his own class. The DMW students would comprise another large group of enthusiasts, some returning from previous years, some coming for the first time, unknowingly about to be inducted into this very large fold.
As a further example of David’s reach, a church camp near the school matched its annual week to DMW so that a busload of their youth could come to one of the nightly community dances as part of their church camp experience. All of this is a result of David’s exceptionally welcoming calling style, his ability to choose dances appropriate to the level of the dancers, his skill at teaching the dances, and his ability to impart confidence to new dancers. You will not have to look far into the group of DMW dancers to find a person whose life has been changed for the better by David’s encouragement to join in the dance.
A similar scenario plays out in the Music Studio with the DMW participants year after year. When introductions are made, returning students talk about the importance of the week in their lives. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think of this room,” one participant said last year. David taught and encouraged music students just as he did dancers, choosing accessible, interesting material and building confidence. The music experience existed alongside an emphasis on collaboration, cooperation, and trust. David set the original tone and over the years has invited co-instructors who exemplified and supported a communal atmosphere. Almost all the students quickly adopt this same attitude. As a result, strong bonds are formed among the participants that carry over long after the week has finished. The music takes deep root in this environment and then travels back to communities in all parts of the country.
Many readers will be familiar with some aspects of David’s work at the Folk School, however, it is only a portion of his influence in our wider world of music and dance. He has been an important part of events across the US. Here is a short summary:
David has long played a central role in Montague, Massachusetts, his hometown. For decades, he lived in the upper story of a large white house on the village green, next to a steepled church and across from the Grange Hall. With others, he established the annual Montague May Day celebration, complete with maypole (David dug the hole), processional (David taught the tune and led the parade), and many other festivities drawing people from miles around. He joined the Montague Grange and the Guiding Start Grange a few miles north. Through his welcoming calling and excellent musicianship, he built a small dance at the Guiding Star to a thriving occasion. He also led a drive to save the building from a sale that would have ended dances there and then mobilized the dance community in a fund-raising drive to upgrade the hall. Meanwhile, he hosted an all-comers jam session every Monday night. And speaking of all-comers, David has welcomed sit-ins (an unmiked group playing behind the miked musicians) whenever he has been responsible for the dance he called or played.
During roughly the same time frame of building DMW, David took on a leadership role at Ashokan Northern Week in New York. There, he taught fiddle, led contra dance bands, played and called at the evening dances, and lent a hand whenever he saw an opportunity to help out. He established traditions such as leading a procession of musicians across the grounds to the dance pavilion each night. Susan Conger described him as “a personality around camp, an absolute fixture and tradition of the week, an increasingly old friend for returning campers.”
More recently, David took on the musical directorship of the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra and became the music director of the new Fiddle Orchestra of Western Massachusetts. Both of these organizations grew and thrived under his encouraging, inclusive leadership.
Between these and many other standing obligations, David managed travel to all regions of the States. He visited the Pacific Northwest twice a year for several weeks each time; He went to Ann Arbor and Flagstaff on multiple occasions. He made two lengthy cross-country gig trips for what was dubbed the Polka Pants Tour. And he called or played countless gigs around the Northeast and throughout the States, including Alaska and Hawaii.
These activities rest atop David’s abilities. He is an accomplished caller, never referring to notes, able to fiddle, execute foot percussion, and call simultaneously. He is a brilliant musician, proficient on many instruments and exquisite on fiddle. He retains melodies as he retains dances with no written assistance. He has a special gift for harmony. He has composed more than 70 fiddle tunes and written harmonies for many of them. He has written many contra dances as well, some of which have become classics.
At this time, David is in an advanced stage of ALS. He is fortunate to be living in the home of a good friend and is surrounded by a team of loving, competent caretakers. His spirits remain strong, and his personality shines through despite considerable limitations. He composes tunes using eye-gaze technology.
So many lives have been enriched by an encounter with David. Students have learned both calling and musicianship from his able direction. They have taken these teachings into their lives and into their widespread communities. When David’s name is mentioned, people smile. They think of his humor, his warmth, the good time they had in his presence whether on the dance floor or in a one-on-one lesson. They think of the way David made them feel included and valuable. They follow his example. And so we celebrate the choice of David for the Lifetime Contribute Award. And we smile!
Enjoy a Few Folk School DMW Memories
Many of the photos below are on the Dining Hall Porch because it is a tradition for DMW instructors and students to serenade diners as they enter the Dining Hall. Also included are photos of the nightly contra dances and scenes from the Music Studio. Click on any thumbnail to start the slideshow.
Dance Musicians’ Week Serenade on the Dining Hall Porch at the Folk School
Playing ‘Liza Jane’ on the porch of the dining hall at John C. Campbell Folk School. Fiddle instructors David Kaynor and Naomi Morse are in the foreground. The banjo duet is by instructor Peter Siegel and student Andrew Lentini.
A Folk School Concert Memory with David and the Pressley Girls
Be transported to a Friday Night Concert in the Folk School Community Room featuring David and the Pressley Girls. In this video, the group plays “Twin Delights” a tune David composed in honor of the Pressley Girls.
The Last Dance at Dance Musicians’ Week 2014
Check out this great video of the very last contra dance of Dance Musicians’ Week 2014 from the evening of Thursday July 11. Instructors are: David Kaynor, Peter Siegel, Naomi Morse, & Sue Songer. Calling is by David Kaynor & the Music is a mix of the instructors and a handful of students. Location: Keith House Community Room at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.
Sue was first hooked on contra dance music as a dancer in the mid-1980s. Since the early 1990s, she has played piano and fiddle in a number of contra and English bands at dances in her local area, as well as weekend and weeklong dance and music camps. Sue published the three popular “Portland Collection” tune books and played piano on their three companion CDs. She organizes and directs the 80-member Portland Megaband, which plays a large annual contra dance in Portland, Oregon. Sue was the recipient of the 2019 Lifetime Contribution Award from the Country Dance and Song Society.