Monday, May 1, 2023

Q&A with Thomas S. Curren


Photo credit: UMass



Thomas S. Curren is the author of the new book All Join Hands: Dudley Laufman & the New England Country Dance Tradition. Curren's other books include I Believe I'll Go Back Home. A writer, farmer, conservationist, and historian, he lives in rural New Hampshire.


Q: What inspired you to write this book about country dance expert Dudley Laufman?


A: I've known Dudley for more than 50 years now, and had reconnected with him while doing research for I Believe I'll Go Back Home, my book on the Boston-Cambridge Folk Revival of the 1960s. 


Dudley had played at both the Club 47 in Cambridge and at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and I knew that during the ensuing years he had travelled across the country dozens of times as a tireless proponent of traditional dance.


I also knew how much fun his dances were! 


When I came across some old reel-to-reel tapes of his performances, I had them digitized, and gave him copies. While we were going over his experiences he mentioned that no one had ever written his biography, and then my wheels began to turn! I suspected, correctly, as it turned out, that he had a lot of good stories to tell.


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about country dance?


A: I think in general we tend to think of American folk music and dance as 19th century Southern and Western traditions--which they certainly are--but since they were traditions that to a great degree originated in Europe, they first made landfall in New England in the 1600s.


Our various folk cultures were interconnected through personal contact in what I guess you could call artistic intimacy. For centuries, people learned things from each other while sitting around tables, on porches, and in living rooms. Emotions used to be much more dynamic in our lives than machines are now! 


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I listened to old records and tapes, read memoirs and textbooks, and spoke with scores of musicians and dancers.


I think what surprised and pleased me the most was how rich the old town histories turned out to be as source material...I've read a lot of books that hadn't been taken out of old libraries for decades! It was also heartening to hear older people recall in detail the joys of dances that they attended in their younger days...memories that have not lost a thing!  


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: I think the most important lessons to be learned here have to do with how incredibly rich our local musical cultures are, and how little we know about them. In our fascination with what is famous in the present-day, we have really lost sight of how unifying and energizing our traditions are. I think that we used to be a lot more confident in our arts in the past...and thus were more confident in our lives.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I'm compiling a definitive archive of New England traditional dance recordings as a volunteer for the University of Massachusetts...and I'm writing a book that identifies the core character traits that led to America's unique folk culture and influence. It's a lot of work, but it really is an inspiration! 


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Well, you should know where you can go to a traditional dance in your neighborhood! I think you'll be glad if you do!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment