At Dawn on May Morning we took the Redwood Violin to Sebastopol to see the Apple Tree Morris Dance the sun up. Morris dance is an English folk dance tradition, usually danced with a team of six. The costumes, dances and dates for dancing varies between local teams. The Morris tradition has spread across the globe and many teams dance the sun up on May Morning, starting in Australia. Sebastopol’s Apple Tree Morris is the most westerly team on the planet and therefore the last team to do this important work.
Since the Redwood Violin is built from materials that grew out of the earth in Sonoma County, with the help of the sun, it seemed fitting to honor the sun’s role in producing them.
I had discovered that Kalia Kliban, who made the pegs for the violin, and I, both have personal histories with Morris dancing. Kalia and her husband Jon founded the Appletree Morris in Sebastopol. As a boy, I in England danced with a Morris team. We decided to dance a Jig together.
Kalia Kliban and I dance the “Nutting Girl Jig”, a traditional Morris dance. I learned this jig in Bampton, England, when I was 11. Kalia’s husband Jon Berger, plays the Redwood violin.
When the Morris dancing was done, the Redwood Violin was passed around and I was delighted to find that there were two very talented local fiddlers there. Gabriel Wheaton and M’Gilvry Allen were middle schoolers together and have both gone on to be professional musicians.
Morris and Me
When I was 11, growing up in Bampton. Oxfordshire, my father introduced me to a neighbor across the street. Arnold Woodley was putting together a Morris team. I think that they were a splinter group from the Francis Shergold team. There were village politics involved that I didn’t follow at that time.
The Morris teams went out on Whit Monday (7 weeks after Easter) and would dance at all of the pubs in the village (about six of them). They would also be invited to dance in the gardens of some of the big houses and it was a chance for the village to see how the other half lived. In the evening, the village was opened up for visiting teams from around the country. It was a big party.
I loved Whit weekend. There were other village activities: The village children made elaborate garlands of wild flowers which they took door to door collecting pennies. The Shirt race was a rowdy affair that involved teams of two in fancy dress, a pram or other wheeled receptacle and the downing of a pint of beer at each of the pubs. My parents threw an annual barbecue and we had an assortment of house guest for the weekend.
I left the Morris team after a couple of years. When I was 18 and in college, I ran into Frank Parslow, the squeezebox player for Arnold’s team and he asked me if I’d like to learn the violin. He wasn’t a fiddler himself but he needed one for his barn dance band, so he taught me some tunes. That was the start of my association with violins.