Quick Contents: Pipe and Tabor, Violin/Fiddle, Oboe, Voice, Sheet Music.

Ishmael with viola

Mission Statement: To provide compelling music for English Country Dance, and other dance forms.

"Your music makes me feel like ... like I want to get up and dance!"
—D. Sands

Ishmael plays regularly for English Country Dance in Harvard Square, and is a member of the Ad Hoc Waltz and Quadrille Band, Boston Delight, the Boston West Gallery Quire, and other bands and ensembles.
. He performs Early Music on instruments and vocally with the Cantabile Renaissance Band. He has substituted on violin with Seven Times Salt, and on five string fiddle with the Woods Hole Village Band and Paradise Bird. As a tenor, he sings with Norumbega Harmony, the Boston West Gallery Quire, and other choirs and choruses.


There really is more to it than just standing in front of musicians and waving your arms. The conductor must study and understand the music in order to discern the composer's intent, then convince the ensemble to support that interpretation with unanimity, and to listen to the rendition so to fix what might need more practice or refinement, then to lead a performance sounding in a way which is at once both familiar, and exciting.

Rehearsal, leading, and directing on regularly for singers, instrumental ensembles, dance bands, and mixed vocal / instrumental groups. As an instrumentalist and singer, performance experience includes bowed and plucked strings including violin, viola, string bass, woodwinds including single and double reeds, brass instruments, and percussion. This familiarity with instrument technique, tuning and range is valuable for getting the most out of an ensemble, and guides arranging and orchestration.

Pipe and Tabor

Not only with the fiddle, but also with Pipe-and-Tabor, an ancient combination, sometimes called whittle-n-dub. It was popular during Elizabethan times. The pipe has only three holes so that it can be played by the fingers of one hand, leaving the other hand free to beat the drum.
Listen to a tune.
By using upper overtones of the pipe it is possible, with only the three holes, to obtain a diatonic scale with a range of an octave and a third. In some places a large side drum is used, which is hung from a baldrick or off the waist - also common is a smaller lightweight drum which can be hung over the wrist or thumb. Basque people also make use of this combination, with a drum called the txixu, and a three-hole pipe tuned to a minor scale.

Then and Now.

The Black Jokers have been known to dance in a variety of meteorological conditions not suitable for the wood or gut strings of a violin - such as a summer parade route over fresh blacktop pavement when it was 102F in the shade; drizzle, pouring rain, or snow; or in a howling wind well below freezing in January. In contrast, there are three hole pipes made of brass and plastics that are unaffected by heat, cold, or wet, and the tabor in the illustration above right ( a Remo PTS, with customization ) contains no natural ingredients.

See the Pipe & Tabor page for more details.

When I have not a fiddle handy, and the tune does not fit well on a three hole pipe (due to its one octave range) or the flageolet, (six-hole pipe, tin whistle, pennywhistle -- see the Chiff & Fipple pages for an introduction), I play recorder, either sopranino, soprano, or tenor. These tend to be quieter instruments which are marginal for street performance of Morris music, but work out well for Country Dancing (some tunes available) indoors.

Fiddle Redux

In 1961, at a young and tender age, I started to study the violin. Over the years I played in a number of school and community orchestras, with three summers at the New England Music Camp to broaden my musical experience. Then off to that famous music school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I managed to get a seat playing second violin in the MIT Symphony. This brought travel opportunities with concert tours to Montreal, Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Scarsdale New York (eh wot?).

After graduating from MIT and taking a real job I found it difficult to maintain the 6+ hours per week plus travel time required for orchestra rehearsals, so my social music participation languished until I was introduced to fiddling, folk music of the British Isles, and dancing (New England Squares and Contras plus English Country) in late 1976. I began to fiddle for barn dances, as well as providing occasional music for dances run by the New England Folk Festival Association and the Country Dance Society, Boston Centre. That led to Morris and life hasn't been the same since, although these days I don't do quite enough dancing.
Listen to a morris dance tune played on fiddle.

Depending on the style of dance and the other musicians in the band, (or solo for small, intimate barn dances) I play mostly fiddle, but use flageolet, recorder or mandolin for a change.

Ishmael, Bruce and John at Turtle Frolic

Current repertoire includes tunes for New England Contradances, English Country Dance (such as Prince William) and additional Revolutionary and Renaissance era dances.


While playing West Gallery music and trying to cover my vocal range (or is it merely C-string envy) the range of the viola being a fifth lower fits very well.

Like a violin, only larger.


I played Oboe, an agile double-reed instrument, for a number of years starting in 1967. While I played in a number of bands and orchestras, I never was able to qualify for District Band during my High School years. Though my embouchure and technique have languished over the years, I had become facile at the art of reedmaking and even taught oboe students for a time. There is some potential for making use of this experience if a shawm becomes available at an advantageous price! For now, most of my double-reed performance is on crumhorn and the Bonnie Rogers memorial tenor cornamuse (courtesy of the trustees of her estate).


My voice falls within the tenor range; these days I sing mostly from The Sacred Harp and other shape-note music with Norumbega Harmony, and also English hymns in the West Gallery style with Bruce Randall's West Gallery Quire where I have the opportunity to sing or play viola -- or both simultaneously!
" West Gallery. It's like enriched uranium for the traditional musician. "

Of late dabbling with multitrack recording, here published is Thomas Morley's Good Morrow Fair Ladies of the May in MP3 with a link to the sheet music, and Bruce Randall's four-part setting of Wordsworth's poem To My Sister.

New Adventures

playing music on the church steps
Ishmael the Fiddler playing tunes on a WiplStix travel violin in Newbury, Vermont, with Bill Holt, summer of 2004. Photo courtesy of R. Trial

You can see this instrument a bit closer in a video of tunes on the wipLstix backpacking fiddle.

Thanks to the Violin Making & Restoration Program students at North Bennett Street School we were able to try out their new duet instrument, a violiola designed and built to celebrate the program's twentieth anniversary and their command of the craft. It has both violin and viola fingerboards on one body, with one bridge, for two people to play; best for a compatible pair, as arms and bows cross.

NBSS violiola
Father and daughter playing the NBSS violiola (hybrid violin/viola with two necks on one body) in the violin-making workshop, November 2005.

Serpent and Fiddle duo
Serpent and fiddle, recorder, viola and voice at Boston Public Library, December 2007.

Five-string fiddle/violin/viola and serpent
Unusual pairing of five-string fiddle and serpent, playing duets at the Boston 2009 Walk for Hunger.

"You played the happiest music we've had all day."-J. C. Jones, 2009.11.07


Collaborated on chords for "Country Dances from Colonial New York, James Alexander's Notebook, 1730" by Kate Van Winkle Keller and George A. Fogg.

Worked out harmony/chords, assisted with music editing, and engraved music for "New Country Dances from Maine 1795" by Kate Van Winkle Keller and George A. Fogg.
While your leading style did not exhibit the wonderful flair
some of our friends have, you did a lot more than simply "keep time";
your direction was intelligible and sensitive and very helpful.
--R. D., 2009.03.27

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Original July, 1994.
Last modified: Tue Sep 22 06:50:35 EDT 2015 /