History of the Tarantella Dance

Tarantella dancers, 1828
Credit: Jstor.org

The tarantella is named for a peasant woman from southern Italy whose tarantula bite started a contagious dancing fever!

To medieval peasants in southern Italy, the tarantella was more than a catchy tune. It was something powerful and dangerous. The tarantella could save your life—or drive you to the brink of madness.

It was the dead heat of the summer in Apulia. The year was 1431. After a midday nap in the fields, a woman leapt up, crying out that she’d been bitten by a tarantula. The venom began to work in her body, making her dance convulsively. She strutted her way toward the center of town. Soon others joined her, leaping, shrieking, and twirling uncontrollably. They decked themselves out in bright colors and strange ornaments, dancing for days on end and downing vast quantities of wine.

The Tarantella was, at once, a rollicking party and a terrifying epidemic.

This is how Nicolas Perotti, a witness to these frenzies, described them: “Some victims called for swords and acted like fencers, others for whips and beat each other. Women called for mirrors, sighed and howled while making indecent motions. Some of them had still stranger fancies, liked to be tossed in the air, dug holes in the ground and rolled themselves in the dirt like swine.” It was, at once, a rollicking party and a terrifying epidemic.

The dancers believed that the only cure for the tarantula’s bite was to shimmy the venom away. There were even accounts of people who died as a result of not having the right music available. To avoid such disasters, many municipalities employed a corps of musicians to play yearly for the sufferers. The music cure was widely accepted by scholars at the time. Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit scholar, penned a chapter on tarantism (the dancing affliction supposedly caused by the tarantula bite) that included his prescription for treatment: snippets of sheet music.

In some sufferers, the affliction took the form of a terrible melancholy. A woman who had become withdrawn and apathetic after an encounter with a tarantula could be cured with a special ceremony. This was the ritual: In a room hung with ropes, swords, and colorful draperies, she lies on the floor, as still as a corpse. The musicians strike up a tune. They play faster and faster, until finally life begins to return to her. She rolls around on the floor, flails her arms, and then leaps up. As the music stirs her, she begins to dance violently, to tear her clothes, swing from the ropes, even cut herself with the swords. Finally, exhausted, she falls on the floor and goes to sleep. When she wakes up, she remembers almost nothing of her treatment, but is free of her malady. The catharsis of her temporary frenzy leaves her ready to return to the course of normal life.

It’s a mystery what exactly caused these epidemics. It was certainly not the “bite” of the tarantula, which does little more than sting. Today, many scholars consider these dancing epidemics to be a response to mental, rather than physical, ailments. In the mass catharsis of the dance, people could express all the ugly feelings—anguish, rage, lust—that were unacceptable in everyday life. For a few days in the summer, people could scream and weep and tear off their clothes, freely and without judgment.

In fact, mass epidemics of dancing have afflicted various parts of Europe since the seventh century, breaking out particularly in times of famine, disease, and political unrest. In 1374, men, women, and children danced in the streets of Aix-la-Chapelle for hours, clutching hands, shrieking, seeing visions of Heaven and Hell. One eyewitness, Peter of Herental, described the scene: “Both men and women were abused by the devil to such a degree that they danced in their homes, in the churches and in the streets, holding each other’s hands and leaping in the air… Those who were cured said that they seemed to have been dancing in a river of blood, which is why they jumped into the air.”

History of the Carousel

By Erik Brown

How many times have you passed by one of these simple child’s rides? They’re almost universally present wherever you find a collection place of kids. The colorful horses, the simple carnival music, and the sounds of laughing are something I’m sure you’ve been exposed to. No matter how old you are, I’m sure you’ve ridden one of these amusement rides at some point in your life.

There’s something so innocent about the carousel.

I’m sure even looking at the picture in the beginning of this story has brought back some memories. For the vast majority of you, the memories will be pleasant. What could be dangerous about a carousel? Everything about the machine screams that it’s harmless and kind. From the slow moving horses, to the bright childlike colors, it brings you to a simple sort of calm. A calm of a peaceful world where all is good and well.

However, the carousel isn’t completely innocent in its nature. It comes from a bit of a dark past. It’s based off of a training tool for a hybrid man-horse killing machine called cavalry.

Early History Of The Carousel

The first recorded mention of a carousel came in the 1100’s during the times of the Crusades. Christian knights witnessed Arabic horseman playing a type of game. The horseman would ride in a circle and toss a clay ball filled with a pungent perfume back in forth between riders. The game required skill, being able to use a free hand to catch and using the other to maintain the horse. The Italians and Spanish knights who saw this game called it Carosella or “little war.”

Despite taking the form of the game, the Christian knights noted how seriously the Arab riders took the contest. As a form of training it would be excellent, being able to use a free hand nimbly while riding. A cavalry soldier would need this free hand to swing a sword or hold some type of lance.

A modern reader could also see that over the centuries men don’t change much. Not only would these men train, they would find a way to torture one of their friends at the same time. The poor guy who misses the ball and gets doused with perfume probably got was teased all day long. This is probably another reason the men took this game so seriously. The Western Crusaders noted the utility of this game and brought it back home with them.

The French called it Carousel and it became an equestrian competition and a training tool for mounted soldiers. In one of the competitions, the riders would attempt to spear rings that hung from trees with a lance. The French also developed a training mechanism for this competition. Wooden legless horses were hung by chain from posts, which originated from a central rotating pole. Horsemen would ride on this rotating training device to practice their lancing skills.

The popularity of this device spread beyond just cavalry, normal folk thought it looked entertaining. By the late 1700’s this device began to appear at festivals throughout Europe. There was a bit of an issue with the device though, it was either human or animal powered. As a result, the size of the device was limited.

“We have almost forgotten how strange a thing it is that so huge and powerful and intelligent an animal as a horse should allow another, and far more feeble animal, to ride upon its back.”
— Peter Gray

Mankind was permanently changed by the adoption of the horse in war. Its devastating ability is recorded over and over in history — even ancient history. The ancient Egyptians are often depicted with chariots in their armies, but they learned this equine warfare from being conquered themselves. An invading force named the Hyksos used horse driven chariots to dethrone the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt in the 17th century BC.

Cavalry caused unique problems for traditional armies. Armies generally moved at the speed of their slowest link. A complete army of horse bound warriors moved at blazing speeds compared to a traditional army made of infantry. Perhaps the greatest examples of this was the cavalry armies of the Steppe.

Dan Carlin in his Hardcore History podcast refers to the Steppe like an ocean with the water drained out. Its long miles of flat land seem to stretch endlessly into the horizon. These lands almost stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Europe and were a highway for a number of horse riding nomadic tribesmen. The long flat land provided perfect grazing area and space for horses. The people in this area also became riders of unmatched ability. The horse wasn’t only their transportation, it was their way of life. It also made them a match for the ‘civilized’ societies of the day.

The Scythians may have been the first horse people coming from this region. These early horse warriors, hailing from the area of Siberia, at one point spread to the borders of Egypt. They also took part in dethroning the original ancient superpower in the Middle East, the Assyrian Empire. The Persian Empire under the great King Darius also tangled with the Scythians and was unable to vanquish them. These horsemen just avoided the Persians, always able to keep ahead of them.

The Huns also came from the Steppe as well. They brought horses with them like most Steppe peoples and wreaked havoc on the Romans. At a point in the 5th Century A.D. the Romans were paying the Huns a tribute of 2100 lbs of gold a year.

The Mongols came from this area, conquering most of China and Russia. They also managed to take a good portion of the Middle East and came very close to conquering Europe as well. The mixture of Mongol and horse were often an unstoppable combo. There were very few armies that could even slow them down. They traveled with no supply train and were able to live off the land and their horses. Seemingly, the only thing that may have finally put an end to the power of the Mongols and their descendants might have been the modern firearm. Some have estimated that the Mongols and their cavalry may have killed 40 million people.

Horses may be looked upon with a kind manner in modern times. But, horses and the men who rode them were also instruments of war that brought devastation where their hooves trampled.

Modern Carousel
A major problem with the carousel was solved in the 1800’s — power. The power of muscle was a limiting factor in the size of the original carousels. A new invention was going to change this, however. In 1861 Thomas Bradshaw presented a steam powered carousel on New Year’s Day in England. The ability of a steam powered engine to drive the rig resulted in much larger carousels being built. The type of carousel the modern person would be more familiar with.

Some earlier carousels also kept the tradition of the cavalry training game of lancing rings (ring tilt). Early American carousels gave an additional challenge to certain riders. The riders on the outside horses were able to lean over and reach for a brass ring. This wasn’t an easy task and took a bit of nerve and skill. This is most likely where the phrase “reaching for the brass ring” derives from.

The carousel has been supplanted by quicker and more thrilling rides of the day. However, it is always present at festivals and carnivals. Strangely enough, it’s more of a children’s ride than anything in the modern age. Despite its history as a training tool for one of the most brutal instruments of war, it is now a playground for children.

Cavalry has also been made antiquated by the internal combustion engine. Horses have been replaced by trucks, tanks, and planes in modern armed forces. Man may have lost his understanding of the partnership between human and horse and how important it was. However, there are still examples of this partnership that can be seen. Rodeos and renaissance fairs are excellent places to see the traditional partnership of man and horse on display in modern times.

Hopefully after reading this, you’ll see the odd duality of this simple ride you once thought was innocent. The next time you pass by one of these spinning contraptions, I’m sure you’ll hear the laughter of children. But, you’ll know the original purpose of this device was a training tool for cavalry. You’ll also know the devastation this military unit could unleash.


Chamber Ensemble

I have two announcements to make that are music-related.
  1. The first is a Mostly-Mozart group that meets once a month to sight read classical chamber music. Generally we read Mozart string quartets, but have been known to branch out into the Bach Brandenburgs if we have enough of a mix of players. So if you play a musical instrument and are a good sight reader, we'd love to have you join us on the last Friday of the month from 7pm-9pm in Granby. There is no cost to join us, but please RSVP so we know how many chairs to set out.  It's first come first served and there is only room for about 10 people!
  2.  Secondly, I have open slots in my schedule for violin, viola, mandolin and guitar students. 

2019 Spring Concerts and Upcoming Events

I have three active ensembles to offer venues.  Celticado is a traditional Irish duo that provides Celtic ceilidh music for weddings, parties and St Patrick's Day events.  The Mandolin Ensemble plays classical compositions for formal concerts, master classes and fund raising events.  The Contradance band Fiddle Hill plays for spring dances throughout the region.  Here's what's coming up soon:
  • My Irish duo, Celticado, will be performing for various St Patrick's Day and other Irish events in March.  Look for us mainly in CT and western MA.  I will post the locations soon.
  • Fiddle Hill, the Contradance band, will be performing for dances in April and May.
  • As always, the Mandolin New England has a new Mozart and a new Bach to perform for audiences in June and July.

Playing Music Together In A Small Group

Tuesday's Classical Group
Chamber groups are small ensembles such as string quartets and piano trios, who play music intended for performance in close chambers such as parlors and living rooms, churches, or virtually any venue smaller than a large concert hall. While their small sizes and are ideal for intimate settings, chamber groups can, of course, also perform in great concert halls. Chamber orchestras with fifteen or more players blur the definition of a chamber group somewhat; however, while chamber orchestras are relatively large, they remain small and "chamber-like" in comparison to the immense size and volume of full modern orchestras.

It's the best way to meet people. It's much easier than a party. You go to a party, you wonder if someone is going to be approachable or not, but when you play music together, somehow you're communicating immediately, and you go to that level socially as well. Once you start playing music, you can communicate in a way that you could never do just with words.

You form bonds with people you might not otherwise have a conversation with. But because you've shared something so personal, it becomes easier.

It's the ultimate egalitarian experience, because everyone is necessary all the time. Everyone's complete focus is necessary all the time. Everyone coming into the experience understands and respects that. We all realize that we're bringing our best, and we're each bringing unique contributions to the group.

That's one of the best things about it, too. Each person brings something unique, so you have access to the brains of the other people to make a product that you couldn't make on your own. Sometimes there are heated debates, but it's all in good fun.

Playing chamber music helps enhance your musicianship. It’s easy to ‘hide’ in a large orchestra or band, but in a small group your skills are much more exposed. You work harder to play accurately and in tune, to listen and blend, to create musical phrases – and as a result, these musical skills improve.

Thursday's Celtic group
Playing in a small group allows you to be more autonomous and independent. You can make your own rehearsal and performance decisions, and you can choose your own repertoire. You’re not beholden to a conductor. You can tailor your performances to your own interests and/or the jobs you’re hired to play.

Playing in a chamber group helps develop your communication skills. All members of the group have an opinion on how the music should be played. Listening to all ideas and implementing the ones that work best help to hone collaborative skills that you can use later on in college, your career, and in everyday life.

There is a wide variety of music available for almost any instrumental combination.  I offer 4 groups: Beginner's group, Classical group, Celtic group and Bluegrass group.  Some include piano and/or voice(s). Pops, holiday, classical, jazz, etc…. You can find just about anything by going online or checking with your music teacher.  Chamber groups are portable! It’s a lot easier to take a trio, quartet or quintet ‘on the road’ than a full band. Small groups fit better into more venues, creating more opportunities to gig.

Playing chamber music is both a social and musical activity. Start a group containing friends you already have, or start a group with people you hope to become friends with. Either way, you will have fun!

The Flanagan Brothers - Early Irish American Dance Hall Music

The Flanagan Brothers was a New York City Irish dance hall band that consisted of brothers Michael, Joseph, and Louis Flanagan.

Their choice of instruments and related skill gave them a unique sound, which led them to become one of the leading attractions in New York City’s Irish dance halls during the 1920s and 1930s. Subsequently, their phonograph records extended their popularity and fame to Ireland proper and into the homes of Irish emigrants throughout the world. They became a household name among Irish entertainers and were on par with the other great music ambassadors of the time, Michael Coleman and John McCormack.

A set of reels - dancehall music New York City 1930s

The Flanagan Brothers were part of the large community of immigrant Irish musicians playing in New York City at that time. Inevitably, entrepreneurs recognized the potential market for this music as recording material for the increasingly popular 78 RPM discs. The major record companies were at first unconvinced and it fell to small, independent labels to prove the market existed. The Flanagans’ first disc - featuring the horn pipe An Carrowath – was released by the M&C New Republic Irish Record Company in December, 1921. An Carrowath was later recorded as a song, The Little Beggarman.

The Little Beggerman was also the name given to the group’s recording of The Stack of Wheat. Thus begun a highly successful recording career which produced 168 records for numerous labels over the following decade. 

An Carrowath "The Stack Of Wheat" (Red Haired Boy)

New York buzzed with music sessions in bars, on radio, and in private homes. Mike recalled playing alongside fiddlers Michael Coleman, James Morrison, and other musicians whose fame would be established during this era.

For special occasions in the Irish calendar, the Flanagans joined forces with piper Tom Ennis to play as a quartet. Sadly, no recording of this combination is known to survive. Ennis was the owner of a music shop near Columbus Circle and Mike worked there at one time as a record salesman.

Following the release of their first disc, the brothers’ career continue to progress as they recorded for labels like Emerald, Gennett, and Vocalion, but they moved into the big league when they join Columbia in 1923. Columbia’s partnership with EMI in England meant that the Flanagans’ records could also be manufactured under license in England, and their discs were soon sold throughout Ireland.  

The final elements in the commercial success of the Flanagans’ records were added in 1926 when they recorded Fun at Hogan’s, the first of many comics sketches adapted from standard Vaudevillian gags of the day. That same year their first song was recorded and Victor (later RCA Victor), Columbia’s great rival, also recorded the group. Recurring ill health made Lou’s role in the trio uncertain from this time, but Joe and Mike continued their act as a duo and added musicians for dance hall and studio work, as required.        

The Flanagan‘s music was diverse and they recorded a wide variety of material. Their instrumental sound was unmistakable, even when they recorded under pseudonyms like The Irish Big Four, The Donovan Trio, or The County Cork Trio.

After their recording career peaked and the popularity of the dance halls in New York City began to wane, the brothers became focused on their respective families and moved on from playing together.

Joe, who had married in 1923, remained in Queens and signed on as a regular player with an orchestra. Joe passed away in 1940.

Lou, who had continued to suffer from ill health, died at an early age in the mid 1930s.

Mike, who married his first wife in 1924, had moved back to Albany, New York by 1941 with his family. Mike began working for his brother-in-law, who had a successful wholesale produce business, but also remained an active musician. He would regularly play at the popular resorts and clubs in the “Irish Alps” – the area in and around the town of East Durham in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where the center of Irish culture in the northeast had shifted. Mike had been joined by a new accordion player, Noel Rosenthal, and the duo, known as Mike & Ike, played the Catskill resorts and the local Albany scene well into the 1980s. Mike died in 1990.

In 1981, Celtic supergroup De Dannan recorded a cover of "My Irish Molly-O", a tune which the Flanagan Brothers popularized and first recorded in 1928. The De Dannan version of the song became a top-ten hit for the group, which led to a resurgence of interest in the Flanagan Brothers contributions.

"My Irish Molly-O" (De Dannan with Maura O'Connell)


Bartering is good
I love barter.  If you have a skill please let me know.  I'm always up for bartering. 

Examples of bartering: a lawyer student bartered a house closing in '09 for a couple of months of lessons, a kitchen-design manager bartered a new dishwasher for lessons and an electrician wired my chicken coop in exchange for services.  Another lawyer bartered an hour of advice for a cello bow recently.

Barter's great if you have a skill or a passion for something or you have something you want to trade, I'm always up for that. 

Brekke Bridges

Mandomo Strings is the East Coast Distributor of Bridger Products' Brekke Bridges

The Original Brekke Bridge
The "Original Brekke Bridge" U.S. Pat. No.  6,031,165, shown above, was licensed to Sound To Earth, Weber Mandolins.  With the sale of Sound To Earth to Two Old Hippies, the bridge design returned and is sold through Mandomo Strings in Holyoke, MA.   The original bridge has updated with several new changes and improvements.  It is also available with either an ebony or a maple base.

You can adjust string action under full tension which in itself is a great innovation. No more loosening the strings lowering the adjustable bridge and then tightening only to find out the strings buzz. I was able to set my action to pinpoint accuracy. I was able to set that Flatiron up to play like butter.

"I have used a a traditional Brekke on my custom Bitteroot and I swear by it. I like it so much, I asked Don Paine to put one on my Pomeroy two-point.  I get a powerful chop with my mandolin, more so than any mandolin I've played. I like to think the traditional Brekke has facilitated my chop. I also love the muscular look. Here's a picture of it on my Bitteroot. Notice the high action I used to have. I have it significantly lower now." ~ Kevin Briggs

"I was curious as well about the Brekke, having some reservations about what brass in the saddle might do to the tone, but I can say without hesitation that I sense nothing negative about it. I like the concept and the problems- short and long term- that it addresses." ~ Don Paine

Mandomo Strings - Holyoke, MA

Mandomo Strings is a company in Holyoke, MA, the birthplace of American Industry, that has developed a line of affordable musical instruments made with top quality materials and workmanship.  These instruments are on par or better than similar brands, such as Eastman, TDK, The Loar and Northfield.  The instruments are designed in Holyoke, Massachusetts, assembled in China, and finished/set up in the US.  Mandomo Strings offers a 30 year warranty on parts and labor for all products.

Decisions were made to prioritize air-dried tone-wood (instead of the standard Chinese practice of using a kiln to dry the wood), solid or flamed maple, Triple A grade ebony or rosewood fittings, scalloped solid tailpieces, Brekke or MMS's patented solid ebony/bone bridges, adjustable truss rods, a variety of neck widths.

Mandomo Strings was founded by Al Belunis.  Al is an amateur mandolinist, a guitar player, and a student of mine.  I learned about his mandolin company a few years ago when he was just getting started.  At the time, I made some suggestions and helped him with a website and Facebook page in exchange for some projects at my house (I love barter, by the way.  If you have a skill please let me know.  I'm always up for bartering.  For example, a lawyer student bartered a house closing in '09 for a couple of months of lessons, a kitchen-design manager bartered a new dishwasher for lessons and an electrician wired my chicken coop in exchange for services).  Fast forward to 2018 and I find myself completely engaged in the company.  It's really wonderful to be able to offer my experience working with China and importing products with a local company.  I find it very satisfactory.  In addition, I have the opportunity to play these beautiful instruments!

Al stopped by my studio in the summer of 2018.  I recorded this video of his visit:

The Bull Dog

This is the top of the line F5 model mandolin.  Al calls it The Bull Dog because of his own pup whom he named the company after: Mo.  The mandolin is beautiful to look at with its hand-carved top, scroll and its binding, "tobacco" finish.  This model is very popular with the bluegrass group.

Mandomo Bull Dog
The Bull Dog - Bluegrass Mandolin
The Bull Dog has been constructed with a hand-carved solid spruce top, flamed maple back and sides, flamed maple neck, pearl inlay fret markers, pearl inlay Mando Mo Logo, ebony binding, nut width standard 1 1/8" or wide nut version 1 3/16", bone nut, tobacco finish, adjustable bridge, adjustable truss rod. The instrument was hand-carved and constructed with air-dried (3-5 years) tonewood, top tap-tuned to A440 frequency.  Buy yours here

Here's a video I made of the Bull Dog

The Tortoise

A few years ago, the company that assembles Mandomo products made a binding suggestion that Al liked: faux tortoiseshell.  Now for those of you who don't know, tortoiseshell is illegal here in the United States.  I own a tortoiseshell pick that I got back in the 1970s when it was legal.  I love it.  It's gorgeous to look at and warms up when you hold it in your hand.  This tortoiseshell binding is simply lovely.  It makes the instrument stand out and look unique.  The binding goes around the top AND back, something that most Eastman mandolins do not, for example.  This is a bluegrass mandolin, meaning it has the chop, projection and bright sound you'd expect from an F5 mandolin.

Mandomo Tortoise
The Tortoise - Bluegrass Mandolin

The Tortoise has been constructed with flamed maple back, sides and neck, solid spruce top,
Brekke adjustable bridge, high quality Optima strings imported from Germany, Tusq Nut, 18:1 Tuners. Top Tap Tuned to A440 Frequency.

Here's what one of the customers says about it: "The mandolin was everything I asked for. Beautiful maple sides and back. The inlays on the fretboard and headstock and binding were solid and clean. The mandolin is very well made, I had no issues with any of the craftsmanship of the instrument. I am sure you would be pleased with your purchase." ~ Greg Short, Brinkhaven, OH

Here's a video I made of the Tortoise:

The Red Fox

This latest F5-style mandolin is gorgeous to look at, and has a beautiful well-rounded tone with a lot of projection. A group of Celtic mandolin players loved the way it sounds recently, suggesting it would make a wonderful addition to any traditional Celtic or Classical ensemble.

Mandomo Red Fox
The Red Fox - Celtic Mandolin
"I just love the tone of this instrument. I play mostly Celtic music and so I want something with a sweet gentle tone, not a big brassy "barky" sound. " ~ Deb N., South Hadley MA

Each Red Fox comes with: Mahogany back, sides and neck, solid Sitka spruce top, Rosewood fretboard, nickel silver hardware, standard 1 1/8" bone nut (other sizes are available by special order, please ask), adjustable ebony bridge, 13 7/8" scale length, abalone headstock Mando Mo logo, Pearl snow flake dots, white side dot color, natural satin or gloss nitro finish (please ask). The instrument was hand-carved and constructed with air-dried (3-5 years) tonewood, top tap-tuned to A440 frequency.

Here's a video I made about the Red Fox

Other mandolins, guitars and ukuleles:

Mandomo Strings makes a few other styles of mandolins, guitars and ukuleles.  I can't list them all here because there are so many.  I suggest you head over to the website, though, and read about them for yourself.


If you want to try any of the instruments and you're local (Massachusetts), please let me know and we can set up a date/time.  I'm always around and happy to share them with you!

Professional Wedding Services

I have been providing Wedding services to the public since 1978!

Rates, Fees and Booking Information

Musician rates are generally $150 per hour per musician.  That applies to solo, duo, trio, and quartet.  Larger groups are rated by bulk.  For example, Mandolin New England's base is a 9 piece and can be as large as 30 pieces depending on the event.  In general, it's best to contact me and talk about the rates for larger groups.  Fees include travel expenses (up to $200 if we have to stay over night - which we generally do if we have to travel more than 50 miles).  PA expenses are also not included.  Generally speaking, all of my ensembles are acoustic.  A sound system can be rented and provided.  A simple amplifier and mikes is an additional $75.  A larger system with a mixing board and monitors is an additional $200.  I do not EMC or DJ weddings, but have worked closely for more than two decades with someone I trust to do this and put on a great show.

To book any of the ensembles or soloists, contact me.  Generally speaking, booking requires a 50% deposit  to Sweet Music and a signed contract.  You can mail the contract back or you can take a picture of the signature page and email it to me.

Ensembles, Bands, Soloists

I specialize in music for ceremonies, whether it be solo violin, string ensembles (duo, trio, quartet, chamber orchestra).  I specialize in classical music, celtic music and bluegrass.  I can also provide Klezmer (for Jewish services), Jazz and Folk music.

Here are some examples of some of my Celtic recordings:
  • The Kilfenora Set - a set of traditional Celtic jigs including "Lark in the Morning" and the "Kilfenora Jig".  I learned these jigs while playing at the seisun at Linanne's Pub in Kilfenora, Ireland 1996.
  • A Blast O'Reels - is a set of reels I picked up while touring with Woodkerne in the Spring of 2009
  • Sidh Beag Agus Sidh Mohr - here's one of my favorite Turloch O'Carolan melodies.  Apparently this is the first piece he composed.  The word "Sidh" is Irish for "Fairy", "Beag" and "Mohr" are referencing two mountains in Ireland, and "Agus" means "and".  So the title literally means "little fairy hill and big fairy hill".  For those of us who are interested in Irish mythology, check out this post, and this, and this one about the origins of Irish music.
Here are some examples of my Bluegrass recordings:
  • Cluck Old Hen - this is a traditional bluegrass tune that is a lot of fun to play.  That's me on the mandolin, John Rough on banjo, Joe Blumenthal on bass and Terry Atkinson on guitar.
  • Maiden's Prayer - this was Joe Val's favorite tune when I played in a fiddle music contest in 1982 or 3.  He was judging that day and asked me to come up to the booth.  He was a real gentleman.  This recording was sung by Terry Atkinson and myself.  I'm playing fiddle here, also Joe Blumenthal on Bass and John Rough on banjo.
  • Brunhild's Request - an original written by a friend of Terry Atkinson's (whose name escapes me at this moment) with Terry on guitar, myself on mandolin, Joe Blumenthal on bass and John Rough on banjo

Wedding Officiant - Massachusetts

In addition to providing music for weddings, I'm a wedding officiant for the state of Massachusetts.  I love officiating weddings, and private ceremonies.  This is something I've been doing since I was in high school.  I have "married" literally dozens of same-sex couples (before the gay marriage law was passed), as well as atheists and non-believers who wanted a ceremony without the religious connotations.  I was ordained by the ULC in October 2018 so that I could get a permit from the state, so now I can officially officiate!  I have a copy of my certificate and a letter of good standing if needed.

Why I use Slack for my Studio

Typically used in the business sector for collaboration and easy communication, Slack is a messaging app that teachers are using now to communicate with each other and with their students. Teachers can send out reminders and students can use the app for group projects. I use the app to hold digital “office hours”.

I like it because you can install it on your preferred smartphone.  There is an iPhone version and an Android version.
  • Download the Android version here
  • Download the iPhone version here
There is also a desktop version which you can download to run as an independent app.  I have it, but prefer to use the website version, which runs great in Chrome, my preferred browser, as well as Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Safari.  All you need to do is go to http://sweetmusic.slack.com to access my studio page and create a new profile.  If you've given me your email, you should have received a link to join by now.  Log in using your the email address you gave me, and set up your profile page.  You can upload an image or use the default image and fill out the other basic information.


I've created "channels" for each of the groups (Celtic, Classical, Beginners', Bluegrass, etc).  Once you've attended (and committed to attending) any of the group classes, you will be invited to that channel.  Channels are where sheet music is shared, set lists, youtube videos, sound files and all of the related topics for discussion.  You can use the app as you would texting or messaging on Facebook.

If you'd like to know more about how to use Slack, let's talk about it in your next lesson!

History of the Tarantella Dance

Tarantella dancers, 1828   via  Wikimedia Commons Credit: Jstor.org The tarantella is named for a peasant woman from southern Ita...