Hi folks, Here’s a piece I wrote for the Maine Fiddle Camp newsletter in late 2019. Part of this also appeared in a CDSS tribute to David in April of 2021. They edited it pretty severely so I thought I would show the whole piece and add some afterthoughts.
David Kaynor was a special surprise guest at the second August week at Maine Fiddle Camp in 2019. Most folks know that David has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), an almost always fatal autoimmune disease, the symptoms of which are never the same. David can’t swallow (that means eat in the normal way, he nourishes himself through a feeding tube) or talk. David CAN play the fiddle (as well as ever as far as I can tell), he can walk, drive an automobile, etc etc.. and has adapted to be able to communicate through electronic means involving his smart phone, a text-to-voice app, and some times a foldable portable keyboard and Bluetooth speaker.
David, a native of western Massachusetts, is one of my oldest and dearest friends (over 30 years) in the crazy world of traditional music and dance. He is one of the finest traditional fiddlers I know of and a GREAT contra dance and barn dance caller and dance choreographer. I consider him my contra dance calling mentor. David has a Maine connection too. His family has a seaside cottage in South Harpswell where we have had many a tune session over the years. David was involved with some of the early Downeast Country Dance Festivals, and has called at dances in Maine from time to time for 40 years or so. BUT for 25+ years, we had never had David at Maine Fiddle Camp. That changed in 2019 thanks to a suggestion by Bethany Waickman. So,.. in August 2019 David shows up at Maine Fiddle Camp!!!
I had talked to David at Fiddle Hell last fall (2018), before his disease had been diagnosed, but after he knew something was wrong. He had trouble talking and his words were slurred, still he called the evening “contra” dances at Fiddle Hell with ease and with the usual humor, sensitivity and accuracy. In our conversations, David said he was pretty sure his contra dance calling days were over. He had trouble speaking spontaneously, that is to say he had to think about everything he was to say and work hard at getting it out of his mouth on time. Not a great situation for a dance caller. David, already aware of what was to come it seems, confided to me that he had hoped to “go out in a blaze of glory” as a dance caller, but that didn’t seem very plausible at this point. Not knowing what was actually going on, we both sort of shrugged and went on with the weekend.
So,.. now.. Maine Fiddle Camp, second August week 2019 (this was the last in-person Camp before Covid). David arrives Tuesday AM amid a flurry of text messages. Doug met him in the ballfield and delivered him to the center of Camp where we settled him down in a “glam tent” and got familiar with the new communication method. We muse at the strange “English” (sort of) accent his text-to-voice app has and plan the day. Some specialty workshops, some jam sessions, a guest slot on the main stage, a Maestro Bistro (Fiddle Camp’s “dinner theater” so to speak) slot, basically all that would be expected of a “special surprise guest”. Still, I have in my mind that David, my contra dance calling hero and mentor, should, through his electronic paraphernalia, call a dance in the evening or at least teach a dance, which is the hardest part anyway, and I would be there to back him up if needed. So I proposed this to him and he agreed.
Tuesday evening, we set up for the barn dance on the stage in the main tent. Dave had his Bluetooth speaker and portable keyboard set up and I put the caller’s mic up to the speaker. The “voice” came through perfectly.. no problem there.. The stage was packed with musicians, the dance floor was sort of “normal”. I think I called the first dance while David played fiddle. Next it was David’s turn. Keep in mind here, I have it in mind that he would teach the dance and somehow I would “channel” him to actually call the dance. That quickly became totally unnecessary as David, typing furiously on his portable keyboard, taught, then called the dance. His timing was PERFECT and the only problem was the app not knowing how to pronounce some words, like “dos sa dos” which came out “doss ee doss” at first, David corrected on the fly, it got better, he corrected again, made a funny comment on the side and everyone cheered. All this happened while he continued to call the dance. There was the normal Dave Kaynor precision, humor, and FUN!! At one point I looked over at him and he was definitely working at it, eyes on the dancers, ears on the music, fingers on the keyboard. The result was amazing. I never had to step in and help and he went right on to call a second dance. As folks realized history was in the making, there were a LOT more dancers on the dance floor too! Afterwards I commented that those typing lessons in junior high school sure finally came in handy, David nodded. Hah.. I also suggested he might have a future in this dance calling thing (and maybe a “blaze of glory”?) Well maybe. I think there were ten or twenty folks, with their mouths hanging open in amazement, videoing all of this on their phones. If anyone could forward me a file or a link, I’d love to get it on the MFC website.
Late Tuesday night was an amazing Scandinavian tune session behind the dining hall that David led and Wednesday more workshops until it was time for him to leave. A bunch of us walked with him to his car, hugs all around, laughter and tears, “see you next year”. Dave hopped in and drove away. Who knows what the future will bring, but a LOT of love was shared in those two days and we all hope David will be back next year!! – bill o.
As I said in the article above, there were MANY folks in the “audience” with their phones out, obviously videoing the performance. All my pleas through normal Camp channels to find one of these recordings (or even a photo) have come up empty. If anyone reading this was there (or knows someone who was) and can help, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org thanks!!!
Obviously, David was NOT back the next year but, stubborn Yankee that he was, he managed to hang around for another couple of years! Here’s his obit that tells a little more of the story: David Kaynor Obituary (1948 – 2021) – Montague, MA – The Recorder (legacy.com)
A few more musings: David’s “home dance” was 2nd, 4th and 5th Friday nights at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA. Through the years I have played and/or called there often, sometimes with David and sometimes “in place of” David. David was a firm believer in “not ever calling off a dance” except when the weather was so bad that lives were at risk. Certainly he would not call off the dance because of a competing event. So, for a decade or so, he hired Pam Weeks and myself to call and play the Greenfield dance as a duo on the Friday night of the Dance Flurry when he was in Saratoga, NY at the Festival. (We would normally meet up with David again on Saturday at the Flurry here we are all playing at the Flurry. Note fiddle harmony here!! David and Pam really hit it off in that respect!). These “Flurry weekend events” were usually small dances (hence the “small band”) but were attended by an enthusiastic crowd who appreciated the fact that there was a dance that night. David would always “put us up” at his place on the common in Montague Center. I loved that house which was right next to the church which would ring it’s bell on the hour and half hour all through the night. Took some getting used to, and Penn Fix, caller from eastern Washington state, actually wrote a dance entitled “the Bells of Montague“.. (read the notes)… The other great thing about that church belfry was waiting at dusk for the bats to “head out” for the evening.. Not sure there was a dance called “the Bats of Montague”.. should be, hmmmm.. Anyway we always felt welcome at David’s in Montague.
More recently, I had the good fortune to play in an actual “band” with David every February from 2015 to 2019 at the Capitol City Grange in Montpelier, VT. Admittedly this band only played one gig per year and never practiced, BUT with David calling and playing fiddle, George Wilson on fiddle, Dave Guertin on guitar, and myself on bass, we would convene every February at the Grange hall in Berlin, VT at what I consider to be one of the best dance venues in New England. We called the band “a Bunch of Old Guys” and there was always great attendance and enthusiasm. We showed the young’uns a thing or two as well I truly believe.
At any rate, I miss David very much. I am still having a hard time understanding a world without him in it.. Sue Songer (of the Portland Collection tune books) has published a book about David and you can get information on that here: David A. Kaynor: Living Music and Dance | (theportlandcollection.com) And here’s a dance I wrote in honor of David: “The Calligrapher” by Bill Olson: – Country Dance & Song Society (cdss.org)
Moving on. I am not sure all my readers know about Maine Fiddle Camp. here’s a link. Make sure to go to the videos page here to see a lot more about MFC! Next month I plan an article about MFC, a traditional music camp UNLIKE any other.. I will leave you with a short video. This is Raz de Marée (Tidal Wave) from Quebec, specifically MFC staff members Éric Favreau on fiddle, Sabin Jacques on button accordion, and Rachel Aucoin on piano. This was a performance for the evening “old time variety show” and they had just followed an act with a young fiddle player fiddling while jumping on a pogo stick.. here ya go…
the CONTINUING TRADITION Number 3
Remembering David Kaynor