American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 26, Number 2
August, 2006

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 AMN Article  

Deer Creek Morris at Grace Cathedral

Ethan Hay

Our 20th Anniversary

Deer Creek Morris Men of San Francisco (formerly of Palo Alto) celebrated the close of its 20th season with an invitation to dance after Sunday services at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on June 25, 2006. Murmurs of pagan intrusion were squelched as the dancers assembled in the courtyard, and were instructed to begin dancing following the ringing of the bells at the end of service. Orange-in-Bloom was selected as our lead-in dance, a perennial favorite in the Sherbourne tradition. 

In the Courtyard

Morris dancing is usually accompanied by a variety of traditional instruments, none better perhaps than the accordion played by Dave "Fingers" Fouquet, or the pipe-and-tabor of notable Fool-and-Squire Dick Bagwell, or the occasional, masterful concertina of Noel Cragg. On this outing, muso Dave stood at the ready, as if preparing to deliver a fire-and-brimstone sermon. Yet his keyboard was tucked neatly away as our number one, foreman Bob Fraley uttered the words "this time, gents" and the carillon tolling the end of service began to ring out, unbelievably, Orange-in-Bloom! 

It may have been, as far as this reporter has been able to discern, the first time a Morris side has danced to the peal of cathedral bells. 

The effect was reminiscent of a Lichfield tune, "Ring o' Bells," which tradition notes is based on the tolling of the church bells of Lichfield Cathedral. However, it is not known whether a Morris side in Lichfield or the Lichfield tradition, such as Deer Creek's sister side Mayfield, now defunct, had ever danced while said bells were actually playing.
Tim Radford of Adderbury and Duns Tew founder, notes that occasionally the church bells in Adderbury would play Morris tunes, but could not say whether anyone had actually danced to them. 
Grace Cathedral choirmaster and event organizer, Clarence Wright, obtained sheet music with the help of Deer Creeker Ming-Lun Ho. Both Wright and carillonist Paul Goerke were unable to view the dancers while Goerke played. Adding to the challenge was a subdued tempo, necessitated by the reverberation of the bells. "You can only play so fast," Goerke said later, "otherwise the sound piles up on top of itself." 

Reviewing the Music

As a dancer, the effect was eerie and otherworldly. The music seemed to emanate from the courtyard, and of course the sound carried throughout the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. The slower pace gave everything a sustained, dream-like, hyper-reality-- call it surreal-- demanding heightened awareness in finding the unusual tempo, and sustaining movement and flow throughout the piece. For the record, the six brave dancers were Bob Fraley (foreman), Ming-Lun Ho, Marc Newell, Jim Brug, Sarah Brug, and Ethan Hay. Alternate Carl Ludewig captured the moment on film, er, on pixels with digital camera. 

Despite its challenges, the dancers rose to the occasion and were warmly received by the parishioners. Dave opened his mighty accordion and we continued to dance, including Constant Billy (Sherbourne), Froggy Goes Quack (Ducklington), and Simon's Fancy (Bampton) to round out the set. Being an unseasonably warm and sunny San Francisco afternoon (what? no fog?), we stopped there, calling it a day and a fine end to a full season of Morris dancing. The members of Deer Creek, along with Wright and Goerke, signed the sheet music to record the unique occasion for the cathedral. There is speculation we may be invited again next year. 

Joyous Times Were Had, Indeed!

Later, I was stopped by a woman at the intersection of Polk and California Streets. "Are you a Morris dancer?" she asked. When I replied I was, she eagerly replied: "I wish I'd known about it!" Another rare occurence on this remarkable day. 

Additional photos of the event, taken by first year Deer Creeker Carl Ludewig, are posted online for all to see!

Terms defined: car-il·lon n. 1.) A stationary set of chromatically tuned bells in a tower, usually played from a keyboard. 2.) A composition written or arranged for these bells. 

Your beloved editor wishes to add the following personal anecdote to this article. The first-ever dance out for Pullman Morris and Sword was to the bells of the Carillon at Rockefeller Chapel. It was quite an enjoyable learning experience, to say the least, performing Adderbury to a peal of bells 200 feet in the air. We found that it was very helpful to have cell phone contact between our musician and the carilloneur, which helped with tempos and repeats, etc.


 AMN, Vol. 26, No.2, August, 2006  ISSN: 1074-2689