The Rea Family’s Square Dance Caller Tones

Tim Rea’s been a square dance caller for 34 years. He’s been performing since he was ten–it’s a skill that runs in the family. “The talent came naturally to him. He started calling when he was six, pretty much at his mother’s feet,” another family member told me.

This is Marilyn Rea, Tim’s mother, an artist and a fiddle and mandolin player. She’s also a square dance caller, “a real treasure in this region,” I was told, by folks who made recommendations to me about what Pittsburgh sounds like musically. “It’d be really great if you could get Marilyn to make some square dance caller tones for the project.”

When I spoke with Marilyn Rae about the possibility, she demurred and suggested we record her son Tim instead, “He’s really a much better caller than I am.” And since the opinions and wishes of my community collaborators are an important part of this public art project’s design, I told Rae I’d be delighted to record her son.

Early this May I headed down to the Armstrong County League of Arts where the dances are as complicated as the caller makes them. Every first Friday of the month, October through May of each year, three generations of the Rea family perform in the band at the League’s Hoe Down Square Dances. Tim Rea calls and sings; his mother Marilyn plays fiddle and mandolin; and Tyler, Tim’s son, plays rhythm guitar. The band also features T.J. McLaughlin on bass and Shirley Woodside on electric keyboards.

Before the dance that night officially started, the band performed a set of three songs to be recorded as tones. This series documents three generations of talent and tradition within the Rea Family. And these are the first tri-generational tones in the project, so I’m thrilled to include them. First up is the Bullytown Tone, a square dance call that conveys the high energy and a range of Tim Rea’s square dance caller vocal techniques. Next up is the Lonesome Pine Tone–a tone that conveys the energy of the dancers–you can hear at least one dancer clap rhythmically. The last is the Pistol Packin’ Tone–I wanted at least one tone to feature the instruments. In this track you can hear me picking up Marilyn Rea’s fiddle and Shirley Woodside’s keyboard when I stroll past them with my boom microphone.

Thanks to Marilyn Rea for allowing Locally Toned to come and record some tracks for the project. Additional thanks to Tim Rea and the rest of the band for generously performing their hearts out before the dance started so I could record “clean” audio. And here’s to Bill and Lori Headley who thoughtfully invited and included myself (and my girlfriends in tow) to join in on the square dance–they gave us fast and furious lessons before we headed out on our trail (back to the city of Pittsburgh).

Personal thanks to pals Jen Morris and Sue Abramson for making the fun journey with me that evening, and to community ringtone collaborator and photographer Heather Mull, who accompanied us on our ringtone recovery mission, skipping the dancing to document the audio field recording session with her most excellent eye (and photographic equipment)! Mull’s beautiful photos are below, and the videos she shot will be part of a Locally Toned video project (to be completed by this year’s end).

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