Advice for Pennsic Dance Musicians
Greetings Musicians who are interested in supporting Pennsic European
dance! You are an essential part of making historical dance a reality
at Pennsic, and your participation is most appreciated and
desired. This page is set up mostly for new Pennsic musicians
interested in supporting European dance and as a reminder of Pennsic
veterans on what the operating procedures are for dance support.
So here are a few things that are critical to know in order to support
dance in open pits with live music. (The term "open pit" refers to a
musicians' pit that is open to all who meet the requirements below. A
"closed pit" refers to a pre-coordinated set of musicians or fixed
- The 2018 Pennsic Pile sheet music will be posted here when it
becomes available, which is expected to be June. If you want to
get a head start, you can download last year's
Pennsic 46 Pile.
- Gregory will be donating 10 copies of the Pennsic Pile for use in
the Pit durng Pennsic. The point of these donated copies is to support
new musicians who wander in and are interested in playing for the
- If you're a vetern, please print and bring your own copy. The PDF
will be designed to be printed 2-sided and 3-hole punched. Your local
copy shop should be able to do the right thing if you take them a copy
of the PDF on a thumb drive.
- It is highly recommended that you be able to read and follow
available dance music that is written in modern notation. This
- It is highly recommended that you be proficient enough on your
instrument to be able to play the dance music provided in the Pennsic
pile (see above). You need to be able to play it up to dance tempo.
- Your instrument must be able to play in A=440 pitch (most modern
- Your instrument must be able to produce a volume that plays nice
Essential Musician equipment to bring to support European dance
- Your copy of the Pennsic pile bound in a folder
- Your instrument.
- Music stand (preferably a light weight folding stand 'cause
... you have to carry the stupid thing). (Unless you have a fancy
medieval stand made out of wood that I constantly covet.)
- Clothes pins to hold down your pages when the wind picks up
- A battery operated stand light or book light. These things are
really cheap but will save your butt in those moments when the
musician pit area is too dark.
- Tankard or some accessible drinking container. Dance coordinators
are always making sure we are well watered.
- Tuner (all smart phones now have available tuner apps and I highly
recommend them). I use ClearTune, but another really good one is TE
Things to keep in mind while you are supporting
- Look on the Pennsic 47 School of (European) Dance
Homepage to see what balls are open pits and the list of dances to
be called. Keep in mind the balls that have a closed pit refers to a
set of musicians that will be exclusively supporting that evening's
dance. So you want to make sure you show up on the evenings with open
pits. (This year, the closed pits are the 15th century Ball on
Tuesday evening and the day-time dancing at Casa Bardicci on
- When playing, pay attention to your music director and less on the
dancers. You are a supporter not a spectator and by doing so, tempo
changes, timing and roadmaps will need your focus towards a good
- In between actual dances, please keep conversations down to a
whisper in order to allow the dance principle to provide audible
instruction to the dancers. And please, no noodling on your instrument
unless you are trying to get your instrument in tune which is
important. Best time for noodling is when you are practicing the tunes
before the dance ball begins or during the set breaks.
- Please show up early to get settled and (dare I say) warm up and tune.
- Chairs will be provided. The lighting in most of the venues is pretty good .
Modern instruments welcome in open pits
Mind you not everyone that comes to Pennsic can afford (yet)
expensive historical instrument reproductions, so here is an
incomplete list of modern acoustic instruments that work well in open
I left out band instruments that do not read in concert
pitch, as our sheet music is on available in concert pitch.
- Modern hammerdulcimer, classical and acoustic guitar, oboe,
bassoon, classical flute, modern harps,classical bowed strings,
muted-trombone, mandolin, Irish cittern,kazoo, Baroque recorders (even
the plastic ones), Bowed psaltery, banjo, Russian balalaika, and
dombra, cleverly disguised electronic keyboards, ukulele, Baroque flutes.
- Percussion: frame drums but not durbeke, dumbek or jimbe as these
drums are too aggressive in sound to work with an European dance pit.
But what instruments are considered historical you may wonder?
So for the curious, here is a common list of instruments that you may see at some of the open pits:
I left out the "one volume knob set to 11" historical instruments
as they typically do not play nice with others:
- Renaissance hammered dulcimer, Hackbrett, Renaissance recorders
(very different from baroque versions), Gemshorns, Lutes, ouds, Ren
citterns, krumhorns, Racketts, Cornamuse, Viola da Gambas (pitched at
440), medieval fiddles, tabors, sacbuts, shawms (if they can play
softly), Cornetto, Serpent, Plucked psaltery, Kanoon, Belgama Saz,
Rebec, Rabiba, Ney, Ren violin (curved bow and no chin rest), citole,
Gitterns, Medieval soft bagpipes (the ones that play nice with
recorders .. yes they do exist), slide trumpet, portive organ,
Renaissance harps, Renaissance flutes, plucked psaltries.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to help.
- Rauschfife, Zurna, Medieval greatpipes.
Your humble (well, partially humble) servant
Master Albrecht Catsprey (Albert Cofrin)
acofrin zat gmail zot com
Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl)