Welcome to the Contra Pulse Project, a series of interviews with contra musicians about contra music.

As you walk up the steps to the dance hall, you can already hear the strains of the piano and fiddle slipping out into the night. Then you open the doors; see the roomful of dancers and hear that glorious music in full – propelling everyone on the dance floor. It’s uplifting, it’s energetic, it’s fun, it makes us move, it brings us together.

Where does contra music come from? Why does it sound the way it does? How has it changed over time? In this project, we will be attempting to take the pulse of contra music today through a series of conversations between host Julie Vallimont and prominent contra musicians from all corners.  Join us in this journey through music, dance, time, space, and community.

Episode 24 – Rodney Miller

This episode, Julie sits down with legendary fiddler, violin maker and tunesmith Rodney Miller. Rodney is recognized as a “Master Fiddler” by the National Endowment for the Arts and his career of performing, teaching and recording traditional and genre-defining fiddle music spans across decades and continents. Julie speaks with Rodney about his early musical influences,...

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Episode 23 – Tony Parkes

This episode, Julie talks with the prolific caller, pianist, and producer Tony Parkes. Tony is known internationally as an exceptional caller for beginners and experts alike, and this conversation delves into the detailed history of his roots in square dancing, learning alongside greats like Ted Sanella, as well as the heyday of the Yankee Ingenuity dance in Boston, and...

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Episode 22 – Nils Fredland

This episode, Julie sits down with true contra renaissance man Nils Fredland – trombone player for Elixir and other bands, Revels North artistic director, as well as a singer, Waldorf teacher, and caller extraordinaire. They discuss his background in classical trombone, how he ended up in the contra scene after a cappella and ska music, some great memories from...

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Episode 21 – Mary Lea

This episode, Julie interviews the wonderful violinist and violist Mary Lea from the legendary bands Yankee Ingenuity and Bare Necessities. They discuss Mary’s roots in the Boston contra scene, her approach as a fiddler and how she works with improvisation and variation. They also get into some of the nuts and bolts of playing for dance, some of the...

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Episode 20 – Pete Sutherland Part 2

In the second part of Julie’s conversation with Vermont musical legend Pete Sutherland, they talk about what makes good dance music, how drums changed his approach to dance playing, the difference between playing in large bands and small bands, and we explored what it means to respect tradition without being a strict traditionalist.

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Episode 19 – Pete Sutherland Part 1

This episode, Julie talks with Vermont musical legend Pete Sutherland from Pete’s Posse, The Clayfoot Strutters, and many more. They covered so much that we split the episode into two parts. In part one, they discuss Pete’s musical roots, the contra scene in the early 70s, how he teaches music theory, and more. Look for part two next week!

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