Meet Your Musicians - Mara Shea

November 01, 2014

Contra dancers know Mara for her fiddle playing in such bands as The Elftones. Mara also plays in combination with local musicians for other dances from the British Isles, including Sun Assembly’s English country dances. She will be providing the music for their dance weekend in March 2015.

How did you get started playing for contradances?

Roger Gold and I started playing for contra dances in 1995-96, I think. Hard to believe it's been almost 20 years! The first contra we played for was the Raleigh contra dance at the Y, on Oberlin Road. It was a fun, slightly scary evening (nerves!), and when it was over, we decided to celebrate by going out for a pizza and beer somewhere down on Hillsborough Street, near NCSU. Parking's not trivial there, but I found a great place in a foreign car service station across from the pizza place. No visible signs saying No Parking, so we were happy. Good thing we took our instruments in with us; when we came out about 45 minutes later, there was no car. We ended up taking a cab to some very sketchy place behind concertina wire in downtown Raleigh and spending all of our first gig money to get my car out of hock!

In what ways is playing for dancers different from playing a concert?

Playing for a dance is very different from playing a concert. For concerts, there's this sense that yes, people ARE looking at you and listening pretty darn closely, so you don't really want to take as many risks and make mistakes (which happens a lot at contras; just adds to the fun). Concert performances allow you to vary tempo and dynamics, and you're not playing to keep dancers going...you're hearing it as an interpretation of the music, in your head, with no feedback from dancers. It's a different place in your head...a little scarier, but it can be a lot of fun, too.

What do you do when you're not playing music?

When I'm not playing music (lots of different kinds of music), I'm probably teaching Celtic fiddle, writing and editing technical documentation, being an accidental gardener, trying to keep up with house projects, volunteering at the NC Symphony Library and Raleigh Civic Symphony Association (our community - student orchestras), reading, writing, or sleeping. I never have quite enough hours in the day to do it all; sleep gets the short end of it.

Petronella claps--hate 'em or just don't care?

Petronella claps? I confess I don't mind them at all. I like having happy feedback from dancers, and that's part of it. I've learned to pick tunes that work well with the timing of the Petronella claps (sometimes it's fun to stop playing when the claps happen--let the dancers be the percussion team). It's far better than having no reaction at all from dancers--the nightmare of "the crowd went mild..." Petronella enthusiasm is fine by me.

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