Contra jam sessions are from 5:45–7:15 at Griffith Academy in Wethersfield on the second Saturday of each month, immediately preceding the monthly contra dances. There is no jam, however, preceding the special annual Black Friday contra dance, nor at any monthly contra dance if the jammers provide the evening’s music. Jam admission is free, but we appreciate contributions toward the hall rental ($3–$5 would be great).
The jam session provides an excellent opportunity for new and experienced musicians to learn, play, and enjoy the contra dance repertoire. We play a mixture of standard contra tunes—mainly reels, jigs, and waltzes. Players of all instruments are welcome, but please bring your own instruments (yes, that goes for keyboard players, as well). The jam is most appropriate for intermediate skill levels. We don’t play slowly, but not at full dance speed, either. We use an around-the-circle system to ensure that all have a chance to pick tunes. We’ll play anything a jammer wants to play and honor the tempo of whoever selects the tune, even if others might be able to play at a faster tempo.
Jam participants can use sheet music or play by ear. The tune books we use are Susan Songer and Clyde Curley’s The Portland Collection, volumes 1 and 2, and Bill Matthiesen’s The Waltz Book, volumes 1, 2, and 3. These books are available from their authors, from CDSS, from the Button Box, etc. If you want to play a tune not in these books, we suggest you bring hard copies to pass around.
In the past the jammers have provided music for one or two contra dances each year, and we may continue this practice in the future. Sets we’ve used in past years include the following: 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012. See our current sets here.
J.W. SWING’S RULES FOR ENSEMBLE PLAYING
♦ Everyone should play the same piece.
♦ The right note at the wrong time is a wrong note (and vice-versa).
♦ A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note; a wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.
♦ A wrong note played once is a wrong note; a wrong note played twice is jazz.
♦ If you play a wrong note, flash a nasty look at one of the other players.
♦ If everyone gets lost except you, follow someone who is lost.
♦ If you are completely lost, stop and tune.
♦ If a passage is difficult, slow down; if it’s easy, speed up. Everything will even out in the end.
♦ If everyone else has finished playing, skip any extra notes you have left over.
View a video of a recent HCD Contra Jam here.
View a printable schedule of upcoming HCD events here.
The point person for Contra Jam sessions is Rob, and he’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have. If you’d like to get in touch with him concerning HCD Contra Jams, complete the form below.