Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Singing for the Molly at the Ale

Sunday morning at the Midwest Morris Ale is workshop time, when the attendees organize workshops for each other in various Morris and Morris-related areas. Single-malt Scotch is a Morris-related area, for example. As is shapenote singing. This year a couple of members of the Border team for which I play the drum in the winter months gave a workshop to teach a Molly dance, which is a dance for which the musical accompaniment is provided by a singer. And so I got to be the musician for this workshop, which involves acting as a sort of jukebox: I get called on to sing at indeterminate notice for indeterminate periods, in between long periods of no-singing dance teaching.

I really like doing this, as it makes me feel as if I'm making a very particular contribution to the Ale. As I've written before, my voice (and my singing) are idiosyncratic and not always favored, but singing for dancers is something for which my voice (and temperament) are well-suited. I particularly like that my singing for this workshop is taken for granted -- by which I don't mean I am unthanked or unappreciated (quite the contrary -- I am excessively thanked for this), but that the assumption is that of course I can provide the music for the workshop, without struggle or bother. This tickles me no end, because really this doesn't come easy to me and I work very hard to make it seem as if it does.

The hard part of singing for this workshop turned out to be singing with restraint. There were three sets learning the dance, so there were times when one set wanted to dance through the dance with music and I'd sing the music loud enough for the dancers to hear without concentrating but not loud enough to bother the other two sets. Part of the reason this is hard is that when people are learning a dance, they tend to slow down and it's up to the musician to plow ahead and keep them up to speed without overtaking them, which I usually do with punctuated slightly-anticipatory volume -- I think of myself as singing like a bass drum rather than a fiddle. For this situation I had to use rhythm alone, without the crutch of volume. But it was fun, and my goal was to sing so that nobody was even aware of any work on my part.

At the end of the workshop I sang for everybody together, in three sets, which requires a bit of volume as you can imagine. And then the folks from my Molly team closed the workshop by dancing a different dance which I generally do not sing (and have never sung for performance). Once again I loved the assumption that of course I could provide this music (and it was definitely an assumption rather than a question) -- although it involved a teeny bit of word-improvisation on my part for two of the four verses.

Ok, that's the background, not the story. The story comes later that day. Well into the night, actually. A couple of hours into the pickup dancing, when I was in the next building over at the singing session rather than the dancing, somebody came to find me to ask if I'd sing the Molly from the workshop because some of the people who attended the workshop wanted to dance it. Of course I would. I made my way over to the dance hall and a bit later people formed up into three sets and I gave them two opening notes (that is, two opening words, but it's the equivalent of a box player giving two opening chords to set the tempo) and the dance began.

And something was wrong. In only a measure I found that I was forced to scream out the song, at absolute top volume. What was going on? Was my voice giving out from a weekend of singing? I thought perhaps it was all the ambient noise of the crowded room, combined with the fact that there were three sets of dancers. And then it hit me: Usually I sing this song for six dancers wearing four little bells tied around their shins, which is the Border costume. But here I was singing for EIGHTEEN dancers ALL OF WHOM WERE WEARING THEIR FULL SETS OF COTSWOLD BELLS!!! In a room that echoes and resonates.

Um, no wonder.

I sang at the top of my lungs, with all the diaphragmatic support I could muster. It wasn't exactly pretty anywhere in the top couple of notes (which happen to be a key part of the song for this Molly, held out a bit), and in fact by the end the top two or three notes were pretty much coming out as the same note, but pound pound pound came the rhythm and everyone had a blast. While I screamed my little guts out.

I didn't even attempt to sing any more that evening, for any circumstance, and I was still a little rough all the next day. But let me say again, as I said so often this past weekend: It was SO worth it.
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