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Pat Reesby: A lifetime of filming

Pat was a member of Johnsonville Club from 2009 until 2019 and continues to be very involved in the Scottish Country Dancing community.

She has taken on the responsibility of organising Tuesday daytime dancing at St John’s Church hall, dancing there and at Tawa Club. She is also a keen attendee at classes, Saturday night dances, weekend schools and summer dancing outdoors.

Pat dancing at the Wellington Region 1920s Ball in 2014 with Johnsonville members Rod Downey, Loralee Hyde and Kristin Downey

Pat has also attended New Zealand Summer Schools and danced overseas as part of her travels. This has given her many opportunities to record dances locally, nationally and internationally. Her YouTube channel now has over 200 video recordings of Scottish country dances.

As with photographers, videographers record our memories and create a history of the Scottish Country Dancing community, its people, places and events. Johnsonville Club is very fortunate Pat has captured so many special club events on video, for us to look back on in years to come.

As well as creating a historical record, videos also serve another purpose – they help people understand the dances visually and are especially useful for learning new or unusual formations. Pat’s videos have helped many a nervous dancer feel more confident on the night!

Videography is not the only way in which Pat has contributed to the Club’s history. During her time at Johnsonville, she put in many hours of research producing a booklet Notes for a history of the Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club, greatly expanding our knowledge of the Club’s past. Thank you Pat.

At the Johnsonville 60 Years of Dancing celebration in 2015, President Kristin Downey presented Pat (Club Secretary at the time) with a brightly flowering thank-you-kalanchoe in recognition of her many hours of research into the Club’s history

Pat tells us below about how she came to be an Scottish Country Dancing videographer, with her videos on two Scottish Country Dancing databases – the Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary and Strathspey Server.

Kristin Downey

Dancing videography

I was born in the 1940s and because my father was a keen photographer and I had no brothers and sisters, I was soon fed up with having to pose for the camera.

Pat in a photo taken by her father. She seems to remember he planned to enter the photo in a Health Stamp competition. But if he did, it didn’t win!

Dad had both a Leica and Rolleiflex … and for a while, a Super-8 movie camera. Some years ago I had his old cine film transferred to a VHS tape and could watch my forgotten childhood self riding a bike around the clothesline, and even dancing some sort of jig. (No sound, of course, and I don’t know what I thought I was doing, as I didn’t go to dance classes of any sort.)

For a special treat, click the video to watch early footage of Pat riding her bike and dancing (at 2:23 minutes), in amongst family excerpts
An image from the video of Pat dancing as a child at her family home in Westown, New Plymouth

Around 1993 I bought a video camera. It used VHS tape which eventually became redundant with the advent of digital technology. I roamed around the city with it, annoying my children by turning up unexpectedly to film them at work or videoing a cousin to send to long lost relations. I filmed the antics of a family dog on Lyall Bay beach, and then took the camera to the 2002-2003 Summer School in Christchurch where I did some random filming.

My video camera died. In 2012 I bought a new ‘still’ camera. I had no idea that it would also take movies until one day I went to take a photo … and pushed the wrong button. Amazing!

In June that year I was in Newtonmore, Scotland when I attended a Saturday night dance at the Village Hall and tried filming an all men’s set dancing Reel of the 51st Division … just a minute or two as I had no idea how long the batteries or memory card would last.

But this ability to capture both movement and sound made video well suited to Scottish Country Dancing, I realised. And many people learn best if they can watch the pattern of a dance.

Home again, I filmed a few more dances … and discovered YouTube. And then I saw that a dance I’d filmed was on the Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary website. How had it got there? Emails with Reuben Freemantle (one of the authors of the site) followed, and I learned he was keen to feature videos of dances which didn’t already have them. A challenge! The Strathspey Server website also started to feature a few dances I’d filmed.

My video of Glengarry Homestead, danced at Lower Hutt in 2014, is currently my most popular one, with nearly 17,000 views.

Pat videoing a dance at Johnsonville’s 50 Golden Years Celebration in 2016. Photo: John Patterson

Johnsonville tutor Rod Downey gave my name to a dance he devised a few years ago, and I was chuffed to find a video of Patricia Reesby on the web – filmed by someone in Lyon, France! It seems that Australian and New Zealand dance devisors are well regarded overseas.

When a local band is playing for a dance, a video means we can not only see our musicians but hear them. We’re lucky in Wellington to have so many talented musicians, and I do like to film a dance with live music.

In between videoing dances, Pat takes the opportunity to dance – here dancing Good Hearted Glasgow at the 2019 Johnsonville & Capital City Annual Dance with musician Mary McDonald and Johnsonville Life Member John Homes

When my trusty camera died a year or two ago, I decided to buy a proper video camera, the first since my VHS days. Of course people often use their smartphones these days, but I’m a dinosaur and don’t own one.

But I’ve discovered the Animotica program and can now cut out the start and/or end of a video should that prove a good idea.

Covid-19 lockdowns have meant that many club dances have had to be cancelled this year, and I haven’t done much filming. In fact, the grandchildren have been using my video camera more than I have. On the plus side, my grandson has tried to help me with the finer points of editing with Animotica.

And I look forward to filming a few more dances as time goes on.

Pat Reesby
17 September 2020

Loralee Hyde: Dressed for the part!

Browsing through my photo albums brings back many happy memories of my 46 years of Scottish Country Dancing. What stands out are the fun times with lots of smiles and much laughter; fun dancing to fine music, fun with friends from around the world and fun ‘dress up’ nights – from the more formal annual dances or balls to themed evenings and ceilidhs.

My sister Karen started dancing in Hamilton at much the same time as I did. We’ve had many shared experiences at weekend and summer schools and then dancing with her two children as they grew up – kids love to dress up!

When I started dancing in 1974, most women wore long dresses to formal dances, usually in white. I quickly made myself a white dress but didn’t have a sash until bought one in Scotland in 1979 when I lived in Pitlochry for a time.

1977 Rotorua Queen’s Birthday Weekend School – I’m in the centre with other Hamilton Club dancers

My first dress up nights at weekend school ceilidhs in the Waikato in the 1970-1980s had themes of Down on the Farm, very appropriate to the region.

Enjoying the Down on the Farm theme at the 1982 Hamilton Queen’s Birthday Weekend School. I’m second from the left with my sister Karen at the right.

After I moved to Wellington in 1983, there were lots more dancing adventures, often with Philippa Pointon, and Rod and Kristin Downey and their boys.

I continue to wear my white dress and sash, especially for Hogmanay, and enjoy dressing up for balls including the President’s Ball at Summer School, and the 2012 RSCDS Wellington Region Diamond Jubilee Ball and 2018 NZ Branch 50th Anniversary Ball held at Government House in Wellington. These were such special occasions with the men dressed up in their kilts and jackets and the colours of the women’s dresses glittering under the chandeliers.

Other Wellington Region events where we’ve dressed up for the occasion include the 1992 Easter Weekend School 18th Century Ball, the 1993 Top Hat event and the 1920s Ball in 2014.

1992 Wellington Easter Weekend School 18th Century Ball – Kristin & Rod Downey, Loralee, Margaret, Jenny Vaughan
Wellington tutors at the Region’s 1993 Top Hat event

At NZ Branch Summer Schools, we’ve dug deep into our imaginations to dress up for a wide spectrum of fanciful subjects including Going to the Races, the Roman Occupation and Movie Stars or colourful evenings such as gold or black and yellow.

2005-2006 Auckland Summer School Movie Stars evening – Alex, Rod, Kristin and Carlton Downey

To add to the fun, the band often joins in. The first photo I have of a band dressing the part is of Charlie Jemmett and the Gumboots Band at the 1977 Hamilton Summer School – yet another Down on the Farm evening!

1977 Hamilton Summer School – Charlie Jemmett and the Gumboots Band (Mitch Park, Brent Hansen, Barrie McDonald)

In 1991, I started dancing at Johnsonville Club where Marjorie Crawford was tutor. The first record I have of a dress up night there is of a bad taste evening that year.

1991 Johnsonville Bad Taste evening – Rod & Kristin Downey

From 2000 to 2002, Johnsonville had themes for our annual dances: black and white; jewel; and pink, with the band (Peter Elmes, John Smith and Lynne Scott along with various young musicians) joining in the fun.

Lynne Scott, Bernard Wells, Iain Matcham, John Smith, Carlton Downey and Peter Elmes playing at Johnsonville’s Pink Annual Dance in 2002

Johnsonville celebrated 50 Golden Years in 2016, with a golden glow providing a backdrop to the festivities.

The Grand March at Johnsonville’s 50 Golden Years Celebration in 2016

From 2015, we’ve had lots of fun and laughter at Johnsonville’s annual members’ dinner and dance. Themes ranging from a Bright Mid-winter Night to Viking and Celts to Spring into Autumn have given rise to colourful and innovative costumes galore.

We also celebrate Halloween with a supernatural theme inspired by the Gaelic festival Samhain. A wonderful opportunity for us to become witches, ghouls or other apparitions.

Johnsonville Halloween Samhain 2017

Photos I’ve got from the 1970s to the present give a wonderful record of dancers dressing for the part and having fun while doing so. They also bring back memories of those who are no longer with us including Marjorie, Glenys Mills and Hilda Brodie who all tutored at Johnsonville.

Reminiscing about the happy times we’ve had is almost as much fun as dressing up and dancing at our special evenings!

Click here for more photos of dressing for the part

Loralee Hyde
6 September 2020

Naming dances

Rod and I were in Napier at the end of August for his talk on Mathematics and Scottish Country Dancing, organised by the Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

We always take our dancing shoes when we travel, and we had a lot of fun dancing with the very hospitable Clive Friday morning group (as we did in our June trip to Napier). On this visit Rod took the whole session, teaching a selection of his dances which people would not have come across before.

Looking at the list of dances, I thought there was a story to be told about how his dances get their names, and sometimes their inspiration. They were devised between 2013 and 2019, and run the gamut from easier teaching dances to dances which introduce new formations.

You can see in the list below that Rod’s dances are named for dancers, musicians and events. They are often written as teaching dances for a particular formation, or with a new formation in mind, and sometimes the name reflects the formation.

  • Will Starr (2013) – a famous Scottish musician.
  • Moggie and the Fish (2014) – a well-known Wellington dancer, and a less well-known fish, with both a poem and a dance to record their meeting.
  • Patricia Reesby (2015) – a longstanding Johnsonville dancer, and a new formation.
  • My Golden Bear (2016) – a close family member and an auspicious occasion (or two).
  • Watchmaker (2018) – the teaching formation gives the name of the dance.
  • The Coleraine Rant (2019) – written for a Johnsonville Club occasion, with a double meaning in the name.
Dancing the World Premiere of The Coleraine Rant at Johnsonville in March 2019

Enjoy finding out all about the dances Rod taught to the Clive dancers below, together with photos and links to videos.

Kristin Downey

What’s in a dance name?

Each of Rod’s dances has a story attached to it, and as we dance, we keep those stories alive. Read on to find the stories and histories for each dance, as well as instructions and video links where possible.

Will Starr

Instructions here and video here (note both first and third couples begin in this demonstration version). Written as a teaching dance for Ladies’ Chain in quick time, and named after a very ‘quick’ musician.

Will Starr was a famous Scottish accordionist from the middle of the 20th Century (1922-1976), and was known as the King of the Scottish Accordion. The legend is that he had one speed (‘faster’), as you can hear in this video. You also get to see his fine leg, which he was proud to display in his performances.

Watch the video of this demonstration of Will Starr here

Moggie and the Fish

Instructions here. There is no video of Moggie and the Fish. However this video from Johnsonville’s 2015 Annual Dance shows the related dance The Viking’s Sheepskin which starts with the same new formation, a modified Sheepskin Hey.

Rod learned of this traditional English dance formation when he and Kristin visited Cambridge and attended classes offered by the Capriol Dancers

The dance itself was inspired by Wellington dancer Moggie Grayson’s finding of Rod’s lost ‘fish’ kilt pin at the Shetland Society’s Viking Ball. She mailed it back to Rod together with a clever poem. He wrote the dance to thank her.

Rod’s fish kilt pin on his Dress Macdonald kilt

Patricia Reesby

Instructions here and video here showing dancers from Lyon. It was posted with their thanks to Pat for her many videos of dances from around New Zealand.

Pat is a very keen dancer, a member of Johnsonville Club for many years, serving as secretary, and writer of fine newsletters. This is the first of Rod’s dances to include his new formation La Spirale, he named the dance in Pat’s honour.

Watch the video of Patrica Reesby here

My Golden Bear

Instructions here and video here (taken by John Patterson) from the Johnsonville Tartan night 1 October 2018.

Rod devised this for his wife Kristin, his ‘bear’, for her 60th birthday; and especially in appreciation of her work for Johnsonville Club’s 50 Golden Years celebration in 2016. It features his new formation Corners Pass and Turn in Tandem.

See more about My Golden Bear here

Watchmaker

Instructions here, no video.

This is a teaching dance for the Tourbillon formation. The name comes from Abraham-Louis Breguet’s 1801 patented tourbillon (whirlwind in French), an addition to the mechanics of watches involving slow, continuous rotation of the entire assembly.

The Coleraine Rant

Instructions here, no video.

Devised by Rod for an Irish-themed St Patrick’s night, and as a teaching dance for Poussette. It was named for Te Mata Coleraine, one of the great wines of New Zealand, with a link to Ireland via original winemaker John Buck’s grandfather, who was born in County Coleraine in Northern Ireland.

See details of the premiere of this dance at Johnsonville Club on 19 March 2019

It seems devisors put almost as much thought into naming their dances as into devising them. Thanks to all our devisers who bring us the excitement of new dances and formations and stories.

3 September 2020

Rod Downey: What links mathematics and Scottish Country Dancing?

Rod gives lots of talks as part of his job as a mathematician. Every now and again he’ll mention Scottish Country Dancing, but this is the first time he’s been specifically asked to give a talk on the relationship between two passions in his life – mathematics and Scottish Country Dancing.

The Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society Te Apārangi contacted Rod earlier in the year about giving a talk on that specific topic. The original June date had to be postponed due to Covid-19, but the talk did go ahead this week on Thursday 27 August.

You might wonder, how did they know to ask? The answer lies partially in the fact that Rod wore his Dress Macdonald kilt to the 2018 Royal Society Te Apārangi Research Honours dinner where he was awarded the Rutherford medal. The kilt is his default ‘formal wear’ as he does not own a suit!

As is often the case in New Zealand, personal connections also came into play. Ex-VUW colleague and ecologist Charles Daugherty, and his wife Maryanne Horsfield (a past dancer at Johnsonville Club) retired to Havelock North, and came in contact with the Hawke’s Bay branch of the Royal Society. Charles was the natural person to approach Rod on behalf of the branch.

Public lectures are always a bit of a lottery in terms of how many will turn up on the night. But with at least a set of Scottish country dancers arriving even before Rod did (!) the planetarium was packed. Special thanks to the Clive Friday Scottish country dancers who turned out in force.

Rod had planned to live stream on Zoom, and record his talk for those who couldn’t zoom in live. Live streaming was successful, but technological issues meant that alas, his talk did not record.

Rod explaining progression of couples within a set in Scottish Country Dancing Photo: Isabel Jackson

Read more below to get a flavour of Rod’s talk including links to the Scottish Country Dancing videos he used, or view the full set of lecture slides – the best alternative to the recording that didn’t quite work out.

Kristin Downey

Maths and Scottish Country Dancing

A lecture to the Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society Te Apārangi 27 August 2020

The Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society has an interesting history, growing out of the Hawke’s Bay Philosophical Institute established in 1874. It is very active ‘in the advancement and the public understanding of science, technology and the humanities, particularly through the delivery of lectures to members and the general public of Hawke’s Bay.’

The branch has a good relationship with Hawke’s Bay Holt Planetarium and uses it as a venue for some of their public lectures. Organiser Lynne Trafford purposely chose this atmospheric venue for Rod’s talk – he was surrounded by space paraphernalia, with a model spacecraft suspended above his head.

Rod setting up for his talk with Emre Erturk, President Hawke’s Bay Branch Royal Society Photo: Kristin Downey

Mathematics

Rod first talked about the mathematics he does, beginning with graph theory and algorithms. He also mentioned some applications of his research by others, using paramaterised complexity – things like genomic analysis of the causes of prostate cancer, and data analysis of otitis media in aboriginal communities. He emphasised that the original research was purely ‘blue skies’ research, with no applications in mind.

Rod explaining an application of his research to analysis of the causes of prostrate cancer Photo: Isabel Jackson

Rod then spoke about his new area of research interest, online algorithmics. An online algorithm is one where you have to react to dynamic situations, making decisions without knowing the future. For example a triage nurse must schedule patients as they arrive, without knowing anything about patients who will arrive in the future. (In contrast, an offline situation would be where all appointments are made in advance.)

His research aims to find a general framework to design algorithms to solve these ‘online’ problems. The key aspect of all of this is the visualisation of what is happening to objects as they evolve with time.

So how does this relate to Scottish Country Dancing?

Scottish Country Dancing

For those at the talk not familiar with Scottish Country Dancing, Rod used this video of De’il Amang the Tailors to illustrate an old dance which is loved worldwide, for the choreography and music combination. For Rod, the music is king, and the single most important part of the dance is the interpretation of the music.

When he devises a dance he needs to understand how the interacting agents (in this case people) must behave, so as to enable the phrasing and choreography of the dance. Where should everyone be and when? How can each individual dancer modify their phrasing to enable the dance for themselves and others?

A simple example of this is a right shoulder reel, where each dancer must adjust to the others as they move through space and time. To see clearly how team phrasing works in a dance, look at this video of The Celtic Brooch devised by Hugh Foss (the leader of the team at Bletchley Park which broke the Japanese Enigma code).

Rod enjoys the challenge of constructing new formations for the dances he devises. In this video of his dance My Golden Bear the central figure ‘Corners Pass and Turn in Tandem’ is one of his new formations. All the dancers must work together to enable the figure to succeed.

Aesthetics are also a big consideration for him, he finds both maths and Scottish Country Dancing ‘quite beautiful’.

An example of a beautiful piece of mathematics is Euler’s theorem on plane graphs. Why is it beautiful? It tells us something universal, it is unexpected, and the proof is intuitive, visual and simple. With the stroke of a few lines we see something eternal about all plane graphs.

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a beautiful formation or dance. Rod’s formation the Rose progression has flow, phrasing, visualisation in space and gives a certain ‘feel’ when it is danced. The RSCDS Lyon Branch ‘Ladies 1 team’ demonstrated the Rose beautifully at the 2019 Newcastle festival – watch them dance Library of Birmingham by Kenneth Reid.

Rod’s Summary

For this kind of mathematics we attempt to understand interacting processes as they change with time, and develop algorithms to cope with that.

Rod in full flight during his talk Photo: Lynne Trafford

The creative part is to develop the framework: How to represent things, and the algorithmics: How to make efficient, safe, etc algorithms, and how do I know they are good or maybe the best?

For this kind of dancing we have many agents (people) interacting with time: How to develop an algorithm (a dance), choreography which allows flow through positions.

Both have aesthetics although the mathematics is not usually set to music. A beautiful exception is Dance your PhD by Roni Zohar.

For more information (especially on the maths) view the full set of lecture slides on Rod’s website.

by Rod Downey
27 August 2020

Click here for a short video snippet of Rod in action at his talk Video: Isabel Jackson

CANCELLED Johnsonville & Capital City Joint Annual Dance: 19 September

A series of information bulletins aimed at giving our members all the details they need about our Annual Dance

Annual Dance 19 September CANCELLED
NEW DATE for Annual Dance: Saturday 19 September
Annual Dance on 22 August CANCELLED
Volunteer to help
Learning the dances
Save the date and download 22 August programme!

Annual Dance 19 September CANCELLED

15 September

Unfortunately the Johnsonville & Capital City Joint Annual Dance on 19 September is CANCELLED due to Covid-19 restrictions.

We are very disappointed and also feel for our musicians who’ve worked so hard to get ready for the big day. Thanks Lynne, Sharlene and Richard.

NEW DATE for Annual Dance: Saturday 19 September

21 August

Download the programme with the new date below:

Our Annual Dance on 22 August CANCELLED

16 August

Due to Covid-19 conditions, and in the best interests of our dancing community the Johnsonville & Capital City Joint Annual Dance on 22 August is cancelled.

Volunteer now to help with our Annual Dance

4 August

Volunteers from Johnsonville and Island Bay Clubs helping to set up the hall for our 2019 Annual Dance. See more photos

We do need help from members to organise this premiere dance event of our Club year.

Complete our online volunteer signup form at https://forms.gle/h5SXi4qATj6RGfEw7 by Friday 14 August

Volunteer for the following time slots:

A. Hall Setup: 3.30-4.30pm
B. During the Evening: 7.30-11.00pm
C. Hall Packup: 11.00-11.30pm

More details on the volunteer sign up form at https://forms.gle/h5SXi4qATj6RGfEw7

Using our online form will also be a big help as it will save a lot of time for our Volunteer Co-ordinator Elizabeth Ngan.

We’re well on the way to being prepared!

30 July

  • Rod’s already taught 10 of the 18 dances on the programme – some once, some twice and one dance three times!
  • We’ve again booked Ngaio Town Hall as our venue, it’s perfect for an annual dance
  • Musicians Lynne Scott, Sharlene Penman and Richard Hardie have been practising hard, and will bring us great music on the night
  • The committee has confirmed that entry is free for Johnsonville members!

Our Premiere Event: Save the date!

17 July

Our annual Saturday night dance on 22 August is a very special occasion. It is our premiere dance event of the year, which we organise for our enjoyment, and that of other dancers throughout the region.

This dance is for all our members, from the very newest to the most experienced. Mark it on your calendar, then come along to club as often as you can over the next few weeks, to practise the dances. They’ll be walked on the night for one couple, but the more you know, the more fun you’ll have.

Download the programme below:

Mary McDonald: A world of Scottish fiddling

Mary McDonald is well known as both a dancer and a musician in the Wellington Scottish Country Dance community.

Mary plays regularly in a number of bands for dances in the Wellington region, as well as travelling widely to both perform and attend music workshops, as she pursues her love of Scottish music and dance.

Mary at the right with Lynne Scott and Anne-Marie Forsyth at the Johnsonville September Tartan Night in 2015 Photo: Loralee Hyde

Mary also shares that love of Scottish music and dance with a more general audience through her Family Celtic Dances held in Plimmerton each year. 2019 marked 20 years of these annual dances, which encourage anyone aged 8-80 to give Scottish dancing a go. 1

The band at the 2016 Family Celtic Dance Photo: John Patterson

It’s only in more recent years that Mary’s been part of Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club’s musical scene. Her name is first listed on a tartan night programme poster on 28 September 2015 when Mild Heather (Lynne Scott, Anne-Marie Forsyth and Mary) played for the club’s Tribute to Wellington Devisors, showcasing dances by 11 of the Region’s many fine dance devisors.

Since then Mary’s been a regular performer at our tartan nights, sharing her music and the joyful experience of dancing to live music. Long may it last.

Read Mary’s story of her Scottish fiddling around the world below.

Kristin Downey

Mary on the left at the rear with Lynne Scott and Heather Elder playing The Australian Ladies at the Johnsonville April Tartan Night in 2019 with tutor Rod Downey appreciating the fine efforts of our dancers! Photo: Loralee Hyde

My Scottish fiddling journey

A born and bred Wellingtonian, I have lived all my life in the Wellington area, apart from four years that my husband Duncan and I spent in London. The daughter of a meteorologist and a teacher, I was raised in an environment which fostered both arts and science. My heritage contains the surnames Borthwick, McLaughlin and Fletcher, and my husband is a McDonald whose ancestors came from the island of Mull off the west coast of Scotland.

My early childhood musical memories are of my mother playing classical piano pieces, the notes rippling effortlessly under her fingers. After a year of recorder lessons at about age seven, I was allowed piano lessons. No matter how hard I concentrated (in that one year!!) I could not achieve the beautiful sounds Mum was producing, so I was happily redirected to the violin, taking over the 3/4 size instrument now outgrown by my older sister.

With two of us learning the violin we shouldn’t have been surprised when, in recent years, my younger sister admitted that the reason for her taking up the trumpet was to drown out the noises of us practising!

Throughout my primary and secondary schooling, the orchestras were held together by pairs of sisters from three families who were all friends and learned violin from the same teacher. Hence the orchestral environment was a very friendly and supportive one, and so established the delights of group playing – listening to all the parts which contributed to the whole, and working with other musicians, not just alongside them.

The orchestral involvement continued at Victoria University, Wellington, in the days when the orchestra was open to any student, not just those in the Music Department – I was in the Science Faculty studying subjects such as Geology, Geophysics and Maths. I have to admit that my violin was mothballed during the latter university and family years.

Alongside the music was a love of dancing. Ballet lessons were (just about) every little girl’s dream back then, and I was lucky enough to learn during my school years. The school curriculum in those olden days included Folk Dancing. In retrospect I realise that we were actually doing Scottish Country dances, which I adored. Music and dancing were inextricably woven into my upbringing.

A coincidental meeting with Lynne Scott caused the dusting off of the violin, and it was she who introduced me to the Hutt Valley Orchestra. This was followed by an invitation to play for some Scottish Country Dancing at Island Bay Club. As I only had music for a few sets, I was encouraged to dance the rest. As my competence grew, I was welcomed onto the stage by Peter Elmes, to play behind John Smith, learning from him and gaining great encouragement into the world of Scottish fiddling.

I have attended many dancing and fiddle schools here and around the world, with exposure to Scottish music styles ranging from the Scottish Outer Hebrides to Shetland; West Highlands to Cape Breton, with its mix of Irish, Scottish, French and First Nations; American-Celtic to Australian-Scottish.

Particularly memorable were two week-long schools held in Scotland, organised by Anne-Marie Forsyth, one in Haddon Castle near Perth, and the other in Foyers Lodge on the banks of Loch Ness, learning from local fiddlers.

There have been many more highlights on the path to my developing as a Scottish fiddler.

I attended the Musicians Class at the week-long RSCDS Summer School at St Andrews in Scotland, which culminated in playing on stage in the hallowed Younger Hall for the Final Night, seated next to the young Scottish piano and accordion player James Gray.

Being one of four fiddlers on the TAC (Teacher’s Association of Canada) Music Course in Denver, unexpectedly invited to play the whole night with Scottish fiddlers Keith Smith and Judy Nicholson, was a fiddler’s dream come true.

Duncan and I spent a month in Edinburgh playing with the Shetland Fiddlers (Hjaltibonhoga) in the Royal Military Tattoo (26 performances) on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, and I had the honour of being chosen from their number to perform at Holyrood Palace for Prince Charles and Prince William (the first time they had attended the tattoo), and to speak to both of them.

Mary at the left with Prince Charles and Prince William

Kiwi Kilties – Sharlene Penman (keyboard), Duncan (drums) and I played for dances put on in our honour in Grenoble and Lyon in France, and on Manhattan Island for the Scotia Dancers of New York.

The Kiwi Kilties: Mary with Sharlene Penman and Duncan McDonald

I have enjoyed playing for numerous dancing classes with Lynne Scott, and we were asked to provide music for the sound track of the New Zealand film about Sheila Natusch, No Ordinary Sheila, that reflected her Orkney heritage.

I play in a number of bands. Wild Heather (Lynne Scott, Sharlene Penman, Anne-Marie Forsyth and I) played as the headline band at the Nelson Summer School, when the overseas musician was forced to pull out. As part of the Wellington-based ceilidh band Schiehallion, I had an immense amount of enjoyment playing for a visiting group of Scottish Reelers in the ballroom of Larnach Castle in Dunedin.

The Schiehallion Ceilidh Band on the steps of Larnach Castle in February 2020

In establishing my Saltire Scottish Dance Band last year, I have had to rapidly develop band leadership skills, and the ability to arrange sets of music which assist and energise the dancers.

I am very grateful to the many people who have encouraged and assisted me on my Scottish fiddling journey, and so allow me to share a love of music, dancing and things Scottish with others.

Mary McDonald
20 August 2020

  1. Find out more about the Family Celtic Dance by Johnsonville member Désirée Patterson, who attended the 2016 Family Celtic Dance and wrote about it in her blog, with photos by husband John.[]

Lynne Scott: A musical biography

Lynne Scott is well known in the Scottish Country Dancing music scene both locally and nationally, playing for any number of Scottish Country Dancing events throughout New Zealand with a variety of musicians joining her bands.

She is the current Music Advisor for the RSCDS NZ Branch, writing articles and running workshops to help dancers, musicians and tutors have a better understanding of Scottish Country Dancing music.

Lynne is also known for her car number plate Violyn and the dance Violynne which club tutor Rod Downey wrote for her in 2004.

It’s hard to say when Lynne first played at Johnsonville, as she was initially ‘sitting in’ rather than a band member. Additionally, there was a longstanding convention of listing bands by the name of the leader e.g. Peter Elmes’ Band or Peter Elmes and Associates. We now list all musicians by name on dance programmes. 1

The earliest record we have of Lynne playing for Johnsonville – at our Jewel Annual Dance in 2001 with Iain Matcham, Carlton Downey, Hamish Cook, John Smith and Peter Elmes. With spectacular decorations in jewel colours provided by Life Members Aline and John Homes Photo: Loralee Hyde

Enjoy what Lynne has to say below about the musical journey that led her to Scottish fiddling.

Kristin Downey

Violynne

I grew up in Feilding, the eldest of four. The old lady down the road gave me piano lessons, and once I got to high school in Palmerston North, I discovered an affinity with the violin. Youth Orchestra was a passion for a long time! My uncle lent me his piano accordion for a couple of years, and I taught myself the basics sitting on my bed.

An abiding love of Scottish dance grew when, as a teenager, I followed the district’s pipe bands to their regular Saturday night ‘Inglesides’. An Ingleside is a monthly social and dance, which loosely translated means a ‘gathering around the fireside’.

I never wanted to play the pipes, but oh, how I longed for some Scottish ancestry to validate the thrill of dancing! Some years later I discovered that my grandfather was actually born in Dundee – but nobody had ever mentioned it!

My university studies brought me a music degree and a library school diploma. James and I married and took up Scottish Country Dancing in Christchurch. Then, living in England for seven years gave us access to Europe and, of course, Scotland. I worked as a Systems Analyst in Farnborough, and we danced at a local Scottish Country Dancing club.

Back in New Zealand it was time for babies and back to dabbling in music: re-learning the violin, then teaching violin, recorder, piano and theory as well. I find teaching a most rewarding job. The accordion came back to me and did sterling duty at Playcentre. Our daughters have grown up to be excellent musicians  – perhaps it was never an option to be otherwise!

We joined the Island Bay Scottish Country Dancing Club (this was 1985) and danced with great pleasure to Peter Elmes Band. Fiddling lessons with John Smith, followed by the opportunity to sit in on stage, gave me a real incentive to learn Scottish fiddle style.

Then one day I was watching the pianist, Merren Simmonds, and casually said to Peter “if you’re ever short of a pianist…” And so, eventually, a new career was born as a band pianist. I will be forever grateful to Peter and John for their support and guidance, and the opportunity to play for dancing with them for so many years.

My interest in fiddling grew alongside the band work. There were many fiddle camps (SHISSF in Upper Hutt and Scotstringnz in Auckland). A couple of silver medals from the Waipu Solo Fiddle Contest decorate my wall, but that Gold is still out of reach!

With well-deserved fiddle contest medals!

A real career highlight was playing as one of the Shetland fiddle team Hjaltibonhoga, in Edinburgh Military Tattoos in Wellington, Edinburgh and Sydney – a most amazingly surreal and emotional experience, as well as being physically, musically and technically challenging.

At Edinburgh Castle with Mary and Duncan McDonald

Chasing the goal of Scottish Country Dancing-musicianship, I attended the very first Musicians course at the RSCDS Summer School at St Andrews (and then two more), and then music courses in Germany, Portland Oregon, and Denver. In time I became the NZ RSCDS Branch Music Adviser, and with this hat on I have tried to encourage and mentor New Zealand’s growing bunch of Scottish Country Dancing musicians, assist dancers and provide support and advice to dance event organisers.

Wild Heather – Sharlene Penman, Anne-Marie Forsyth, Mary McDonald and Lynne – playing at the Johnsonville October Tartan Night in 2018. Photo: John Patterson

 I now have two Scottish Country Dancing bands: Wild Heather (two fiddles, viola and piano) and Strings Attached (fiddle, piano and double bass), and also play casually with other local musicians. There’s also Schiehallion, my seven-piece Ceilidh band that plays for weddings and social events.

Strings Attached – Lynne, Richard Hardie and Sharlene Penman – with, at the left, Heather Elder and André Nies joining in, at the Johnsonville & Capital Coast Joint Annual Dance 2018. Photo: Loralee Hyde

Other music activities these days include teaching, conducting a community orchestra, and leading the 2nd violins in the Hutt Valley Orchestra. There’s my monthly Scottish Music club, Ceol Alba. And this year I’ve had my first piano lessons for fifty years! You’re never too old to learn…

Ceol Alba in action

But playing for Scottish Country Dancing classes and events is my all-time favourite activity! Thank you to Rod, Jeanette, and all the other tutors over the years who have taken a chance on me. It’s been (and still is) a great ride.

Lynne Scott
13 August 2020

  1. Lynne is part of a long history of live music at Johnsonville Club. Johnsonville has supported musicians, engaging them to play at Tartan Nights and Annual Dances since the early years. Since Rod became club tutor at the end of 1996, he has continued this tradition, building relationships with all the musicians in the bands that play for Johnsonville, including Lynne.[]

Heather Elder: A ‘serious’ fiddle player

Heather Elder was one of the more than 30 people who came along to Johnsonville beginners’ classes in February 2017.

In April 2017, Heather was one of the group of new dancers at our first Tartan Night of the year. By the time our October Tartan Night came along, she was up the front sitting in with Lynne Scott’s band – a swift transition!

Heather at the rear with Lynne Scoot, Richard Hardie, Anne-Marie Forsyth and Mary McDonald at the 2017 Johnsonville October Tartan Night

Heather went on to play as a band member in Lynne’s bands for our first shared annual dance with Capital City in 2018 and at our April and July Tartan Nights in 2019. Check out the photos and you’ll see Heather with her game face on, which is why some people call her a ‘serious’ fiddle player.

See more about Heather’s fascinating journey to becoming a Scottish Country Dancing musician below.

Kristin Downey

I’m rejoicing on the inside!

I’ve been told I look very serious when I’m playing my fiddle. You’ll just have to take my word that I’m rejoicing on the inside!

I fell in love with the instrument aged nine. My mother taught me piano when I was seven, and I went to Saturday morning recorder classes for a while, after which the teacher suggested to my mother that I learn the violin.

I remember sneaking into the living room after everyone had gone to bed and opening up the case, just so I could admire my new instrument: the curved shape, the delicate, perfectly symmetrical F holes, the gleam of the wood. I mean, it was a rental and looking back it was probably a cheap mass-produced violin but I thought it was gorgeous.

In high school I played in the Auckland Secondary Schools and then the Auckland Youth Orchestras. I loved being an orchestral player – the feeling of immersion in this big musical machine, the camaraderie of camps, tours and concerts, the glorious repertoire.

At the time, I was also working my way through the Trinity College exams – I passed Grade 8 aged 15 and ATCL the following year. Looking back, this was way too young and I honestly don’t know how I managed: I loved ensemble playing but if I had to perform solo I would quake with fear and my bow would bounce and stutter across the strings.

After I left school I kept up the fiddle for a while, playing in a pit orchestra and a few chamber groups and once, long ago, the title role in a community theatre product of Fiddler on the Roof, unrecognisable behind a highly unconvincing Life of Brian-style beard.

Eventually work, study and travel took precedence and I stopped playing properly for years. I finally picked it up again in the UK when my daughter was very young and played with a local folk group called, believe it or not, Swinging with the Chickens.

When we came back to New Zealand in 2005 I started looking around for more folk opportunities. I joined a klezmer (Jewish folk music) band, and had another baby. My younger daughter gestated to klezmer music, and both my girls spent a lot of their early lives dancing at gigs.

I stayed in the Klezmer Rebs for 10 years, playing at musical festivals around the country, as well as for weddings, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. We also made a few CDs – I wrote the title track on the latest one, Always a Pleasure (2016, available on Bandcamp) and even sang a number on it too!

Heather playing in the Klezmer Rebs

Singing’s also been part of my musical life – I conducted my house choir at school, sang in the Auckland University Choir and later in the Cambridge University Music Society Chorus under the late Sir Stephen Cleobury, former musical director at King’s College, Cambridge – a huge privilege. Closer to home, I joined the Festival Singers in Wellington last year.

Heather at the left at the 2013 Birdman Festival in Frank Kitts Park, Wellington

But the fiddle will always be my musical home. In 2014, after a few years  in the kIezmer band, I decided it was time to try something new and signed up for a Scottish fiddle camp that I’d found online – the Southern Hemisphere International School of Scottish Fiddle, or SHISSF, in Kaitoke. Just as well I did – it was the last one they ran.

There I met Lynne Scott, who suggested I come to Ceol Alba, her monthly Scottish music session. When she ran a workshop for musicians interested in playing for Scottish Country Dancing, I went to that too. Shortly afterwards I started playing with her at the Island Bay Scottish Country Dance Club (now Capital City), and gradually venturing onto the dance floor.

I’ve learned (and am still learning!) a lot from Lynne and she’s been a patient and generous mentor as I’ve got to know the music and the community and have played at club nights and dances.

Heather at the right with Sharlene Penman and Lynne Scott playing at Johnsonville’s July Tartan Night in 2019

So far, the highlight of my admittedly very short career as a Scottish fiddler has been playing with Lynne’s band Wild Heather for Hogmanay 2018 at the Summer School – my first Hogmanay gig and my first Hogmanay. It was a blast!

What with work, teenagers and a new puppy, life is pretty busy and so music-wise I mostly stick to Scottish fiddling. I do branch out from time to time, though – I’ve played traditional Persian music in Parsima, an Iranian band founded by a colleague from RNZ Concert (where I worked for a while as a music librarian). Later it morphed into a world music band called Sounds Like Us.

I’ve done a bit of session work, including with a friend who produces ambient techno under the name Jet Jaguar. And a few years ago I played a ghostly musician in a Fringe Festival show-slash-installation called Traces in a pub basement. But nothing beats playing for a hall full of happy dancers.

Heather Elder
3 August 2020

For all dancers: Ladies’ Chain

Our tutor Rod Downey gives us some tips on the Ladies’ Chain

Key things are:

  • The ladies face on the diagonal, change right hand on the first bar and then curve to their right in a boomerang shape
  • Remember to look out for the man who should by this time be in the place the other lady started from
  • You must attack the first and fifth beat of the formation so phrasing is the key.

You can find more information in:

Dancing the Ladies’ Chain in Mrs Stewart’s Jig at the Tribute to Peter Elmes in 2018

Historical note

In the beginning of the 20th century, Ladies Chain was done as a completely symmetric figure. Thus, assuming that first couple are in 2nd place on opposite sides, at the end of bar 2, 2nd lady would be in 1st man’s original place and 1st lady would be in 2nd ladies original place. This meant that the ladies had a very long track, passing on bar 1 and having to dance all the way to the opposite sidelines on bar 2.

Sometime about 30 or so years ago, the RSCDS decided this would all happen on the diagonal between 1st lady and 2nd lady’s places. So at the end of bar 2 there would be a diagonal line from 1st lady’s original place of 1st man, 1st lady, 2nd lady, 2nd man. The problem with this formulation is keeping the ‘chain’ character.

In the most recent edition of the RSCDS manual (May 2013), the compromise is somewhere between the two. You may find that some teachers will stick to one of the earlier formulations.

There are some very old dances such as Loch Leven Castle with video, which was clearly written for the original formulation and are infinitely easier done using the old formulation. Even very good dancers like those in the demonstration video have to maul the figure to make it fit using the modern formulation.

Another example where the original formulation is better is in Skara Brae from The Orkney Connection, which has a ‘mixed chain’.

Rod Downey
30 July 2020

Hilary Ferral: From classical violin to Scottish fiddling

Those of us who’ve been dancing for a while would have first met Hilary Ferral on the dance floor when she began dancing as a member of Tawa Club. Then in 2016 she joined Johnsonville Club, and also emerged as a Scottish Country Dancing musician in Peter Elmes’ band at Johnsonville’s very memorable 50 Golden Years Celebration

Hilary at the rear with Lynne Scott, Don McKay, Peter Elmes and Aileen Logie playing at Johnsonville’s 50 Golden Years Celebration in 2016

Despite the fact that Hilary has continued as a dancing member of Johnsonville Club since 2016, we don’t get to see her very often on the dance floor. She has standing musical commitments on many Mondays, and only makes it to Johnsonville when they permit.

As with Aileen Logie, Hilary has been encouraged and influenced by longstanding Wellington Scottish Country Dancing musician Peter Elmes who played for Johnsonville events from at least 1984 until his retirement in 2018. You can see photos of Peter across the decades in the photographic history Loralee Hyde put together.

Find out more about Hilary’s Scottish Country Dancing journey below.

Kristin Downey

I’ll never be a fiddler!

As a child I learned piano initially, and then added violin lessons a few years later. The violin took over, and eventually I got the hang of practising properly, moved on to music college and acquired a degree in violin performance. So I am unashamedly a classically trained violinist, and will never be a fiddler!!

I have found my ‘calling’ in teaching and have always taught music/violin while attending to various concurrent distractions such as raising children, and adding another stint of study followed by a job as a statistician. I have now (happily) retired from the job in statistics, which gives me a little more time for teaching and spending time with my grandchildren.

I took up Scottish Country Dancing about 10 years ago as a response to a fast emptying nest. Like many people who start Scottish Country Dancing late in life I wished I had started very much earlier. I was, however, hooked within a week of starting!

I have been a member of Tawa Club since then, and have made some very good friends – just one of the happy side-effects of Scottish Country Dancing. I realised fairly soon that dancing more than once a week was a good idea if I wanted to acquire the skills needed, and look like I have the right amount of intelligence that Rod often refers to. So I have also been a member of Johnsonville and Lower Hutt clubs at various times as well as joining classes, schools, and annual dances.

I was very fortunate that long-time member of Tawa Club, Kath Ledingham (Elmes), asked me at some point whether I was interested in playing music for Scottish Country Dancing. She knew I played but had never heard me, so I will always appreciate her leap of faith!

I was pretty diffident to begin with, knowing that classical violin doesn’t sound anything like Scottish fiddling. After a little gentle persuasion I cautiously joined Peter Elmes’ band for about five dances at the Johnsonville Annual Dance celebrating 50 Golden Years in 2016.

Peter, Don McKay and Aileen Logie have been nothing but welcoming and encouraging in the process of inculcating me into the ‘idiom’. I do feel especially grateful that I have been able to play with Peter and learn from his huge experience and expertise for those few years before his retirement.

Hilary at the left acknowledging Peter Elmes at his last time playing, along with Don McKay, Aileen Logie and Kristin Downey

I have no previous knowledge of Scottish dance music, no Scottish blood, and no previous fiddling experience. However, I do love the dance music (and dancing), and it’s been an enormously entertaining learning curve that I’ve been travelling on.

Don McKay, Aileen Logie and Hilary playing at the Johnsonville/Capital City Annual Dance in 2019

Since Peter Elmes’ retirement in 2018 I have continued to play with Aileen on a regular basis, and last year we formally named our duo The Cranberry Tarts. This was announced at the Waikanae final night in 2019 and was received with hoots of laughter and many smiles. I really appreciate Aileen’s deep knowledge of the repertoire and playing, and her limitless enthusiasm.

The Cranberry Tarts: Hilary with Aileen Logie

It’s great that the local Wellington clubs support live music – not just for the big annual dances, but also for their Tartan nights, and other special occasions. The live music really does bring its own special atmosphere. It’s always a joy to play the music, but also good to get up and dance when other bands are playing.

from Hilary Ferral
29 July 2020