Category Archives: Articles 2018

Rod Downey awarded Rutherford Medal

Rod Downey and his wife Kristin are long time Wellington Clan Donald members

In 2018 Rod was awarded the Rutherford Medal for his “Pre-eminent revolutionary research into compatibility, including the development of the theory of parametrised complexity and the algorithmic study of randomness.” [1] The Rutherford Medal is the highest honour awarded by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Click here to see more about Rod’s award and a video of his Rutherford Lecture which he presented in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch.

Rod and Kristin with the Rutherford Medal

Rod has a long and distinguished career in teaching and research in Mathematics and Computer Science and is currently Professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at Victoria University in Wellington.

Rod’s biography in his words

“My connection with Clan Donald comes from my wife. I have Scottish, English, and Irish ancestry (plus some South East Asian). My Scottish side comes from Guthrie and before that also Scrimgeour from Forfarshire/Angus and Glamis, and it seems one was born in Brechin in 1803. In the 16th Century it appears I have some kind of lord in the background.

Rod at the 2018 Royal Society Te Apārangi Awards Ceremony

My forebear came to Townsville (“Scottish Lass”) as a teenager around 1890 or so. These are all lowland Scots, and hence have no Tartan. My wife got me into Scottish Country Dancing, and her father was a Macdonald. Thus Macdonald was a logical choice for a tartan.

We also called our boys “Macdonald Downey” (no hyphen as this cannot be continued for many generations). This chuffed my youngest son who looked up meanings: “Ruler of Men, owner of castles”.

Scottish Country Dancing is a great hobby. You learn a lot about the Scottish tradition of music and the history, with dances going back to the 18th Century, and lots of old tunes. Personally this also got me into Piobaireachd although pipes are rarely used.

I have devised around 100 new Scottish Country Dances and teach at the Johnsonville Club. I travel a lot, almost always for work to collaborate with co-authors around the world; Singapore, US, UK, Europe, etc. In December, I will be in Chile, then next year in Singapore and Kazakhstan. I was based for some time in Edinburgh. I have taught Scottish Country Dancing in many places in the world (even Tokyo), and also danced in lots of places.

Kristin and I arrived in Wellington in June 1986, via the US and Singapore in the years before. I have had a very satisfying career at Victoria University Wellington, which has a terrific logic group. I work in logic which has a surprisingly wide array of modern applications. We live in the most mathematical age in history, and yet this fact lies hidden mostly.”

[1]  Royal Society Te Apārangi

Originally published in the Clan Donald New Zealand Newsletter December 2018 

Farewell and thanks to Peter Elmes

From Kristin Downey, President Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club

Applauding Peter at his last time playing for Scottish Country Dancing

Welcome all to our final night for 2018 and thank you for joining us tonight.  It is wonderful to have a hall full of dancers.

Our final night is an opportunity to celebrate another year of Scottish country dancing here at Johnsonville. We celebrate dances, dancers, and also our music and musicians. And tonight we recognise and applaud the very special role that Peter Elmes has played in the musical history of Johnsonville Club.

Peter has been a part of my journey through Scottish country dancing right from when Rod and I started in 1991. He was of course involved long before our time – club documents show he was already playing for Johnsonville events around a decade earlier.

In a letter written at the end of 1980, Peter wrote to the Region, advising that The Scotsmen were available to play for annual dances “on a flexible basis as a trio or quartet to suit requirements”.

It is unclear exactly when he started playing for Johnsonville, but from at least 1984 there began a long musical association between Johnsonville Club, and Peter as band leader. Musicians John Smith, Merren Simmonds, and more recently Lynne Scott, then Don McKay, Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral have lined up with Peter and given us their best.

Over the years Peter has also generously welcomed many young or visiting musicians to play with the band and get to understand the music. Some are now playing in their own right, others may return to the fold in years to come, and we all benefited along the way.

Again on a personal note, our son Carlton was encouraged to play along with the band and learnt by being immersed in Peter and John’s musicianship. He will never lose that.

Our thanks go to Peter for all he’s contributed to our dancing lives, and tonight we enjoy Peter’s company and his music one more time before he retires from playing.

Click here for more photos of the final night

See Loralee Hyde’s photo history of Peter Elmes playing

26 November 2018

Wellington Region Tribute to Peter Elmes 2018

Peter with his Wellington Region Tribute award

Held at Ngaio Town Hall on Saturday 24 November, the Wellington Region Tribute Dance for Peter Elmes to mark his retirement from playing his beloved button accordion for Scottish Country Dancing was a great success, with more than 12 sets on the floor.

A great contingent of Johnsonville dancers attended to help celebrate the pleasure Peter has given us in his many years of music-making.

The programme prepared and MC’ed by Iain Boyd and Maureen Robson, consisted of some of Peter’s favourites, dances that were devised for him, and others for which he had composed tunes.

Peter joined the band of Aileen Logie, Hilary Ferral and Don Mackay to play a bracket of four dances.

Wellington Region President Melva Waite presented Peter with a framed Tribute and thanked him for his huge contribution to Scottish Country Dancing on behalf of dancers everywhere.

Take a look at more photos by Loralee Hyde and John Patterson

See Loralee Hyde’s photo history of Peter Elmes playing

Download the Peter Elmes Tribute Dance Programme

Peter Elmes: Photo History

From Loralee Hyde

In November 2018, we recognised the massive contribution Peter Elmes has made to Scottish Country Dancing through his music. He has now retired from playing his beloved button accordion.

The Wellington Region had a tribute dance for Peter on 24 November with dances that were devised for him and others for which he had composed the tunes.

On Monday 26 November we farewelled him at Johnsonville Scottish Country Dance Club at our final night for the season.

My favourite sets of music Peter has arranged are for Cadgers in the Canongate (“48 bars of ecstasy” as described by Philippa!), The Braes of Breadalbane and Down On Yon Bank. My favourite tune is The Marquis of Huntley’s Strathspey.

As usual with being a photographer, I’ve taken many photos of Peter and his band over the years. Click here for some of my personal memories of the joy and delight Peter has brought to many, many nights of dancing.

4 December 2018

A visit to Karori Brownies 2018

Alan shares information about Scotland

Karori Brownie leader Hannah likes to “open the Brownies eyes to different or new opportunities”. When she spotted one of Johnsonville’s posters advertising Scottish Country Dancing beginners’ classes, she asked if we could help with one of this year’s badges.

Scottish Country Dancing seemed to fit the bill, as the badge required the Brownies to find out about different cultures in their community and take part in a fun form of exercise they hadn’t tried before. So four of our members volunteered to go along to share some knowledge (and fun) with the Brownies at one of their regular Thursday meetings at St Anselm’s Church hall in September.

Unleashing the bagpipes!

The evening started with Alan sharing a bit of information on Scottish dress; the Kilt, the Sporran and the Sgian Dubh and then some history about the Gaelic language, the Scottish Thistle and the Vikings, and the History of Tartan. Elaine showed the girls some samples of different tartans and they took away a colouring-in page to design their own tartan.

Next the bagpipes were unleashed so the girls could see (hear) how loud they are close-up. Alan only played a short burst, as it is well recognised these days that the pipes can damage young ears. The girls all had a go at holding them and were surprised at how heavy they are.

Rod teaching The Kingston Flyer

Then it was over to Rod who talked about the history of Scottish Country Dancing and taught the girls a couple of dances; The Kingston Flyer and Room 1. Alan and Elaine joined in the dancing to help out, while Pat was busy taking photos. The girls were quick learners and everyone managed to get through both dances with aplomb!!

We all got a lovely bunch of lilies and a nice letter from Hannah: “Thanks for such a fabulous night. The girls learnt so much, as was evident from what they said at the beginning of the night (“Scotland” “Scotland” “Scotland”), to what they said at the end (“tartan”, “dancing”, “thistle”, “Gaelic”, “black knife”, “bagpipes”). I was impressed with how their dancing went too! Great presentations and teaching.

“Thanks once again for your organisation, time and passion. I’m sure many will remember this night. Lots of the girls talked about Scottish ancestors too, so maybe they will investigate more in the future as well.”

Photos: Pat Reesby

Winter at Johnsonville 2018

The winter calendar had a few differences this year at Johnsonville.

With tutor Rod Downey overseas for work from mid-May to the end of July, our regular mid-winter dinner became a pre-winter Spring into Autumn celebration in early May. There was no way we were missing out on dressing up, dinner, dancing and mulled wine, so we managed to find a time in amongst all the other May dancing events.

While Rod was absent over the winter months, guest tutors Catherine McCutcheon and Jeanette Watson took over teaching the club. They spent that time helping dancers consolidate their learning and prepare for the highlight of our dancing year – the annual dance. Many thanks to both for once again finding time in their busy lives to share their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm. We do appreciate it.

President Kristin Downey joined Rod overseas in June, and committee and club members all did their part in keeping the club running smoothly and supporting our guest tutors. As always, it was a nice opportunity for dancers to see different styles of tutoring, and enjoy different ways of learning. Maureen Sullivan did a great job of coordinating the team who had hall set-up and pack-up running like clockwork in Rod and Kristin’s absence.

Cadgers in the Canongate at the annual dance

However, our biggest difference this winter was deciding to get together with Island Bay club to organise a combined annual dance. This is the first time Johnsonville has combined with another club and we hope it will not be the last.

It was such a fun night with a festive atmosphere and inspiring music from Strings Attached – thanks to Lynne Scott, Sharlene Penman, Heather Elder and Richard Hardie, also visiting musician André Nies.

Now that spring has arrived, the end of the year seems to be racing away, but we have two more club nights with live music still to enjoy. Wild Heather will play at our next tartan night on Monday 1 October, and we will see the year out once again with music from Peter Elmes and his merry troupe at our final night on Monday 26 November. Do join us.

From Kristin Downey. Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 21 No. 2
September 2018

Downey Day of Dance: York 2018

Johnsonville Club tutor Rod Downey visited the UK again this year and taught a day school on 1 July for the RSCDS York and North Humberside Branch.

The school was at Stillington Village Hall – a pretty hall with a lovely wood floor. The third Downey Day of Dance since 2012, Rod taught mostly dances he had devised, plus a couple of New Zealand favourites. He also took the opportunity to play recordings of Johnsonville musician Peter Elmes and his various bands over the years.

After last year’s York day school, Rod devised A Trip to York (see his Johnsonville Collection) to commemorate teaching there, and brought it back to teach to this year’s dancers. This year, a three hour delay at Karlsruhe Baden Baden airport (courtesy of Ryanair), gave Rod the time to devise a new dance en route. He named the dance Helen Brown in honour of the organiser of the York day school.

Rod teaching the world premiere of the dance Helen Brown to Helen’s set

Helen was also our hostess, so she got to choose the music the night before, then dance it next day at the class. See the instructions for the dance Helen Brown in The Golden Bear Collection.

Helen has a longstanding involvement in dancing in the York area. She is Chair of York Club, Secretary of York and Humberside Branch, and tutored a team dancing at the White Rose Festival 2018 at Leeds. This is an occasion of massed dance, and for many UK dancers it is the culmination of the dance season. This year, there was a Wellington connection with Iain Boyd’s dance The Cashmere Shawl, and Rod’s dance Jenny Freeman’s Strathspey on the programme.

Rod with Malcolm and Helen at the end of the class

The Brown family is a very ‘dancing’ family. Helen’s husband Malcolm Brown is a well known tutor both in the UK and overseas, and is the current Convenor of the RSCDS Education and Branch Training Committee at HQ in Edinburgh.

Malcolm is also a dance deviser, with one of his dances Boxing the Compass included on the White Rose Festival programme this year. Son Duncan Brown continues the family tradition of Scottish country dancing, with his dance The Zoologist on the programme as well. You’ll get to meet him if you’re attending the RSCDS NZ Branch Summer School 2018/2019 – he will be teaching the very advanced high impact class.

By Kristin Downey, 19 July 2018

50th Anniversary Ball: A photographer’s view

Wild and wet Wellington weather did nothing to dim the excitement of 100 dancers from across the country who attended the RSCDS New Zealand Branch 50th Anniversary Ball at Government House on 20 August.

I had offered to take photos of the evening for the Branch. Once inside the grand ballroom, I was thrilled to see the golden glow from the huge chandeliers accentuating the fabulous colours of the ballgowns and the tartans of the kilts—this would help make eye-catching photos.

The evening started with drinks in the Blundell Room with Elaine Laidlaw, the President of the New Zealand Branch. The adjoining Bledisloe Conservatory proved an ideal location for the Auckland and Wellington Region dancers to pose for group photos. It’s relatively easy to photograph Scottish Country dancers—they quickly get in ‘formation’ and all that is needed is to get them to move slightly so they’re all in the frame. And smiles abounded in anticipation of the evening ahead!

Wellington Region dancers

We were soon back into the buzz of conversation with other dancers, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I took photos of other regions and clubs during the evening and these will contribute to historical records of Scottish Country Dancing in New Zealand.

The Governor General, The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, welcomed us to Government House, saying it was wonderful to see the ballroom being used by enthusiastic and committed dancers from around New Zealand. Wearing a MacNeil tartan sash, Dame Patsy also shared her Scottish heritage with us. We were advised in the pre-Ball material not to ask for ‘selfies’ with the Governor General but private photos were welcome. Dame Patsy graciously posed with Elaine for another fine record of the occasion.

With Elaine as MC, dancers then took to the floor to the toe-tapping music of Ian and Judith Muir from the UK. I loved photographing the dancing—the dancers formed perfectly straight lines as they took to the floor, they smiled at their partners and others in the set and were clearly enjoying themselves. At dances I often stand on a chair or stepladder to photograph the view of all the sets on the floor. This time, I decided it wasn’t a good strategy to step on the ornate ballroom chairs!

At supper, dancers enjoyed special Scottish delights including haggis sausage rolls and Cullen skink pies with smoked fish, leek and potato followed by chocolate and whisky torte. I took advantage of the supper queue in the Conservatory by quickly snapping couples and small groups of dancers in their finery.

Many dances on the programme were devised by New Zealanders including Iain Boyd, Gary Morris, Maureen Robson and Romaine Butterfield from the Wellington Region. I was fortunate to find myself in a perfect position to photograph Iain Boyd and Noeline O’Connor dancing Catch the Wind—a dance devised by Romaine for them.

Iain Boyd and Noeline O’Connor dancing Catch the Wind

This special evening of dancing proved a grand celebration of the Branch’s 50th Anniversary. Thank you to the organising committee of Diane Bradshaw, Michele Miller, Lee Miller (all from Wellington) and Katharine Hoskyn from Auckland for their hard work that made this night such a wonderful occasion.

The smiles of the dancers, their laughter and the fun had by all made photographing the event an enjoyable assignment. The photos have had over 500 views—see them all and download here if you wish

From Loralee Hyde

Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 21 No. 2 September 2018

Karlsruhe Midsummer Ball 2018

While in Germany, our tutor Rod Downey took advantage of the summer dance season to attend the Karlsruhe Ball on Saturday 9 June.

Music was provided by Joe Wheadon (Bass), Christine Moos (Fiddle) and Anselm Lingnau (Piano). Much as Wellington buildings don’t take winter cold into account, Karlsruhe is a place that believes it does not really get hot, with most buildings designed for winter.

The hall was ‘very’ hot. The temperature was in the low 30s (outside) and, because of noise regulations, we had to close the windows after we finished a huge (catered) supper. After that, the inside temperature was in the high 30s, so hot that they did not do the last two dances!

Despite that it was a great night. There were around nine sets who came from all over, i.e. within 2-3 hours drive (and that is a long way given the speed Germans drive on the autobahn). Quite a few young people (20’s) were at the ball, and it was a relatively complicated, highly vigorous programme with loads of Pas de Basque. We started at around 7.15 (late because of a car break down by Anselm), and finished around 11.40. A bit more expensive than we are used to in New Zealand at 40 Euros, not surprising since the supper was catered.

Every dance was walked once. Several dances were repeated, though I could have done without repeating an exceptionally vigorous 6-couple dance on top of a big supper mit Weisenbier (wheat beer)!

The first dance of the evening was Maureen Robson’s New Year Jig, and Iain Boyd’s Lords of the Wind was also on the programme. Iain Matcham’s dance, Autumn Tidings will be on the Spring Fling programme later in the year, so New Zealand dances and dance devisers are visible!

See more photos here One shows the band members, together with some of the Heidelberg dancers. You might recognise the name Anselm Lingnau – he is not only one of the musicians (on the right with a big smile), and tutor of the Frankfurt group, he was Convenor of the RSCDS 2017-2018 Membership Services Committee and prime mover in Strathspey Server, being awarded the RSCDS Scroll of Honour for this contribution.

From Rod Downey

Autumn dancing at Johnsonville 2018

With a long summer and a surprise early start to winter this year, Johnsonville dancers have been keeping on their toes. Early sessions continued for our 18 new dancers, until mid-May when Rod went overseas for work. Club nights have continued to attract a friendly crowd, and with four to five sets on the floor there have been plenty of experienced dancers to help our new members enjoy building their skills.

As usual, our first Tartan Night of the year gave our beginners the opportunity to put those newfound skills into practice, and they rose to the occasion. It was wonderful to see six sets on the floor having such a great time dancing to lively music by Peter Elmes, Don McKay, Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral. (Pictured – some of our newer members).

One of the special things about tartan nights, is welcoming dancers from other clubs. We really appreciated the two sets of visitors who helped make up those six sets – among them previous club secretary John Munro, now a member of Carterton club. It adds so much to the night when dancers from other clubs join in the fun, and is a really nice way of introducing our new members to the wider Scottish country dancing community.

Johnsonville’s mid-winter social dinner and dance enables our new dancers to get to know their fellow club members a bit better. This year, it became a pre-winter event, with the theme of Spring into Autumn – a nod to Spring in Scotland at the same time as celebrating Autumn in New Zealand. Members set the scene dressed in spring flowers, autumnal colours, maypole ribbons and (of course) tartan. We began with mulled wine, and moved on to enjoy an excellent buffet dinner interspersing courses with dances.

The theme gave Rod lots of scope for the dance programme, including Spring Rains and An Autumn Posy. He also devised a dance for the occasion. The Maypole Dance thankfully didn’t actually include ribbons or poles, but it did involve a lot of hilarity and quite a few twists and turns. However, the surprise hit of the night was Victorian Style Morris Dance (pictured) – demonstrated by Kristin and Rod, and energetically taken up with the help of bells, kerchiefs, hand clapping and a great deal of enthusiasm.

With Rod overseas, Johnsonville is now working towards our biggest club event of the year – the annual dance, this year run jointly with Island Bay.  Catherine McCutcheon is at the helm as guest tutor till the end of June, when Jeanette Watson will take over until Rod returns at the beginning of August. Thanks to them both for once more sharing their time, skills, and enthusiasm with the club.

Meanwhile it is good to see both new and longer-standing Johnsonville members getting out and about, attending Region beginner and lower intermediate classes, dancing at other clubs, and attending both live music nights and Saturday night dances.  The more the merrier, especially at this time of year.

By Kristin Downey. Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 21 No. 1 June 2018